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‘We want our full citizenship right’ – Nasser Ayoub

‘We want our full citizenship right’ – Nasser Ayoub

A popular business entrepreneur and philanthropist has broken his silence on the issue of nationality prejudice in Sierra Leone. Nasser Ayoub (in photo), who was born in Sefadu, Kono district in 1971 to Dr. Soko Tamba, said he is among hundreds of other Sierra Leoneans who have suffered discrimination since birth and therefore called on the authorities to put an end to all forms of racial discrimination.

“I am a third generation Sierra Leonean, my grandfather was born here, my father was born here and I was born here too in Sefadu, Kono which makes me a Sierra Leonean but the only crime I have committed for not getting my full citizenship right is my skin colour,’’ Ayoub said in an exclusive interview with this press.

According to Ayoub, he cannot hold a Sierra Leonean passport at the moment nor can he hold any top office. He said Sierra Leone is the only country they know as home but that the authorities are yet to accept them as citizens. “We have faced discrimination in every sphere – sports, politics, business; and it is high time our leaders take a second look at our laws. We want to blend with our people, we want to feel part of the decision making process, we want to acquire properties, we want to contribute to tourism, we want to develop the economy, we want to call this place home, but the country’s existing laws put a barrier against us to achieving all of these,” he said, adding that “most people think I am a Lebanese but I am not. In fact, I hold a British passport [through duration of stay] and at the same time can also acquire a dual citizenship just like Ministers, Members of Parliament, and even former Heads of State”.

However, Ayoub revealed that there are many ways he could have used to acquire Sierra Leonean citizenship and passport, but that he has decided to do that through the legal channel. “We all know that over 90% of foreigners who are holders of Sierra Leone passports got it through the illegal means. The sole reason for them to acquire these passports is for them not to pay the normal amounts for running their businesses here and thereby denying the government of badly needed revenue. This channel will continue to thrive until and unless government legitimises the process,” he observed.

He recommended the formation of a committee that will get rid of all passports acquired through the illegal means. He said he is willing to dedicate his service to that end.

Ayoub said an amendment of the 1991 Constitution on citizenship right is overdue. He said Sierra Leone is perhaps the only country in the world that still maintains the word “Negro” in its law books. “What constitutes a citizen?” Ayoub enquired. He said the worldwide acceptable standards of gaining citizenship is in three forms: that is through citizenship by birth citing the United States of America as an example, citizenship by the duration of stay in a country for example the UK, and by naturalisation. He said ones colour should not deprive him from his citizenship rights.

Ayoub, who has established several successful businesses that employ more than 100 Sierra Leoneans including a hotel and a radio station, said racial discrimination also affects the economy and especially the development of the tourism sector. He said according to the laws of Sierra Leone, people who are considered as foreigners cannot buy properties including land. He said foreign investors do not feel secured in Sierra Leone. He said in The Gambia for example one can purchase land and establish a 5-star hotel there without the authorities questioning your eligibility for citizenship, which according to him, is the contrary in Sierra Leone. He said in Sierra Leone, foreigners are forced to get things the illegal way by offering bribes.

Ayoub expressed disappointment at the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Sierra Leone. He said the issue of racial discrimination has attracted lots of interest both inside and outside of Sierra Leone, including Amnesty International and the US embassy in their annual global reports on rights issue. He said the HRC should be championing this course but has not done the least. He said they are about to form an association of which he called “Sierra Leoneans Without Identity” and that they are ready to dialogue with government on the issue of citizenship.

Pressure continues to mount for the 1991 constitution to be reviewed. In fact the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made series of recommendations of changes that should be made in the constitution, many of which it categorised as ‘imperative recommendations’ – meaning they are required to be carried out immediately.

A Constitutional Review Committee report which was published in 2007 stated that the 1991 Constitution, unlike the original 1961 Constitution at the time of Independence, makes no mention of citizenship. The Constitutional Review Committee proposes a new section on citizenship, which details with the different ways in which people can become citizens. The Committee suggests that the Sierra Leone Constitution should provide that people can become full citizens regardless of the colour of their skin or their racial origin and that naturalised citizens should have the same rights as other citizens, except that they could not become President.

