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19.04.2017 Feature Article

Liberia’s Election Chief Korkoya’s U.S. Citizenship Saga: Why I Disagree with Dr. Tipoteh

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Laws are important because laws tell everyone in a society what they are to do, how and when they are to do it, and besides, laws enable governments to be formed, and give them the power to control and be controlled, even though in the case of Liberia, our government wants to control everything but refuses to be controlled by the citizens. That said, the chairman of the Liberia’s National Election Commission (NEC), like any other Liberian citizen, must obey the laws of the country, including meeting the guidelines and provisions set forth in the holding of public offices.

If at all Cllr. Korkoya, as chairman of the NEC, is not a natural born Liberian citizen, then he is wrongly occupying the position. However, contrary to a recent call for his resignation on citizenship grounds, Cllr. Korkoya was born in Liberia and his parents hailed from one of the 16 tribes in the country. So that closes the case with this verdict.

This is why when some of us read the recent media publications, our attention was seriously drawn to a political call from veteran Liberian politician and a 2017 presidential candidate, Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh, requesting the resignation of Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, chair of NEC, on grounds that he (Korkoya) is a naturalized American citizen. This ask disabled some of us morally and socially when we think of its lowliness. So, while I am in no way an admirer of Cllr. Korkoya, a personality with whom I have shape intellectual and moral disagreements, I strongly believe the charge against him given the dramatic and chaotic historical context of Liberia.

Equally, and with all due respect to Dr. Tipoteh, a man I respect and hold in the highest of esteem, I feel conditioned and fully obligated to fundamentally disagree with him in his decision to push a narrative that is not only a distraction from the real problems and issues that Liberia has and faces, but one that is a total disregard to the pains and suffering of ordinary Liberians.

In this regard, I therefore urge Dr. Tipoteh and all those who are drawn to the trivialities in Liberia; the petit factors that have no equation to the larger discomfort Liberia and Liberians are grappling with now and will in the future if we remain on the same wasted course, to desist. There are far greater cutting-edge and survival matters in Liberia. These matters have the potential to either annihilate our pride as the first independent nation in Africa, or subject us to a nation of the stone-age, if we are not already there.

At this juncture, what Liberians want to hear from their political and national leaders is how we can move the country forward. We are interested in knowing as to who has the best mind to ensure that Liberia produces the next chief technology officer or the next CEO of Google, Microsoft, Apple, Ford or General Motors, etc. What is important to Liberians is how many people will be trained and how many jobs will or can be created in applied research, bio-technology and medical research; in advanced medicine, manufacturing and agricultural food production? Liberians are more interested as to who has the best mind and patriotism to ensure that all of our roads are paved and that the entire nation is empowered with both fossil fuel and green energy.

Liberians are also very interested in knowing as to who has the mindset to make Liberia the financial and technology capital of West Africa, just as how Singapore is to Asia. Liberians are very much interested in knowing as to who has the creativity and experience to ensure that our country serves as the shipping and commercial center of the West African sub region. Liberians are also interested in knowing as to who has the leadership, capabilities and vision to see our country build high-speed rails that will ease commute and accelerate commerce and trade. The last time I check, no one in Liberia has time for rhetoric and divisive politics anymore. The days for those things are over.

Though it is important that we talk politics, democracy and laws in Liberia. But we have been listening to these things since some of us were in grade school, especially from some of the same people including Dr. Tipoteh himself. Unlike some of us, the NEC boss Jerome Korkoya attended the University of Liberia where Dr. Tipoteh not only teach, but launched his political clarity and prominence. In fact, Korkoya and many other young Liberians were not just followers of the Tipotehs, Sawyers and Fahnbullehs, they were their foot soldiers. Then Dr. Tipoteh did not see Korkoya as a non-Liberian citizen. Only now. What has changed?

The point here is, Liberians must cherished their sons and daughters who traveled abroad, obtained education and returned to the country to add value. Our concerns should not be about what a natural born Liberian citizen had to do to survive in an advanced nation during and after years of untold conflict and destruction. Our focus should be on whether such a person has a criminal record as a result of being in a foreign country. Apparently, Korkoya is a decent man as far as we know until proven otherwise.

The state of Israel does not ask its citizens who live in the United States, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Russia, South Africa, India or even Ethiopia about whether they are Israelites or not. Like Israel, other nations do the same as long the person’s biological lineage can be proven to come from that country.

Just recently, my friend Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed relocated from upstate New York (where he worked as an ordinary civil servant in State Government) to his motherland Somalia to contest presidential elections. He won and is currently using his expertise to facilitate change in a deeply divided nation. This should be our focus, and those who do the contrary must face the law. So far, Korkoya has not been implicated in doing the contrary. So why this noise?

In order to keep democracy alive in Liberia, we need to learn that democracy without meaningful sustainability is baseless. We also have to learn and appreciate that we will and can only flourish as a nation by allowing a diversity of voices to be heard. Our democracy should not be reduced to voting alone, or a smear campaigns rooted in personal interested.

While enforcing our laws is a good thing, Dr. Tipoteh and all those who are selectively interested in certain laws in the country failed to see and understand that our laws and institutions are not only broken every day throughout the country, they are abused by the very people with whom we entrust them.

