Are the Lebanese a curse or a blessing ?

HERE is a very interesting article about the Lebanese in Sierra Leone. What is your opinion ?

Freetown Journal; ‘Little Beiruts’ Multiplying in Africa
By JAMES BROOKE, Special to the New York Times
Published: October 24, 1987

Fleeing Lebanon’s civil war, increasing numbers of Lebanese are emigrating to West and Central Africa, sometimes bringing with them the political violence of the Middle East.

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In Freetown, officials charge that the country’s wealthiest businessman, an African-Lebanese with close ties to the Shiite Moslem militia Amal, tried to finance a coup attempt last spring. At the time, police officers discovered a weapons cache in the man’s villa that included rocket launchers, M-16 and AK-47 automatic rifles and 49,000 rounds of ammunition.

In Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, about 40 Lebanese Shiites were expelled last summer after a member of their community hijacked an Air Afrique flight in July and demanded to fly to Beirut.

In Monrovia, Liberia, a Lebanese Christian woman says she no longer goes to the local Lebanese club on Saturday nights. ”After a few drinks the Hezbollah and the Amal start fighting,” she said, referring to supporters of rival Shiite groups in Lebanon. A Wave of Thousands

The violent incidents cast a spotlight on the thousands of Lebanese who came to Africa in recent years to make money in peace.

These immigrants followed in the tradition of the first modern wave of Lebanese immigrants, Maronite Christians. The Maronites started coming to West Africa a century ago to escape being drafted into the armies of the Ottoman Empire. Some boarded boats thinking they were bound for South America.

More recently, Lebanon’s decade-old civil war and the crash of the Lebanese pound this year have converted the traditional ebb and flow into a one-way flood.

Long one of the largest non-indigenous groups in West Africa, the Lebanese have become increasingly prominent. In many cities, the Lebanese are increasingly resented by local Africans.

In the Ivory Coast, the number of Lebanese has jumped from 25,000 a decade ago to about 100,000 today. Senegal and Sierra Leone are believed to have about 25,000 each.

Abidjan’s commercial heart, the Rue de Commerce, is known as Little Beirut for the predominance of Lebanese-owned shops. One of the largest apartment buildings overlooking the Ivory Coast capital’s lagoon is called Nabil, which in reverse spells Liban, the French word for Lebanon.

Last winter, Abidjan’s night skyline was marked by Christmas lights strung on a hotel tower in the shape of a gigantic cedar of Lebanon. Beirut Flights Scheduled

In Sierra Leone, a nation of 3.5 million people, the Lebanese population has become so large that Middle East Airlines inaugurated a weekly flight between Freetown and Beirut last June.

In shop after shop, Lebanese owners sit behind cash registers, sometimes sipping cups of thick Turkish coffee while they oversee African shop clerks and attend to African customers.

Lebanese dominance in retail trade has caused racial flare-ups. In January, when students rioted in the provincial town of Kenema, they looted the Lebanese school. In August, the immigration authorities turned away 21 Lebanese arriving on an airplane from Beirut.

”As far as the Sierra Leoneans are concerned, the Lebanese have come here to exploit us,” said Franklin Bunting-Davis, editor of an independent Freetown newspaper, New Shaft.

”This has a lot to do with race,” he continued. ”There are Gambians here; there are Senegalese. But no one says anything because we are all black. But the Lebanese with his little shop is seen as exploiting us.” A Prop to the Economy

The Lebanese, however, see themselves as providing an essential economic service with their expertise in commerce and small trade. Mr. Bunting-Davis acknowledged that if the Lebanese were expelled, the effect would be an economic disaster for Sierra Leone.

Farid Raymond-Anthony, a Sierra Leonean lawyer of Lebanese descent, lamented the predicament of the Lebanese immigrant in Africa.

”I was born here, all my friends are here, I speak Krio,” he said, referring to Sierra Leone’s lingua franca.

”But I go across the river to another town, and I could have arrived yesterday from Lebanon,” he added. ”It’s too bad you can’t get blacker with the more time you spend in Africa.”

The coup attempt last spring jolted many Sierra Leoneans awake to the fact that their country, a major exporter of gold and diamonds, has become a miniature battleground for Middle East politics. Alliance With Nabih Berri

Jamil Said Mohammed, the businessman believed to have financed the coup attempt, has long been a major contributor to the Amal militia of Nabih Berri, the Lebanese Justice Minister. The son of a Lebanese merchant and a Sierra Leonean woman, Mr. Jamil was a childhood friend of Mr. Berri, who was born in Bo, Sierra Leone.

In the past, Palestinian bodyguards supplied by Mr. Berri provided security for Mr. Jamil at his hilltop residence here, which is equipped with a swimming pool and tennis courts. Last year, after a shooting incident at the residence, three guards were expelled. This year, when Mr. Jamil visited Lebanon, Mr. Berri arranged a hero’s welcome.

Apparently because of Sierra Leone’s wealth and its liberal immigration policy, this ramshackle capital has gained a reputation along Africa’s west coast as a center for Middle East intrigue and diplomacy.

Last year, Yasir Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, visited here. Today, the P.L.O. maintains an office and a medical team here as good-will gestures.

On Campbell Street, next to the French cultural center, a Cultural Center of the Islamic Republic of Iran recently opened. New Contact With Israel

Sierra Leone, largely a Moslem country, broke relations with Israel in 1973. But in the last year, two ministers visited Israel. After these visits, the Israelis agreed to develop a national bus service for Sierra Leone and to build about 4,000 low-rent housing units here.

Indeed, some Sierra Leoneans see the Israelis as a counterweight to the Lebanese.

President Joseph S. Momoh’s predecessor, Siaka Stevens, employed Lebanese security guards. After the coup attempt last spring, Mr. Momoh sent six of his security guards to Israel for training.

The spillover of Middle East political violence into the region has not gone unnoticed by some companies doing business here.

After the Air Afrique hijacking in which a French passenger was shot to death, UTA, the French airline, tightened security on its African routes. Now, company security agents are posted at airplane doors where, in a final security check, they frisk passengers and search all carry-on luggage.

Photo of pedestrians in Freetown, Sierra Leone, outside bakery run by newly-arrived Lebanese Shiite immigrant. (The Ne

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