Mashriq & Mahjar 1 (2013), 85-114

ISSN 2169-4435


Isaac Xerxes Malki



Drawing upon the Ghanaian experience, this article argues that alien immigrant populations in some African countries were channeled toward socio-economic niches by executive decree and legislative mandate dating to the late colonial period. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, British immigration restrictions and trade laws designated the Lebanese as economic agents charged with promoting commerce, while encumbering their political acceptance by restricting residency and naturalization. After independence, economic populism, competing Africanist ideologies, and claims to indigeneity all shaped the passage of laws and legislation that defined and restricted the position of middlemen. Ultimately, the failure of Lebanese political integration in Anglophone West Africa stemmed from the states’ economically-functionalist approach towards immigrants and the ethno-nationalist discourse on autochthony that isolated them. This enduring institutional and statutory legacy explains why the political incorporation of many immigrant groups in Africa remains incomplete.



Middlemen are ethnically or linguistically distinct immigrant traders, including such groups as the Jews of Central Europe, the Chinese of Southeast Asia, and the South Asians of East Africa, among many others. Their unique role has made them the subject of a modest body of scholarly inquiry. 2 The formalization of “middleman” as an academic analytical category is often attributed to Georg Simmel, who outlined several distinct archetypes of “strangers” in his seminal 1908 monograph, Der Fremde.3 Middlemen, as economically-defined strangers, are often credited with facilitating the shift from pre-capitalist to capitalist modes of production.4 Their antecedents were similar outsiders of earlier epochs, “trade diasporas” that encountered religious, cultural, and administrative barriers to total assimilation that preserved their stranger status in pre-colonial Africa and beyond.5 It bears remembering that “strangers,” “middlemen,” and “aliens” formed culturally contingent discursive categories, defined by class markers, social contexts, and political circumstances that frequently changed.6

The expansion of European colonialism in the early decades of the twentieth century, coupled with the proliferation of cheaper and faster modes of transport, encouraged the establishment of middleman trader groups throughout the global South. As such, their fate remains an important if under-appreciated aspect of the study of colonialism and decolonization in Africa and Asia. Specifically, why middlemen in certain societies or countries eventually integrate, while others do not, continues to be the most enduring question surrounding the fate of strangers in recently decolonized countries. Unlike former settler-colonial societies in the West (e.g., Australia, USA, Canada), where the absorption of middlemen has been characterized by the gradual assimilation of immigrant communities into “host” populations, middleman integration has remained problematic when considering movements of these specialized “market-dominant minorities” between developing nations – that is, the South-South context.7 This is partially explained by the position of comparative economic privilege often occupied by these groups, and the populist political grievances that this economic ascendancy generates. Thus in Southeast Asia, market-dominant minorities such as Thai, Malaysian, and Indonesian Chinese face a tenuous political situation characterized by democratization on one hand, and the rise of potentially deadly ethno-nationalism in the form of populist anti- middleman demagoguery on the other.8

The nature of African strangerhood –economically defined or otherwise–is illuminated in Mamdani’s Citizen and Subject, which explores the power of the state in delineating ethnicity and nationality, circumscribing identity and political entitlement for groups not considered to be autochthonous by the colonial state.9 His arguments about the impact of colonial governments in limiting belonging are key to understanding the situation of middlemen in Africa. Perhaps the most durable survey of the challenges faced by the continent’s middlemen remains the edited volume Strangers in African Societies, which highlights the citizenship laws, indigenization decrees, and property confiscation orders that came in the wake of a resurgent populist nationalism, itself caused by continent-wide economic contraction and decline in the 1970s.10 Many of the statutes remain in effect today. The scapegoating of strangers often manifested itself in the selective targeting, expropriation, and deportation of market-dominant minorities in particular, subsuming both African “strangers” and non-African “aliens.”

This article examines the operation of these categories in British West Africa and successor states, with an emphasis on Ghana. The term “stranger” was used in West Africa to denote any foreigner, whether non-African or African of distant provenance. Legally, the term “alien” referred to immigrants from outside the British Empire during the colonial period, and to any non-Ghanaian national (e.g., unnaturalized Nigerians, Burkinabes, Lebanese, etc.) after the declaration of the Ghanaian republic in 1960.11 However, in common usage, “stranger” effectively described non-Ghanaian African foreigners, and “aliens” tended to be reserved for non-Africans. This distinction was partly a holdover from the colonial period, when Nigerians and other British West Africans were recognized along with Gold Coasters as imperial subjects, and partly the result of Kwame Nkrumah’s deliberate attempt to foster Pan-African inclusivity among West African diasporic populations resident in Ghana.12

In tracing one dimension of the world-wide Lebanese diaspora, this work builds upon the case studies of the iconic tome, The Lebanese in the World: a Century of Emigration, among several similarly important works.13 It also extends the theoretical insights of Mamdani and others by arguing that middlemen in Africa became incorporated into official plans for national and regional economic development. The middleman position occupied by aliens was the product of concerted and long-standing government policies which effectively institutionalized their niche economic roles. In British West Africa, the Lebanese were appended to colonial economic planning on account of their perceived capabilities in facilitating trade – but for ideological and political reasons, they came to be viewed as agents of industrialization in post-independence Ghana. Thus, British imperial economic policies and post-independence economic initiatives ensconced the Lebanese as middlemen, with consequences including political marginalization and periodic expropriation. The middleman’s position in society was shaped not only by the Lebanese as voluntary immigrants seeking economic opportunities abroad, but by the state, which instrumentalized and controlled the roles played by aliens in line with its perceived economic objectives. In this regard, there was a fundamental continuity between the colonial administration and post-colonial governments. Although both delineated the roles of the Lebanese primarily out of economic considerations, the perceived economic mandate of aliens was mediated by political opportunism, populism, and an increasingly elaborate discourse on autochthony. The West African Lebanese were accorded different degrees of “strangerhood” based upon shifting economic contingencies and adjustments in elite and popular definitions of political belonging.


Modern Lebanese emigration began following inter-communal violence and economic upheaval after 1860, and accelerated in the early twentieth century, particularly as the Ottoman Empire continued its steady political and economic decline, ending in its dissolution in 1918.14 The Lebanese left for the United States and Latin America, but racially-motivated regional quotas, as well as public health regulations, curtailed Lebanese emigration to the New World by the late 1920s.15 Many Lebanese who could not afford passage to the Americas, or who could not pass health examinations emigrated to West Africa. There they came to dominate the textile trade, the automobiles and spare parts business, and the timber and building supplies sectors.16 “Syrians,” as they were referred to in government documents and in the press during the years of British rule, included among others Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians, Jews, Maltese, Greeks, and Italians. Yet the overwhelming majority of Levantine immigrants to West Africa traced their roots to areas now within the Republic of Lebanon, and today the Lebanese continue form the largest population of non-African strangers in the region.17 The Lebanese population in the Gold Coast dates from at least 1892, as confirmed by Arabic-language sources.18 A demographic survey of British West Africa documented two “Syrian” burials in the Gold Coast in 1898.19 While their pre-1972 numbers probably never exceeded 10,000 – a zenith likely achieved in the late 1960s out of a national population that approached 8 million – the Lebanese loomed large in important areas of the Ghanaian economy by the end of that decade, controlling vast holdings in the retail, wholesale, and industrial sectors.20 Lebanese-owned outfits featured prominently among dry goods and apparel businesses, textiles establishments, hardwood stores, motor vehicles dealerships and auto repair shops, and industrial machinery sales.21 The economic prominence of the Lebanese marked them out as a critical market-dominant minority, and because of this, controlling this “alien” population became an important aspect of colonial and post-independence governmental attempts to manage the national economy.


Until about 1940, colonial administrators looked favorably upon Lebanese migration to British West Africa; the former regarded Levantine immigrants as vital intermediaries in the trade of locally-produced primary crops (cocoa, groundnuts, coffee, etc.) and British manufactures, as important participants in retail trade, and as purveyors of specie money.22 In the non-settler colonies of West Africa, groups like the Lebanese occupied an intermediary horizontal band in the “commercial pyramid,” an idea elaborated by economic historian Peter Bauer to explain the official rationale for the colonial political economy of trade in West Africa.23 This model of economic rungs was underpinned by a racialized hierarchy. Colonial administrative discourse contended that the Lebanese, by virtue of their ostensibly intermediate race, stood somewhere between Europeans and Africans in their commercial acumen and ability, an assertion which both explained and justified their intermediary economic roles. As one colonial administrator opined, “the Syrians, however dirty and insanitary they may be, are very astute traders.”24 Thus, the Lebanese came to “naturally” occupy the middleman position.