There are secret arrests and tortures, arbitrary detentions and murders, politically motivated and discriminatory cover-ups, massive looting of public resources, organized corruption and bribery at the highest level ever seen in human history. Yet, no one says anything about these things. Just a day or two ago, Professor Sumo Harris was murdered according to his family. Like Harris, many poor and ordinary Liberian citizens are murdered in communities throughout the length and breadth of the country and no one says anything.

Moreover, assuming Korkoya is a naturalized U.S. citizen, what is wrong with that by the way? Absolutely nothing as long as he was born in Liberia and hails from one of the 16 major tribal groups. Besides, almost every single Liberian family has relatives in the United States, and most if not all of the people serving in government (past and present) have some family members in the United States. In fact, most officials of the Liberian government have their immediate family members here. From the executive branch to the Legislative and judicial branches, they all have children here. Some even have their wives here.

Is Dr. Tipoteh willing to say that the children of these people, who had to assume some status in the U.S. in order to improve themselves educationally and otherwise, are not Liberian citizens? If so, why did Dr. Tipoteh allow many of the people in the current and even past Liberian administrations to hold government positions? Has Dr. Tipoteh asked the people who headed and are now heading maritime; central bank, transport, foreign affairs, education and many other sectors? Has he asked his friend, the current president of Liberia, with whom he had recently had a decent foreign trip to Morocco? Is he willing to tell members of the Supreme Court of Liberia and subordinate courts in the country that their kids are not Liberians because they assumed American citizenship in effort to improve themselves and return home? Is he willing to tell the president pro tempore, the speaker of the House and key senate and house committee members that their children, wives and other relatives are not Liberians?

If we go by Dr. Tipoteh’s metrics, some of his good friends and acclaimed followers will not have government jobs in Liberia. For a protractive period, the entire leadership at the ministry of finance, the Central Bank of Liberia and some other ministries were people with secondary citizenships, and this still seem to be the case with certain agencies up till now. Half, if not all, of the president’s immediate family has secondary citizenship. Some of Dr. Tipoteh’s colleagues have secondary citizenship.

If Dr. Tipoteh is really concerned about anything, he should be more concerned about government contracts that supposed to be awarded to Liberian citizens and business that are instead awarded to nationals of other nations within our sub region. If the veteran politician is so worried about our Liberianness, then he should have advised the president during their recent trip together abroad that focus needs to be placed on creating avenues for more young people to be employed in the country.

As we write, there are thousands of Liberians in the United States and in other lands whose lives are in serious jeopardy because they have no legal status to live in these foreign countries and they cannot return home because our country has nothing to offer them except corruption, lack of electricity, poor or no healthcare facilities, bad roads etc.

I say to Dr. Tipoteh and all Liberians that whenever we engage in national debates, we should not overrate the power of jobs and wealth creation and improve living condition’s arguments some of us find personally convincing to our people. Apart from the fact that mere political talking-points are no longer appealing, they do not resonate with ordinary Liberians, especially our young people anymore.

What seems to worry and resonate with Liberian youth and young people around the world are the current unplanned global economic and social trends caused by globalization, information, and the communications technology (ICT) revolution that is creating increased pressure for changes in all economies and societies. Our young people will be better served if we tell them our solution to these problems.

So I respectfully say to Dr. Tipoteh, please forget about this artificial citizenship narrative and focus on the pressing problems our country has. For example, most institutions in our nation including the ministry of health and social welfare cannot accurately provide data on the total number of people with tuberculosis, malaria, measles, or the number of people who died from cancer, childbirth or, the number of children who are malnourished. The ministry of education cannot provide accurate data on the country’s primary school enrolment, drop-out rate; or the number of qualified teachers or the number and types of schools in the country. The ministry of agriculture cannot accurately provide data on the number of commercial and sustenance farmers, the different categories of farmers, and the agricultural products they produce. The ministry of justice cannot accurately provide data on the number and type of arrests made in each year; or the number of inmates incarcerated, the murder rate; or the number of immigrants entering or in the country since the bureau of immigration and naturalization falls under its authority.

Liberia has real and serious problems but our leadership and politicians are not listening, maybe we need to develop a system that will listen to the Liberian people. Imagine having to develop a system today that would express the will of the people so that trust in our institutions of democracy, our government, our leaders and our politicians will visibly stop declining. This, instead, is not case. What we keep hearing from the wise ones in our society is the unexpected.

Finally, it is important to note that we should not allow elections to be the fossil fuel of politics and economic prosperity in Liberia, as doing so would be the latest in a series of worrying blows to the health of our democracy and the survival of our country. I therefore urge all Liberians to forget about what divides us more and instead focus on who has the best ideas and vision to take our nation forward.

The facts are, as a former student activist at the University of Liberia, Jerome Korkoya was a Liberian citizen when he followed Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh and others’ “progressive” political thinking. Cllr. Jerome Korkoya, chair of the National Election Commission of Liberia (NEC) is a Liberian citizen even though he is no longer adhering to the continuous political views of Dr. Tipoteh and his colleagues.

About the Author: Jones Nhinson Williams is a Catholic educated Liberian philosopher and an American trained public policy scholar, labor market information expert, and workforce development professional. He can be reached at: [email protected]

Jones Nhinson Williams
Jones Nhinson Williams, © 2017

The author has 54 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: JonesNhinsonWilliams

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