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The Law and Citizenship in Sierra Leone

January 23, 2021

By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma

Recommendation 86 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report observed that ‘’all citizens should be equally entitled to the rights, privileges and benefits of citizenship. They should be equally subject to the duties and responsibilities of citizenship.’’ The recommendation stressed that these principles are to be enshrined in the Constitution of Sierra Leone. This is an imperative recommendation.

For years, there have been concerns from some sections of the Lebanese community in Sierra Leone regarding their rights to citizenship in Sierra Leone. In most cases, their complexions have suggested that they are not considered as automatic Sierra Leoneans. Most of them feel discouraged by such act of discrimination meted against them. One of such persons is Nasser Ayoub, a recording artist, philanthropist and businessman. For him, he is born and raised in Sierra Leone and that he sees no need to apply for a Sierra Leonean citizenship. He considers the country’s citizenship law discriminatory and that such a paradigm is to be changed just where rights and equality matter.

Nasser is not alone on this. There are several other people that are believed and or perceived to be foreign nationals that see themselves worthy of getting the Sierra Leonean citizenship. For them, it is a right and not a privilege. In this regard, on Tuesday January 5th, 2021, the President of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio granted citizenship to twenty-two (22) African Americans. The new citizens were believed to have traced their origins to Sierra Leone through DNA results and with most of them having roots from Bo and Tonkolili districts.

The new Sierra Leonean citizens expressed gratitude to the government and people of Sierra Leone. To them, this was something they had always longed for. They felt fulfilled and motivated to have been wholesomely accepted. It is such opportunities that other people do not totally go in for. To them, they must not and should not apply because as they put it ‘they are born in Sierra Leone and that this is their motherland.’’

Right activists like Thomas Moore Conteh of the Citizens’ Advocacy Network (CAN Sierra Leone) are on record to have noted that the rights of people matter in any decent democracy. To them, it is such things that keep nations and societies going. “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone made valuable contributions and recommendations that could push Sierra Leone forward when rightfully implemented,’’ Ansu Karim told me.

There have also been diverse views regarding equality in any society. For some people, there appears to be certain sectors of society that enjoy better rights and privileges compared to other sectors these questions the aspect of providing clear and equal opportunities for all and sundry. The world over, citizens have a responsibility of ensuring that they give back to society and help in the development of their nations which many of these white Lebanese, or Indians or white colour people born in Sierra Leone have done for years or even half a century.  This is why it is necessary to have more willing people on board and to encourage them to see the country as their home by granting them citizenship in order to allow them to get their full status and fulfill their fundamental human rights as humans. As a nation it need not be overstated that there is need to catching up with democratic reforms and respect for human rights, from changing the constitution so as to reviewing some of the bad laws, in line with the practice of democracy. The time to act is now, Sierra Leone should provide the level playing field for all concerned.

This article is produced with support from MRCG through the ATJLF project on “Engaging the media to change the narrative on Transitional Justice (TJ) issues in Sierra Leone.

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