By Bai Gbala (Posted September 6th 2005)
|"...To get an idea or the whole picture of Lebanese tight grip on and contribution to the Liberian economy, one needs a comprehensive study of the Liberian trade and commerce market....."
Indeed, it is about time that these “Liberians” of Lebanese descent who lived, worked and contributed immensely, and continue to live, work and contribute, to the socio-economic, cultural and political development and advancement of our common country, the Republic of Liberia, be accorded Liberian citizenship with “all rights appertaining thereto”.
In an article featured by the BBC NEWS on the Internet (BBC NEWS, UK EDITION, Friday, July 22, 2005), Correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh, a Liberian, wrote that “as Liberians prepare for their first elections (October 2005) after 14 years of war (of wanton destruction of public/private properties, historic brutalities, human suffering and death), the influential Lebanese community is pressing to be allowed to take part. Liberia’s economy”, he continued, “is dominated by the 4,000-strong Lebanese community, many of whom were born in the country. So strong is the Lebanese community that it is likely to influence (in fact, influences) major political decisions”.
However, Lebanese and all other persons of non-Negro race or descendants thereof are barred by law to become citizens of Liberia and, therefore, not permitted the right to vote.
This Rejoinder is our attempt to “fast-forward”, if you will, Liberia’s political thought and practice in twenty-first century, socio-political worldview, with prevailing conditions and realities, in respect of law-making and the treatment of persons of non-Negro race seeking Liberian citizenship.
Article 27(c) of the Liberian Constitution provides that “In to preserve, foster and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values and character, only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia”.
Based upon this provision, Article 77(b) states that “…every Liberian citizen not less than 18 years of age shall have the right …to vote in public elections and referenda under this constitution”. Meanwhile, Article 22(a) seals the economic and political coffin by its provision, “that only Liberian citizens shall have the right to own real property within the Republic”.
Thus, the socio-political development of this class of Liberian residents, the highest consideration in terms of human desire, has been and is closed by law. Period
The Lebanese, history tells us, are a people with traditional commitment to classical democratic principles and values; they are also an entrepreneurial, Phoenician trading class with a culture of the capitalist ethic – hard-driving, risk-taking, profit-seeking, equity and wealth accumulation – for a good life with socio-economic convenience and, thereby, contribute to society’s ever-present quest for socio-economic and political prosperity.
Correspondent Paye-Layleh rightly pointed out that the Lebanese of Liberia own and operate several Import/export business enterprises dealing in general merchandise, including foods and, of course, the Liberian staple, rice.
To get an idea or the whole picture of Lebanese tight grip on and contribution to the Liberian economy, one needs a comprehensive study of the Liberian trade and commerce market – from clothes and shoes, all types and class; dry-cleaning and tailoring; foods of all sorts, displayed and sold in many altra-modern supermarkets; building materials for all needs and purposes; household utensils and electrical appliances; automobiles – America, European, Japanese, etc.; drugs and petroleum products; book and newspaper printing; furniture and related manufacture; real estate brokerage (although the Lebanese are not permitted to own real property); hotels and restaurants; now the worldwide expansion of computer use and sales and service; and the now-popular cellular telephone business. Need anything? Name it; if the friendly Lebanese trader does not have it in stock, he/she can order it.
Lebanese and other non-Negro businesspersons seeking investment opportunities for profit flock to foreign investment-friendly, third world countries having positive, investment incentive policy such as lower taxes, industrial parks with factories and/or related facilities, aid in financing, etc., with Liberia being attractive in having the world currency (the US dollar) as legal tender in tandem with the Liberian dollar, free market capitalist economy, a world of natural resources, and a cooperative, friendly people.
But barred by law from ownership of real property, the Lebanese and others affected by this law, invest only in “short-term” business ventures such as trade & commerce; they shy away from or avoid investment in agriculture, industrial development, land/real estate development, banking & finance, insurance, etc., because of the need for longer-term, greater outlay of capital investment in fixed assets that they can not pass on to their heirs.
However, to benefit from the lucrative residential and commercial real estate business, the Lebanese of Liberia lease existing buildings owned by Liberians “short-term”, at 20- 25 years, just enough time to recover invested capital with profit during their lifetime, before the property reverts to the Liberian owner. Inexpensively renovated and improved, these buildings are used (a) for stores and residential quarters by the Lebanese or (b) sub-leased to other Lebanese or high-profile Liberians at a considerable profit. The second approach is the lease of idle city lots at the usual “short-term” from Liberian owners; on these lots, the Lebanese build relatively inexpensive and simple, box-type structures (often described as “architectural eye-sores”); they are used for the same purposes as described above