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Post-conflict reconstruction in Liberia has primarily focused on building state structures at the expense of solidifying national cohesion. The author contends that in this context the proposed dual citizenship legislation should undergo national deliberations, beginning with the Liberia Rising 2030 consultations


In 2009, Liberia’s Governance Commission embarked on a preliminary series of national dialogues in preparation for Liberia Rising 2030, a national vision whose aim is to make Liberia a middle-income country by the year 2030. This vision, projected to replace the Lift Liberia Poverty Reduction Strategy, has as its core macro-economic policy reforms, as well as lofty goals aimed at strengthening social cohesion, democratic consolidation, and governance reform. One of the major issues underpinning the social and political transformation agenda of Liberia Rising 2030 is civic engagement and the formulation of a cohesive national identity. This effort will attempt to answer the question, “Who is a Liberian?,” and by extension, “How can Liberians rebuild a fractured state?”

One of the problems with state-building as a post-conflict reconstruction agenda is its myopic focus on building state institutions, with the core assumption that no positive institutional practices existed before the ‘post-conflict moment’—a fallacy of terra nullius as articulated by Cliffe and Manning (Cliffe and Manning, 2008: 165). In this analysis, the post-conflict state represents a ‘blank slate,’ a tabula rasa to be foisted upon by donors who function as social engineers, in which policy makers conflate the ‘state idea’ (our imaginations of what the state should be) with the ‘empirical state’ (how the state actually functions in practice) (Abrams, 1988). This usually occurs at the expense of recognizing the legitimacy of building national cohesion and has the propensity to delegitimize state authority. This is why the Liberia Rising 2030 focus on re-defining national identity is so crucial, because it recognizes nation-building and state-building as necessary parallel processes. Whereas the focus of Liberia’s post-conflict reconstruction thus far has been building state-structures at the expense of solidifying national cohesion, current debates about dual citizenship have enabled policy makers to see state-building and nation-building as mutually constitutive. Claims for dual citizenship beg the question fundamental to Liberia’s nation-building exercise: how does the state incorporate deterritorialized nationals into its reconstruction efforts?

State-building and nation-building in Liberia cannot be fully operationalized without an interrogation of the meaning of citizenship, given that the nation-state of Liberia is fundamentally de-territorialized, with a sizeable number of Liberians scattered throughout the globe, yet still fully engaged as transnational beings. My article scrutinizes the markers of citizenship, narrowly defined in Liberia’s current Aliens and Nationality Law. I evaluate the extent to which state-building and nation-building initiatives in Liberia must contend with the question of citizenship, given that many Liberians abroad have naturalized elsewhere and, therefore, “formally” relinquished their citizenship. The article is also a discussion of the proposed dual citizenship bill currently before the Legislature and how said legislation could harness or hinder Liberia’s post-conflict reconstruction efforts. My major point of contention herein is that in the spirit of nation-building, the proposed dual citizenship legislation, which currently sits in a Committee Room at the National Legislature, cannot be legitimated by a small group of lawmakers, but rather it must undergo national deliberations and scrutiny before being subject to a referendum once those deliberations are exhausted.


A textured analysis about dual citizenship and state-building/nation-building in Liberia would be incomplete without first cataloguing the country’s historical backdrop as a migratory nation. Liberia’s antecedents are steeped in a history of mobility, flux, contestation, exile and return. The first major wave of migration to Liberia occurred in the 19th century when the country was declared Africa’s first republic in 1847, incorporating indigenous communities, black settlers, as well as recaptives from the Congo River basin who were on their way to the New World (Liebenow, 1987: 19). Of course, Liberia’s history predates black settlement, with Liberian academics like Dr. Carl Patrick Burrowes challenging secondary sources that paint the country as a nation muddled in dichotomies without references to primary sources about indigenous life (Burrowes, 1989: 59).

