OPINION: SIERRA LEONE: Cards and Naturalization Policies are Racist and Discriminatory – Govt Must Stop Human Rights Violations Now!

Sierra Express Media
Friday, May 20, 2011 - 20:00
Western Africa
Sierra Leone
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Initiative Type: 
Online Dialogues & Blogs

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” Martin Luther King!

“To live anywhere in the world today and be against equality because of race or colour is like living in Alaska and being against snow” ~ William Faulkner, Essays, Speeches and Public Letters

“Racism is man's gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason” ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

I was compelled to search for famous racial quotes when it was brought to my notice that in addition to the undisputable abuse of Human Rights of Non Negro Sierra Leoneans in The Citizenship Law, there were policies in place by Government Ministries deliberately geared towards racism against the same group in the issuance of National ID Cards, and as if it was not enough embarrassment for our Nation, there was serious discrimination against Black Sierra Leonean Women in the terms of reference for Naturalization application.

It was about a year ago I wrote an open letter to His Excellency when I was embarrassed at Lungi International Airport over what had been a release from the Chief Immigration Officer demanding that Non Negro Sierra Leoneans must undergo verification before they could use their Sierra Leonean Passports. Since then His Excellency has reassured every one of his determination to eradicate the racial and discriminatory aspects of our Citizenship Laws and to modify it to be at par with the rest of the world. He has kept to his promise and the document is being compiled by The Law Officers Department for submission to Parliament, which we hope will be submitted within the next 2 weeks and no longer.

However the two areas stated in the caption need urgent attention to ensure the President's efforts are not being undermined by The Ministries of Foreign and Internal Affairs dealing with Naturalization and the issuance of ID Cards respectively.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs' committee on Naturalization and Citizenship has issued a 13 point term of reference for applicants. However, for the purpose of this article, let us examine Point 6 which states that;

“Every woman who is not a Sierra Leonean and who is or has been married to a Sierra Leonean Citizen, may on application being made by her in the prescribed manner, be granted a certificate of naturalization”.

In very simple English, the above criteria is applicable for the Non Negro wives of Sierra Leonean Citizens, but nothing is mentioned for the Non Negro Husbands of Sierra Leonean Citizens in the entire terms of reference which implies they cannot apply for citizenship through Naturalization. This is outrageous discrimination against Sierra Leonean Women whose husbands are not accorded the same privileges as the wives of Sierra Leonean Men.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, an astute politician and a fine gentleman, must demand some explanation when under his Ministry a policy provides special privileges for Sierra Leonean Men than is accorded the female counterpart. Action must be immediate Mr Minister!

The issuance of National ID Cards is now in place and Government is encouraging, if not demanding that everyone must acquire one. It is shocking though that for a Non Negro Sierra Leonean to apply for a National ID, he or she would require verification, whereas a Negro Sierra Leonean would only need their Birth Certificate and be issued with their ID's.

Like in the days of Martin Luther King in USA when there was one law for whites and another for blacks, so in Sierra Leone today, there are two Laws for the issuance of ID Cards, Black Sierra Leoneans automatically get it and pay Le 50,000 whilst Non Negro Sierra Leoneans would have to go through questioning, verification and further investigation to ensure they have been Naturalized, and if not Naturalized they must take the ID Card as foreigners and pay Le 440,000, even if, like me, they have been Citizens of this Country all their life, and have never been nor entitled to any other Citizenship.

It beckons the question as to how one can or should naturalize when he or she has known no other place as home but Sierra Leone. It also puzzles me how one has had a Citizenship for the last 38 years but yet is now told he must naturalize to continue as a Citizen. It is unthinkable to request such cases should apply for naturalization.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs must explain which is a more credible document, The Passport or The ID? And if the former, then why such a complex route to the issuance of an ID card? The Honourable Minister, Musa Tarrawalli, must set an enquiry into such racist policy under his Ministry since the issuance of ID card is supervised by The Ministry of Internal Affairs. I would recommend he demands the same equal treatment for Non Negro Sierra Leoneans as is currently provided for Negro Sierra Leoneans.

These laws/policies are a violation of our human rights as Citizens of Sierra Leone and deprive us of our entitlement to belong. It creates an impression that if not halted immediately, it will one day render quite a good number stateless. In reality it has already establish a fear that some of us can and should actually consider ourselves stateless now because we are not entitled and are not been treated as equals in the only home we know.

It is therefore necessary for the President and his Government to convince us we are an integral part of this country, and reassure us that our loyalty should always be to Sierra Leone, by stopping this intolerable racially instigated series of human rights violations now!