By George Harris
Liberian scholar Robtel Neajai Pailey on January 7, 2021 has held the inaugural launch of her latest book, Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa: The Political Economy of Belonging to Liberia, published by top academic publisher Cambridge University Press.
The book, Development (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa: The Political Economy of Belonging to Liberia (Cambridge University Press, 2021) draws on rich life histories from over two hundred in-depth interviews in West Africa, Europe, and North America.
According to the book’s synopsis, it examines the socio-economic change in Liberia, Africa’s first black republic, through the prism of citizenship and looks at the question of whether dual citizenship reproduces inequalities.
The work is an engaging study of citizenship construction and practice in Liberia, Africa’s first black republic – and marking how historical policy changes on citizenship and contemporary public discourse on dual citizenship impact development policy and practice.
In the book, Dr. Pailey reveals that as Liberia transformed from a country of immigration to one of emigration, so too did the nature of citizenship, thus influencing claims for and against dual citizenship. The book discusses citizenship from an Afrocentric and empirical perspective; something she says is often missing in scholarly literature.
“Most of the literature on citizenship tends to be Eurocentric and abstract,” she says. Though the book addresses dual citizenship in Africa, Pailey says it is specifically a case study about Liberia.
“Why Liberia? Liberia, as you know, was the first black African republic and as a result, it was really the first country in the continent of Africa to devise legal norms around membership and citizenship. It is a unique case study,” she says.
She says that the book is the first study that looks at both domestic and diasporic construction and practices of citizenship across space and time. She said that she looked at a dual citizenship bill that was introduced in the Liberian senate in 2008. The bill was never passed.
The book which features views of Liberians that belong to different social classes, research began in 2013. During this time, Pailey says that she interviewed 200 Liberians from different cities across Africa, Europe, and the Untied States of America.
“So it is based on in-depth interview of 200 Liberians in five different cities. So I talk about homelanders, Liberians who did not leave during the war or maybe left for a very short period of time, and I compared their experiences to returnees. I compared and contrast Executive Branch policymakers as well as Legislative policymakers. I interviewed the four sponsors of the 2008 dual citizenship bill — Jewel Howard Taylor, Cletus Wotorson, Sumo Kupee, and Abel Massaley. The third group that I compare and contrast are the near and the wider diaspora,” she says.
“Pailey has broken new ground, creating the first in-depth scholarly examination of Liberian citizenship. Her engaging interdisciplinary study draws on over 200 interviews with Liberians and the diaspora to examine the ‘political economy of belonging’,” says According to Bronwen Manby, London School of Economics and Political Science. He calls it “an invaluable contribution to the literature of citizenship and dual citizenship in Africa.”
Séverine Autesserre, of Barnard College, Columbia University, says the Pailey “combines an in-depth understanding of Liberian society, politics, and economy that only an insider can possess with the thoroughness, nuance, and rigour of the best kind of outside academic research. The result is an analysis of identity and citizenship in Liberia that is as illuminating as it is convincing.”
Beth Elise Whitaker, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said the author “weaves together theory, interviews and reflections from her own experiences navigating Liberia and the diaspora, bringing richness to the discussion that makes the book accessible to a broad audience.”
“Robtel Neajai Pailey is prominent among a new cohort of young African scholars who are reinvigorating the way we look at African societies, diasporas, mobility, conflict and citizenship,” said Nicholas Van Hear, University of Oxford.
The inaugural launch of Pailey’s book at the University of Liberia coincided with the official publication date, January 7. Other launches have been scheduled in the cities where she conducted interviews, including London, United Kingdom; Washington, DC, United States; Accra, Ghana; and Freetown, Sierra Leone.
“Even though I am based in London but I was determined to ensure that the inaugural launch of this book will be held on the Liberian soil. So it is an honor and pleasure to be at this time,” she says.
The Monrovia launch of the book was graced by several officials including Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon, Lofa County Senator-elect Brownie J. Samukai, President of the University of Liberia (UL), Julius Julukon Sarwolo Nelson, UL Vice President for Graduate Education and Research, Dr. Jonathan Taylor, Chief-of-Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Prince C. Johnson, and others.
According to Pailey’s personal website, she “is a Liberian academic, activist, and author with more than 15 years of combined personal and professional experiences in Africa, Europe and in North America. Having worked across a broad range of fields supporting universities, governments, media institutions, multilateral, regional, non-governmental and community-based organizations, she has practitioner-based proficiencies in qualitative research, capacity development, policy design and analysis, program management, report and grant writing, journalism and strategic communications.” Pailey is currently Assistant Professor in International Social and Public Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).