Congratulations to President George Weah, on his inauguration as President of the Republic of Liberia. Our neighbours have successfully concluded what has been largely described by many as FREE and FAIR elections. But above all, it has been PEACEFULL. Like Liberia, Sierra Leone experienced one of the most brutal wars known to man in recent years. No one needs the painful reminder of what happened to our country during that decade long war. And like Liberia, our country flirted with military interventions for a while, but thanks to the will of the people, and in addition to the support from the International community, we successfully made a seemingly seamless transition to democratic rule. This has seen the SLPP and the APC change political batons, in the drive to restore our country back to the road map for socio-economic recovery. Unfortunately, while our cousins next door have collectively made every effort to continue with the transitions, it seems like our country is literally embarking on undoing everything that has been gained, thanks to a self-created constitutional debacle. Sadly, this kind of impasse is not an exclusive domain of Sierra Leone. The whole saga is wrapped around the issue of dual citizenship, and in particular that involving America, on the constitutional spectrum.
As ironies go, we are seeing a similarly different situation in the USA. Dr. Yumkela’s nomination as a parliamentary and presidential candidate for his constituency and the country respectively was petitioned. As we go to press, initial reports show that his candidacies have been upheld by NEC. While waiting for the courts to get into full gear, let us attempt to unravel some of the gymnastics involved here.
Are we saying that by swearing allegiance or acquiring US citizenship, KKY lost his Sierra Leonean citizenship? Are we saying that by giving up his American citizenship, he became automatically stateless? Some of us will never pretend to be connoisseurs of politics, of the constitution or even the laws of the land. But there are certain facts of the matter that need to be established here. There is no doubt that these are dizzying times in Sierra Leonean politics, and the mood of eager anticipation is filled with renewed optimism or dejected scepticism; depending on your political hat. Irrespective of where you stand, there is no denying the fact that a significant dose of uncertainty has been injected into the political life blood of the country.
Firstly, Sierra Leone, like America has provision for people to hold dual citizenship. It does not matter whether these citizenships were obtained by virtue of birth or by naturalisation. The term “dual citizenship” means being a citizen of 2 different countries at the same time. Such a position offers added privileges, protections and inherent allegiances to such individuals. Secondly, people with dual citizenships can acquire such VOLUNTARILY, as long as certain conditions like age, mental state, etc. are met. And it is the same, that an individual can VOLUNTARILY RENOUCE or RELINQUISH one of their dual citizenship status at any time. But relinquishing or renouncing one of the citizenships does not automatically mean the loss of citizenship or statehood of the other; because it will mean that the person will become STATELESS. In the USA, you can voluntarily renounce or relinquish your American citizenship PROVIDED, you are already a citizen of another country, or intend to acquire another citizenship by way of application, or documents to prove intention to do so. So how did people arrive at the conclusion that if Dr. Yumkella renounced his US citizenship in November 2017, it means that he was STATELESS at the time of registering his party? How did they come to the conclusion that in order for him to be eligible for his political pursuit, Yumkella is required to “regularise his Sierra Leonean citizenship?
Let us take a peek at the big picture of dual citizenship here for a minute. The law that bars people with dual citizenship from becoming members of parliament or law makers is sacrosanct. It is morally, ethically and logically right to STOP such people. At face value, this is about allegiance and loyalty to one’s country. The law does not forbid dual citizens from participating in the socioeconomic activities of their parent country. There are many ways that they can contribute to their country or communities. The question that has been baffling to some is; if you want to serve your country, if you want to give back to your country, DOES IT HAVE TO BE ONLY IN POLITICS? Don’t answer that.
The irony about all this is how all the political parties are falling over themselves with promises to “look into this”, after the elections. The question is, WHY? Does that mean these parties intend to rectify the constitution, in respect of this law? By promising to look into this law after the elections, are these parties by implication tacitly admitting that “something is wrong with the law? If so, why do you implement a law that you implicitly admit is wrong, and intend to “look into”; after elections? How can a law be legal one minute and illegal the next? Are these politicians making all these promises because, they are worried about upsetting their cash cows in the diaspora? Do we need to change our laws, just to appease those in the diaspora? If anything, our politicians should be implementing systems that would allow all Sierra Leoneans to vote, irrespective of where they are. This is happening for other African countries, why not Sierra Leone?
