Lebanese contributions to the ongoing national reconstruction process cannot be considered a cold-shouldered one, in view of many nationals having lived with the Liberian people for considerable period.
Whilst the post-war reconstruction challenges have indeed been characterized by huge challenges, requiring local and international involvement, the World Lebanese Cultural Union (WLCU), currently headed by long-time partner Tony Hage as President, is being gauged by cross-section of citizens as to what effective roles are they playing to assist the country realize its national objectives.
Indeed true that Lebanese have since engaged their services largely involving trade and commerce in the growth and development of the Liberian society, dating back to the 1940s when corporations like the Bazzi Brothers and the Haddads engaged individual communities and Liberians, witnessing the purchase of palm kernels and other commodities from local producers, their businesses have since metamorphosed to industrial complexes as well as import-export businesses, thus proving many as true partners to Liberia in its socio-economic development process.
In recent decades, the involvement of Lebanese establishments in the construction process of the Liberian nation, with institutions such as the Younis Brothers of Mr. Gus Khalifa of Water Street, the St. Joseph's Construction Company of Mr. Farid, International Aluminum Factory (IAF) of Mr. Ezzad Eid, Rasamny Brothers, LIPCO and LIPFOCO of Mr. Osman Gindi, Assad A. Barber Corporation that evolved from the Roxy Billard Bar on Broad Street, a slot machine shop on Gurley Street, Monte Carlo and now the Barber Motors Corporation of Bushrod Island, EID Brothers, Nabil Enterprises, Sethi Brothers, the Kefel Brothers, the A-Z Supermarket, Volvo Garage, Fouani Brothers, CTC and many more are indicative of the fact that relations between the Republic of Lebanon and Liberia have since remained on course.
Whilst the influx of investments over the decades by Lebanese traders have proven quite enormous and having had most investments brought to the country shifted out during the period of the past civil crisis, the enabling environment gradually obtaining in post-war Liberia now proves a true test to the businessmen whose manifestation of physically contributing to the infrastructural component of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) of government remains to be seen.
Unlike past decades when the presence of Lebanese traders in all parts of the country became quite visible, one cannot become hasty in concluding that much is not yet seen in the immediate period of the postbellum, since much work is required in re-establishing businesses reflective of the post-crisis demands.
With certainty however abounding amongst citizens and residents that the Lebanese are poised to make a come-back in boosting the Liberian economy, it is undoubtful that given the anxiety by Liberians to healthily interact with old partners as means to stabilizing situations throughout the country and helping national government realize its national objectives, the years ahead are viewed as being characterized by more Lebanese businesses established in all parts of the country.
The various local capitals, though, have since begun experiencing transformation with Liberians themselves now taking the lead through the establishment of small-medium enterprises, most of which have come appear in the forms of restaurant, bars and boutiques, though hopeful of elevating them to bigger businesses in the years ahead, given improvements in economic performance that the Unity Party-led administration has assured would witness marked progress through collaboration with friendly partners.
Whilst much has not been heard in the last three years about the WLCU, as compared to pre-war years, its President, Mr. Tony Hage, continues to explore various means in attracting more of his kinsmen to Liberia in the rebuilding process.
It was therefore not strange at all that during occasions marking Liberia's 162nd Independence Anniversary in Gbarnga City, Bong County, the Doyen of the Diplomatic Corps, Lebanese Ambassador to Liberia, His Excellency Mansour Abdallah, underscored the sustenance of peace and democracy as cardinal to the prosperity of the Liberian nation, promising that the international community would work to support the country in those areas, including national reconciliation and poverty reduction.
Noting that the pain and sorrow did not break the nation but rather made it stronger, his further assertion that the gains of the last six years cannot be reversed provides hope that indeed, with greater cooperation, collaboration and coordination, Liberia could just be on its way to real progress.
In the capital, Monrovia, it is no doubt that the once-abandoned streets of Randall, Mechlin, Water and Bushrod Island are now being filled with Lebanese businesses, bearing, though, the thought that substantive development in which job creation for Liberians remains a thrust must be realized.
With Mr. Ezzad Eid of the International Aluminum Factory (IAF) having since laid the foundation during the 1980s by constructing business houses, though now diverting into other sectors supportive of Liberia's post-war reconstruction efforts, more can certainly be expected from the WLCU in the months ahead in stimulating national growth and development of the Liberian economy.
Precisely in this regard and no longer asleep, the President of the Liberia Business Association (LIBA), Mr. Sam Mitchell, has since undertaken vigorous exercises to ensure that Liberians compete with foreign counterparts in improving the micro and macro-economic environment.
Whilst huge amount has been made available to LIBA in realization of the objective, with legally-established Liberian businesses now privileged to secure short-term loans in establishing whatever they wish, it signals the resolve of government to encourage citizens into the private sector and not become heavily reliant upon continuing government's support.
No wonder why at a two-day symposium organized this week by the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, the President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, lauded it for its continuing search for innovative solutions in alleviating the global financial crisis now posing hurdles in the way to the realization of institutional objectives within the business sector.
Urging the Ministry of Finance, headed by Honorable Augustine K. Ngafuan, to explore possibilities of availing funding to the private sector to help boost economic growth throughout the country, the President of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Freddie Taylor, may just be cleaning his seat to now keep himself fully at the desk and finding alternatives that will keep the sector very active and productive.
For now, however, and with growing concerns over what traditional friends may be contemplating in making Liberians and residents-alike once more smiling by the availability of essential commodities at affordable costs, new business venture by the Office Express of Mr. Naji Hammad of the United Nations Drive, just opposite Mr.Ezzat Eid, could serve as eye-opener to the kinds of investments now required in the post-crisis era.
Before the Liberian civil crisis, there had been the Mano Manufacturing Company on Caldwell Road along the Stockton Creek, where the production of Clorox and candles had taken place. There existed the Halabi Brothers, engaged in the production of car batteries, the Plastic Footwear (Metaloplastica) of Mr. Ezzeldine, Mansour of the Sabanoh Printing Press (SPP), the Building Material Company (BMC), Sharp Showroom, Mohammed Idris and many others.
As mark of the seriousness now attached to doing good business in Liberia, one would be quite surprised to know that Mr. Shaheen who is very popular among Liberians, has in fact shifted from bakery to establishing a store filled with quality goods at the corner of Broad and Mechlin streets.
Now appearing dawn of a new era in the business world and with Mr. Tony Hage, proprietor of the National Panasonic Store on Randall Street, serving as President of the WLCU, the challenge of witnessing the massive involvement of old partners in the business sector with significant impact made remains enormous.
This time around, though, President Sirleaf has turned a very good sharp-shooter at appointing a rightful Minister of Commerce and Industry, Honorable Miatta Besolow to the post, with progress made over the very short period accentuating the post-crisis imperatives.
For example, in recent time, Minister Besolow who has remained quite mindful of the requisite business climate needed in transforming the Liberian society, has had to insist on the price-tagging of various commodities either in United States or Liberian dollar, simply as means of ensuring fair businesses practices in the country.
True that unlike the pre-war years when individual institutions demanded purchase orders to determine affordable cost, the post-crisis environment is still lagging but must now begin to feature those good practices of the past, if accountability and transparency must remain at the lips of business entities.
Whilst Commerce Minister Besolow may be contemplating a vigorous inspection of business establishments throughout the country shortly, at least it can be said that the WLCU could just become a rightful partner in collaborating with government to achieve the national objective.