The role of Lebanese middlemen in the formulation of economic policy came under increasing scrutiny by colonial authorities during and after the Second World War. The pressures placed on the metropolitan economy by the war effort necessitated increasingly centralized economic planning in the early 1940s. The Colonial Office decided to streamline the import and export sectors, instituting a more robust approach to economic management including price stabilization for raw materials through the institution of marketing boards.25 In the process, it granted a dominant position to large European concerns deemed to have the necessary organizational and shipping capacities to guarantee uninterrupted trade based upon their records of “past performance,” which effectively took into account the tonnage shipped by specific companies over the course of the preceding decade. The United Africa Company (UAC), a British company and the progenitor of Unilever, was assigned the lion’s share of tonnage for many imported consumer goods and exported commodities. 26 Thus centralized planning entailed a de facto cartelization of international trade in British West Africa largely to the exclusion of the Lebanese, especially as the large European firms, active participants in designing the policy outwardly based on measuring past performance, gradually came to view Levantine traders as commercial rivals.27 Indeed, the launch of past performance coincided with the adoption of more restrictive vetting procedures for Lebanese immigrants, further impacting their commercial expansion.28

Up until the late 1930s, British West African officials did not object to the Lebanese opening manufacturing concerns. In 1936, a Lebanese partnership built a factory in the Gold Coast to make “perfumes, powder and beauty supplies,” whose products found “a very good market.”29 Yet the beginning of World War II and the year 1940 in particular marked a break in the Colonial Office’s approach to the West African colonies. The birth of the “developmental state,” inaugurated by the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940 throughout the empire, witnessed a more vigorous attempt to manage colonial economies with the aim of promoting imperial economic integration, and was partially implemented in British West Africa through the trade allocation system based on past performance, as well as through the sponsoring of parastatal manufacturing enterprises.30 The colonial government increasingly attempted to bar Lebanese entry into industry, which it viewed as a potential developmental avenue for African artisans.

In 1943, the Civil Members’ Committee of the West African War Council (WAWC), which included colonial administrators from Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia, urgently addressed the question of Lebanese-led industrialization. Lord Swinton, the Resident Minister for West Africa, held discussions with the Colonial Office in London regarding what he perceived as an “immediate problem” arising from “Syrian competition in such matters as brick making, soap making and the weaving of cloth.”31 Achimota, site of an elite government-sponsored secondary school in the Gold Coast, hosted a new West African artisans’ institute, and Swinton worried that the Lebanese were “attempting to entice away … apprentices who are being taught in connection with the Institute’s plans for the teaching of brick and tile work.”32 Indeed, to the dismay of R.W. Stopford, Principal of Achimota College, Gold Coast governor Alan Burns had approved the establishment of “a fairly large scale brick and tile factory by a Syrian firm” earlier that year.33 The brick-making operation was euphemistically cited as “an interesting illustration of the enterprise of the Syrian and of the complications which his enterprise tends to introduce into the economy of West Africa.”34 Swinton argued against unfettered competition in the industrial sector since Lebanese middlemen ostensibly sabotaged new government-sponsored development objectives, whereby small-scale industries would be reserved “for the African villages”:35

I do not think that the British tax-payer would be prepared to spend money on an Institute for West Africa which would benefit the Syrians probably to a greater extent than it would benefit the Africans if we do not take early steps to prevent competition. In these circumstances, I suggested to the Secretary of State the possibility of legislation to prohibit non-native [sic] of the country from entering on an industrial undertaking.36

While the Resident Minister tried to shield government-sponsored industrialization from perceived middleman encroachment, an African pro- industrialization society, the Trade and Industry Share-Out Club, celebrated the fact that “Messrs. Chaaban Brothers (a Syrian Firm), has imported a Brick making Machine,” to become the first privately-owned brick maker in the colony.37 Writing for the Club’s newsletter, G.N. Alema argued that Africans needed to study how to build their own industries, in part by learning by example:

If we cannot do this for ourselves, others will start the necessary industries, then we shall remain a nation of grumblers, drawers of water and hewers of wood [sic]. We must have our own industrial organisations and manufacturing houses which will absorb the young men and women trained in the various institutions.38

Alema’s views were shared by prominent African members of the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly, including J.B. Danquah, leader of the traditionalist legislative faction, dominated by royals and nobles. During the June 1948 session, Danquah advocated a more flexible approach to immigration policies, emphasizing the instructive potential of “foreign elements” who could “teach us how to do one or two things”39 He wished to see “secondary industries developed” locally by Gold Coasters, but argued that “we cannot do so unless we have something to look up to.”40 Again in 1951, Danquah appealed to the Minister of Defence and External Affairs, who oversaw immigration enforcement, complaining that businessmen “who are coming with new ideas” were being turned away.41 Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, Danquah advocated the industrialization of the country through the encouragement of immigrant-led enterprise.

After launching their developmental plans for West Africa in the mid- 1940s, British administrators effectively had no further use for Lebanese middlemen within their vision of the colonial political economy. Partly as a response to political agitation for self-government, retail trade was seen as the preserve of aspirant African merchants, and manufacturing was to be funded and directed by the colonial government.42 Indeed, by 1948, only those non- Imperial immigrants “whose gainful occupation in the country” was not seen as “detrimental to the economic interest of the African population” would be allowed to enter the Gold Coast.43 This provision effectively excluded most Lebanese newcomers. In the same year, the retail sector was closed to Lebanese expansion by legal statute.44 While the colonial administration feared that Lebanese industrialists would undercut the objectives of its centrally-mandated developmental projects in the late 1940s, African nationalists who inherited the state in 1957 viewed the middlemen as potential engines for industrial development. While maintaining colonial-era policies that set aside the retail sector as the exclusive domain of Ghanaians, post-independence political elites conceived of an active economic role for the Lebanese through industrialization.


At the onset of self-government in 1954, Prime Minister Nkrumah and his Convention People’s Party (CPP) confronted the economic constraints imposed by fluctuations in government income, which came primarily from the commodities marketing boards whose profits were dictated by vagaries in international prices for cocoa and other high-value export crops.45 Nkrumah decided on an economic program of structural transformation through import substitution industrialization.46 In 1953, K.A. Gbedemah, Minister of Finance, commissioned a study on the country’s potential for industrialization. In his report, W.A. Lewis, a former colonial officer, conceded that there was “no question” that industrialization was “impossible in the Gold Coast without bringing in the knowledge of expatriates.”47 Noting that the government-run Cocoa Marketing Board financed most of the government’s budget through the compulsory purchase of the nation’s cocoa harvest at below world-market prices, Lewis suggested that “the alternative is to rely, instead, to a considerable extent on foreign capital,” specifically to establish a manufacturing base.48 Here the Lebanese factored into the CPP’s plans for industrial growth and development. As part of his vision of “African socialism” in Ghana, Nkrumah believed that shifting alien enterprise into the manufacturing sector would tie down the liquid assets of ostensibly successful trade diasporas including the Lebanese.49 One of the consistent arguments against Lebanese immigration, stretching back to the 1920s, was they did not invest in the local economy but rather repatriated earnings from their retail and wholesale operations back to Lebanon. Chief Ofori Atta I, an unofficial (non-voting) member of the Legislative Assembly in the 1930s, had expressed this sentiment in 1938, insisting that the Lebanese traders of the day were “taking all the money away to a foreign country, and we get nothing from it.”50 Industry, which required substantial investment in fixed capital, would keep middleman profits in Ghana by helping to develop physical plant and infrastructure.

In early April 1958, Nkrumah announced that “overseas businessmen” could “assist the country’s economic development not only with their own enterprises but by voluntary service on the boards of Government economic agencies.”51 With the effective closure of the retail sector to non-Ghanaians, first mandated in 1948 and confirmed through supplementary legislation by the post-independence government, Nkrumah attempted to encourage Lebanese middlemen to take up industrial enterprise.52 In return for their co-operation, Lebanese industrialists could rely on government contracts, concessions, and protectionist policies including tariffs on competing imports, in keeping with the ruling CPP’s agenda for development through import substitution industrialization. In one of his first acts as post-independence Prime Minister, Nkrumah signed a deal with Lebanese entrepreneur Edward Nassar to launch the Pioneer Biscuit Factory in April 1957, a joint venture with the government- owned Industrial Development Corporation. 53 Nassar proved a staunch supporter of Ghanaian industrialization and believed that the Lebanese could play a crucial role in it. He publicly advocated tariffs to reduce foreign competition and allow local capacity to expand:

The Pioneer Biscuit…Factory in Kumasi ranks as one of our largest consumer goods establishments in Ghana…. [and] employs more than 200 people and could employ more than 300…as well as contribute over

£3,000,000 a year to our productivity. There are serious dangers facing the biscuit industry…i.e., the fact that we in Ghana pay import duty on materials that go into the making of Made in Ghana cabin biscuits while cabin biscuits are imported in toto FREE OF DUTY. It is to be hoped that such legislation as is necessary for the protection of existing projects and as an inducement to future investors, be enacted before more harm is done.54

In Accra’s newly-established Industrial Area, Mansour Azar built Metalloplastica, one of the first large-scale manufacturing plants in Ghana, in September 1958.55 The company produced plastics and petrochemical products. An industrial district known as Spintex blossomed around the Millet Textile Company, established by the Millet (Milad) family in the early 1960s, after they helped construct a road to a new north-eastern subdivision of Accra.56