Liberia was ruled from 1847-1980 by the True Whig Party (TWP), an oligarchy of descendants of black settlers. During this time, the country flourished as an outpost for black migration, with migrants from other parts of Africa and the Caribbean flocking to the ‘land of liberty.’ After President William Tubman introduced an Open Door Policy to court foreign investors, Liberia’s GDP growth rate increased dramatically reaching double digits, largely facilitated by iron ore and rubber exports (Clower, et. al., 1966). Because that growth did not trickle down to the hinterland, researchers in the late 1960s asserted that the country was experiencing ‘growth without development.[1]’ Amidst calls to incorporate indigenous populations into the mainstream, Tubman introduced the Unification Policy in 1945 subsequently recognizing indigenous male Liberians and women as citizens for the first time. Elite Liberians travelled to the United States and elsewhere for vacation and higher education, but rarely did they remain outside of the country for long periods of time until Tubman’s successor, William Tolbert, was assassinated in a 1980 coup. The coup was led by an indigenous master sergeant in the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), Samuel Kanyon Doe, toppling TWP hegemony (Dick, 2002: 64). Doe’s military regime lasted until elections in 1985 largely viewed as fraudulent entrenched him in the body politic (Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, 1986: 118). When an attempted coup in November 1985 led by Thomas Quiwonkpa, one of Doe’s trusted allies, was rumored to have been supported by diasporic Liberians, a second major wave of out-migration ensued with large numbers of Liberians leaving the country fearing reprisals from the Doe reg

President Doe generated a hefty aid package of US$500 million between 1980 and 1988 from the U.S. government in exchange for Cold War loyalties (Huband, 1998: 35). Liberian exiles in the United States, led by former Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) President Amos Sawyer and current Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, lobbied against Doe’s authoritarian rule through the Association of Constitutional Democracy (ACDL), but their cries for regime change fell on deaf ears (Huband, 1998: 47). These political elites in large part would eventually support[2] Charles Taylor. Taylor had been a member of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) and a former ally of Doe who disappeared from a maximum security U.S. prison in the late 1980s while undergoing extradition to Liberia. Taylor would later train in Libya and launch a civil war in 1989 from neighboring Ivory Coast, thereby prompting the third major wave of out-migration. From 1989-1997, approximately 200,000 Liberians were killed (Saul, 2007) and between 500,000 and 750,000 internally displaced; in the first year alone as many as 700,000 fled the country, most to Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria (Gberie, 2005). Economic activity sputtered to a halt, providing basic social services and infrastructure became secondary to looting the national coffers, and natural resources were bartered to hoist up the war-time economy until a United Nations ban on the sale of timber and diamonds halted these activities in the formal sector. Human rights violations increased with destabilizing speed. Liberians were under constant fear of intimidation by Taylor’s Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU) which largely comprised former child soldiers.

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It is not clear how many Liberians returned to the country after elections in 1997 brought Taylor to power. From 1997-2003, Taylor ruled with an iron fist, allegedly involving Liberia in Sierra Leone’s civil war, thereby prompting two militia groups, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), to agitate from 1999-2003 for his ouster. Liberians once again fled the country for safety, followed by a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in August 2003 in Accra, Ghana, with Taylor exiled at the invitation of the Nigerian government. Taylor would eventually be convicted for 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone.[3]


From 2003-2005, an interim government was established to pave the way for elections in 2005 in which Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was elected. It is worth noting that the leading three presidential candidates—Johnson Sirleaf, George Weah, Charles Brumskine—were all once diasporic Liberians (Liberian National Elections Commission, 2005). From 2003 onwards, waves of migration back to Liberia grew in magnitude and scale, with post-war recovery efforts in security, economic revitalization, governance and the rule of law, and infrastructure and basic services (Lift Liberia Poverty Reduction Strategy, 2008-2011) eliciting renewed hope in a country once considered the ‘heart of darkness’ (Williams, 2006). Despite its multi-layered post-conflict challenges, Liberia has undergone transformation in the first six-year term of Johnson Sirleaf, creating what some have argued has been an enabling environment for diasporic return and re-engagement.

