The leading voice for Liberia’s citizenship to be extended beyond Negro descent has been the Lebanese community in Liberia. For several decades Lebanese and Indian merchants remain leading and powerful players within the country’s economy.
Their investment in Liberia is unsecured, they have argued because the country’s more than 100 year-old law prohibits non negro descent from obtaining citizenship hence their involvement in the country’s development would be less or none.
This argument found its way into President George Weah’s first state of the nation address in January when he declared restrictions on citizenship and property ownership are posing serious impediments to Liberia’s development and progress.
“In these circumstances, it is my view that keeping such a clause in our constitution is unnecessary, racist and inappropriate for the place that Liberia occupies today in the comity of Nations,“ he said.
But what President Weah probably does not know is that under Lebanese citizen law women who are married to foreigners cannot pass their Lebanese citizenship to their children and husbands. This means Lebanon for Lebanese.
For decades some foreign merchants based on the size of their firms and wealth have become more powerful, in many instances than the law and government, influencing government’s policies and making some cabinet ministers and even president to serve at their discretion.
While there is no evidence yet that the foreign business community mainly Lebanese manipulated the president’s constitutional reform proposal, Weah made the statement weeks after the Coalition for Democratic Change said they presented a US$2million gift to the president after his election but was rejected. Names were not disclosed up to date but some key cabinet ministers in the Weah admonition are currently residing in Lebanese owned hotels.
“President Weah is been coerced by certain group of people to seek their selfish interest at the detriment of the ordinary Liberian people who voted him into power,” Cllr. Jonathan Massaquoi, a member of the Supreme Court bar said.
This draws parallel to the political science concept called state capture, which is applied to situations where small corrupt groups used their influence over government officials to appropriate government decision making in order to strengthen their economic positions.
“I don’t think those who advised the President were fair to him,” Massaquoi said.
“In Economics we say land is a factor of production. If you look at Liberia from its founding up to present, a vast majority of the country’s population has been deprived of land ownership. The dockets of courts are crowded with land dispute cases amongst Liberians.”
Franklin Eill, 36, who trades on the streets of Monrovia said opening the Liberia’s citizenship will not led to economic growth and development.
“If that happens we will turn into slaves in our motherland,” he said.