Nkrumah’s desire to utilize the middlemen for industrialization dovetailed with the former colonial administration’s attempts to restrict Lebanese immigration and drive them out of the retail sector in the 1940s. Indeed, industrialization served as the means to justify the Lebanese presence in Ghana altogether. B.F. Kusi, a Member of Parliament who belonged to the National Liberation Movement branch of the United Party, the CPP’s parliamentary opposition, made a clear connection between immigration policies and the types of businesses ordinarily led by immigrants.57 In July 1957, he argued that immigration procedures did not sufficiently support developmental goals, implying that the sole purpose of continued Lebanese immigration lay in their exclusive engagement in industry and manufacturing. He wished to see the arrival of immigrants “who will come to this country to help … in its development,” but warned that “if these Syrians and Lebanese are not industrialists … then they must stay in their own country.”58 When advocating a more rigorous immigration vetting procedure, he echoed an anti-immigrant discourse on race and economic nationalism that had become prevalent in the Gold Coast in the 1940s:59

I am not suggesting that this country should practise the racial policies of South Africa…but I am strongly convinced that the Syrians and Lebanese who come here had no business before coming here, and as a result they come to this country merely to carry on ordinary retail and so also enter the timber trade. These people deprive the African of his chances in business. At this time of our development when we say we are independent, we should not allow such people who have no business in their own country to come here and deprive our brothers of their living.60

Economic activities which featured significant Lebanese participation but increasingly came to be seen as exclusive African domains included retail, bread baking, general contracting, and the timber trade. Kusi reiterated the widely-held view that the Lebanese were comparatively cash-rich, and observed that in the forest belt, many immigrants had entered the timber business “because of their large capital” and were seemingly “ousting African timber merchants.”61 In a zero-sum economic assessment whereby Lebanese commercial and financial gain translated into losses of equal magnitude for African merchants, he argued that the Lebanese should engage in industry alone and leave other economic activities for African expansion, suggesting “stringent measures … to protect African timber merchants and building contractors by not allowing Syrians and Lebanese to come here.”62 He claimed that the only way “to protect the interest of African businessmen … against Syrians and Lebanese” would be to tighten immigration regulations. 63 Lawmakers expressed alarm at Lebanese involvement in bread baking after the opening of a Lebanese-owned industrial-scale bakery, prompting parliamentary debate. Under pressure from the opposition, Ako Adjei, CPP Minister of the Interior, opined:

A common business like bread baking is being taken away from our women. When we were children, bread baking was women’s work. We have been feeding on bread for a long time but within the last five years, some of these Syrians…have gradually been entering the bread-baking business, and there is a tendency of our women being driven away. I do not believe that one has got to get a university degree before one can bake bread properly, and I think that our women can do these things fairly well as they have been doing in the past.64

Adjei implied that technological improvements introduced by Lebanese entrepreneurs in fields ordinarily dominated by African household production served as yet another example of how “Syrians” were “depriving Africans in this country of their living.”65 Not all forms of modernization and mechanization were welcome in the government’s plans for import substitution industrialization – least of all those that affected “traditional” household production. A bi-partisan consensus was emerging between the CPP and opposition parties regarding the economic spheres to be reserved for Africans. In the views of political personalities as distinct as Kwame Nkrumah and J.B. Danquah, an agreement was reached as to the function of alien middlemen like the Lebanese in the developmental aspirations of the Ghanaian state.66

The press also connected the Lebanese presence with the thorny question of immigration, linking the “guest” status of aliens with their economic activities. In its 4 July 1957 lead article, the CPP-owned Daily Graphic, the nation’s most important broadsheet, reported that the government had accepted suggestions “to check Syrians and Lebanese” from entering enterprises “which foreigners had no excuse to undertake.” 67 The media trumpeted economically-based accusations against Lebanese middlemen, writ large, detailing their purported collective “ousting [of] Ghanaians” from the “timber industry and the distributive and retail trades,” and their entry into the country through alleged “irregular methods.”68

Ako Adjei’s pronouncements reflected the fact that the CPP was forced to demonstrate its Africanist and Ghanaian nativist credentials by a combative traditionalist parliamentary oppostion. Throughout 1957, the Interior Minister articulated an increasingly official division between Ghanaian and Lebanese, implying that the Lebanese could not be considered bona fide Ghanaians despite the naturalization of some Lebanese as Ghanaian nationals.69 He accepted that Lebanese middlemen were “depriving true Ghanaians of their gainful employment in the field of commercial enterprise in which Ghanaians could very well thrive.”70 He insisted that the government would see to it that the timber industry, retail trade, and bread baking were “retained largely, if not exclusively, in the hands of Ghanaians,” and announced that “all firms should be required by law to reserve a certain quota of the managerial posts for Ghanaians.”71

By delimiting realms of Lebanese economic exclusion, the 1957 parliamentary discussions on immigration helped achieve a bi-partisan understanding as to the roles earmarked for the Lebanese in industry. Likewise, complaints aired in the press about Lebanese involvement in sectors of the economy deemed to be the entitlement of Africans helped limit the Lebanese to manufacturing. The circumscribing of Lebanese economic activity was underscored politically by Nkrumah’s fostering of populist forms of black nationalism, manifested in part through his invitations to African Americans to settle in Ghana, and his sponsorship of the idea of Africa as the homeland of the black race.72 Economic policy, as it related to non-Africans, was formulated in dialogue with a racialized nationalist discourse, and policy makers like Adjei had to walk a fine line between populist ethno-nationalist ideologies, a desire to build Pan-Africanist solidarity, and strategies for immigrant-assisted economic growth.

Elias Sarkis, a Lebanese merchant in Accra, wrote to the Daily Graphic to counter some of the allegations made in Parliament. He challenged the zero- sum assumption that Lebanese participation in some economic realms closed those fields to Africans:

I am not particularly defending the Syrio-Lebanese [sic]. I am rather writing on general principles, as there are other nationals engaged in the same field of business. There are several Syrio-Lebanese as well as other foreigners engaged in the timber business, but this does not mean that they are ousting the Ghanaian timber man from the field. Most of their business is done through Ghanaian sub-contractors.73

Sarkis argued that many Lebanese retailers were also wholesalers who imported their goods and sold them on to African retail traders in major urban markets, thereby establishing supply chains.74 The Lebanese extended “credit facilities to those customers of reliable standing.” 75 According to Sarkis, through their knowledge of local languages and customs, Ghanaian merchants possessed distinct advantages over business rivals including the Lebanese.76 He contended that “the road is open for competition in any field of major business and the Ghanaian is placed in a highly advantageous position to oust any foreign competitor … they [Ghanaians] are far better equipped.”77 Sarkis doubtlessly recognized that some aspirant Ghanaian merchants did not have the capital or business experience to compete with many Lebanese middlemen. Nevertheless, he and other Lebanese argued that they added value to the economy precisely because of their advantageous capital profiles, which allowed them to hire Africans laborers, distributors, and couriers, thereby furthering the wage economy and providing for the livelihood of many families. Yet voices like Sarkis’s were comparatively rare, and anti-Lebanese remonstrations at official and popular levels, goaded by the traditionalist parliamentary opposition, helped establish a broadly-held view that all but the most capital-intensive commercial ventures ought to be reserved for indigenous African Ghanaians – and that the only truly appropriate avenue for Lebanese economic engagement lay in industry and manufacturing.


While on a state visit to Vietnam in February 1966, Nkrumah was overthrown by a junta led by General Joseph Ankrah, who became head of the National Liberation Council (NLC) military government. Although the CPP government had formulated the idea of Lebanese-assisted industrialization, Nkrumah rarely moved in a comprehensive manner to limit Lebanese businessmen to non-manufacturing areas of the economy. Indeed, under Nkrumah the Lebanese substantially expanded their numerical presence in the distributive trades, as well as in manufacturing.78 Between 1964 and 1968, they were increasingly and disproportionately represented in most surveyed economic sectors, including wholesale and the lumber trade.79 Under the NLC, the officially-endorsed role for the Lebanese as facilitators of industrialization did not change, and some efforts were made to curb Lebanese participation in retail. Its Immigration Committee vetted Lebanese employment visa applications according to the convention that non-African foreigners should participate only in industry.