During Johnson Sirleaf’s first administration, Liberia renewed ties with multilateral agencies such as the African Development Bank (ADB), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It also restored relations with nations that would become leading bilateral donors such as the United States, China, and England. Liberia implemented a two-year Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy and a three-year medium term Poverty Reduction Strategy. It reconfigured the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and Liberia National Police (LNP) in its security sector reform under the aegis of donor partners such as the UN and US. Liberia expanded its national cash-based budget from US$80 million to the current US$516 million, and generated a growth rate of upwards of 6%. The country also secured debt cancellation of US$4.9 billion and qualified for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC). Concession agreements in Liberia’s traditional productive sectors—iron ore, rubber, timber—as well as in oil palm and crude oil were signed, generating a post-war investment portfolio of US$19 billion. Fiscal and administrative decentralization was pursued vigorously to devolve power to the country’s 15 sub-political divisions, with claims made that Liberia’s diasporas should constitute a deterritorialized “16th county.” Schools have been rebuilt, health facilities restored, and key infrastructure such as feeder roads have been renovated to pre-war status.

It is particularly worth noting that many of the custodians of political, economic and social reconstruction have been members of Liberia’s diasporas: Antoinette Sayeh, former Finance Minister, led the country’s preparation for HIPC status and the first Poverty Reduction Strategy; Olubanke King-Akerele and Toga Gayewea McIntosh, formerly of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, continued to court multi-lateral and bilateral economic and political arrangements that would transform Liberia’s international standing as a ‘pariah nation;’ and Justice Ministers Philip Banks and Christiana Tah led the judicial reform agenda. It is rumored that many high-level political appointees hold foreign passports, though Liberia’s Aliens and Nationality Law is very clear about the automatic revocation of citizenship status upon naturalization elsewhere (Sieh, 2012). The fact that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been the only African head of state to publicly welcome AFRICOM is indicative of her transnational loyalties to the United States that some argue was born out of her experiences in the high-powered walls of institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations. During her many trips abroad, the President has held meetings with diaspora constituencies from Accra, Ghana, to Freetown, Sierra Leone, from Washington, D.C., to Minneapolis, Minnesota, from Oslo, Norway, to London, England, imploring Liberians in these population centers to re-engage with the country.

Despite public relations campaigns and the forecasts of transformation, most of Johnson-Sirleaf’s first-term development milestones have been mired by challenges and critiques, one of which is the overemphasis on state-building at the expense of nation-building. Lack of administrative, financial, and technical capacity as well as rampant corruption have also been listed as impediments to sustainable growth with development. Diaspora returnees have been at the center of these debates, often perceived by the government and international donors as the panacea to capacity deficiencies while simultaneously viewed by homeland Liberians as the incubators of corruption with impunity. On January 16, 2012, Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated for a second six-year term after heavily contested elections in which a 10-year residency clause threatened to disqualify leading diasporic contenders including Johnson Sirleaf herself.[4] Her inauguration has indicated that a new wave of migration to Liberia will likely follow.

Given Liberia’s aims of reaching middle-income status in a second-term development agenda, heightened debates surrounding the proposed dual citizenship bill introduced in 2008 have renewed discussions about the role of diasporas in post conflict reconstruction and development. In March 2012, the President of Liberia submitted to the Legislature for ratification an Act establishing a Constitution Review Commission, which, if passed, will enable the Commission to review the country’s citizenship laws, among other provisions in the Constitution. Furthermore, a Liberia Rising 2030 Steering Committee appointed in February 2012 was tasked with consulting Liberians in the country’s 15 sub-political divisions, with five consultations held with diasporas in West Africa, Europe, and North America. This is a clear indication that diasporas could represent not only a third ‘post-conflict reconstruction space’ for Liberia, but also the country’s ‘16th county.’


African governments have increasingly factored diasporas into domestic development projects, state-building, and nation-building exercises. This explicit acknowledgment of diasporas as transnational communities has manifested in legal instruments such as dual citizenship. Within the last decade alone, over one third of African countries have expanded constitutional reforms to grant dual citizenship to their diasporas, including, but not limited to: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Uganda. Liberia introduced its own dual citizenship legislation in 2008. In their proposed Act to Establish Dual Citizenship for Liberians by Birth and Background, four Senators of Liberia’s 52nd National Legislature, namely Cletus Segbe Wotorson, Sumo G. Kupee, Jewel Howard-Taylor, and Abel Massalay, proposed amendments to certain sections of the Aliens and Nationality Laws of Liberia to grant dual citizenship to Liberians by birth who have naturalized elsewhere, and those born outside of Liberia to Liberian citizen parents. The premise of these proposed amendments is the importance of reconciling emigration patterns before, during, and after the country’s civil war, and the relevance of post-conflict reconstruction contributions by Liberians abroad.

