Race, Identity and Citizenship in Black Africa: The Case of the Lebanese in Ghana (1)
Akyeampong, Emmanuel K., Africa
As we approach the post-colonial half century, transnationalism has become a major reality in Africa and the wider world with the proliferation of immigrants, refugees and displaced persons. But transnationalism is not a new development, and diaspora and globalization--both historical processes--have long served as contexts for the remaking of identity, citizenship and polity. Today, concepts such as 'cosmopolitanism' and 'flexible citizenship' are in vogue in a globalized world, as transnationalism challenges statist concepts of political citizenship. In this article, using the case of Ghana, I revisit the historic presence of a Lebanese diaspora in west Africa from the 1860s, and the intellectual and political obstacles that have worked against their full incorporation as active political citizens. I seek to understand why the prospect of non-black citizenship was considered problematic in black Africa during the era of decolonization, interrogating the institutional legacies of colonial rule and pan-Africanist thought. The intellectual rigidity of pan-Africanism on race is contrasted with current notions of the constructedness of identity. I probe the ways in which the Lebanese in Ghana constructed their identities, and how these facilitated or obstructed assimilation. As African governments seek to tap into the resources of the new African communities in Europe and North America, the article suggests the timeliness of exploring alternative criteria to indigeneity when defining citizenship in black Africa.
Alors que nous approchons du demi-siecle post-colonial, le transnationalisme est devenu une realite majeure en Afrique comme ailleurs avec la proliferation des immigrants, des refugies et des deplaces. Of, le transnationalisme n'est pas un element nouveau et les processus historiques que sont la diaspora et la mondialisation servent depuis longtemps de contexte de remodelage de l'identite, de la citoyennete et de l'organisation etatique. Aujourd'hui, des concepts comme le <
The growth in studies of diaspora, globalization and transnationalism in the past decade has equipped us with unique tools and insights that can be deployed in approaching what are in reality historic phenomena. Frederick Cooper has remarked on how discussions of globalization today lack historical depth in the interconnections they draw, and how in the excitement we overlook globalization's flows and blockages, that it empowers some and disempowers others (Cooper 2001). (2) Anthony Appiah (2005: 216) comments on the longue duree of globalization, describing the entire history of the human species as the history of globalization. (3) As I have become conscious of my existence as a transnational citizen of Ghana and the United States, residing in the African diaspora (the United States) but as a member of more recent dispersions, and connected intimately to the country of my birth (Ghana) and the international world of Africanist scholarship through global flows, my mind has turned to issues of polity and citizenship, of territoriality and transnationalism, of race and identity. I have become a student of the African diaspora, and of Africa as a receiving continent of non-African diasporas, particularly the Lebanese in west Africa (Akyeampong 2000).
My interest in the Lebanese in west Africa started in an innocuous way. (4) In 2000 I was commissioned by the editors of African Affairs to write an article on the African diaspora for the centenary issue of the journal. The article, 'Africans in the diaspora: the diaspora and Africa', had a short section which examined Africa as a receiving area for non-African diasporas, utilizing the Lebanese in west Africa as a case study. In 2001, I was invited by the Centre for the Advanced Study of African Society in Cape Town to expand my insights on the Lebanese in west Africa for one of the workshops that accompanied the conference on race relations in Durban in late August and early September. I accepted the challenge and the result was a paper on African-Lebanese relations in west Africa. (5) I reworked the Lebanese paper to highlight Ghana as a case study for a public lecture at the Centre for Development and Democracy (CDD) in Accra on 1 November 2001. News of the impending lecture created consternation among the Lebanese community in Accra. Connections that seemed far-fetched to me were drawn, linking the tragedy of 11 September 2001 in the United States to a lecture on the Lebanese in a research centre that ostensibly had received some American funding. The Lebanese community smelt a witch-hunt. In neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire there had been reports in the 1980s of Hizbollah activity that had unsettled established Lebanese-Ivoirean families (Bigo 1992). Was this an attempt to tar the Lebanese in Ghana with the terrorist brush? At this stage I had interviewed several Lebanese families in Accra, some through the instrumentality of the Lebanese Embassy. I deposited a copy of the CDD paper at the Lebanese Embassy, where several Lebanese families picked up photocopies before the public lecture. Their fears allayed that I was not an agitator, the Lebanese turned up for the lecture in their numbers. Ghanaians were well represented at this forum and officials from the Ghana Police Service, the Immigration Service, the Interior, Foreign Affairs and Industry ministries, and the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre attended in rather formal capacities.