In August 1967, the Immigration Committee felt compelled to react to an editorial published in the Ghanaian Times which argued that there was a “growing public uneasiness” caused by the perception that “many Ghanaians are losing ground in the retail business.”80 The editor lamented that even before the demise of the CPP regime, “many of the local Ghanaian retailers” had been “forced to beat a retreat from the field, in the face of keen and strong competition from foreign retailers, chiefly, Syrians, Lebanese and Indians who generally have more capital at their disposal.”81 The editor urged the government to institute measures “restricting unnecessary foreign intervention in the retail field.”82 Indeed, as well as expanding their participation in wholesale and manufacturing, the Lebanese continued to acquire an increasing share of the retail market – a trend which ran counter to the government’s policy of encouraging Lebanese investment in highly-capitalized and capital- intensive businesses.83 The Ghanaian Times contended that foreigners should shift their interests to manufacturing:

There surely exist vast fields and opportunities in commerce and industry for our foreign friends to help the country and themselves. They can bring in more capital and open industries and manufactures, thus employing more Ghanaians and thereby helping the government to solve the unemployment problem. It should be obligatory on foreigners entering the country to bring in a specified amount of minimum capital. Such a requirement would help offset the repatriation of profit.84

Economic planners continued to argue that industrialization would tie down Lebanese capital in the country.85 As such, the NLC’s Immigration Committee attempted to stimulate foreign-led industrialization as the CPP had done. For example, Hilmi Koubeissi, a Lebanese national, requested work permits to set up as “a General Merchant, Importer and Exporter and Manufactures Representative.”86 His application was rejected “in view of the retail nature” of the application.87 However, at the Committee’s same sitting, members considered an application for the “Ghana Hygiene Products Co. Ltd.” to be run by Koubeissi with his brother Hassan, to “manufacture cotton wool, sanitary pads, cellulose wadding, surgical dressing [sic].” 88 Although the siblings received an immigration quota for three skilled immigrants instead of the six they had requested, the Committee supported their second application as an example of industrial progress, announcing that “the enterprise will benefit the country greatly.”89 Presaging Prime Minister Busia’s ban on foreign holdings in the transport sector in 1970, the application of Bassam Hallaby for a petroleum shipping service running from Kumasi “to the North for Texaco” was also refused because the project was deemed to be “not in the interest of the country.”90


The nature of the Lebanese middlemen’s economic and political vulnerability as perpetual aliens became most obvious during Kofi Busia’s tenure as Prime Minister of the Second Republic (August 1969 to January 1972), a period which witnessed the restoration of civilian rule after the military interregnum of the NLC. On 5 December 1969, Stephen Krakue, Secretary to the Minister of Trade and Industries, announced that “the policy of the government” was to encourage foreign investment in sectors which required “high capital investment, technology and management which Ghanaians were unable at present to provide.”91 Through the Aliens Compliance Order (1969), which enforced immigration controls, and the Business Promotion Act (1970), a law ostensibly intended to stimulate economic growth, Busia’s neo- traditionalist, Akan-centered Progress Party (PP) administration – a variant of the old anti-Nkrumahist United Party – resuscitated decrees which had been passed by previous governments but only tenuously implemented. Unlike its predecessors, Busia’s administration robustly pursued its indigenization decrees, merging policies on immigration control, deportation, and naturalization with substantive restrictions on economic participation through two potent pieces of “compliance” legislation.

Officially promulgated on 18 November 1969, the Aliens Compliance Order mandated that “aliens both African and non-African without residence permits should leave the country within fourteen days.”92 The Order forced the closure of many stable, long-standing stranger-owned enterprises, and Lebanese and Nigerian middlemen, among others, faced the prospect of winding up their businesses and uprooting their families, leaving for countries many had never set foot in before. It aimed to enforce the Aliens Act of 1963, which had been shepherded through Parliament by the then CPP Minister of the Interior, Kwaku Boateng.93 The earlier Act had attempted to force a system of residence permits and employment licensing upon all foreigners domiciled in Ghana.94 However, Boateng’s provision proved impossible to implement as hundreds of thousands of West Africans entered Ghana for the purposes of trade, farming, and participating in the economically vital cocoa harvest.95 Indeed, considering that the appeal of the ruling CPP rested on its acceptance of African foreigners, “in harmony with the pan-African aspirations of the party and the country,” Nkrumah was reluctant to implement the Aliens Act of 1963.96

Although the Aliens Compliance Order of 1969 would have disastrous implications for the country’s West African “stranger” populations (i.e., non- Ghanaian Africans), the policy was engineered to dislodge the Lebanese by mandating compliance with the Aliens Act of 1963. On 7 December 1970, the Foreign Minister of Dahomey (Benin) reported that the Ghanaian ambassador had informed him that the “expulsion” exercise was “aimed mainly at Syrians and Lebanese.”97 In the charged atmosphere whipped up by the legislation’s promulgation, the Ghanaian public readily seized upon the presence of Lebanese and other aliens as the root cause of the country’s economic woes. The unseemly or unethical behavior of some individual Lebanese came in for legitimate criticism in many popular newspapers:

From the way some aliens carry and throw their weight about, one gets the impression that some of them are in this country, not as guests, but as our masters. One day last week what happened in a Lebanese shop could have made any Ghanaian sick. The “boss” sat on an elevated table overseeing activities in the shop. For some strange reason, he hurled insults on a pregnant Ghanaian cashier who consistently pleaded innocence of what she was being accused of.98

However, remonstrations against individual Lebanese excesses quickly descended into a familiar pattern of negatively stereotyping all Lebanese and their economic activities. Crusading journalists noted that the Lebanese “return to their own countries … with millions of our foreign exchange earnings,” a critique that harkened back to Ofori Atta’s complaints in the 1930s, but which skirted the fact that the Lebanese were prolific investors in and developers of land, buildings, and infrastructure throughout the country.99 Once again, this economically-motivated resentment tapped into a body of popular beliefs regarding Lebanese “sharp practices” which had become prevalent in the aftermath of the unfavorable publicity surrounding colonial and post-independence immigration debates, discussions regarding autochthony and legitimate political membership, and widely-held notions of zero-sum economic competition.

Busia’s reasons for advocating the legislation were diverse and contradictory, but he seemed to believe “that a move against aliens – and perhaps especially non-Africans – would stave off growing impatience” with his regime’s “limited performance.”100 A Brong nobleman, Busia also brought a decidedly ethnic dimension to national politics. The composition and policies of his Progress Party government provided “prima facia evidence of favouritism towards the Akan,” the country’s politically and economically dominant ethno-linguistic group, constituting approximately fifty percent of the population.101 Busia viewed the Lebanese with suspicion, especially since many of the latter remained stalwart Nkrumahists, and some covertly supported former CPP Finance Minister Gbedemah’s National Alliance of Liberals (NAL), the successor party to the banned CPP.102 The Progress Party aimed to consolidate its grip on power by rewarding its members with the properties of departing Lebanese and Nigerian aliens. By ousting foreign businessmen under the mantle of indigenization, Busia hoped to address the country’s massive unemployment problem while securing a popular base in the electorate. In 1969 unemployment hovered at 25%; one British correspondent summed up the adversarial atmosphere by noting that “to an unemployed Ghanaian, a stranger with a job is a stranger keeping him out of a job – irrespective of qualifications.” 103 Thus the Aliens Compliance Order represented both an expression of populist ethno-nationalism and an attempt to neutralize the parliamentary opposition. Yet at the core of the Order lay the reassertion of a long-standing bi-partisan ideological imperative that insisted that certain sectors of the economy ought to remain in “native” hands. This belief formed a key tenet in a set of broadly held views constituting what may be referred to as Ghanaian “economic nationalism,” as established during the course of the Parliamentary debates of the late 1950s.104 Crucially, however, in 1969, the definition of “alien” was extended to its legal denotative meaning, encompassing both African and non-African aliens in Ghana.

The 1960 census put the number of Lebanese and Syrian nationals living in Ghana at 2,209 out of total population of 6.7 million.105 The 1970 census recorded 2,098 Lebanese and Syrian nationals resident in Ghana on 1 March 1970, three months after the Alien Compliance Order’s enforcement, a net decline of 111 documented aliens as compared to 1960 a full decade before.106 Unfortunately, no census data exists for the intervening ten years (1960-1970), although anecdotal evidence, business registries, and annual migration statistics point to well over 6,000 Lebanese in Ghana by 1968, consistent with General Ankrah’s comparatively favorable immigration policies during the NLC period (1966-69).107 Unlike census figures, this estimate includes Lebanese holding Ghanaian citizenship and mixed-race Afro-Lebanese, generally regarded as “pure” Ghanaians for demographic purposes. While heading the military government, Ankrah revoked the deportation orders imposed upon scores of Lebanese during Nkrumah’s later years in power. The general also enacted a new citizenship law that made it easier for Lebanese to naturalize.108 Yet the Alien Compliance Order rapidly reversed this trend, compelling many Lebanese and other foreigners to evacuate. A breakdown of the demographic effect of the immigration enforcement and indigenization policies reveals 3,092 Lebanese departed from Ghana in 1969, representing a 178% increase on Lebanese departures in 1968.109 Correspondingly, the number of Lebanese arriving in Ghana in 1969 dipped to 994, the lowest arrivals figure since 1961 and a 151% decrease on 1968 arrivals. 110 Responding to parliamentary questions on 4 August 1970, Aboagye da Costa, a Progress Party cabinet minister, announced that 7,116 non-African aliens left Ghana “between 2nd December, 1969 and 30th April, 1970.”111 A substantial percentage of these were Lebanese nationals, since they constituted the largest segment of the country’s non-African population, and many more would leave in subsequent months, especially following the passage of the Business Compliance Order, as discussed below.112 Lebanese social clubs in Accra and Kumasi closed down during the period because so many of their members had departed the country. The Aliens Compliance Order, therefore, forced out the majority of Ghana’s Lebanese by 1970-71, although some would return after Busia’s removal from power by General Acheampong and the National Redemption Council (NRC) in 1972.113