Given that the proposed dual citizenship legislation is the first comprehensive policy mechanism that the Government of Liberia has ever introduced specifically to respond to diasporic claims beyond the range of ad-hoc emergency capacity building programs, this article analyses the legislation as a symbolic manifestation of Liberia’s long-standing struggles to formalize its relationship with its diasporas. As the debate ensues about whether or not African nations (and other polities) should reconfigure citizenship within their legal frameworks, it is clear that Liberia has entered the debate with the introduction of the proposed amendment. It goes without saying that citizenship has been contested throughout Liberia’s history, with the genesis of that contestation being at the very site of the country’s establishment as a republic, whose motto remains “The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here.”[5]

Although Liberia did not experience European colonialism, it can be proven empirically that black settler colonialism mirrored the direct rule policies of the French or the Boers. That indigenous males and female Liberians were not granted citizenship until the mid-20th century illustrates how citizenship within Liberia has always been a tool of exclusion and privilege rather than an automatic entitlement. It is worth scrutinizing the Aliens and Nationality Law of the Republic of Liberia within this backdrop, as the proposed dual citizenship legislation seeks to amend said Law to respond to energized lobbying by Liberian nationals abroad in keeping with international trends. The ultimate question that begs of this analysis is whether or not an amendment of Liberia’s Aliens and Nationality Law will actually harness or hinder the state-building/nation-building/reconstruction process by actively involving Liberians who naturalized elsewhere before, during or after the civil war.

In its “Analysis of the Aliens and Nationality Law of the Republic of Liberia,” the American Bar Association (ABA) historicizes citizenship claims within contemporary Liberia. Passed into law in 1973, and modeled after the 1952 U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, the Aliens and Nationality Law of Liberia has never been amended. Many argue that as a result, it is anachronistic and overtly exclusionary. Although the proposed dual citizenship legislation maintains Liberia’s race-based definition of citizenship, some argue that the Nationality at Birth provision within the Aliens and Nationality Law is discriminatory based on race and gender as it states explicitly that only those of Negro descent will be granted citizenship at birth and only those whose father was a citizen of Liberia during the time of their birth and resided in Liberia before their birth can be granted citizenship at birth. The ABA says that this definition conflates jus solis and jus sanguinis (ABA, 2009: 13) principles, leaving little room for navigation.

Citizenship on the premise of race is also enshrined in Liberia’s 1986 Constitution, an amendment of the 1847 Constitution, in Article 27 (B). Citizenship based on race, however, is inconsistent with Article 5 of the Liberian Constitution, which prohibits ethnic discrimination, as well as the Convention on All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which Liberia ratified in 1978. Although Liberia’s citizenship provision based on race was enacted in the spirit of pan-Africanist verve, some argue it is outdated given the contributions of non-African residents of Liberia—namely, Lebanese, Indians, Europeans and Americans–in the service, retail, trading, agriculture, and mining sectors (ABA, 2009: 14). It has been argued that precluding these residents from citizenship also translates into economic deprivation for Liberia, as the aforementioned nationals more than likely export capital and investment returns out of Liberia because they cannot own land or fully participate in the political process. The ABA advocates for either abrogating the race based clause, thereby amending the Constitution concurrently, or carefully defining the terms Negroes and Negro descent in a way that accounts for international norms (ABA, 2009: 14).

Assigning citizenship at birth based on the father’s nationality is inherently discriminatory because a Liberian woman cannot pass on nationality to her child, which is inconsistent with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (which states that men and women should have equal rights, which respect the nationality of a woman’s children), and the Convention of the Rights of the Child. As it is stated now in the Law, because a Liberian woman cannot pass on citizenship to her children, if her spouse is non-Liberian, her children will not be eligible for Liberian citizenship. The proposed dual citizenship legislation clearly stipulates that Liberian citizen women should be able to pass on citizenship to their children, thereby opening up the scope for citizenship to be granted to a vast number of jus sanguinis claimants.

