The dynamic Liberian entrepreneur, Mrs. Evyonne Bright Harding, was highly focused and forthright in her keynote address at last Tuesday’s opening at the Monrovia City Hall of the Micro, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (MSMSE) Conference.
She emphatically urged the Liberian government to help in nurturing the proper development of Liberian small and medium sized enterprises.
Commerce Minister Axel Addy could not have chosen a better keynoter than Evyonne. The emphasis of the conference was on Liberian Women Entrepreneurs, of which Evyonne is the leading and most assertive champion.
She has been in the forefront of the fight to protect Liberian entrepreneurs and their legal exclusivity in the operation of certain Liberian businesses, which foreign businesspeople, particularly Lebanese, insist on invading.
These people, the Lebanese, who are already in control of the Liberian economy, behave as though they are determined to prohibit and prevent Liberians from succeeding in any kind of business—a clear and vicious slap in the face of the very Liberians who have welcomed them into the country.
The Tolbert government, in the early 1970s, realizing the serious disadvantage which the Open Door Policy, enunciated in the mid-1940s by President Tubman, had brought to Liberian-owned businesses, set aside 16 business sectors exclusively for Liberians. These included block making, distribution of locally manufactured products, ice making and ice cream, Evyonne’s primary business.
But Lebanese businessmen are determined to enter ice cream, too, in clear violation of Liberian law, which has set aside ice cream exclusively for Liberians.
A Liberian woman entrepreneur, Mrs. Sophie Dunbar Cooper, started the ice cream business in 1948, in a house immediately behind the College of West Africa (CWA), owned by the family of her husband, Tubman’s Agriculture Secretary John (Johnny) W. Cooper.
After her divorce, she dropped the Cooper name and became Sophie Dunbar, daughter of the Episcopal priest, Rev. J. Fulton Dunbar, and cousin of the legendary Liberian agriculturist, polygamist and Bong and Nimba road builder, George Dunbar.
Sophie later built her own modern ice cream parlor on Tubman Boulevard in Congotown, now known as the entrance to the Sophie Community.
But Lebanese businesspeople are determined make and sell ice cream, too, in clear and determined violation of the law, which sets it aside exclusively for Liberians.
Evyonne, a smiling, yet ferocious (aggressive) Liberian businesswoman, has personally intervened to PROHIBIT Lebanese businesspeople from entering the ice cream business. She has personally gone into Lebanese-run supermarkets, such as Abidjoudi and Era, and singlehandedly STOPPED them from selling ice cream.
Most recently, she got the Commerce Ministry to close down a new Lebanese-owned ice cream business on the 9th Street petrol station of guess, who? Another Liberian businessman, Musa Bility.
But Judge Kaba of Criminal Court C ordered the Lebanese ice cream shop immediately reopened! How are we to interpret Judge Kaba’s action?
But who are the real backers of the Lebanese? They are certain people in high political circles, who have given these Lebanese the power to think that they can do with absolute impunity, anything in Liberia.
The more urgent question is why would these Lebanese people insist on openly defying Liberian laws by challenging and frustrating the few Liberians, in their own country, who are striving to succeed in business?
Three reasons: First, the Lebanese are close to people at the center of power and, therefore, feel they can do ANYTHING in Liberia, violate with impunity any law, including the raping and trafficking of Liberian women!
Second, the willing and unpatriotic susceptibility (weakness) of many Liberian government officials and functionaries to yield to the corrupting tentacles (limbs, antennas) of these Lebanese to penetrate, by dishing out little money, every sector of Liberian life. By this, the Lebanese are able to get most Liberian officials to bend, or to ignore any law or regulation.
The third reason, to put it simply, is Liberian officials’ corruption and lack of efficiency and patriotism.
There is, for example, a certain printer in Monrovia, Lebanese of course, who watches and participates in all printing bids and buy up before hand, all the bond paper and other printing materials, just to exclude any Liberian printer from successfully participating in the bids!
Here is a classic example of the weakness and failure of the government regulatory body, the Commerce and Industry Ministry, to exercise due diligence. Why would the Ministry allow such a thing to happen? Does it not know it is happening? How possible is that in this small town of Monrovia?
This newspaper is calling on Ezzat Eid, president of the World Lebanese Cultural Union and Liberia’s leading Lebanese businessman, to STOP his people from interfering in businesses reserved for Liberians! That is, if Mr. Eid and his fellow Lebanese are interested in maintaining PEACE in Liberia.
Mr. Eid and all Lebanese must realize that their continuance of flouting Liberian laws to further entrench themselves as the powerful force in the Liberian economy is a THREAT TO PEACE, and they MUST STOP!