Following the enactment of the Aliens Compliance Order, the Business Promotion Act of 1970 was intended to force “expatriate firms engaged in wholesaling, retailing and manufacturing activities … to relinquish 60% of their retail and wholesale business” by 1 July 1971.114 Like the Aliens Compliance Order, the Act of 1970 had its own precedent in General Ankrah’s National Liberation Council’s Ghanaian Enterprises Decree of December 1968. 115 However, Busia’s version mandated obligatory prison sentences for aliens caught in contravention of the law – a punishment not present in the unenforced NLC bill. The 1970 Act reserved for Ghanaian nationals economic activities such as “commercial transportation by land, baking, printing other than printing of textiles, beauty culture, produce brokerage, advertising and publicity, and the manufacture of cement blocks for sale.”116 Another zero-sum economic analysis, “Burning Questions,” an official pamphlet explaining the Act’s provisions, highlighted the government’s claims that it wished to open the retail and wholesale sectors to Ghanaian citizens:

Unlike other countries, Ghana has hitherto kept her doors open to foreigners of all countries to come and engage in all fields of trade. As a result, Ghanaians have been left no room in their own country except mostly in the hawking and petty trading fields. The Government is therefore out to correct this anomaly by restricting foreigners … It is unfortunate that nationals of certain countries have concentrated their activities on these fields and consequently have been more affected than other nationals.117

Like the Aliens Compliance Order, the Business Promotion Act targeted the Lebanese. According to a confidential report by the British High Commission in Accra, “many Ghanaians volunteered the opinion that the Decree was not aimed at British firms, but rather at the Lebanese and Indian traders and shopkeepers.”118 B.K. Mensah, Principal Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, informed British diplomats “confidentially” that the “Indians and Lebanese were the first targets of the Decree.”119 A member of the British High Commission likewise noted that there was much talk in Ghanaian governmental circles about how “the Lebanese and Indians will be hit first.”120 A Daily Telegraph correspondent reported that “the decree will be directed mainly against Lebanese, Indian, Pakistani and Syrian businessmen operating shops, restaurants and engineering businesses which sell spare parts.” 121 Publicly, however, Busia’s regime dissimulated the Act’s intended targets. Addressing the Lebanese gathered for the inauguration of the Ghana-Lebanon Co-operation and Training Centre (known as Cedar House) in Accra in April 1970, John Kufuor, Ministerial Secretary of External Affairs, asserted that there had been “a lot of misapprehension and misunderstanding” regarding the Act, including claims that it was meant to “discriminate against certain groups of aliens,” but he insisted that this was “far from the case.”122

The immediate political motivations for the Business Promotion Act paralleled those behind the passage of the Aliens Compliance Order, as the two pieces of legislation were mutually reinforcing. Some authors have argued that Busia’s personal aims were benign and stemmed from his belief that “a democratic political system could not function without a strong capitalist class.”123 Yet like the Aliens Compliance Order, the Business Promotion Act seemed partly inspired by Busia’s desire to reward his supporters and benefactors, as well as to attract voters. Contemporary critics attacked it as a blatantly populist measure, “a disastrous attempt by the new Administration to win popularity with the voters.”124 Many businesses were sold at impracticably low prices in the scramble by aliens to leave the country. For example, Anis Hage and Sons, an Accra haberdashery and textiles business founded in 1954, was auctioned for a small fraction of its assessed value as the family wound up it affairs before the Act’s enforcement deadline.125 Subsequently, Busia’s own ministers appear to have acquired some immigrant-owned businesses. The British High Commission in Accra reported that Ghanaian government ministers were “buying up and developing plots of land on a scale which is just not possible on their official incomes.”126 Some officials used “front-men” to obtain “businesses from departing aliens at knockdown prices – in breach of the Constitution which prohibits the running of businesses by members of the Government.”127 Two Progress Party ministers in particular, R.R. Amponsah “and the cultivation of his timber interests,” and Victor Owusu “and his businesses,” were singled out for special consideration.128 Aspiring Ghanaian businessmen of humbler means obtained Lebanese businesses through bank loans, some of which were run through the government’s Small Business Credit Scheme.129 One Lebanese entrepreneur who weathered the legislation on account of his business’s large capital turnover gave his account of the operation of the loan initiative:

As the aliens were forced to leave, they had to sell. Who had the money to buy from them? The banks. So the banks granted loans to the respected Ghanaian businessmen, and you can see how the relationship started from there. They became businessmen by decree; by law.130

It is difficult to ascertain the macroeconomic impact of the Business Promotion Act in a way that isolates the effect of the dislocation of the Lebanese, in part because the immediate and largely unintended consequence of the Act, together with the Aliens Compliance Order, was to drive out approximately one million “native strangers,” the majority of whom were Nigerians, and many of whom worked in the cocoa industry, the nation’s largest foreign exchange-earning sector. 131 Official business directories enumerated the number of registered Lebanese firms along with all other registered firms, but the comprehensiveness of the data during this period is open to doubt. The combined demographic effect of the Aliens Compliance Order and the Business Promotion Act on the Ghanaian Lebanese population, on the other hand, is easily demonstrable, and indicated large-scale Lebanese flight, as demonstrated above.132 The Business Promotion Act had broader economic ramifications. Soon after its enactment, the Ghanaian government was compelled to make exceptions for enterprises which proved vital to the country’s day-to-day operations. On 1 July 1971 Busia issued one of several executive instruments amending the Business Promotion Act, allowing eight companies, including at least two Lebanese firms, John Moukarzel Co. Ltd. and A.B. Hallabi Co., Ltd., to continue to operate in commercial transport.133 In fact, by forcing out Lebanese lower- and middle-tier businesses, the Business Promotion Act ultimately strengthened the position of large Western multinational corporations, while failing to encourage the growth of new Ghanaian-owned businesses:

The government took over certain Lebanese and Syrian firms, but did precious little to provide the capital or credit necessary for the takeover of businesses by individual Ghanaians. In fact, some observers suggested that by eliminating certain middlemen without providing opportunities for Ghanaians, the move inadvertently strengthened the power of Europeans in the economy.134

Some Ghanaians who acquired businesses from departing Lebanese and Nigerians lacked the working capital to maintain the ventures while others did not possess the training needed to administer them. One academic concluded that despite the “popular measures” taken “to expel Indians and Lebanese in order to stimulate African entrepreneurship” during Busia’s tenure, “the African capitalist … did not emerge.”135 Many new owners ran acquired businesses into the ground, leading to disastrous shortages. According to Busia’s own Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, the alien enterprises to be shut down numbered “about 600 with an annual turnover of N¢15 million.”136 Closures were estimated to “involve 4,000 employees, in the field of commerce alone.”137 These approximations clearly underestimated business closures and job losses, and did not take into consideration the vast number of dependents supported by the incomes of wage-earners employed by Lebanese and Nigerian businessmen. Even if accepted at face value, the government’s figures represented the effective shuttering of a significant proportion of the economy.138


The case of the Lebanese of Ghana demonstrates the power of the state – and crucially, the convictions and motivations of elites at the helm of the state – as historically dynamic and contingent forces determining the nature of stranger integration. Middlemen were vulnerable to the vagaries of power, from colonial to postcolonial governments, bureaucracies and military juntas, ideologies and judiciaries, elites and populists. They were institutionally restricted in the scope of their economic and political participation, being designated as economic agents charged with the specific duty of promoting trade in the colony, and industrialization in the post- colony. The experience of Ghana’s Lebanese illustrates that alien immigrant populations in some recently decolonized countries were entrenched in socio-economic niches by executive diktat and legislative mandate which effectively solidified their middleman status. Both legal sanction and unofficial coercion were used to leverage the middlemen into their assigned economic domains, and helped colonial and post-independence regimes impose their particular agendas for economic modernization. Previous works on the middleman as a historical problem in Africa do not give sufficient consideration to this potent institutional prerogative. In the Anglophone West African case, this power was mediated through economic planning but influenced by various discourses on autochthony and debates over degrees of legitimate political entitlement. This analysis does not deny the individual agency of the middleman, but rather contextualizes it within a broader framework of constraints upon his degrees of freedom.

Nor does this assessment discount the contingencies introduced by economic populism, ideology, and discourses on indigeneity, all of which influenced the passage of laws and statutes that defined and restricted the middlemen. The political debates that characterized decolonization witnessed the airing of many conflicting claims regarding how the national economy should be governed and who should exercise rights of civic membership and political representation. Indeed, the vulnerability of British West Africa’s Lebanese stemmed from the state’s economically functionalist approach towards immigrants, as well as from an ethno-nationalist discourse on autochthony that isolated them politically. An insistence upon the primacy of “native” status – as well as deeply ingrained zero-sum assumptions about the operation of the national economy – limited the possibility of middleman political inclusion. These ideas had their roots in plans laid out by colonial administrators in conversation with local notables. The West African colonies, along with other non-settler domains in the British Empire, were to remain the preserve of their local “indigenes,” itself an increasingly contested category. Immigrants – and particularly those from outside the empire such as the Lebanese – assumed the position of perennial “guests.” Economic developmental agendas set by the Colonial Office, partly in the service of British trade interests, and with a broader mandate of supporting metropolitan economic growth, propagated an implicitly adversarial and racialized model of competition that reinforced the zero-sum economic logic. These legalistic but nonetheless malleable tropes were perpetuated by post-colonial governments, which used them to implement a version of African Socialism under the CPP, and an Akan- centered neo-patrimonialism in the case of the Danquah-Busia parties. It was this continuing official sanction that both informed and drew upon popular and elite wariness of and hostility towards middlemen, especially during periods of economic strain.