Denying a person citizenship because his/her father did not reside in Liberia prior to their birth discriminates against children whose fathers fled Liberia during the civil war, a major point of contention for Liberians abroad who advocate for dual citizenship. Denying a person citizenship because s/he, having been born outside of Liberia to a Liberian citizen father, is not resident in Liberia at the age of maturity discriminates against children who were exiled during the war and did not return to Liberia before reaching the age of maturity. It has been suggested that these provisions be eliminated from the Aliens and Nationality Law because parents whose children fall within the abovementioned categories will be disinclined to repatriate capital to Liberia or invest in Liberia if their children are considered “stateless” (ABA, 2009: 14). The ABA suggests that naturalization based on race in the Aliens and Nationality Law is also discriminatory, and especially discriminatory based on gender because a spouse of Negro descent of a male Liberian citizenship may naturalize, but the spouse of Negro descent of a female Liberian citizen does not have the same right to naturalize. The ABA suggests that Section 21 of the Aliens and Nationality Law be amended to maintain the consistency of immigration statuses of spouses. The ABA also raises further concerns that there is no provision within the Law for naturalization of children who are adopted by Liberian citizens.

It has been argued that the provision that one must renounce one’s previous citizenship at the time of naturalization is a deterrent for diaspora Liberians and other citizens of African countries who wish to become Liberian citizens, thereby undermining Liberia’s reconstruction, state-building and nation-building drive. The revocation of naturalization—in which a naturalized citizen revokes his/her Liberian citizenship if s/he travels to his/her country of first nationality and resides there for up to two years or any other foreign country for up to five years—creates classes of citizenship and denies a naturalized citizen the right to travel or seek employment abroad. The ABA labels as harsh and unfair Section 21.58 of the Liberian Aliens and Nationality Law which states that any naturalized citizen of Liberia whose citizenship is revoked automatically loses his/her claim on property owned, which shall go to the state uncompensated, if s/he does not have a Liberian citizen spouse or child to inherit said property (ABA, 2009: 16). This is a particular point of concern in Liberia, given that land disputes represent one of the major state-building/nation-building challenges.

There has been a barrage of assertions made about the potential outcomes of dual citizenship if it is enacted, chief among which is the claim that dual citizenship would enable Liberians who naturalized elsewhere during the civil war to retain their Liberian citizenship, thereby fully contributing to the country’s reconstruction process. The assumption herein is that dual citizenship will enhance the state-building agenda and further entrench economic renewal. The converse argument could be applied, however, that there is no direct correlation between the retention of citizenship and involvement in nation-building and reconstruction efforts (Whitaker, 2011; Spiro, 2012) although migration enthusiasts who view citizenship as ‘unbounded’ would disagree.


Rapid international migration and mobility, coupled with globalization, have ruptured state-centric conceptions of citizenship, identity, and belonging (Sassen, 2005; Jacobson, 1996), with legal scholars now asserting that dual citizenship (or multiple citizenships) are becoming the rule rather than the exception in the 21st century (Spiro, 1997; Rubenstein & Adler, 2000). Therefore, an interrogation of Liberia’s proposed dual citizenship legislation and the renewal of debates about diasporic involvement in post-conflict state-building and nation-building cannot be meaningful without an analytical review of how the concept of citizenship has evolved in the modern world over time.

Citizenship has been construed over time to inscribe an individual within a particular polity. What has been contemporarily termed “citizenship” has its antecedents in the modern Greek city state, further evolving from the era of feudalism to the emergence of the nation-state (Kashyap 1997: 4), in which a social contract defined the nation-citizen relationship, as theorized by Rosseau, Hobbes, and Locke. Throughout the modern era, citizenship has been defined as the legal status of an individual. It has also come to be described as a system of rights. Yet two other definitions of citizenship include a form of political activity and a form of identity and solidarity (Bosniak, 2000: 451). It is no wonder that scholars often disagree about whether or not dual citizenship should be an extension of the modern form of legal, political, social, cultural, and economic engagement.

