Is the Liberian Government truly able to give serious encouragement to Liberians in business? This is something this administration has not done in its 10 years in power.
But to be fair, the blame for the consistent sidelining of Liberians in business can be laid at the feet not of the current government. This has been the case ever since the introduction of the Open Door Policy during the Tubman Administration in the 1940s.
The Open Door Policy opened up the country to many foreign investments, beginning with the Liberian Mining Company (LMC) in 1946. This was soon followed by Lebanese merchants who quickly replaced the Syrians who had heretofore owned most of the mercantile business in the country.
Salami Brothers, Resamny, Elias Brothers, Gemayal, the SAADs, The Saleebys, the MAZIRs and many others soon joined European merchants down Water Side, Monrovia.
These included the English firm Paterson Zachonis (PZ) and Oost African Zie Compagnie (OAC). The Dutch enterprise, these two European firms also crisscrossed the country by motor vehicles and row boats, buying and exporting Liberian produce including palm oil, palm kernels and Piassava, a crop grown especially in Marshall for making brooms and other household utensils.
The two lone Liberian merchants with stores down Water Side were James L. York, father of Rev. Keturah York Cooper and her brothers and John A. Howard, eldest brother of the late Joe Richards. But unlike the Lebanese, York and Howard did not sell the fast moving food provisions. Among the most successful grocers (sellers of food provisions) was Solobaby (Mr. Brownell) on the corner of Carey and Randall Streets.
It is most unfortunate that until now, there are no Liberian merchants selling foodstuff (groceries) down Water Side or at any of the market centers in Monrovia. The Lebanese merchants doing this are therefore making lots of money, because that is where the market women buy their canned provisions, onions, cooking oil, etc., to do their petty trading in the markets at Water Side, Rally Time, Douala and Red Light.
This newspaper has frequently urged Liberian business people to enter the grocery business at these strategic places – the markets – but to no avail. Only the Fula and Nigerian businesspeople dare to do that.
It seems as though the GOL, especially the Commerce Ministry, should take the initiative to encourage and assist Liberians to enter this trade, not only by financial inputs but training also, and ensuring that affordable spaces and loans are provided them.
The Liberia Business Association should also get involved here – not only in Monrovia, but in Kakata and all the other county capitals and major cities and towns.
In the near future we will discuss other ways in which Government can in a serious way assist Liberians in business.