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  • Mauritania: An African state where Blacks are “second class citizens”

    Students have been up in arms, since March 25, against the Arabization of Mauritania, as expressed by members of the government on March 1, a day set aside to commemorate the Arabic language. Despite the authorities’ denial, the malaise within the Black Mauritanian community remains palpable. This comes in the backdrop of recent steps taken by the Mauritanian government to seek the return of Black-Mauritanians who fell victim to a 1989 mass deportation, especially those exiled in France and the United States. But Human Rights organizations and those concerned have denounced the selective and discriminatory nature of the policy. Abda Wone, a journalist and political activist, tells Afrik-news.com that the “thorny question” remains to be answered. Interview.
    Journalist and political analyst, Abda Wone is a native of Kaedi, a town situated in southern Mauritania. A Columbia University alma mater, he is an activist and member of the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (Flam). Abda Wone is also an associate spokesperson for the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG-iAbolish). His life as an activist began in 1989, when he was only sixteen. He left Mauritania the same year, like the hundreds of thousands of Black-Mauritanians who had been forcefully uprooted and deported from their country by the Arabo-Berber government. In the year 2000, Abda Wone resettled in the United States, where he filed a complaint on May 23, 2007 against the former Mauritanian President, Ould Taya Maouia (1984-2005) and his regime for crimes against humanity, deportation and torture.

    Afrik-news.com: Black Mauritanian students recently denounced the Arabization of Mauritania. This is not their first protest against a seemingly recurrent process in the country’s history…

    Abda Wone: Every government has tried to go a step further to achieve a complete Arabization of Mauritania. It is an old problem that dates back to the country’s independence. Already in 1965, the regime enacted laws (65-025 and 65-026) that sought to make the teaching of Arabic in Mauritania mandatory. This led to the first crisis, and the drafting of the 1966 manifesto 19 (manifeste des 19), which was against excessive Arabization. In 1979, the Movement of Black students again protested against a bill known as “circulaire 02”, a pro arabization document… Their strike action led to a blank school year. In 1986, Mauritania experienced its major crisis yet. After writing a manifesto that simply called for a debate between the various organizations, Black-Mauritanian executives were arbitrarily arrested and sent to jail in Oualata. Some never got the chance to get out of this deathtrap.

    Afrik-news.com: Arabization and deportation call into question the place of Blacks in Mauritania. Why did the Mauritanian authorities deport them in 1989?

    Abda Wone: Mauritania had close ties with the Iraqi government during the time of Saddam Hussein who wanted to help the Taya regime to create an exclusively Arab Mauritania. This was to happen in two stages. The first was to reduce Black-Mauritanians numerically. The second was to grab lands that belonged to Black-Mauritanians in the South. The Mauritanian government wanted the country to be part of the Arab world although 80% of its population was Black. Black Mauritanians were kicked out of their country in 1989. The military came at night and entire villages were razed to the ground. The next day, the poor victims found themselves in Senegal and Mali. Over 120 000 Black Mauritanians fell victim to the deportations. For those who were not deported, life became a living hell. In 1990, Black soldiers were killed when the authorities decided to purge the army under the Arabization program. Over 3 000 were killed that year. It was on November 28, 1990, Mauritanian independence day, that the barbarism reached its peak. 28 Black Mauritanians were sacrificed to celebrate the independence day celebrations.

    Afrik-news.com: Nouakchott is pushing its Arabization agenda and at the same time encouraging exiled Black-Mauritanians to return home …

    Abda Wone: This is proof that they do not want to address the injustices suffered by the vast majority of the Mauritanian population. Today, the regime in power is not ready to address the social inequalities, which is why it does not intend to resolve “the thorny issue” (of deportation, ed.) in a comprehensive and definitive manner. But people cannot be fooled. Barely 25% of the deportees have returned. Unfortunately, they live in squalid conditions. Nouakchott continues to threaten national unity and social cohesion.