Shifting cultural and political definitions of the stranger were expressed in economic policy and took the form of colonial-era legal constraints, early post-independence inclusiveness, and an intensifying exclusiveness as the Ghanaian economy contracted in the late 1960s, leading to the fiscal and trade crises of the 1970s and early 1980s. The fact that immigrants were defined as foreign economic actors opened the road to divestment and expulsion. The Lebanese endured another wave of expropriation and even selective executions in Ghana after the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) coup of Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings in 1979. Ghana was not exceptional in this regard, and Lebanese populations in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and the Gambia faced similarly exclusionary politics. In Sierra Leone, not only were Lebanese immigrants selectively expelled and expropriated, but to this day, Lebanese applicants for citizenship cannot become Sierra Leonean nationals unless they prove that one parent is “of negro African descent.”139 Several Lebanese were summarily executed, and many Lebanese-owned businesses sacked, in the aftermath of the assassination of Laurent Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001.140 Not so differently, Asian middlemen endured removal from Idi Amin’s Uganda in 1971, and similar examples can be cited for both non-African and African strangers across much of the continent.

The colonial and early post-independence state acted in dialogue with discourses on autochthony and expressions of ethno-nationalism as the paramount institutional force circumscribing the economic domains of middlemen and determining their political fortunes. This dialogue can help explain why the political incorporation of many immigrant groups in Africa remains incomplete. While debates regarding the legitimacy of stranger economic and political participation would continue, changing according to contemporary considerations and shifting elite consensus, it is important to underscore the long-standing ramifications of late-colonial and early post- independence legal restrictions and legislative precedents. This enduring institutional and statutory legacy would be drawn upon during later periods of economic crisis and political uncertainty (as experienced in Ghana from 1969-72), further delimiting belonging and strangerhood. Although the economic and political instrumentalization of the middleman in West Africa began with the Lebanese, this modality of exclusion extended beyond them to encompass numerous African stranger populations such as Nigerians in Ghana, with significant consequences for the region. Historical investigations of the durable impact of legal restrictions and economic regulations, in line with this study, may prove useful for analyzing the circumstances of stranger groups whose political integration remains problematic in other regions of Africa and across the global South.



1 All Arabic sources have been translated by the author. The following abbreviations denote archival record series located at the Public Records and Archives Administration Department (PRAAD – also known as NAG , or the National Archives of Ghana), Accra, Ghana: A.D.M. (Administrative files), C.S.O. (Colonial Secretary’s Office), C.T. (Court files), R.G. (Record Group). The following abbreviations denote archival series located at the National Archive, Kew, London, UK: C.O. (Colonial Office), F.O. (Foreign Office), F.C.O. (Foreign and Commonwealth Office). The following are Ghanaian legal serializations: E.I. (Executive Instrument), L.I. (Legislative Instrument), N.L.C.D. (National Liberation Council Decree, for the period February 1966 – August 1969).

2 For a sampling of the literature on the Asians in East Africa, see J.S. Mangat, A History of the Asians in East Africa, c.1886-1945 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), and also, P.K. Balachandran, “An Embattled Community: Asians in East Africa Today,” African Affairs 80, no. 32 (July 1981): 317-325, and on the Indian diaspora in the Indian Ocean basin generally, S. Bose, A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006 ) and Thomas Metcalf, Imperial connections: India in the Indian Ocean arena (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007). See also Daniel Chirot and Anthony Reid, Essential Outsiders: Chinese and Jews in the Modern Transformation of S.E. Asia and Central Europe (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997).

3 Georg Simmel, On Individuality and Social Forms, ed. and introd. by Donald Levine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972). Der Fremde translates as “the stranger.”

4Employing a social scientific methodology and engaging more recent trade diasporas, Bonacich reinvigorated the contemporary study of middlemen with her groundbreaking theoretical work based on the Japanese of California. See Edna Bonacich, “A Theory of Middleman Minorities,” American Sociological Review 38, no. 5. (Oct., 1973): 583-594.

5 Philip Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 38-57.

6 Frederick Cooper critiques colonial studies by underscoring the importance of distinguishing between identities, or simple discursive categories, and the process of identification with a category, which involves a complex set of historical forces (i.e., nation-states, class, race, culture, etc). He argues that it is preferable to think about identification than identity. Frederick Cooper, Colonialism in Question (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 3-58.

7 The term “market-dominant minorities” features in Amy Chua, World on Fire; How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (New York: Doubleday, 2003).

8 Ibid.

9 Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996). Terence Ranger’s chapter, “The Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa,” in The Invention of tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 211-262, anticipates some of Mamdani’s arguments.

10 William Shack and Elliot Skinner, eds., Strangers in African Societies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).

11 Ghana became a self-governing colony in under the 1954 constitution, gained independence within the Commonwealth in 1957, and became a republic in 1960.

12 For more on Nkrumah’s attempt to foster Pan-Africanism through citizenship laws, see Richard Rathbone, Nkrumah and the Chiefs (Oxford: James Curry, 2000), 104. See also Basil Davidson, Black Star: A View of the Life of Kwame Nkrumah (New York: Praeger Publications, 1973). On Nkrumah’s incorporation of Africanist symbolism and traditional rites, see Barbara S. Monfils, “A Multifaceted Image: Kwame Nkrumah’s Extrinsic Rhetorical Strategies,” Journal of Black Studies 7, no. 3 (Mar., 1977): 313-330.

13 Albert Hourani, and Nadim Shehadi, eds., The Lebanese in the World: A Century of Emigration (London: Centre for Lebanese Studies and I.B. Tauris, 1992). Rita Cruise O’Brien, White society in black Africa: the French of Senegal (London: Faber and Faber, 1972). See also Mara Leichtman, “The Legacy of Transnational Lives: Beyond the First Generation of Lebanese in Senegal,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 28, no. 4 (2005): 663-686, and Emmanuel Akyeampong, “Africans in the Diaspora: The Diaspora and Africa,” African Affairs 99, no. 395 (Apr. 2000): 183-215, which presents some recent examples of successful Lebanese integration in Ghana.

14 Kamal Salibi, The Modern History of Lebanon (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1965), 104-105.

15 See in particular Marwan Hanna, “The Lebanese in West Africa: 1 – Historical Background,” West Africa, 19 April 1958, 369, and his “The Lebanese in West Africa: 2 – How and When They Came,” West Africa, 26 April 1958, 393; R. Bayly Winder, “The Lebanese in West Africa,” Comparative Studies in Sociology and History 4, no. 3 (1962): 298.

16 Ibid. H.L. van der Laan, The Lebanese traders in Sierra Leone (The Hague: Mouton, 1975).

17 The total Lebanese population throughout West and Central Africa, including resident aliens and naturalized citizens, is difficult to estimate. Gamal Nkrumah cites a figure of 250,000 Lebanese in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, although this is likely a gross overestimate. The Lebanese in Côte d’Ivoire were estimated to number anywhere between 25,000 and 300,000 in the early 1990s. This author’s research indicates that the Lebanese did not exceed 10,000 in Ghana. See discussion of the Aliens Compliance Order below. See also Gamal Nkrumah, “Lebanese Nightmare in Congo,” Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, 15 March 2001, and Chris Bierwirth, “The Lebanese Communities of Côte d’Ivoire,” African Affairs 98, no. 390 (Jan., 1999): 80.

18 M. Hayyek, Fi Majahel Ifriqiya (Beirut: 1952), 368.

19 Robert René Kuczynski, Demographic Survey of the British Colonial Empire, Vol. I (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), 450; Hanna, “Historical Background,” 369, and Hanna, “How and When They Came,” 393, and Winder, “The Lebanese in West Africa,” 296-333.

20 Regardless of citizenship status, the Lebanese represented a miniscule proportion of the population. See discussion of Aliens Compliance Order below, and Ghana Census Office, 1960 Population Census of Ghana; Advance Report of Volume III and VI (Accra: 1962).

21 For example, between 1964 and 1968, Lebanese participation in the retailing of dry goods, apparel and footwear increased 427-625%, in retail hardwood stores 200- 250%, and in retail motor vehicle establishments 100-121%. In the same four-year period, their participation in the wholesale dry goods, apparel, and textiles sector increased 111-206%, in wholesale lumber businesses by 200%, and in wholesale commercial and industrial machinery by 240%. The total number of retail and wholesale firms enumerated (Lebanese-owned or otherwise) decreased between 1964 and 1968, since the earlier year included all United Ghana Farmers Council Cooperatives, which were not counted in 1968. Nevertheless, the absolute number of Lebanese concerns increased between 1964 and 1968 in each of the categories listed above. The percentage spreads result from an inability to identify all Lebanese- owned firms with certainty, and show the lowest possible increase in Lebanese- owned firms versus the greatest possible increase in Lebanese-owned firms, calculated by comparing the lowest possible number of establishments for 1968 to the highest possible number of establishments for 1964, and the highest number of establishments in 1968 to the lowest possible number of establishments for 1964. See Central Bureau for Statistics, Directory of Distributive Establishments (Accra: June 1964), and Central Bureau for Statistics, Directory of Distributive Establishments (Accra: May 1968).

