Lebanese people in Ivory Coast
|Regions with significant populations|
|Islam (primarily Shia), Christianity|
|Related ethnic groups|
There is a large population of Lebanese people in Côte d'Ivoire, whose numbers are variously estimated in the tens or hundreds of thousands. They are the largest Lebanese diaspora community in West Africa.
There have been two major waves of migration from Lebanon to Côte d'Ivoire; the two groups, the durables (established families) and the nouveaux (newcomers), form separate communities. Though Lebanese migration to other countries of West Africa began as early as the 1890s, the colonial economy in Côte d'Ivoire did not develop until after World War I, and as such, no Lebanese community formed there until the 1920s. The journey took several weeks; migrants went by donkey from their home villages in southern Lebanon to Beirut, and from there took a ship to Marseille, where they would have to wait for one of the infrequent departures to West Africa. Some may have originally intended to head for the United States, but either found upon arrival in Marseille that they could not afford the fare and thus opted for a cheaper journey to West Africa, or were tricked into boarding ships for the wrong destination. Other early migrants did not come straight from Lebanon, but were instead drawn from among the children of earlier Lebanese migrants to Senegal. The community grew quickly due to the relative lack of entry formalities compared to other West African countries.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, a new wave of Lebanese émigrés began to arrive, fleeing the Lebanese Civil War. Their presence sparked government fears that they might bring with them the sectarian violence that had infected their homeland; however, no such violence actually erupted. By the late 1980s, reportedly 60,000 to 120,000 Lebanese and Syrians lived in Côte d'Ivoire, although some observers gave a figure as high as 300,000. Many of these later migrants came from the town of Zrarieh in southern Lebanon. With recent advances in transport and communications, a form of transnationalism has emerged among the community; people are constantly going back and forth between Lebanon and Côte d'Ivoire, and greeting and farewell parties for new arrivals and departures have become "significant ritualised events".
Trade and employment
The Lebanese began at the lowest level of commerce, trading in inexpensive commodities, but during the Great Depression, expanded their scale of enterprise and began to displace independent European merchants. The petits blancs, in response, began a campaign to restrict Lebanese (and also Syrian) immigration, but government efforts in this regard were mostly ineffective. The Lebanese also invested heavily in urban real estate and were among the first to develop hotels and restaurants in previously less accessible areas of the interior. More recently, they have also become involved in football scouting, establishing training schools for youths and helping them to establish contact with European clubs. Groups from different villages in Lebanon dominate different trades; for example, those from Zrarieh are involved in the plastics business, while those from Qana work with textiles.
The Lebanese community is largely endogamous. Young men hoping to get married either look for a Lebanese woman locally, or take a holiday back to their ancestral villages in Lebanon and marry a woman there before bringing her back to Côte d'Ivoire. However, this has not always been the case. In the early 20th century, it was common for young Lebanese male migrants to be so poor that they could not afford such a trip back, or even to pay the fare to Côte d'Ivoire for a bride their relatives had arranged; as such, they married African women instead. Women's fashion has diverged sharply from the former agricultural norm in southern Lebanon, with competing "modern Muslim" and "westernised" styles, both consisting of clothes which seek to distinguish themselves from the so-called "peasant look" indicating that the wearer engages in manual labour.
The Lebanese diaspora in Côte d'Ivoire is divided into two distinct communities: the established families, or durables, which have been in the country for two or three generations, and the relative newcomers, or nouveaux, who have arrived in the country in the last two decades and have little or no connection to the durables. Because of these divisions, and because of their status as a visible minority, the Lebanese have been politically and socially marginalized. They remain vulnerable to political pressure and manipulation, and find themselves unable—and unwilling— to assimilate to Ivoirian society. This study provides extensive factual information about this vital minority living and working in an import ant West African country. More significantly, it provides insights into the ability of African political leaders to manipulate and control an entrepreneurial group of some consequence. Finally, it illustrates some of the difficulties of assimilation in a modern African social context, pointing out, in particular, that assimilation is a reciprocal process. Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the first President of Côte d'Ivoire, in the beginning was an ardent defender of the Lebanese community, citing their contributions to the Ivoirian economy; the Lebanese community, in turn, sought to assure the Ivoirian leadership of its loyalty and its commitment to national goals by public declarations and by charitable contributions in support of cultural and sporting events.
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