Constitutional clause in the spotlight
Publish date: 11 February 2019
Issue Number: 810
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
In 1973, Liberia introduced its Aliens and Nationality Law which only allows people of ‘Negro descent’ to obtain citizenship by birth, ancestry or naturalisation. The 1973 law also banned dual citizenship. In an analysis on the News24 site, Robtel Neajai Pailey notes that many Liberians at home and abroad have questioned the regulations but historical and contemporary developments explain why the laws are seen by some as ‘protectionary‘. ‘They are viewed as guarding Liberians against any kind of foreign domination. What has become locally known as the ‘Negro clause‘ was driven by free blacks and manumitted slaves who fled 19th century racism and economic servitude in the US and the Caribbean. They established Liberia as a haven where they would be the sole owners of capital, land and the means of production. Other countries – among them Chad, Malawi and Mali – historically restricted citizenship to people of ‘African origin’ or ‘African race’. But those laws have been scrapped over time. Pailey points out that President George Manneh Weah has suggested it’s time to amend the laws, saying they are unnecessarily racist and restrictive. ‘My research on how Liberians view citizenship in general and dual citizenship in particular suggests that Weah won’t easily get his way.’ Pailey’s research involved interviewing more than 200 people who identified as Liberians by birth or ancestry, regardless of their citizenship status. They were based in cities in West Africa, Europe and North America. He said the findings suggest that Liberians experience citizenship differently based on their class, gender and ethnicity. These factors greatly influence whether they reject or accept dual citizenship and the ‘Negro clause’.