22 The term “Levantines” was used to describe immigrants from the eastern Mediterranean. The role of the Lebanese in British West African trade has been discussed in H.L. van der Laan’s Lebanese Traders, P.T. Bauer, West African Trade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), Toyin Falola, “Lebanese Traders in Southwestern Nigeria, 1900-1960,” African Affairs 39, no. 357 (Oct., 1990): 523-553, and in Barry L. Isaac, “European, Lebanese, and African Traders in Pendembu, Sierra Leone: 1908-1968,” Human Organization 33, no. 2 (1974): 111-121.

23 The term “commercial pyramid,” as an interpretation of Bauer’s economic hierarchy, appears in Axel Harneit-Sievers, “African Business, ‘Economic Nationalism,’ and British Colonial Policy: Southern Nigeria, 1935-1954,” African Economic History, no. 24 (1996): 59. The commercial pyramid also characterized the designation of other “alien” diasporas throughout British Colonial Africa, including in particular the Asians of East Africa.

24 CO 554/94/11 Immigration of Non-British Persons; G. Haglerrigge, 3 June 1933.

25 See Bauer, Trade, and Jan-Georg Deutsch, Educating the Middlemen: a political and economic history of statutory cocoa marketing in Nigeria, 1936-47 (Berlin: Verlag das Arabische Buch, 1995).

26 Bauer, Trade, 65.

27 Ibid., 67. The collusion of the European firms with the Supplies and Customs Department to inflate their own shipping quotas was exposed by the Sachs Commission Report in the Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Representations made by W.E. Conway, Esq., A.D.W. Allen, Esq., A.G. Leventis, Esq., A.G. Leventis & Co. Ltd. Repudiating Allegations in the Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Conduct and Management of the Supplies and Customs Departments (London: 1948).

28 CO 554/127/6 (1943) Immigration of non-British persons into West Africa.

29 Kamil Muruwah, Nahnu fi Ifriqiya (Beirut: 1938), 228-231.

30 For more on the colonial developmental state in Africa, see Crawford Young, The African Colonial State in Comparative Perspective (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994); David John Morgan, The Official History of Colonial Development (London: Macmillan, 1980); Wyndraeth Humphreys Morris-Jones and Georges Fischer, eds., Decolonisation and After: The British and French Experience (London:

F. Cass, 1980); Michael Ashley Havinden and David Meredith, Colonialism and Development: Britain and its tropical colonies, 1850-1960 (New York: Routledge, 1993).

31 CO 554/127/6/25 (1943) Immigration of non-British persons into West Africa; Memorandum by Resident Minister, 5 October 1943, §1.

32 Ibid.

33 CO 554/127/6/19; “The Syrian Question II,” undated, early 1943.

34 Ibid.

35 CO 554/127/6/25; Memorandum by Resident Minister, 5 October 1943, §1.

36 Ibid.

37 G.N. Alema, “Our News Letter,” Trade and Industry Share-Out Club, 1 December 1943, 4.

38 Ibid., 1.

39 J.B. Danquah, Legislative Council Debates, Session 1948, 21 July 1948, 56.

40 Ibid.

41 J.B. Danquah to Minister of Defence and External Affairs, R.H. Saloway,

Legislative Assembly Debates, Session 1951, 3 April 1951, 121.

42 For more on movements for self-rule in the Gold Coast, and on the Disturbances of 1948 which compelled the British to compromise with nationalist leaders, see Dennis Austin, Politics in Ghana (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 73-75, and Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah (New York: International Publishers, 1957), 77.

43 CO 554/143/2/1 (1948) Immigration of Non-British Persons into West Africa; Governor Creasy to the Secretary of State for the Colonies A. Creech Jones, 5 February 1948, §5.

44 Law of the Gold Coast, Immigration (Amendment) Ordinance, No. 17 of 1948 (2 September 1948), Section 11, §2(a)(h).

45 For more on the constitutional changes of 1951 and 1954, and the inauguration of self-government under the 1954 constitution, see Austin, Politics, 153-249.

46 Douglas Rimmer, “The Crisis of the Ghana Economy,” Journal of Modern African Studies 4, no. 1 (1966): 124.

47 William Arthur Lewis, Report on Industrialisation and the Gold Coast (Accra: 1953), 14, §94.

48 Rod Alence, “Colonial Government, Social Conflict and State Involvement in Africa’s Open Economies: The Origins of the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board, 1939- 46,” Journal of African History 42, no. 3 (2001): 397-416.

49 William Friedland and Carl G. Rosberg, Jr., eds., African Socialism (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1964); Kwame Nkrumah, “Society and Ideology” in Decolonization: Perspectives from Then and Now, ed. Prasenjit Duara (London: Routledge, 2004), 64-77.

50 Nana Ofori Atta, Legislative Council Debates, Session 1938, 23 March 1938, 93.

51 “The Lebanese in West Africa,” West Africa, 19 April 1958, 361.

52 Laws of the Gold Coast, Immigration (Amendment) Ordinance, No. 17 of 1948 (2 September 1948), Section 11, §2(a)(h).

53 “New factory to cost £150,000,” Daily Graphic, 27 April 1957, 2.

54 Edward Nassar, “Protect Local Industries,” Daily Graphic, 20 May 1958. Emphasis in original. The Pioneer Biscuit Company represented the largest public- private joint initiative undertaken by the Ghanaian state during the Nkrumah years after the transfer of A.G. Leventis’s firm to the Ghanaian government as the Ghanaian National Trading Company (GNTC).

55 Azar family private business records, Beit ech Cha’aar, Lebanon.

56 The Millet Textile Factory became Printex, and has operated under the name Spintex Limited from the early 1980s. It is still owned by the Millet family. The suburban region around the factory continues to be referred to as Spintex.

57 Austin, Politics; For more on the distinction between the Danquah-Busia and Nkrumahist traditions in Ghanaian politics, see Richard Jeffries and Claire Thomas, “The Ghanaian Elections of 1992,” African Affairs 92, no. 368 (Jul., 1993): 331-366.

58 B.F. Kusi, Immigration Bill – Second Reading, Parliamentary Debates, 3 July 1957, cols. 1672-1674.

59 CO 554/161/3 (1948-1950) Racial Relations.

60 Kusi, Parliamentary Debates.

61 Ibid.

62 Ibid. Zero-sum economics is the subject of a significant literature and is often associated with the writings of Thomas Malthus. For more on the origins of African beliefs in zero-sum economics, Jean-François Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly (New York: Longman, 1993). For the Ghanaian case, see Paul Nugent, Big Men, Small Boys (London: Mansell, 1995), 78.

63 Kusi, Parliamentary Debates.

64 Ako Adjei, Minister of the Interior and Justice, Immigration Bill – Second Reading, Parliamentary Debates, 3 July 1957, cols. 1677-1681.

65 Kusi, Parliamentary Debates.

66 Jeffries and Thomas, “Ghanaian Elections.”

67 B.D. Dorkenoo, “Tighten Trade Laws Against Syrians; MPs urge the Govt.,” Daily Graphic, 4 July 1957.

68 Ibid.

69 For more on the difficulties faced by those Lebanese who attempted to naturalize as Ghanaian citizens, see Rathbone, Chiefs, 104.

70 Adjei, Parliamentary Debates. Emphasis added. However, in the Daily Graphic’s coverage of the debate, the newspaper altered Adjei’s comments, deleting the word “true” – “We are all concerned about the large number of Syrians and Lebanese who come to Ghana and had been depriving Ghanaians of gainful employment.” See Dorkenoo, “Tighten Trade Laws.”

71 Dorkenoo, “Tighten Trade Laws.”

72 Kevin Kelly Gaines, American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); For more on African nationalism and the rise of black essentialist ideologies, see Kwame Appiah, In My Father’s House (New York: Oxford University, 1992), 3-27.

73 E.S. Sarkis, “The Truth about Syrio-Lebanese [sic],” Daily Graphic, 6 July 1957.

74 Ibid.

75 Ibid.

76 However, the Lebanese were very adept at learning the languages of their customers. See Bayly Winder, “The Lebanese in West Africa.”

77 Sarkis, “The Truth.”

78 Government business registries for the period do not appear to make a clear distinction between certain manufacturing operations and wholesale trade. The only capital-intensive area of the economy where the Lebanese may have lost ground over the four years between 1964 and 1968 was the food, beverage, and tobacco wholesale trade sector, although it is unclear whether this actually occurred. The sector either contracted, or experienced mergers or consolidation, as the total number of registered wholesalers (including some manufacturers) fell from 93 in 1964 to 76 by 1968. See Central Bureau for Statistics, Directory of Distributive Establishments (Accra: June 1964) and Central Bureau for Statistics, Directory of Distributive Establishments (Accra: May 1968).