    Afrik-news.com: You do not seem surprised by what looks like a shift, albeit denied. And yet, President Ould Abdul Aziz had shown some signs of good faith after recognizing the killings and offering prayers in Kaédi, one of the largest cities in the predominantly Black South …

    Abda Wone: The circumstances and developments, which led Ould Abdul Aziz (the current president of Mauritania, ed) to temporarily change his discourse in order to get rid of international pressure, is as a result of years of struggle by men and women both within and outside the country. Militants have traveled the world over to denounce the rampant arbitrariness in my country. Racist and pro-slavery Mauritania was so criticized during Taya’s regime that the next regime found itself in a vulnerable position and without a future. Holders of power had, in the name of realpolitik, anticipated events while toppling Taya. But they simply didn’t want to address racism and inequality in Mauritania. The Mauritanian Constitution is ethnocentric and dictatorial. The 1- 4 policy, one Black-Mauritanian Minister for three Arabo-Berber ministers, is still practiced in Mauritania. In the past, it was excessive Arabization under Mukhtar Ould Daddah. Today, Ould Abul Aziz is seeking complete Arabization.

    Afrik-news.com: In terms of progress, the last elections were deemed free and fair. Black Mauritanian candidates, including Sarr Ibrahima Hamidou Kane and Baba participated in the presidential election …

    Abda Wone: Even under Taya, there were elections with Black African candidates. For a political scientist, an election alone is not a sufficient criterion to judge a country’s stability or the integrity of its leaders. In South Africa, elections were held although the black majority had no voting rights. The participation of Black Mauritanians in presidential elections cannot in any way mean that the problems in Mauritania have been resolved, as evidenced by recent events.

    Afrik-news.com: On your side, is a return to your country possible?

    Abda Wone: First, an important detail: I have not abandoned my country. Socio-political circumstances pushed me into exile. My parents were deported, and I was arbitrarily arrested for taking part in a strike action, my life being in danger and the country under terror, the only choice that remained for me as a teenager was to go into exile. However, my return home does not depend on me, it depends largely on the authorities which, in my opinion, are doing nothing to ensure a complete resolution to the issue. I’m eager to return but I believe in a final and comprehensive settlement. All the components of the society have been affected, therefore all Mauritanian victims of this injustice must be identified for an organized and dignified return. I simply want none of victims left out, that they are able to go back home in dignity. The incumbent government is more concerned about making the claims disappear than by their total resolution. But wisdom teaches us that to cure a disease, the core of the disease needs to be examined. And the core of the Mauritanian disease has seen successive regimes harnessing a two-tier state, a country where Blacks are reduced to nothing more than second class citizens.

    29th August 2010
  • Being black in Lebanon means you’re a servant.

    It means that if you’re sitting on the bus, people will solicit you to come to their house and clean for the going rate of 7,000 L.L./hour (a little less than $5).

    It means that if you’re walking with your white friend, and she’s carrying her bag or her baby or her groceries, you will get yelled at for not doing your job.

    It means if you’re at a restaurant with non-black people, the wait staff will never ask for your order or expect you to pay.

    It means people will ask you, “Are you Sri Lankan or Sudanese?”, and when you answer “American” in a perfect native-speaker American accent (because you don’t speak any other language), people will ask, “But are you Sri Lankan or Sudanese?”

    It means you are free game for men to grab and touch you.

    It means you will be called ugly and “slave” to your face. (Actually this requires an explanatory note. The word “3bd” literally means slave or servant. The common name 3bdallah means “Servant of God”. Arabs use this word to refer to black people. Instead of saying the color black, “aswad”, from which the country name Sudan comes, people say “servant/slave”.)

    If you’re coming for a visit, be prepared. It helps to not speak Arabic. It’s tiring, frustrating, upsetting, offending to know the things they are shouting/whispering/chiding at you on the street and in your host’s houses.

    26th August 2010
  • Mr Jon

    White man is a white man, is a typical sentence used by a racist person. Just a quick question? Is black created by God and white created by someone else or we are all been created by God?

    We vare all humans Mr Jon, also, how many Sierra Leonians are spending their time and money in Sierra Leone in internet cafes signing up on yahoo, facebook and msn ect… to get hooked with someone to take them to europe country such as UK, US ect…

    According to your statement, Sierra leoanians that are living in europe for years have no right of getting citizenship which most of them are fighting for, should a black man be a black and becuase he’s black he shouldnt get citizenship in europe? Is that correct?

