13 February 2013

Liberia: Day Liberians Really Mourned Plane Crash - 'Working Holiday' Turns Hallowed Day

Observances of national holidays in Liberia are often greeted with leisure and fanfare, no matter which.  In fact, the citizens' allergies to holidays, many of which are in the country's calendar every year, have come with clamorous calls for reduction in the number. But February 12, 2013 makes a surprising but befitting difference: though announced instantaneously as a 'working holiday' by President Sirleaf in mournful observance of the death, due to plane crash, of 11 Guinean military personnel on the way to celebrate with Liberians on their Armed Forces Day (February 11), Liberians observed the day unusually sacredly. The Analyst reports why.

Fred J. Mouton wakes up from bed at the usual hour of 5am Tuesday morning of February 12. He takes a quick glimpse of his Social Science notes. Final exam awaits him at 9:am and, as he has often done, poised to beat the traffic between 6:30am and 7:am to get on the main campus of the University of Liberia where the exam is slated. He takes a bath haphazardly to catch one of the first taxis leaving Virginia, outside Monrovia. He makes it in his usual time, arriving on campus at nearly 7. He has two hours to wait, to see the arrival of classmates and subsequently the teacher at 9 for the exam.

It is 9:30am and Mouton is still waiting in a classroom of nearly 50 students. At this time, only less than ten of his colleagues have arrived. The time tilts to ten, and it seems one other classmate who argues that the test will not be possible due to the holiday has won the debate.

"The rest of us counter-argued that it was not possible the University of Liberia would suspend classes, particularly during a critical exam period for a 'working holiday' justified on the death of foreign nationals," Fred J. Mouton recalled his experience yesterday, the day most Liberians surprisingly strictly heeded calls to abstain from normal work for full working hours.

"When I stepped out of the classroom, it appeared the University had closed for normal activities in many days," he marveled at the virtual emptiness of the main campus of students, teachers and school administrators. "I can't remember when last we observed a holiday proclamation in this way. You mean LU [University of Liberia] is emptied today because the President has announced a working holiday, which is not even a statutorily sanctioned national holiday?"

The highest state university is not the only locale that put up the surprising observance of President Sirleaf's sudden declaration of "working holiday". The Analyst reporters who visited various parts of Monrovia reported that many communities and private and public institutions were virtually shut down yesterday.

"During most important holidays, like Christmas and Independence Day [July 26], we have seen communities alight with activities," said  Beatrice Masseh, a businesswoman gazing in the vacant sky at her  rice and cement container shop on the Freeway, Gardnersville. "We use to have our market places open and people going about their normal businesses. This is not the case today."

While making a statement at the 56th anniversary of the Armed Forces of Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf shocked the nation when she broke news that nearly a dozen high-level personnel of the military of the Republic of Guinea died in a plane crash near Roberts Field while on their way to celebrate the anniversary with Liberians.

"Government of the Republic of Liberia has learned with utter shock and regrets the news of a plane crash near Monrovia, in the early hours of Monday, February 11, 2013, which claimed the lives of the Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Guinea, General Kelefa Diallo, and nine others comprising Guinean military officers and flight crew, who were on their way to attend the 56th Anniversary Celebrations of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Liberia," the President said in the proclamation.

Then she declared: "Now, Therefore, I, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, by virtue of the authority in me vested, and in honor of our gallant and distinguished fallen regional military officers and flight crew, do hereby declare Tuesday, February 12, 2013 as a day of mourning for the colossal loss sustained to be observed as a National Holiday throughout the Republic."

Liberians embraced the President's proclamation with an unusual solidarity and condolences with the Government and people of Guinea. Though 'working holidays' have meant that people go about their normal businesses, February 12 was a special "working holiday" as all schools were closed, most shopping centers closed and government offices nearly shut down.

"The dead and their government and people of Guinea deserve this kind of observance by Liberians," said former lawmaker B. Darlington Teah. "Liberians are passionate people, and more besides, Guineans have gone extra miles showing solidarity to Liberians particularly during the civil conflict. They lost their lives here, and by virtue of their coming to be part of this year's Armed Forces Day before meeting their death, Guineans really love Liberians. I think the holiday and they way Liberians observed it is quit benefiting."

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