Let us now turn our attention to the simple rationale behind the law, barring Sierra Leoneans with dual citizenship from contesting electoral positions. In order to highlight this, I will use a case in point to do so. The erstwhile Minister of information, Mohamed Bangura has dual citizenship. In a recent interview in the media, he was reported to have sent his wife to give birth to his child in America. When questioned about this, he categorically stated among others that better healthcare and the prospect of his child gaining American citizenship by birth, were the reasons for sending his wife to have the child in the USA. And this was coming from a sitting member of parliament, the minister of information of the same APC party and government that is invoking the law.
With such an option at his disposal, would anyone expect Mohamed Bangura to be committed to and loyal in ensuring that our healthcare system is developed? No. Because when his wife wants to give birth or when he needs medical attention, he has somewhere he can go. Compare that with your average Saidu in Kroo Bay, who would struggle to even afford a packet of Paracetamol for headache. There you have the disparity. The question that has been baffling to many is why are our politicians kowtowing to the Diaspora sector?
It goes without saying that many people in the diaspora today are the bye products of the failings of the very politicians who are pandering to them today. If our politicians had promoted good governance, utilised the wealth of our God given natural resources appropriately and wisely, how many would have preferred to live in the diaspora. As we speak now, how many people in the diaspora would dearly love to return and contribute to the development of their country? Countless, but can they?
When Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma was elected as President, he embarked on a worldwide tour of the diaspora. He told everybody and anybody who cared to listen, that Sierra Leone was “open for business”. He implored many Sierra Leoneans abroad “to come back home” to develop our nation. He even opened an office for diaspora affairs. That was a demonstration of his acknowledgement of the importance of the diaspora to our country. Remittances from people contribute very significantly to our GDP. There are many from the diaspora who answered his call. Interestingly, it seemed that many returned with their sights firmly on the politics of our country. It is therefore not surprising that the APC party was clogged with politicians from the diaspora, and who had dual citizenships. And this is why many people see the party’s lame attempt to invoke the issue of dual citizenship as downright hypocritical. While it worked for them, this law was conveniently treated with the blinkers and shelved to the backburner. All of a sudden, the party has discovered its love for our constitution, when this same party is as guilty as sin in the first place. But no matter however good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However bad a Constitution may be, if those implementing it are good, it will prove to be good.
Let us remember that the Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government. As for the law that prevents people with dual citizenship from taking political roles in our government, it is morally and ethically right to do so. We should keep that law as it is. If anyone wants to contribute fully as members of parliament, law makers, ministers etc. in our government, it is just right and proper that they relinquish any other allegiance or loyalty to another country. We cannot have people with split loyalty, double allegiance to be fully committed to promote, protect or preserve our national interests. That can even carry security risks for our country. How would you guarantee that state secrets are not peddled elsewhere? How do you ensure that contracts are not unscrupulously “sold” to foreign interests, at the expense of national individuals? So to all our politicians, this part of the law is good for our country. No matter how much tweaking you intend to do with it, please don’t bend it just to accommodate those in the diaspora. There are many ways those in the diaspora can contribute to our country. You don’t need to be a politician to do so. We just need to make sure that the law applies to all, all of the time; and not just for Christmas or on the eve of elections. All we ask for is a level playing field.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).
Yes indeed the Diaspora makes a significant contribution to Sierra Leone’s economy but do we want to be Ministers and MPs? Not unless we have retired and settled back home on or before retirement. It should be mandatory for someone to be resident at home (or in a Constituency they intend to represent) for a minimum of 3 years. We have had problems with Sierra Leoneans form the Diaspora who have gone back home to become MPs and Ministers. They are more of a problem than a solution to our governance system. Some of them create barriers for others from the same Diaspora who have good intentions about contributing to the socio-economic development of our nation. This is because they owe allegiance to their parties and not the nation. What we have is the politics of exclusion and one can only be given the opportunity depending on one’ tribe and party connection. Not all of us want to be politician. The solution will be to empower the Office of Diaspora Affairs and let them be the champion of our causes and a link between us, the government and our brothers and sisters at home.