Taking a cue from the Arab Springs and recent events in Algeria and Sudan, organizers of a June 7 protest in Liberia are looking to send the administration of President George Manneh Weah a simple message: Save the State.
Mr. Henry Costa, host of the popular morning show said Sunday that the protest sole intention is the get the attention of the government to the rapidly declining plight of the Liberian people – and the total neglect by the government in power.
Said Mr. Costa: “President George Weah is taking us for granted; he ignores us, he is behaving as though he is a King, and we are his obedient subjects. He violates our constitution, he steals our money and builds himself luxury properties, flies in private jets with large delegations while the country bleeds and the people suffer. So, this Save the State movement is to slap him hard in a peaceable but powerful manner to wake up.”
Lessons from Arab Springs
The peaceful approach worked in in 2011 when Tunisian protesters piled pressure leading to the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In Egypt, similar protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak.
Quite recently in Sudan and Algeria in 2011, protesters took to the streets to demand change.
In Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s quest for a fifth consecutive term was greeted with rejection as protesters took to the streets and ripped down giant posters of Bouteflika from the streets. On March 11, 2019, Bouteflika, 82, stepped down.
Then came last week’s climaxed of weeks of protests against Omar al-Bashir in Sudan.
“The protest on June 7th is being prompted by the gross disrespect for and undermining of our Constitution and other laws, falling economy with huge doubt over “infusion” of $25m USD, bad governance over the state, lack of respect for dissenting views, tampering with the independence of the judiciary, growing wave of insecurity and mob violence across the country due primarily to decreased lack of public trust in the justice system, no accountability and transparency across government including clouded declaration of assets, etc etc.”
– Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon, Organizer, June 7 Save the State Protest
For weeks, young activists, Sudanese women, civil society and college students took to the streets to demand Al Bashir’s resignation. They survived arrests and torture while scores were forced into exile.
In the days leading to Al-Bashir’s fall, a widely-shared photograph of the activist Alaa Salah chanting while standing on top of a car, taken by Lana Haroun, became the uprising’s iconic image and recalled the civic resistance movement of 1964 protest when students stood up to a military government, eventually overthrowing it, as well as a similar movement in 1985 that again ended army rule.
In Liberia, the impact of those uprisings has prompted a new wave of interests although some of the organizers are quickly dismissing that they are drawing inspiration from the recent action in Sudan.
“Sudan did not inspire us. We have had enough of the misrule and clear lack of focus on part of Weah-led govt,” says Abraham Darius Dillon, one of the upcoming protest’s organizers. “Public response back home and abroad amongst Liberians is huge and very welcoming.”
Since organizers came up with the June 7, 2019 date for the protest, threats of a counter protests have made the rounds on the social media Facebook. Economist Samuel P. Jackson, author of the upcoming book, Rich Land, Poor Country: The “Paradox of Poverty” in Liberia has cautioned that it would be a mistake for the administration to counter the June 7 protest with one of their own.
Mr. Jackson appealed to President Weah to resist the urge in listening to extremists like Eugene Fahngon, Deputy Minister of Information and other CDC supporters, who are promoting a counter demonstration. Jackson warned that putting two adversarial groups on the streets of Monrovia under the current volatile and tense moment in the country’s history could lead to unintended consequences including bloodshed. He reminded Mr. Weah that as head of government, any violence and bloodshed associated will forever be a blotch on his administration and manifest potential instability in the country, which will further undermine business confidence. Mr. Jackson was blunt as he slammed those calling for a counter demonstration as jackasses.
The government has apparently taken note albeit cautiously.
Govt. Guarantees ‘Right of the People’
Mr. Nathaniel McGill, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs said Sunday, in conversation with reporters, that the Weah-led government has no objection to the protest and will in fact will give protesters its blessing as it is guaranteed under the constitution.
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Minister McGill said while it is true that the Constitution guarantees the right of all Liberian to protest the Government is also charge with the responsibility to protect the Peace of Liberians, and the protection of lives and properties, the leaders of the protest would be held accountable if any violence takes place. “The right for people to protest is guarantee by the constitution of Liberia since we came into existence as a government, we have protected people to protests and we will continue to protect people rights to protest.”
Minister McGill however pointed accusing fingers to the leaders of the collaborating Liberty Party, (LP), the Alternative National Congress (ANC), and the All Liberian Party (ALP) for masterminding the planed protest. “Individuals who lost the election and ran to court believing that there should be re-run of election are still in the mentality of the elections so they are still campaigning and making all these noises. It has become clear to me that our friends in the opposition only development for this country is protest maybe that is how they want to serve the Liberian people we will guarantee that.”
Minister McGill however cautioned that the government was elected to protect lives and properties and the peace of the country. So, while their rights to protest is guaranteed, the heads of political parties who are planning on putting people in the streets will be held accountable if the law is broken. They will be held liable.”
McGill said: “The Liberty Party, the Alternative National Congress, and the All Liberian Party and I know they are trying to draw the Unity Party on board are the people making these noises and if there is any confusion in the streets, leaders of these Parties will be held accountable for breaking the law.”
But Mr. Dillon, who is also the chair of political affairs in the opposition Liberty Party said Sunday that on the contrary, it is the government that would be responsible should the protest turn ugly. “As for reported counter demonstration on 7th June, we will hold the President, the Minister of Justice, Police Director and the CDC leadership for any recklessness and intrusion into our rally by their surrogates. We will inform the world about this.”.
Amid the counter arguments, Minister of state further guaranteed that police will provide security for protesters and wants Liberians to remain calm and go about their normal businesses as the Government of President George Weah is committed to protecting the peace.
Minister while acknowledging the huge expectations facing the government said the President and team of Ministers are aware of the huge expectations for the Weah administration and is doing everything possible to meet those expectations. “There are always expectations for every new government but the truth is there will always be challenges because in your live it is not always bread and butter. The President would have love to see a massive employment but things are slow in that direction but we now see lot of investors coming.”
Minister McGill averred that the government is making in road to improve conditions in the country, including the recent announcement by firestone that it would lay off 800 employees. “This government has had a very fruitful discussion with Firestone and as was reported, the 800 employees expected to be retired is no more the case because that number is far less then that now and we are working to ensure a smooth transition for these retired employees.”
The minister said he believes that in order for the economy to be strong there must be an improved agriculture sector and access to market. “We know people want situation change today but it is not going to happen just that quickly. This government is committed to improving those sectors that would improve the economy and one of them is providing cheaper and affordable electricity. As you know we will shortly be benefiting from the West African Power Pool that will give a boost to our economy. The President gets up every day wanting to improve the lives of Liberians; that has been his ambition even before he became President that is what he is always committed to.”
Protests are not rare in Liberia. The April 14, 1979 rice riot is still regarded as one of the most violent days in Liberia’s history. Organized by the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), headed by the late political activist Gabriel Baccus Matthews against the backdrop of a proposed increase in the price of a 100lb bag of rice from $22 to $26, the protest was followed a year later, by a bloody coup d’etat staged by 17 non-commissioned officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) that led to the overthrow of the grand old True Whig Party (TWP) of the then Liberian government.
On November 7, 2011, the current ruling party staged a massive protest against election results of the presidential elections which led to the death of at least one person.
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