How Can We Empower Liberians to Enter the Grocery, Hardware and Building Materials Businesses?

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You have to give it to the Lebanese—and the Indians and Fulas, too. These people know business.

Their strength is not just counting—simple arithmetic. That is only one of their three positive attributes. The others are seriousness, focus and a passion for business.

So passionate are they that they religiously involve their children, nephews and other relatives.

Take Ghassan Rasamny, owner of Mamba Point’s Cape Hotel and son of Oldman Rasamny who started his grocery store down Waterside. Later, like Oldman Elias and others, Rasamny moved up town, entered the automobile business and became richer! He leased the King-Richards property across from the St. Teresa’s Convent where he opened his automobile show room and garage. So did Oldman Elias, who leased the property across from Monrovia City Hall, built a large building, opened his garage and began selling and servicing Toyota vehicles.

Other Lebanese moved to Bushrod Island, selling building materials and automobiles.

Amal Halim Ayoub, whose obituary The Inquirer recently carried, for many years ran a hardware and household supplies store down Waterside, near the Gabriel Tucker Bridge.

What next did he do? He moved up town and opened their first supermarket, Stop and Shop on Randall Street. The overwhelming success of that led them, a few years later, to open a second on Tubman Boulevard in Sinkor.

That is what good businesspeople do—they effectively and prudently (wisely, farsightedly) manage their businesses, however small. In the beginning they live frugally (economically), save their profits, then expand into other business avenues. These Lebanese did something else—they involved their sons and nephews in trading from their youth, growing up in the businesses and learning all the ropes. They are thus ready to take over and carry on, even expanding the business.

The Lebanese do one thing more—they help one another.

Can we say the same about Liberian businesspeople? No. We lack the passion for business, the patriotism—love for country and love for one another. We have got to learn and practice these positive attributes that have made these foreign businesspeople in our midst successful.

The question we continue to ask, as we have done in many previous Editorials is, WHO can help us to take seriously these attributes and steer us toward become daring, serious-minded, passionate and successful businesspeople?

Three answers: First, we can help ourselves by each of us becoming passionate and diligent about our business. Remember Solomon’s admonition: “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings: . . . [and] not before mean men.”

When one succeeds in business, he or she becomes self-reliant, depending on no one for anything. One is able to afford the children a good education; to reach out and help others in need and society at large.

The second answer to who can help us: people who are already successful in business. But in our lifetime we have seen many highly successful businesspeople who kept their money to themselves and to their women and men. But how sustainable is that? Mean rich people fail to realize that when they die they leave everything behind, not knowing who will really benefit from their riches. They think their children, but see what many rich children have done with their inheritances. Many have sold their property or mortgaged it for 50 years, not knowing if even their grandchildren will ever see it again. Look around Monrovia and one will see what we are talking about.

Our third source of help is our government. Yes, it is our government that can help us Liberians to grow, develop and advance our businesses. Not this government, however, which has, with few exceptions, done little to encourage Liberians in business. Look what happened to one of the leading Liberian hoteliers, Sam Gibson, who was elbowed out of business. We are not saying that he was A-1 in business management, but he was denied the opportunity to expand because GOL gave the Robertsfield Hotel to a Lebanese businessman—George Abidjoudi—who had no experience in hotel management. Abjoudi’s only advantage was he had serious connections with the powers that be.

Until we can one day get a government serious about empowering Liberians in business, we have to help ourselves. Without any illusions, we better start doing so now.

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