Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa

Robtel Neajai Pailey

  1. Whose work, in your field, has inspired you most?

Though much of my scholarship is historically grounded, I was not trained as a historian. I admire historians who can put archival texts into conversation with one another, while reading against the grain, especially of the colonial archive. The late Liberian historian Clarence E Zamba Liberty did this brilliantly in his seminal book Growth of the Liberian State (based on his 1977 PhD thesis), which is the most nuanced, compelling interpretation of Liberian state formation I have ever come across! I draw heavily on Liberty’s work and consider it essential reading for anyone researching and writing about Liberia.

2. What piece of advice would you give yourself when starting out on this project?

Spend a considerable amount of time writing a stellar Introduction to draw the reader in because this will determine whether a potential consumer of your work reads further.

3. Why did you choose to publish with Cambridge University Press?

Cambridge University Press is renowned for publishing some of the most cutting-edge research about Africa, and its African Studies Series is prestigious.

4. What was the most surprising thing you discovered during your research for Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa?

Although Liberia is exceptional in that it was Africa’s first black republic, and, as a result, the first country in the continent to devise legal norms around membership, citizenship and belonging, domestic and diasporic claims for and against dual citizenship in the 21st century were analogous to polarised debates held in post-war as well as non-post-war contexts alike, such as Sierra Leone and Ghana, respectively, before these countries enacted dual citizenship.

5. What was the most challenging part of writing your book?

Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa is based on my PhD research, and although I wrote the PhD thesis with monograph-like conventions, I had to edit out most thesis-like elements. In the book, I use a dual citizenship bill introduced in Liberia in 2008 but never legislated to ask broader questions about conceptualisations and practices of Liberian citizenship across space and time and their myriad implications for development. Policymaking on dual citizenship was in constant flux during the writing process, so I had to keep abreast of evolving policy contexts in Liberia and further afield in Africa while also ensuring that what I was writing reflected these changes. Eventually, I set a hard deadline for when I could incorporate new information, and this saved me a lot of sleepless nights.

6. What do you hope readers will take from Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa?

In my book, I fill empirical and theoretical gaps by interrogating the presumed symbiotic relationship between dual citizenship and development in an African post-war country. I think my greatest contribution in this regard is the theorisation of citizenship as a triad, which I call the ‘Liberian citizenship triad’, based on over two hundred interviews I conducted with Liberians in the capital cities of Liberia (Monrovia), Sierra Leone (Freetown), Ghana (Accra), the United Kingdom (London) and the United States (Washington, DC). The triad delineates citizenship as identity, which is passive and requires the conferral of rights; citizenship as practice, which is active and requires the fulfilment of responsibilities; and citizenship as a set of relations, which is interactive and requires the nurturing of relationships. My ‘Liberian citizenship triad’ challenges Eurocentric and abstract conceptualisations of citizenship in the mainstream literature because it is Afrocentric and concrete.     

7. What are you working on now?

My current book project, Africa’s ‘Negro’ Republics, seeks to put Critical Development Studies and Critical African Studies into fluid conversation with Critical Race Studies. This research investigates how ‘Negro’ clauses that prohibit non-blacks from obtaining citizenship in Liberia and Sierra Leone have impacted the two countries’ pre- and post-war development outcomes. Through mixed methods including semi-structured interviews, surveys and archival data, I examine how slavery, colonialism and neoliberalism in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, respectively, have shaped the adoption and maintenance of ‘Negro’ clauses; how these race-based citizenship provisions assert black personhood and challenge white supremacy; and what implications this has for contemporary patterns of ‘South-South’ migration, investment, trade and aid. The project is especially relevant in light of rising advocacy worldwide against anti-black physical and structural violence as well as racialised, anti-migrant scapegoating. I recently completed 200 interviews in Liberia and Sierra with policymakers, citizens and non-citizens, and look forward to beginning analysis on this primary data.

Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa by Robtel Neajai Pailey

About The Author

Robtel Neajai Pailey

Robtel Neajai Pailey is Assistant Professor in International Social and Public Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). A Liberian academic, activist, ...

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