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Race, Identity and Citizenship in Black Africa: The Case of the Lebanese in Ghana

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2011

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As we approach the post-colonial half century, transnationalism has become a major reality in Africa and the wider world with the proliferation of immigrants, refugees and displaced persons. But transnationalism is not a new development, and diaspora and globalization – both historical processes – have long served as contexts for the remaking of identity, citizenship and polity. Today, concepts such as ‘cosmopolitanism’ and ‘flexible citizenship’ are in vogue in a globalized world, as transnationalism challenges statist concepts of political citizenship. In this article, using the case of Ghana, I revisit the historic presence of a Lebanese diaspora in west Africa from the 1860s, and the intellectual and political obstacles that have worked against their full incorporation as active political citizens. I seek to understand why the prospect of non-black citizenship was considered problematic in black Africa during the era of decolonization, interrogating the institutional legacies of colonial rule and pan-Africanist thought. The intellectual rigidity of pan-Africanism on race is contrasted with current notions of the constructedness of identity. I probe the ways in which the Lebanese in Ghana constructed their identities, and how these facilitated or obstructed assimilation. As African governments seek to tap into the resources of the new African communities in Europe and North America, the article suggests the timeliness of exploring alternative criteria to indigeneity when defining citizenship in black Africa.


Alors que nous approchons du demi-siècle post-colonial, le transnationalisme est devenu une réalité majeure en Afrique comme ailleurs avec la prolifération des immigrants, des réfugiés et des déplacés. Or, le transnationalisme n'est pas un élément nouveau et les processus historiques que sont la diaspora et la mondialisation servent depuis longtemps de contexte de remodelage de l'identité, de la citoyenneté et de l'organisation étatique. Aujourd'hui, des concepts comme le «cosmopolitisme» et la «citoyenneté flexible» sont en vogue dans un monde globalisé, alors que le transnationalisme remet en cause les concepts étatiques de citoyenneté politique. Dans cet article, l'auteur revisite, à travers le cas du Ghana, la présence historique d'une diaspora libanaise en Afrique de l'Ouest depuis les années 1860, et les obstacles intellectuels et politiques à leur pleine incorporation en tant que citoyens politiques actifs. Il cherche à comprendre pourquoi la perspective d'une citoyenneté non-noire était jugée problématique en Afrique noire pendant la période de la décolonisation, en interrogeant l'héritage institutionnel du régime colonial et de la pensée panafricaniste. L'article met en contraste la rigidité intellectuelle du panafricanisme sur les questions de race avec les notions courantes d'interprétation de l'identité. Il explore la manière dont les Libanais ont construit leurs identités au Ghana et comment celles-ci ont facilité ou gêné leur assimilation. À l'heureoù les gouvernements africains cherchent à exploiter les ressources des nouvelles communautés africaines en Europe et en Amérique du Nord, l'article suggère qu'il est opportun d'explorer d'autres critères d'indigénéité pour définir la citoyenneté en Afrique noire.

Copyright © International African Institute 2006


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