"Once a Liberian, Always a Liberian"? Fact Versus Fiction

By Theodore T. Hodge



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 13, 2004


In a recent piece posted by one Charles Alake Williams, the theme was the birthrights of Liberians. The question posed was, "Why are Liberians being forced to give up their birthrights when they become citizens of another country?"

I do not intend to delve into the rest of Mr. Williams’ opinions and observations, it is appropriate, however, to correct a false assumption: Liberians are not being "forced to give up their birthrights". Instead, it is fair to note that Liberians, who become citizens of the United States for example, do clearly and knowingly give up their entitlement to Liberian citizenship voluntarily. I raise this issue because I’m convinced that in participating in this ongoing conversation about Liberia and Liberians, we do owe a sacred duty to present actual facts, not rhetoric and personal opinions embellished as facts.

For example, a newly naturalized citizen of the United States holds up his/her right hand and repeats the following words: "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen..."

Continuing, the oath ends this way: "...and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

It is my understanding that a relationship of dual citizenship does not exist between the United States and Liberia, although it does exist between the United States and other countries, such as Canada and Great Britain. At the moment, any Liberian who, in his right state of mind, as the oath implies, becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States "absolutely and entirely renounces and abjures all allegiance and fidelity" to the Republic of Liberia. Just read the oath.

Is the issue of dual citizenship a topic worthy of further debate? Absolutely. But it will take an amendment of the Liberian constitution and a bilateral agreement between the governments of Liberia and the United States to change the status quo. As incorrectly implied in Mr. Williams’ article, this is quite beyond any presidential candidate to unilaterally decide. In the meantime, those Liberians who voluntarily become naturalized citizens of the United States are voluntarily "kissing their Liberian citizenship good bye". To lay the blame on others forcing them to give up their "birthrights" is incorrect.

This matter goes to the top of the pyramid. I understand that there are Liberians who voluntarily renounced their Liberian citizenships and are now running for the Liberian presidency. Why should such an absurd thing be allowed to happen? Yes, it is easy to blame others and the situation in Liberia for the last couple of decades. But we have to accept responsibilities for our actions and choices. After all, there are many Liberians living in this country who have never renounced their allegiance and fidelity to our country. Those who did so enjoyed certain benefits of US citizenship by virtue of their naturalization. To turn around and blame somebody else is irresponsible.

I have personally gone to parties to celebrate and honor Liberians who have become Americans. Some proudly hang their naturalization certificates in a frame on the walls of their homes for all to see. Yes, I know the rational excuses: Some became citizens because it would expedite their ability to import relatives into the country. Some became citizens because they wanted to compete for certain classified jobs open only to American candidates. Some became citizens because they feared that the government would start deporting non-citizens for no rational reasons; they simply didn’t want to miss the boat (or be on the boat). And others simply became citizens because of the arrogance of referring to themselves as "Americans", with nothing to show for it. There are many who boast that upon visiting Liberia after becoming US citizens, they entered a line reserved for "non-citizens" to be processed by Liberian immigration authorities. Now all of a sudden, elections are on the horizon and these so-called American citizens want to vote in Liberian elections? They want to have their cake and eat it too?

My conclusion is that the thesis "once a Liberian always a Liberian" is a fallacy. When an able-minded Liberian stands up, raises his/her hand to take an oath denouncing his/her Liberian citizenship, it is his/her right to do so, for whatever reasons. The legal adage, "Ignorance of the law excuses no one", comes to mind. The Liberian constitution does not clearly address the issue of dual-citizenship. We can at least conclude that the issue remains ambiguous and ambivalent. But the United States constitution is clear on the matter: the citizens of other countries who take up US citizenship must renounce their previous citizenships. Plain and simple. To have not known the facts is inexcusable.