“Thousands protest in Liberia against corruption and price hikes” is what this headline would’ve read if I were to tell you a different story. However, here is one on how the people of Liberia are once again being used as political pawns, while our true burdens and plights are being ignored by what feels like the entire world.
Report by: Karkay Adrienne Tingba (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last Friday, the long-awaited June 7 arrived. This day brought a feeling of uncertainty among Liberians around the world, as we had been anticipating what was estimated to be one of the biggest protests since Liberia’s Civil Wars officially ended in 2003.
Before ‘Save the State’ Protest
In the days prior to the protest, traumas of war resurfaced, as armed police and other state security personnel took to the streets and communities. The government justified this increased police presence as necessary for protecting the peace ahead of the protest. Although, with life moving business as usual for the people, the deployment of such large amounts of armed men and women into the streets was not a necessity.
That Thursday, during the commemoration of the renovated Duport Road Market, President George Weah had another opportunity to address the people prior to the protest, about a week after his last pre-recorded address had aired. This was a chance to appeal to the people and offer a listening ear to our grievances. Instead, Weah offered threats that after the protests, there would be zero tolerance for what he deemed to be “insults” to the president and the state.
As if adding more fuel to wide spreading fire, conversations erupted all over the country about the president’s statements, which were now perceived as a potential threat to freedom of speech and hinting at potential dictatorship. On the other hand, having a strained relationship with international partners concurrent with an incapability to financially sustain itself, Liberia is not currently of the financial independence to fund a dictatorship.
Powers Behind Protest
On the other side of town, the ‘Save the State’ protest was gaining more momentum. It was the only thing many people around the country talked about. There were even reports of people in Nimba and other remote counties packed up in preparation for the worst. Liberia. A notoriously uncivil civilization.
The group of organizers dubbed, Council of Patriots, or CoP for short, were in high zeal – especially with their leader, popular talk show host Henry Costa, dominating the airwaves daily. Meanwhile, the forces behind the protest; Unity Party’s Wilmot Paye, Liberty Party’s Darius Dillon, former rebel leader turned lawmaker, Yekeh Kolubah, and All Liberia Party’s Costa, are all well-known names in Liberia’s political arena. As such, it raises some public concerns as per the agendas being pushed in the threads of Save the State. Meanwhile, Darius Dillion and the leader of the All Liberia Party, Benoni Urey’s daughter, Telia Urey, are both currently in the run for the senatorial seat of Montserrado County District 15.
Day of Protest
On the day of the protest, the nation awoke to blocked connections to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Whatsapp – the leading social media platforms to disseminate information among Liberians. This move by the government only further raised citizens’ concerns at its potential propensity for censorship of public voice and opinion.
Nonetheless, denied internet access, or even major roads to the protest being blocked by armed men and women did not stop the people from showing up to deliver their grievances to our leader. By approximately 7 A.M., people were already in the streets ready to protest. By 3 P.M., the petition had still not been read to the thousands of people in the streets, nor to the government or it’s delegates. With music blaring the streets and people dancing out their frustrations until the close of the protest, the day was almost like a festival.
In contrast, CoP’s initial plan was to present the petition to the government’s agreed representative to the protest, Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor. However, when the time finally came, the VP did not show up, and CoP did not concede to present to ECOWAS, or any of the government’s representatives, including the minister of foreign affairs, Gbehzohngar Findley, and Justice Minister, Frank Musa Dean.
Even though the protest was peaceful, joyful, and maybe even enjoyable, in the end, the purpose and interest of CoP was lost, leaving some people with a sour taste after showing up in quite large numbers to have their voices heard. Likewise, the substance of the protest from the organizers’ standpoint was lost in a sea of a horrible sound system, politically charged speeches from various groups and political leaders, and a failure to officially present the people’s request to their government.
Correspondingly, the people did not hesitate to speak their minds, singing chants like, “This kind of stealing we never see it Ellen time,” or “We want big rogue, we na wan small rogue,” when the government sent out Min. Musa dean to receive the petition.
Likewise, people in the crowd proudly carried their posters – some of which demanded return of the missing 25 million dollars supposedly used in a cash mop-up exercise, and the missing container of 16 billion Liberian dollars. Otherwise, some people advocated for reform in areas like the prison system, health and education, and violence against women.
On the contrary, decisions made by the government on the entire protest process, leading up to the day itself and in its aftermath, suggests that the government is refusing to look past the faces behind the protest, and listen to the people. While the government can try to redirect the narrative of the protest, drowning out the sufferings of the people by downplaying its own moments of inconsistent governance so far, many facts of the matter still remains.
- At 196 Liberty to 1 U.S. Dollar, this is the highest the U.S. rate has been in the history of Liberia.
- Countless families are going hungry daily, due to the deteriorating state of the economy.
- Businesses are unable to keep their doors open due to the slow cashflow and high overhead costs.
- Millions of dollars meant for the Liberian people are unaccounted for, with no clear indication of a convincing explanation to its whereabouts, or a plan of action to recover those funds.
- There is a state of emergency on the way cases of rape/sexual abuse of women, children, and vulnerable men and boys are tried, if ever.
- Rainy season has come again, still with no plan on flood management and relief for people who may battle homelessness during this environmentally devastating period.
- On the state of agriculture, with a soil as rich and fertile as Liberia’s, there is no one crop that is currently produced locally in high quantities to feed the people or export.
One development initiative that is noticeable on the Weah-led government’s Pro-Poor agenda is the completion of some road projects in their short 18 months in office. In all fairness also, Liberia’s issues with governance goes well beyond the George Weah-led government.
Former president and Nobel Laureate, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, saw her government embattled with accusations of corruption and nepotism in her 12-year term. Prior to her democratic election, the nation was at war for 14 years. Prior to that, (…)
So many stories belonging to Liberia; this small and battered, but resilient nation.
After the Protest
Finally, six days after the protest, with the petition finally released to the media, all I see are missed opportunities from the leaders on both sides.
To the Council of Patriots, who’s competing interests appeared to have taken over on the day of, there is a need to keep focused on the plights of the people, for whom all of this has been organized in the first place.
And to the government of Liberia, there is a need for focus on the sufferings of the people. It was many of these same people who decided to believe in the “change for hope” and as such, expect the government to seek the interest of the people — making good use of the power they’ve finally been entrusted with. Now that the power is in the hands of the government, what they decide to do with it is what determines how this story ends.
Will it end in songs of praises from the people, or will it end in our cries? Will it end in our angry shouts and balled up fists, or will it end with our heads raised high in pride and confidence in our nation?
The world listens and watches as the story continues.