In this lecture I argued for the political integration of Lebanese families, some of which had immigrated to the Gold Coast in the early colonial period. Discussion after the delivery of the paper was animated, as 'Ghanaians' and 'Lebanese' tackled what were considered problem areas in Ghanaian-Lebanese relations. Indeed, I was forgotten, as 'Lebanese' and 'Ghanaians' directed questions at each other. I busily took notes. I had provided a forum for a debate on the political integration of a different racial group into the Ghanaian polity, and why generations after their presence this was still considered problematic. Ghanaian participants in the discussion complained about Lebanese aloofness and the fact that they often married other Lebanese; that those not born in Ghana did not bother to learn a Ghanaian language; that their business practices were shady; and that their tendency to support all political parties was disingenuous. Lebanese-Ghanaians and Lebanese residents complained that after decades of residence they were still treated as political strangers. Gabby Mattouk of Parakuo Estates, a fourth-generation Lebanese-Ghanaian, noted that even with his lifelong Ghanaian friends, whenever it comes to political discussions his attempts to contribute are rebuffed with the statement that 'This is not your country, reserve your comments to yourself.' That even their philanthropic gestures are derided by Ghanaians with comments like: 'Oh, they chopped our money and they are giving it back to us.' Yet Lebanese-Ghanaians are very attached to Ghana and feel ill at ease, with their pidgin Arabic, changed diet and different cultural ways, when they visit relatives in Lebanon. (6) After the session, several Lebanese acquaintances encouraged me to write on these issues and not to shelve the material I had collected. Maurice Aouad, historian of the Lebanese presence in Ghana, provided me with so many documents, collected over the decades, that I would have found it difficult to walk away from the subject. The Lebanese position is that an initiative by Ghanaian intellectuals will be required to open discussion about the political integration of the Lebanese in Ghana. Those of Lebanese descent could not begin this discussion. This was an astute observation. A bid by returned Ugandan Asians to be listed as one of the country's ethnic groups during the constitutional discussions in the early 1990s had been rejected (Mamdani 2004). The Lebanese-Ghanaian community has cautiously avoided acts that might be seen as overtly political. This does not mean the Lebanese in Ghana are uninterested in politics, for they are keenly aware of how politics shapes the business environment on which their livelihoods depend. Acts of political oppression against the Lebanese community in various phases of Ghana's independent history have taught the Lebanese the value of political quiescence (Akyeampong 2001).
This article examines why it was conceptually difficult to envision a non-black citizen in Ghana--and west Africa--during the period of decolonization, which strikingly was also a period of internationalisms. It interrogates the legacy of colonial legal institutions and the input of pan-Africanism, especially its African-American component, in framing Africa as the place of blacks where race, geography and polity overlapped naturally. It situates this understanding within contemporary notions of nationalism and the nation state, which from the nineteenth century had promoted the illusion of 'oneness', an 'ideology of the commonness of origins, purposes and goals that allowed those in power to legitimate rule over large and diverse populations' (Schiller, Basch and Blanc-Szanton 1992: 15). Half a century after the end of colonial rule, social science literature has unpacked the social construction of identity, a veritable Ghanaian 'diaspora' has come into existence, and transnationalism has become a common strategy of survival and prosperity. Why has the political integration of the Lebanese remained a challenge? I seek clues in the nature of Lebanese migration and settlement during the era of colonial capitalism, and how this shaped Lebanese identity and community in ways that have made them distinct. Two key features in the nature of Lebanese immigration continue to work against their political integration. First is the legacy arising from the fact that their presence originated as an 'auxiliary diaspora' tied to British colonialism (Cohen 2003: 84). (7) Since colonial resentment often could not be directed at the small group of European colonizers, members of the auxiliary diaspora became targets of local hostility. Second, Lebanese families, which constituted economic enterprises, have reproduced themselves in Ghana through a regime of family governmentality that subordinated the interests of sons and daughters to the wider economic interests of the family, a feature that has been described as 'utilitarian familialism' (Ong 1999). (8) To facilitate production and reproduction of family businesses, Lebanese often married Lebanese, and the practice of endogamy reinforced the perception of this community as separate and aloof.
We often emphasize the labour demands of global capitalism in migration movements and political economy as a framework for understanding diasporas. But within the interstices of global capitalism and worldwide diasporas are families and individuals who forge identities that make sense of the realities of homeland and place of residence, who have economic aspirations and social dreams. And here is where current studies of transnationalism and diaspora, of globalization and cosmopolitanism, can shed light on the historic presence of the Lebanese in Ghana. (9)
This article is divided into an introduction, a conclusion and four main …
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Publication information: Article title: Race, Identity and Citizenship in Black Africa: The Case of the Lebanese in Ghana (1). Contributors: Akyeampong, Emmanuel K. - Author. Journal title: Africa. Volume: 76. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer 2006. Page number: 297+. © 1998 Edinburgh University Press. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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