George Weah is enormously popular but he will be running against the grain of public sentiment if he continues to promulgate citizenship for non-Negroes. That will be his first defeat since his landslide electoral victory in December 2017. Public opinion has been tested on this very issue several times in the past in Liberia and the result on each occasion remained the same – Liberians don’t want non-Negro citizenship, and for good reason. This is not to say Liberians are racist. Far from that. Liberians are the most welcoming to non-Negro people anywhere around the world, sometimes at the expense of Negro People.
Even though not yet citizens, non-Negro people in Liberia, i.e. Lebanese, Indian, Chinese and Europeans are enjoying much more social and economic privileges than Liberian citizens. They are given most of the contracts on offer for reasons best known to policymakers. Perhaps because of this, they are much more socially mobile than Liberians. There are records of ill-treatment of Liberians at the hands of Lebanese. Even when these unfortunate incidents make their way through the court system, the outcome is predictably in the favour of non-Liberians. Bad labour practices have been perpetuated by non-Negro people against Liberian citizens, which the Government has always been tight-lipped about and shoved under the carpet
Why is there such a big rush to grant citizenship to non-Negro people when the urgent issue is the implementation of the Pro-Poor Agenda. Or is there a non-Negro lobby that is pushing for Liberian citizenship?. Already, there is a push in the National Legislature for legislation to amend the Liberian Constitution and pave the way for a referendum. So early?
The issue at stake here is not so much citizenship but economic empowerment for existing citizens. Liberians don’t believe that citizenship for non-Negroes is the most important thing that George Weah should concentrate on right now. They believe that what should be of utmost priority for President Weah should be the improvement in their quality of life and not about the citizenship of non-Negro people. The George Weah administration is suffering from misplaced priorities at this very stage and should re-set his administration’s priorities.
Prioritizing non-Negro citizenship at such an early stage in the George Weah administration may actually be at odds with his Pro-Poor Agenda. The interests of non-Negro people – Indians, Lebanese, Chinese and Europeans – might actually be opposed to the interests of the ordinary Liberian.
Part of the logic behind George Weah’s drive for non-Negro citizenship is that those non-Negro people who will become citizens as a result of the change in Liberia’s Constitution will own land, something that they cannot do now, and use their new status to bring about Liberia’s economic growth. This is a perverse kind of logic because the acquisition of land by non-Negro Liberians could actually lead to the dispossession of land from existing Liberian citizens, opening up a new ‘Pandora Box’ and the possibility of civil strife just like in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Liberians don’t need to be told about what unfolded in Zimbabwe and South Africa when land that was originally owned by African People was expropriated from them and given to Caucasian People. It took a huge political will by former President Robert Mugabe to address the problem by returning the land to its original owners. Nearly 30 years after the end of racist White Apartheid Rule in South Africa, White People, who are less than 10% of the population still own 73% of South African’s agricultural land. To address this unjust land distribution, the South African Government voted just a little over a week ago to follow the example of Zimbabwe by expropriating land from White People and return it to its rightful owners. Land is a very delicate issue. This is why Liberia could find itself on a very slippery slope in the future if it is not careful about the land question, at a time when a few foreign concessions enjoy more than 25% of Liberia’s best land, already displacing many Liberian farmers before the real citizenship debate is even held.
President Weah must therefore remember that, just as he and his people are readying themselves for a change in the Liberian Constitution, there are masses of Liberians both at home and in the Diaspora are preparing for the campaign of all campaigns to delay citizenship for non-Negro People until Liberians are fully empowered economically or until George Weah’s Pro-Poor Agenda is fully implemented.