Koslowski evaluates the double-edged sword of dual citizenship historically, drawing a very important delineation between “dual nationality” & “dual citizenship” and “nationality” & “citizenship” by arguing that according to international law, “nationality encompasses subjects as well as citizens” (Koslowski, 2001: 205). While “nationality” refers to being subject to a state’s laws, taxes, and military service while benefiting from the right of protection by the state while abroad, “citizenship,” on the other hand, refers to a “bundle of social, political, and social rights possessed by individuals” (Koslowski, 2001: 205). As modern nationality laws were formulated from the 19th century to the 20th century, states either adopted a jus sanguinis (ancestral lineage) or jus soli (birthplace) principle, thereby defining which inhabitants of a state were citizens. Even though historical precedents have deterred most modern nation-states from recognizing dual nationality, a growing number of governments have endorsed dual citizenship not because of increased internationalization per se, but because of domestic politics.

Using case studies from Senegal, Ghana, and Kenya, Whitaker argues that increased claims for dual citizenship in Africa may be driven as much by self-serving political interests as it is by concerns about national reconstruction, economic development, or security, especially with the advent of multi-party competition, the involvement of emigrants in homeland politics, and the need for African politicians to establish constituencies abroad for support and funding (Whitaker, 2011: 756). She says that political processes have influenced the recognition of dual citizenship in three ways in Africa: 1) debates about dual citizenship in Africa have been facilitated by democratization; 2) the decision to recognize (or not) dual citizenship may be influenced about the political leanings of diasporas abroad (dual citizenship policies may be driven in part by the political interests of the ruling party); and 3) African politicians may be toeing a fine line with dual citizenship between seeking support of emigrants abroad and avoiding political competition with them (Whitaker, 2011: 764; 777-779). Although dual citizenship proponents in Liberia and elsewhere argue for enactment based on assumptions about economic gains to a sending country, there is no empirical evidence that explicitly recognizes a correlation between increased economic contributions by a country’s diasporas and the enactment of dual citizenship (Whitaker, 2011).

Current debates on citizenship illustrate the process by which diasporic communities affect the citizenship regimes in their host nations, yet there are emerging parallel discourses focused entirely on how diasporic communities influence citizenship regimes in their country of origin (Baranbantseva and Sutherland, 2011: 1). This debate has situated claims for dual citizenship at the center. Baranbantseva and Sutherland stress that both diasporas and sending nations actively engage in the process of revising the meaning of citizenship (Baranbantseva and Sutherland, 2011: 1). They define citizenship as the “legal expression of national belonging” with loyalty seen as one of the duties of citizenship in exchange for state rights, security and protection. (Baranbantseva and Sutherland, 2011: 2). For them, citizenship is fundamentally linked to nation-building and state-legitimacy and citizenship and its relationship with state territoriality has increasingly become problematized by international migration (Baranbantseva and Sutherland, 2011: 6; 8). Most legal means by which immigrants are incorporated maximize individual liberty, but their extraterritorial political participation comes at the cost of allowing members to make policies to which they are not directly subject and tilts citizenship towards claiming rights rather than fulfilling obligations (FitzGerald, 2006). This claim is particularly relevant for debates about whether or not dual citizenship will increase participation by diasporic Liberians in state-building or nation-building, as there is no guarantee that they will become involved in the reconstruction process if the proposed bill is passed. Nor is there any empirical evidence to support the correlation between dual citizenship enactment and heightened diasporic involvement in post-war recovery.

Contrary to claims by proponents of dual citizenship, Spiro also cautions that extraterritorial citizenship may not necessarily evidence a strong tie to the homeland state, because in many cases little is required of external citizens, not paying taxes, nor military service. Essentially, there is no cost to maintaining one’s original citizenship (Spiro, 2012: 311; 318). Therefore, granting voting rights to non-resident citizens, which seems to be an extension of granting dual citizenship, could distort state political processes, thereby undermining resident citizen interests. Spiro argues that on average, external citizens will have less of an interest in homeland governance than will resident citizens (Spiro, 2012: 321). He invokes the cases of Mexico (FitzGerald, 2006) and the Dominican Republic (Itzigsohn, 2012) to illustrate that even when external citizens are granted voting privileges, rarely do they exercise it en masse (Spiro, 2012: 318). There is no empirical basis for claiming that dual citizenship necessarily enforces homeland-emigrant ties, rather dual citizenship simply enables “external populations to secure citizenship in their places of external residence without relinquishing the material and sentimental advantages of retained original citizenship” (Spiro, 2012: 319). This is why some states have opted for a hybrid compromise by granting quasi citizenship through identity cards (India, Turkey, Ethiopia) that enable certain rights but stop short of political rights, enabling a form of membership, ie, ethnic citizenship (Joppke, 2005; Spiro, 2012: 324). Spiro asserts that “citizenship thus is unlikely to supply an institutional home for diaspora” because states will unlikely decouple citizenship (and by extension diaspora membership) from territorial governance (Spiro, 2012: 329) no matter how sympathetic they are to their diasporas.


