Liberia court eases dual nationality ban

Liberia’s Supreme Court has ruled that citizens who obtain foreign nationality will not be automatically stripped of their passports, softening a stringent ban on dual citizenship in the West African country.

Government spokesman Ledgerhood Rennie stated on Wednesday night that Liberians with foreign citizenship will only be forced to forfeit their passport after “due process.” 

The decision relaxes a tough ban on dual citizenship that has existed in Liberia since 1973, which automatically stripped citizenship from holders of other passports. 

The ban has long been viewed as hypocritical in some quarters, as many members of the American-Liberian elite secretly hold US citizenship and are often accused of transferring money abroad.

Hundreds of thousands of other Liberians are also thought to reside overseas, having fled war and poverty.

President George Weah asked Liberians to lift the ban in a referendum in December 2020, arguing that nationality restrictions — which include a ban on foreign property ownership — were unfair. 

Yet the proposed change failed. A majority of 51.5 percent of voters were in favour of lifting the ban, but a two-thirds majority was required.

An official at the Supreme Court, who requested anonymity, said that the court had ruled on the ban last month in a suit dating from 2019. 

The government did not initiate the case.

Supreme Court spokesman Darius Ambrose Mahn told AFP on Wednesday that a Liberian with American citizenship who unsuccessfully requested to renew his Liberian passport had launched the suit.

The decision does not overturn the dual-citizenship ban, he explained, but rather means a court must now decide whether to someone can be stripped of Liberian nationality. 

Rennie, the government spokesman, said that the ruling fulfils “a long-held desire of the President to ensure Liberians of all persuasions, who left the country due to the civil war, are not deprived of their rights and privileges.” 

Liberia is still recovering after its back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003 and the West African 2014-16 Ebola crisis.

The nation of five million people was founded as a haven for freed American slaves in the 19th century.