A debate is raging in Africa’s Sierra Leone on whether people of Lebanese ancestry, born and bred in the country, should be given passports:

Nasser Ayoub, a successful businessman, said he could have bribed somebody to get a Sierra Leonean passport, but he preferred to to do it the legal way, through the appropriate government channels. Successive Sierra Leonean governments had battled against acquiring the country’s passports dubious means and President Koroma announced a couple of months ago that he will fire any anybody caught in any passport scandal. But Ayoub says he is a bonafide citizen of Sierra Leone whose grandfather and father were born in Sierra Leone. He is only having problems because he is not black. “That’s racial discrimination, he said.”

Many Lebanese born and bred in Africa are not considered real citizens even though they had lived and worked in the continent of hundreds of years. Extremely good at business, they usually control (unofficially) most of the economies of African states.

The fear among native Sierra Leoneans is that with their acquired citizenship, Lebanese might be temped to enter the political arena; and as the Lebanese community has strong grips on the economy, they might be able to take control of the government. Sierra Leoneans don’t have to look far to see how well we mess-up when it comes to running countries. They just need to take a look across the pond at Ecuador where a Lebanese held the highest post in the country, the presidency, three distinct times with the last two ending in disaster.

In the end, it will have to be a delicate balance – how much political rights should you give a community that holds major economic powers and yet…

Many Africans think [Lebanese] are arrogant and racist as well, refusing inter-marriage between their daughters and black men. Marriage between a Lebanese man and a black woman are however common. Many Africans also complain about the the way black people are treated in Lebanon where Africans are usually found in menial jobs, usually working as domestic servants. Africans born in Lebanon cannot be citizens as citizenship by birth is not recognized in that country. In Sierra Leone, citizenship by birth is recognized but only if one or both parents of the individual are black.

The complexities of where one belongs.

Nasser Ayoub and family vying for Sierra Leonean citizenship

Nasser Ayoub and family vying for Sierra Leonean citizenship