Scholars who examine post-conflict reconstruction projects place a high premium on state-building, but less of an emphasis on its distant analytical twin, nation-building. A number of features defining state-building and nation-building position the two in binary trajectories. While nation-building is ‘people centric’ and domestically driven, requiring national agency, ownership and resources, state-building is ‘institution centric’ and externally driven, often soliciting international resources and involving some form of social engineering through a ‘one-size-fits’ all approach. Although both state-building and nation-building have their advantages and disadvantages, the two processes cannot be transformational if they are pursued in isolation. The Liberia case study has shown that policy makers must consider state-building and nation-building as mutually constitutive.

Five major contributions supporting the need to strengthen state institutions and governance structures in war to peace transitions were proffered in 2004 by authors such as Francis Fukuyama, Simon Chesterman, James Fearon and David Laitin, Stephen Krasner, and Roland Paris, which transformed state-building into a growing topic of concern in peace-building scholarship (Paris and Sisk, 2010: 7-10). According to Paris and Sisk, however, post-war peace-building and state-building remain uncertain for a number of reasons: 1) the record of peace-building and state-building enterprises have seen divergent outcomes; 2) state-building, for some, represents a new form of colonial control over war-torn states in the form of neo-imperial or capitalist expansion and for others it fosters a ‘culture of dependency’ when the goal should be self-rule and domestic governance; and 3) the post-9/11 period has made it difficult to separate discussions of state-building in war-torn states from the failed attempts by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result of these doubts and criticisms, the “historic experiment in peace-building and state-building appears to have arrived at a crossroads and it is unclear what direction this experiment will take, or indeed whether it will proceed at all” (Paris and Sisk, 2010: 12). It has been argued that the state-building ‘project” needs more than reinvestment or reorganization, but rather rethinking because post-war state-building is too important an exercise to abandon altogether (Paris and Sisk, 2010: 13). I would argue that the role of diasporas would be central to this reconceptualization of state-building in Liberia and elsewhere.

It has been argued that “’post-conflict’ interventions are more likely to repeat history if they do not effectively reflect on that history” (Cramer and Goodhand, 2003: 150). The ahistorical ethos of post-conflict reconstruction efforts would be further supported by inserting a discussion on internationalized actors who function as local elites, such as diasporas, and Brinkerhoff does this quite deliberately. She highlights the way in which digital diasporas (Afghan Americans—Rebuild Afghanistan/Afghans for Tomorrow/Afghans Online; U.S. Copts Association; and Somalinet-large Somali online community, etc.) support positive changes in state-building and governance and mobilize collective action. Diasporas develop hybrid identities that conflate values of the homeland with values acquired or enhanced by the host nation (Brinkerhoff, 2007: 187). Yet, this does not always yield positive results. Informal ‘contracts’ entered into between local elites and international actors actually lead to the enforcement of weak states because their interests in creating a facade of change often leave existing state-society relations unchanged (Barnett and Zurcher, 2010: 23-52). This is an argument that is particularly prolific amongst local populations in Liberia about the role of diasporas, as they argue that granting dual citizenship to this already privileged group might reinforce pre-war fissures in social relations. I would argue that in order to subvert claims about the propensity for dual citizenship to re-inscribe historical inequities, Liberia should undergo nation-wide public deliberations on the proposed legislation, leading to a national referendum on the issue. This will facilitate republican peace-building, a form of peace-building that, unlike liberal peace-building, provides the foundation for compromise, collaboration and integration by focusing on public deliberations as a form of legitimizing state authority (Barnett, 2006: 112).