79 Again, despite the fact that the Lebanese were much more likely to have their businesses scrutinized and registered with government licensing authorities, the preponderance of Lebanese economic involvement in many sectors of the Ghanaian economy is particularly clear when considering the very small size of Ghana’s Lebanese population. According to the 1960 census, Lebanese nationals represented 0.033% of the total population. Census Office, 1960 Population Census of Ghana; Advance Report of Volume III and VI, 1962, xiii (2.3).

80 “The Retail Trade,” Ghanaian Times, 30 August 1967.

81 Ibid.

82 Ibid.

83 Between 1964 and 1968, Lebanese participation in the wholesale dry goods, apparel and textiles sector increased 111-206%, in wholesale lumber businesses by 200%, and in wholesale commercial and industrial machinery by 240%. But their gains in the retail sector exceeded even these figures. See Central Bureau for Statistics, Directory of Distributive Establishments (Accra: June 1964) and Central Bureau for Statistics, Directory of Distributive Establishments (Accra: May 1968), and discussion in note 21 above.

84 “The Retail Trade.”

85 It is difficult to ascertain the extent to which the Lebanese repatriated profits and assets to Lebanon. The CPP had enacted drastic currency controls through the Exchange Control Act of 1961 (Act 71, 1961) in an effort to stave off a balance of payments crisis. Nkrumah’s government cracked down on alleged Lebanese currency smuggling in April 1962, deporting several prominent immigrants. See “The Guest Smugglers,” Daily Graphic, 4 April 1962.

86 RG 8/1/33 (1967) “Minutes of 245th Meeting of the Immigration Committee,” F.2920, 10 April 1967, 4, §4.

87 Ibid.

88 Ibid., F.2951, 10 April 1967, 5, §5.

89 Ibid.

90 RG 8/1/33 (1967) “Minutes of 256th Meeting of the Immigration Committee,” F.2979, 24 July 1967, 4, §5. See below for a discussion of the 1970 Business Promotion Act.

91 “Alien Traders to Quit in Two Years,” Daily Graphic, 6 December 1969.

92 “No Permit Aliens to Quit,” Daily Graphic, 19 November 1969.

93 L.I. 247, Aliens Act, 1963 (Commencement) Instrument, 1963 (29 January


94 Aliens Act 1963, Act 160 (9 January 1963).

95 See Margaret Peil, “Ghana’s Aliens,” International Migration Review 8, no. 3, International Migration in Tropical Africa (Autumn, 1974): 367-381.

96 Rathbone, Chiefs, 104.

97 New York Times Abstracts, 7 December 1969, 7.

98 K. Gyinaye, “Guests or Masters?” Daily Graphic, 25 October 1969.

99 Ibid. See above for the cases of Edward Nassar, Mansour Azar, and the Millet family, who, along with many others, constructed several factories in Ghana. For Chief Ofori Atta’s condemnation of capital flight allegedly perpetrated by the Lebanese, see discussion above and note 50.

100 R. Lewis, “The Tragedy of Ghana’s Expulsion of Aliens,” The Times, 17 December 1969.

101 David Brown, “Who Are the Tribalists? Social Pluralism and Political Ideology in Ghana,” African Affairs 81, no. 322 (January 1982): 58.

102 RG 1/2/138 (1977) Petition by Samir Omar Captan. Gbedemah was a founding member of the CPP, an old political ally of Nkrumah’s, and the nation’s first Minister of Finance.

103 Lewis, “Tragedy.”

104 For more on “economic nationalism” in West Africa, see Harneit-Sievers, “African Business.”

105 Census Office, 1960 Population Census of Ghana; Advance Report of Volume III and VI, 1962, xiii (2.3) Country of Origin.

106 Ghana Census Office, 1970 Population Census of Ghana, Vol. III, Demographic Characteristics of Local Authorities, Regions and Total Country, 1975, 94, Table C5. This total included 1,961 Lebanese and 137 Syrian nationals, representing a 5% net decline in the Lebanese and Syrian resident alien population between 1960 and 1970.

107 The actual number of Lebanese exceeded census figures since many Lebanese nationals attempted to avoid the census, and Ghanaian citizens of Lebanese descent were not counted as Lebanese. During the immediate post-independence years, the latter group remained small, but after 1967, this cohort was not insubstantial.

108 Ankrah’s citizenship provision was rescinded after less than two years. See N.L.C.D. 191, Ghana Nationality Decree, 1967 (25 July 1967), 2, §2(1).

109 Central Bureau of Statistics, Migration Statistics 1968, series VI, no. 12 (June 1970); Central Bureau of Statistics, Migration Statistics 1969, series VI, no. 13 (August 1971).

110 Ibid.

111 Parliamentary Debates, 4 August 1970, Oral Answers, col. 181.

112 Ghana Census Office, 1970 Population Census of Ghana, Vol. III, Demographic Characteristics of Local Authorities, Regions and Total Country, 1975, 94, Table C5.

113 Interviewees consistently repeated figures ranging from 50% to 80% for the percentage of the Lebanese population forced to leave Ghana in the aftermath of Aliens Compliance Order and Business Promotion Act.

114 FCO 65/648/1 (1970) Regulation of Expatriate trade/businesses; D. Mather, British High Commission, Accra, to J. McQuiggan, West African Department, 8 January 1970, 1, §2.

115 N.L.C.D. 323, Ghanaian Enterprises Decree, 1968 (30 December 1968).

116 K.A. Owusu-Ansah, “Ghana,” in Indigenization of African Economies, ed.

Adebayo Adedeji (London: Hutchinson University Library for Africa, 1981), 143.

117 ADM 5/4/392, 6-7. Emphasis added.

118 FCO 65/648/1; D. Mather, British High Commission, Accra, to J. McQuiggan, West African Department, 8 January 1970, 1, §2. Note that Lebanese immigrants in Ghana greatly outnumbered the more recently-arrived Indians.

119 Ibid.

120 Ibid., 2, §4.

121 N. Kirkham, “Ghana takeover threat to foreign firms,” Daily Telegraph, 16 February 1970.

122 “Co-operate with Government – Lebanese Told,” Daily Graphic, 30 April 1970. Kufour went on to become the second president of Ghana’s Fourth Republic from 2001-9.

123 Rajiv Ball, “The State and Development of Small-Scale Industry in Ghana since c.1945” (PhD thesis, London School of Economics, 1997), 159.

124 Kirkham, “Takeover threat.”

125 G. Hage, Interview with author, 10 December 2004.

126 FCO 65/641/3 (1970) The Activities of the National Commission on Bribery and Corruption in Ghana; “Assets Declaration and Corruption,” 12 December 1970, 2, §4.

127 Ibid.

128 Ibid.

129 Ball, “Development,” 153-154.

130 Anonymous informant, Interview with author, 22 October 2004.

131 See Niara Sudarkasa, “From Stranger to Alien: The Socio-Political History of the Nigerian Yoruba in Ghana,” in Strangers in African Societies, ed. Shack and Skinner (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 141-168. Nigeria would return the favor, expelling more than 1 million Ghanaians in 1983.

132 Central Bureau of Statistics, Migration Statistics 1969, series VI, no. 13 (Accra, August 1971), Central Bureau of Statistics, Migration Statistics 1970, series VI, no. 14 (Accra, July 1973).

133 E.I. 46, Ghanaian Business Promotion (Commercial Transport) Exemption Instrument 1971 (1 July 1971), 2.

134 Naomi Chazan, An Anatomy of Ghanaian Politics: Managing Political Recession, 1969-1982 (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1983), 160. Rood makes a similar argument in Leslie L. Rood, “Nationalisation and Indigenisation in Africa,” The Journal of Modern African Studies 14, no. 3, (Sep., 1976): 446.

135 Björn Hettne, “Soldiers and Politics: The Case of Ghana,” Journal of Peace Research 17, no. 2, Special Issue on Imperialism and Militarization (1980): 185.

136 ADM 5/4/392, 9. Emphasis added.

137 Ibid.

138 The figure cited includes only the value of the sales revenue of targeted enterprises. The total value of the companies involved was many multiples of N¢15 million. As a comparison, N¢15 million – the combined estimated annual net profits alone of the firms to be closed – amounted to 3.6% of the government’s expected gross revenue of N¢426 million from all sources for the 1970-71 fiscal year. See A.B. Attafua, “Ghana,” African Affairs 71, no. 282 (Jan., 1972): 85-86.

139 See Manby, Struggles, 56-66. See also Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1961, section 1(1); Immigration Restriction Act, 1963, Cap. 86.; The Aliens Registration Act, 1963, Cap. 85; Expulsion Act, 1963 (Act No. 35 of 1963); Non-Citizens (Registration, Immigration and Expulsion) Act 1965; and Non-Citizens (Interests in Land) Act, 1966.

140 Nkrumah, “Lebanese Nightmare in Congo.”

Isaac Xerxes Malki is Assistant Professor in Africana Studies at John Jay School of Criminal Justice; e-mail:

© Khayrallah Program for Lebanese-American Studies 2013