It was in that very Commerce and Industry Ministry several years ago that the German Ambassador to Liberia, a lady, made this serious observation to then Commerce Minister Miata Beysolow: “Liberians are not entrepreneurial.”
The Ambassador, Ilse Lindemann, had served in Liberia for a few years and took notice of the predominance of foreigners in Liberia’s business and economic sectors. They were and still are the Lebanese, Indians and Fulas.
The ambassador could not find Liberians, except perhaps in the marketplaces down Waterside, in Douala and the Paynesville Red Light, mostly women, selling bitter ball, greens, other vegetables and fish.
And where were the Liberian men?
Let us pause here to consider the most privileged children in Liberia’s history, the children of rich government officials and rubber planters, most of whom in the early 1950s through 60s, totally forgot about the schools that educated their parents, like the College of West Africa (CWA), and sent their children to England, other parts of Europe and the United States to school, some from the age of five.
These privileged children who, having seen and experienced the development and advancement in all sectors of Europe and America, were the ones who should have returned and become the captains of Liberia’s commerce and industry.
Alas! That was not to be. A few learned, yes, law and other professions, but most of them returned with little or no entrepreneurial capacity. They returned only to rent their parents properties to foreign businesspeople, Lebanese especially. Some of these Liberians, who from an early age got their education abroad, gained, upon their return, influence in the churches, sold off the churches’ properties to foreigners through long term leases, some for up to 40 or more years.
With all the properties the churches, especially the United Methodist, possess, these children could have themselves gone to the banks and borrowed money to develop their churches’ properties. But due to their total lack of entrepreneurial capacity, which they should have learned in
their formative years in Europe and America, they could develop neither the properties of their churches nor their parents’.
This, we submit, is the primary reason Liberians are so far behind in business. Those who should have been the captains of our commerce and industry have surrendered their national responsibilities to Lebanese boys who were either born here or came here in their teens or young adulthood with nothing, like Ezzat Eid – who arrived here from Lebanon at 21 – worked with other firms and later started their own businesses and became filthy rich!
And all we Liberians were left to do is complain.
Our young Commerce Minister Axel Addy is fortunately not the complaining type. He is today doing something about this very serious problem in Liberia. He has convened this morning a major three-day conference bringing together Micro-Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, in a bold attempt to address this terrible national malaise (sickness, disorder)—Liberians’ marginalization of themselves in business. Yes, we have no one but ourselves to blame for this – this means the Liberian parents, schools, colleges and universities, Liberian churches and, of course,
those in charge of the country—the Liberian government.
This newspaper has for a very long time, ever since its founding in 1981, hammered away at this problem and urged the Liberian people, most especially their government, to do something to address this problem. We have insisted that so long as our people remain outside the business mainstream, so long will they remain poor–why? Because business is where the money is.
We commend Minister Addy for convening this conference and President Sirleaf for attending it, demonstrating her own acknowledgement that there is indeed a problem. And though this administration has only a few more months in office, it is not too late to do something concrete and substantial to begin solving it.
In recent editorials we have called on at least three key government officials to tackle this problem toward ending the marginalization of our people in business. They are the Finance Minister, Central Bank Governor and Commerce and Industry Minister.
With the Ellen administration now in the twilight (sundown) of its tenure, the onus (burden, responsibility) rests with the incoming administration to muster, in the shortest possible time, the determination and commitment to reverse this status quo.
Let each political party, each presidential candidate, seriously ponder this matter as they prepare their platforms. Let us see what these platforms say about this critical national problem and how they intend to address it.