It would appear that state-building and its lack of legitimacy stands in stark contrast to the potentially legitimizing forms of nation-building. Nation building—as the creation of “communities of shared values, traditions, and historical memory” has “political re-legitimation” as its hallmark as well (Robinson, 2007: 13). This preoccupation with the social contract between states and their citizens is particularly relevant for my analysis of how Liberians naturalized elsewhere who automatically revoked their citizenship have used the institution of citizenship as a marker for increased claims to nation-building, which has come to envelop development processes, especially in the context of post-conflict reconstruction. Nation-building has three central elements that define it as a success: “a unifying, persuasive ideology, integration of society and a functional state apparatus” (Hippler, 2005: 7). With its emphasis on not only repairing state-society relations, but also on strengthening society-society relations, nation-building appears to be a magic bullet. Yet, it should not be thought of as a concept that provides a simple solution to fragmented societies or failing states, however, but rather a potentially transformative tool when coupled with other parallel processes, such as state-building.

In post-conflict contexts, it is always important to maintain a self-reflexive gaze, thereby questioning whether or not reconstruction efforts reinforce structures, practices and policies that fuelled conflict in the first place. I would argue that framing dual citizenship as a necessary condition for Liberia’s continued post-war transition efforts in state-building and nation-building must not replace 19th century black settler hegemony with contemporary diasporic hegemony. Liberia’s diasporas do represent a key node in reconstruction efforts, but they are not the panacea to post-war recovery. It will be crucial for the Liberia Rising 2030 agenda to incorporate diasporic perspectives in what it means to be Liberian, and what it means by extension to build a capable post-war state, but not at the expense of local, homeland perspectives and domestically driven nation-building initiatives.


Legislation introduced in Liberia and other emerging countries in the Global South to extend citizenship to nationals abroad is a trend that has far reaching implications beyond the modern nation-state. Given that citizenship has been a site of contestation in Liberia because of its multiple meanings and contemporary manifestations, it is important to critically analyze how the enactment of dual citizenship legislation might reconcile or exacerbate age-old fissures within Liberia’s national fabric, further replacing the indigene vs. settler divide with the homeland Liberian vs. diasporic Liberian divide. Coupling state-building and nation-building as mutually constitutive elements in an analysis of Liberia’s post-conflict reconstruction process is crucial in this regard.

In this article, I have argued that it is important to scrutinize how historical social processes replicate themselves over time, and what bearing this may have on Liberia’s post-conflict state-building and nation-building. I have argued that post-conflict reconstruction in Liberia has primarily focused on building state structures at the expense of solidifying national cohesion, prompting President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her 2012 inaugural address to admit that Liberia would be shifting its focus from ‘lifting Liberia’ (state-building) to ‘lifting Liberians’ (nation-building) in her second term. My contention has been that the proposed dual citizenship legislation should undergo national deliberations beginning with the Liberia Rising 2030 consultations. Such public dialogues/hearings on the legislation should be followed by a national referendum in order for it to be legitimated in Liberia’s post-war development paradigm.

* Born in Monrovia, Liberia, Robtel Neajai Pailey is an opinion fellow with New Narratives, a project supporting leading independent media in Africa. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Development Studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), as a Mo Ibrahim Foundation PhD Scholar. This article was first published in the Liberian Studies Association Journal.


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[1] Clower, et. al (1966) wrote in their study of the Liberian economy that “enormous growth in primary commodities produced by foreign concessions for export has been unaccompanied either by structural changes to induce complimentary growth or by institutional changes to diffuse gains in real income among all sectors of the population.”
[2] In 2009, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that the ACDL donated US$10,000 to support Taylor’s insurgency against Doe.
[3] On May 30, 2012, Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison. An appeals process is currently underway.
[4] The 10-year residency clause was included in a National Referendum in August 2011, with the majority of eligible voters agreeing that it should be invoked in the October 2011 elections, thereby disqualifying candidates who had not resided in Liberia consecutively for 10 years. When the matter was referred to the Supreme Court of Liberia, the five justices maintained that the residency clause would only be enforced in the 2017 presidential and general elections.
[5] This motto clearly reflects the setter ethos, which categorically excluded indigenous Liberians from the nation-state. This motto is currently undergoing scrutiny by the Liberian Governance Commission, aimed at changing it to “The Love of Liberty United Us Here.”
[6] This is a 2010 publication edited by Roland Paris and Timothy Sisk.