    26th August 2010
  • Well i think every one is saying the right thing…Think of it,people are fighting so hard to get to the USA,UK,Europe and fight harder to get that country’s citizenship.America a country everyone dreams to set foot in,if you born there,u get your citizenship,so are the other countries,why cant sierra leaone?May be we aint got the right people who can execute this right……Lebanese people invest in sierra leone.most big companies owend by lebanese,if one should think how many born sierra leoneans are being employed by lebanese,then the right for citizenship will be executed straight away.It’s just a pity when sometimes you hear someone saying(u think say dis na lebanon)or (u think say dis na u contry)
    we hear insults instead of thank you….So much needs to be changed in sierra leone,not only the issue of citizenship.

    25th August 2010
  • Nasser Ayoub – Are you serious? This is a sarcasm from your side . Your civil rights as stipulated by the Constitution of Sierra Leone had not been Violated . We are a people of great simplicity and generosity .These qualities had made Sierra Leone over the Centuries a place of Sanctuary and hence a fertile ground for the co existences of people around the world .My Nation isn’t a Bigoted like some Eastern European Nations . I will recommend that you make your research . Guess what You will be overwhelm to know that you have such privileges in Sierra Leone .

    25th August 2010
  • While, no one is above the law but when it comes to the behaviour of some labanese men and women I think I will cast the blame to the authorities concerned . Again why did they get away with it is because salone people where not that open or exposed before or our culture make us to little our selves at those times . That yes SIR , yes MA thing . So they get it in there thick heads that they are superior because they can bribe there way out in anything . Nowadays bribes are not enough so what they do , they ran away to labanon etc when they break the law.
    Having say that I honestly think they deserve full citizenship despite there attitudes. which i think is a cultural problem because they are all alike in behaviour. But if Fula ,susu ,madingoes of migrant parent are given citizenship so should the lebanese people . And they have the right to participate lawfully in all aspect of the country.
    My advice to the labanese people is that stand for you right collectively as it is a just cause. By the way I have a Labanese friend a typical one but we enjoy bastardising ourselves . Because he goes cukoo sometimes. Hey Kalil if you are reading this remember its the out spoken free thinker . Ramadan mubarak ..

    25th August 2010
  • tnx to all…

    25th August 2010
  • tnx for all the negative and positive feedbacks.. i respect your opinions, but i guess its about time we beleive in change.. tnx again.
    nasser ayoub

    25th August 2010

    25th August 2010
  • I think it’s their right, why not given it to them…A third Generation? That’s too much…I think a first generation should be a citizen not to talk of third gen!!!

    25th August 2010
  • Our problem is that we all wanted to be citizens of UK,USA,France and even Guinea and Liberia, and when it comes to our turn, a white man is a white man and will remain white forever.

    25th August 2010
  • Oh plsss…we all know how the Lebanese are treated like quasi- gods in Sierra Leone…so let them don’t start whining about “citizenship and what not… The way they mistreat and disrespect the Sierra Leonean ppl will not grant them that “citizenship” right any time soon… Let them try living as if we are all equal and not as if they are our betters…period!!!! Then you can start talking about “citizenship” right….

    25th August 2010
  • I think it is time that Nasser Ayoub and his likes come together to form a pressure group that would advocate for an amendment to our constitution.

    They could sue Sierra Leone Immigration Department for discrimination, I am sure human rights and other responsible civil society organisations would support their actions.

    25th August 2010

    25th August 2010
  • Funny how the labanese community are crying about been treated differently. I am sure most Sierra Leoneans living in sierra Leone will be happy to trade places with them.

    24th August 2010
  • It is really crazy the way it works in Sierra Leone. Some of these people are third generation born in Sierra Leone. Some of their grandfathers fought in the struggle for Independence, and today they are still not citizens. If a man is not a citizen of the country he’s born in, then where should he be a citizen then?

    24th August 2010
  • I support what the gentle man says . I think it is an overdue issue which need to be addressed now. I think it is advisable for the labanese community in Sierra Leone to send letter of this burning issue to there respective MP’S and the office of the president. Please dont bride them because you guys deserve better now . Stop the too much bride it corrupt the system that supposed to serve your rights .

    24th August 2010
  • No more racist and tribalism in Sierra Leone…As long as you are born in Salone, You should be given that right as a Sierra Leonean….

    24th August 2010
  • In my opinion, I think any person born in Sierra Leone (mama Salone) should be a Sierra Leonean…whether black or white!! Why’s skin color a problem?

    24th August 2010

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