An Intertwined History: Williams Shares Insight on Lebanese Immigrants in Cote d’Ivoire

Sifting through piles and piles of newspapers from Lebanon and Cote d’Ivoire, Junius Williams ’14 spent his Senior Fall trying to piece together the story of Lebanese immigrants to Cote d’Ivoire to understand the impact of this specific group of people on the politics and economics of Cote d’Ivoire.

Williams shared his findings with the Andover community through his Abbot Independent Scholars project on Wednesday. Many Lebanese people left Lebanon during a civil war in the 1970s and sought refuge in Cote d’Ivoire. The Lebanese now control about 60 percent of the country’s real estate sector, 80 percent of the distribution network and 40 percent of the industrial sector, according to Williams.

“When you think of Lebanon and Cote d’Ivoire, you don’t think of two populations that actually have a very long, intertwined history, stretching back over a century. [I wanted] to show how interconnected we are,” said Williams in an interview with The Phillipian.

“It’s especially applicable in a place like the United States, where at our root, we are a nation of immigrants, we are a nation of movement, we are a nation of transporting ideals, importing memories, but also basing our power structures off of movements and identities. So this is a case study of something much larger, something that I hope I can impress upon the people who attend the presentation,” he continued.

Although Williams has always been interested in immigration as a first generation American, he came across the idea of studying the Lebanese population in Cote d’Ivoire only by chance.

“The topic was something that I knew nothing about. It actually started with Wikipedia, and when one search led to another, I found that there were Lebanese in West Africa, which made me think largely to migration, and think about the idea of human movement since the 20th century,” said Williams in an interview with The Phillipian.

To compensate for the lack of scientific, professional research done on the topic, Williams found innovative ways to find information for his project.

“There is a lot of discussion about how the Lebanese came to Cote d’Ivoire in the 1920s, but the ‘so what’ after that was missing. That said, my process was compiling a lot of different kinds of sources. I looked at newspapers, I looked at a lot of social media. For example, although Facebook statuses [are]not exactly as scholarly sources, it gave me context. I looked at the home pages of Lebanese religious organizations, currently based in Cote d’Ivoire. Very nontraditional at times, but it worked out,” said Williams.

Christopher Shaw, Instructor and Chair in History and Social Science, and Emmanuel Odjo, Instructor in French, were the advisors for Williams’s project.

“Dr. Odjo is from Cote d’Ivoire, so naturally he had a lot of first hand experience. He gave some personal opinions and also knew where to find sources. Dr. Shaw is a scholar in African studies, so he directed me [to] the right sources,” said Williams.

Odjo said, “[Junius’s topic] is compelling because it is a story about human beings, people who move somewhere, from a place to another place, to feel safe or better their lives or simply to have a new experience.”