By K. Koiquoe Wilson - (September 13th 2005)
"... There is a fundamental precept of humanity that asserts “To whom much has been given, much should be expected.” By every possible barometer, the Lebanese in Liberia have failed to fulfill this rudimentary human principle.... One cannot begin to imagine the astronomical profits that went into the coffers of these avaricious Lebanese businessmen, so-called, while gullible Liberians mired in poverty in their attempts to hit the elusive JOKER - JOKER - JOKER for the big bucks on the slot machines. Now we know who the joke was on....."
I read, with precipitous disdain I must admit, the article by Mr. Bai Gbala, entitled “Lebanese Demand Liberia Poll Rights: A Rejoinder.” This article, which zealously advocates the citizenship and voting rights of Lebanese and espouses their ownership of land in Liberia, is utterly lacking in its discernment and long-range perspective and, quite frankly, borders on treachery. Such antiquated thinking, as postulated by Mr. Gbala, which is steeped in hypocrisy, is reminiscent of the kinds that have exacted such chronic poverty upon Liberia for time immemorial and has caused Liberia’s continued atrophy. One can delineate any number of such scenarios as the annals of Liberia abound with such cases. The unconscionable allowance of unscrupulous government officials for the blatant pilferage of Liberia’s resources by Firestone, with its 99-year contract for one million acres of rich Liberian farmland at $10.00 per year, while paying its Liberian workers two cents per hour, comes to mind. Without delving into all of the unsavory aspects of this contract, this insanity enabled the reckless and protracted abuse of Liberia’s resources with astounding cupidity while its people mired in the most deplorable squalor. Mr. Gbala’s proposal engenders this ominous tenor and I could not beg to differ with him more vigorously.
I am no anthropologist, but I will venture to posit, as it is my ardent conviction, that Liberians are inherently a very generous people and no people have enjoyed this generosity more and have been afforded the level of hospitality and friendship that Liberians have bestowed upon their Lebanese community. For decades, Liberia has amicably welcome this group to her shores and has afforded them unprecedented opportunities to develop themselves economically and otherwise. It is primarily this facility for economic enfranchisement that has drawn Lebanese to Liberia in droves. And yes, their dreams of fulfilling the acme of opulence has been actualized under the aegis of the Liberian people. This, my friends, is no anomaly but a direct result of the compassion of the Liberian people.
But how have the Lebanese reciprocated to such altruistic hospitality? After attaining immeasurable wealth, they sequestered themselves in sumptuous diaspora from which the indigenous of the land are alienated. Assuming this aloof and condescending posture while feigning superficial friendliness, their actual relationships with Liberians are relegated to employments of house boys, cooks, store boys, and any number of menial jobs that they would not allow their own people to perform. Can you name any Lebanese house boy of another Lebanese or of a Liberian, for that matter? And for this subjugation, they very frugally reward these so-called employees with pittance. Pittance that is so appallingly paltry that it does not even enable their Liberian employees to defray the livelihood of their family, rendering them an existence of utter penury. Their Lebanese masters, by contrast, bask in the lap of luxury without any compunction within the same country. And yes, Liberians are also eagerly embraced by the Lebanese businessmen when they have to return their earned pittance to Lebanese businesses. For this abject duplicity, Liberians must be immensely grateful according to Mr. Gbala. There is a fundamental precept of humanity that asserts “To whom much has been given, much should be expected.” By every possible barometer, the Lebanese in Liberia have failed to fulfill this rudimentary human principle.
And as if this exploitation of Liberians did not fulfill their insatiable avarice, even while they availed themselves of the country‘s resources, they insidiously resorted to the bribery of government officials to enable them further easy extractions of the miniscule pay that Liberians earned. This was accomplished by inundating the country with gambling, a long standing anathema to the Liberian people. How many Liberians do we know who got rich from gambling? The answer is categorically zero. Conversely, any number of anecdotes can be proffered of Liberians standing at slot machines and in one fell swoop, see their entire month’s pay disappear into the pockets of these Lebanese businesses. One cannot begin to imagine the astronomical profits that went into the coffers of these avaricious Lebanese businessmen, so-called, while gullible Liberians mired in poverty in their attempts to hit the elusive JOKER - JOKER - JOKER for the big bucks on the slot machines. Now we know who the joke was on.
The Lebanese have contributed massively to the corruption of government officials in Liberia. Myriad occurrences of such corruption can be cited. One of the most notorious incidences being their alleged bribery of the Chief Justice of Liberia, who, through a legerdemain of biblical proportion, absolved a Lebanese murderer from charges brought for egregiously choking to death a Liberian student. This Liberian only crime was while he performed his menial job as a store boy in their supermarket, he opted to quench his hunger with candy that his meager pay could not afford him. He was murdered during his master’s attempt to wrest the candy from his throat. Anecdotes of this magnitudes are manifold and could be cited if one were so predisposed. Urban legend has it that but for his disposition of this case, the Chief Justice of Liberia at the time would have survived the 1980 infamous executions because ultimately he was a good person.
