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date: 10 December 2022

Lebanese in Anglophone West Africalocked

Lebanese in Anglophone West Africalocked

  • Itamar DubinskyItamar DubinskyDepartment of African Studies, Ben Gurion University

Summary

Lebanese began arriving in Anglophone West Africa in the second half of the 19th century. They left their homeland due to financial hardships, demographic pressures, famine, and internal frictions, and arrived in West Africa as a response to colonial needs and economic opportunities, and also as a result of unforeseen changes while en route to other destinations. In three representative areas—the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria—they quickly developed into an entrepreneurial class. Some colonial preferential treatment had helped them fill the gap between European companies and African farmers. Nevertheless, their colonial status as intermediaries perpetuated their position in the society as a distinct, alien population, bounded by close ties, thus reinforcing the perception of them as an aloof community. The laws developed by the colonial governments of British West Africa legalized the temporary status of the Lebanese by obstructing the attempts of many of this group to gain citizenship. African independent governments adopted and reinterpreted these laws, further framing the Lebanese as a culturally inassimilable population. From the 1960s until the 1990s, African elites, who feared the Lebanese would translate their wealth into political capital, and rival traders, who could hardly compete with the Lebanese people’s resources and access to credit, provided further impetus for the amendment of state constitutions in order to hamper Lebanese naturalization. Changes witnessed since the late 20th century improved Lebanese access to citizenship rights; in politics, though, they remain largely influential in indirect ways.

Alongside such commonalities, the Lebanese communities in the Gold Coast (later Ghana), Sierra Leone, and Nigeria developed according to the local circumstances in which they settled, the hardships they endured, and the opportunities they carved out of adversities. In each of the three countries, the Lebanese demonstrated their entrepreneurial flexibility to meet changing social, political, and economic conditions, despite the continued persecution many continue to face.

Subjects

  • West Africa

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