For all of these unadulterated iniquities visited upon a country that so graciously welcome the Lebanese to its shores, they must now be further rewarded according to Mr. Gbala, with the opportunity to literally render Liberians homeless for financial expediency. Given this opportunity, it is unequivocal that they will achieve this with great ingenuity and alacrity. What is Mr. Gbala’s next goal for his people, the Liberian presidency?
It is pertinent that a quote from Mr. Gbala’s article be cited here as it vividly presents a window into his mindset as to why Liberia must further capitulate to the Lebanese. He asserts, “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 state 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.”
Rather poignantly, performance of these functions that are akin to rocket science as embellished by the eminent Mr. Gbala, though any perceptive person would deem them trivial tasks, is why we must now surrender our homes to the Lebanese. Is it not a confounding paradox that the same government officials that arbitrarily gave these functions to the Lebanese exclusively, for mercenary gains of course, are now professing to be the arbiter of whether Liberia needs the consummate expertise of the Lebanese to perform these very functions? The “chicken and the egg” paradox being rehashed all over again, if you will. Take any of the above enumerated functions, our illiterate, yet assiduous market women with very minimal training, are capable of performing these mundane tasks. We have all witnessed their steadfastness and resilience in overwhelming adversities. But because they, and even their more erudite counterparts, were not afforded the opportunity to become conversant with these tasks and the Lebanese were able to convince our inept government officials that these are extraordinary undertakings which only the Lebanese can achieve, with their hands deeply in the pockets of these unctuous officials of course, Liberians have been denied the opportunity to partake of these activities.
Moreover, the Lebanese did not bestow any largess upon Liberia by investing their own money in the country. Whatever money they invested were attained in Liberia at the expense of Liberians. Invariably, they came to Liberia having no net worth but were eventually able to attain wealth on the backs of Liberians and the aid of the “Lebanese Networks” that tend to subsidize only their Lebanese compatriot. These people are no paragon of good citizenship by any stretch of the imagination as Mr. Gbala portrays them.
Perhaps a fitting hypothetical, which is a microcosm of Mr. Gbala’s proposal, will help to exemplify the antithetical nature of his logic, as there are those amongst us that have a problem grasping “the big picture.” Lets suppose Mr. Gbala takes a guest who is in dire financial straits into his home ultimately for the purpose of helping this guest recuperate from his doldrums. He renders this guest all necessary hospitality that could be afforded him at Mr. Gbala’s expense. Eventually, the acquisitive nature of his guest prevails and propels him into affluence of inordinate proportion. Mr. Guest than tells Mr. Gbala, “You have fed me, clothed me, and afforded me opportunities to achieve affluence beyond my wildest dreams. But the reason why you continue to exist in poverty, and the reason why I have not sought to reciprocate your help,” he hypothesizes, “is because you have not granted me co-ownership of your home.” Obviously, Mr. Gbala might want to take this one step further and sign over his deed to Mr. Guest. But the salience of such perversion, unless one is perpetually inebriated, cannot elude the lucid mind. Thus is the case with Mr. Gbala’s proposal.
But is not strikingly ironic that this discourse is not germane to the land ownership rights of those aggrieved Liberians, who have been relegated to such existence of subservience and indignity and may never own an iota of real property in the land of their birth; that the discussion does not pertain to the land ownership potential of our overworked and weary market women who diligently contribute to the well-being of our country but will never be able to afford a modicum of land in the place of their birth; that our humble civil servants, whom our government have failed so miserably, may never be able to afford a fragment of land in the country of their birth; but Mr. Gbala is arguing for the land ownership rights of highly privileged Lebanese while being reticent with regards to these struggling Liberians. I think that Article 22(a) of the Liberian constitution, which Mr. Gbala now seeks to abrogate, was very visionary at its inception, protecting Liberians from the likes of Mr. Gbala. This article stipulates that only citizens shall have the right to own real property.
Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic, comprises a measly 43,000 square miles. Is it not sufficiently charitable of us that we are willing to share this modest homeland with people from all walks of life? Do we now have to turn our country over to a specific interest group whom we have so generously stewarded into their dreams of abundance? Less Mr. Gbala be accused of ambiguity in his proposal, what about the land ownership rights of the Ghanians, Ivorians, Guineans, …, all of whom sought to pursue their dreams in “Small America?” Are their dreams negligible as compared to those of the Lebanese or is it only the Lebanese that are of significance to Mr. Gbala? Incidentally, will the Lebanese reciprocate in kind and allow Liberians to purchase land in their country? After assimilating multitudes of Lebanese over as many years, how many Liberians did Lebanon provide sanctuary for during our times of distress? Perhaps the answers to these question should give Mr. Gbala some pause in his fight for land ownership and voting rights for his people. I say this with profound dubiety though as it is axiomatic of the old adage, “You cannot teach an old dog new tricks.”
About the author:
Mr. K. Koiquoe Wilson is a software engineering professional. He holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering Technology from Northeastern University, a M.S. in Computer Science from Boston University, and a M.S. in Information Management from ISIM University.