25 March 2013

Liberia: Undefined Protest Threatens Liberia's Post War Stability, Peace

Photo: AllAfrica
Officers of the UN mission helping to control a riot.

Post-war Liberia, described in the latest United Nations Secretary General Report as still a fragile nation, despite a long reign of peace has been drowned in speculations of late amid a cloud of threats of yet another demonstration by some Liberians to hold a mass protest that promises to be something worth remembering.

For many poor market women in the Water Side districts, the silence of guns and two successful democratic elections have been positive signs for the country's post-war development.

But some Liberians under the banner Grassroot Leadership Network and the Coalition for the Transformation of Liberia have continuously threatened that come April 12, 2013 they will take to the street to protest what they see as injustices in the Liberian society.

"The GLN pronounces in a fearless and resolved manner that there can be no better time than this April, suitable for an undaunted manifest of 'People's Power'," the group stated in a press release issued in Monrovia.

"To shift us away from the recent mockery of governance stuffed under the sunshade of cabinet reshuffle; which is actually a 'Recycled reshuffle' of criminal officials who should be serving their terms behind bars."

The protesters say the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf-led government has done nothing but to widen the gap between the rich and the poor thereby creating a society of hungry and jobless people and are planning on taking a page from the past to make their voices heard, believing that there is no better time than April to demonstrate such disparity in the economics of the county.

"While we couldn't stop the President's seven-year perception of the masses as fools celebrated every April; we've now grown indignant to the height of irate consciousness and look to making April, not the fool's month, but the month of sworn revolutionaries cast in an irreversible struggle to end corruption, or die trying in the thousands," states the group.

Continued the Protesters: "There can be no better time than this April, suitable for an undaunted manifest of 'People's Power' to shift us away from the recent mockery of governance stuffed under the sunshade of cabinet reshuffle, which is actually a 'Recycled reshuffle' of criminal officials who should be serving their terms behind bars."

Constitutional right

As the cries of the protests linger, reviews have been mixed over whether the protest should be allowed to take place. Many political pundits are of the opinion that the government should allow the demonstrations to go on without any hindrance.

"We think it is their constitutional right; we just want to conscientize them for it to be done under the law. But we think it is the right of every Liberian to express their grievances through demonstration," said Rev. Wilfred Wade Sr. National Chairman Freedom Alliance Party of Liberia.

"I don't think it is a recipe for disaster, the reason why the April 12 or the 1979 rice riots were so violent was because of suppression; maybe the regime was too suppressive and that's why people over expressed their anger."

Wade says people reacted violently to protest government's attempt to suppress these demonstrations.

"They over-reacted because they felt suppressed, unlike today, we see a liberal President who will allow demonstrations,; who will allow freedom of speech," he said.

"We see a government that is not so hostile to the people; we think this is a different environment."

For others who easily associate the trends of events as they occur every year to how many times such coincident occurs in a particular month, another demonstration in the month of April will mean sacrilege thereby leading to more chaos.

"I take the month of April to be a moment of silence, a time that people should go and pay tribute to people who lost their lives on that fateful day," said Emmannuel Kabakole a resident of Monrovia.

"We all lost friends, relatives, loved ones. I pray for a way forward for Liberia to see how best Liberia can be a better country, that all of us can live happily."

Prince Johnson's take

Former warlord, now Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson, recently alarmed that the April 12, 2013 mass action is a coup plot against President Sirleaf.

Senator Johnson who is chairman on security at the level of the Senate pointed accusing Fingers at the CDC as being behind the planned coup.

The CDC national Chairman George Solo in reaction to Johnson warned the Senator that any attempt by him to draw the party into the fray of the demonstration would lead to a citizen's arrest to be effected against him for crimes of war.

"It is very ironic and interesting to note that Senator Prince Johnson will continue to reiterate his national security chairman position and point his fingers at politicians and parties working with civil society and they're doing this and doing that, it is very unfortunate," said Mr. Solo.

"The last known appearance of Senator Johnson in the history of Liberia was by the gun; was to cut ears and drink Budweiser."

Liberia's security fragile

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon reporting to the United Nations Security Council on the situation of the United Nations mission in Liberia on Monday said Liberia's current security situation in Liberia remains stable but fragile.

UN SG Ban in his twenty-fifth progress on UNMIL said during the year under review there were thirty one cases of mob violence incidents reported, including four incidents of violence against national authorities and UNMIL.

"Many demonstrations involved public and private sector workers demanding salary arrears. The most prominent of those took place in Monrovia in September and October, when hundreds of students and teachers protested the non-payment of teachers' salaries, in September, 300 members of the opposition CDC party clashed with police in Monrovia over the alleged non-authorization of a march," he said.

Mr. Ban told the UN Security council that despite security concerns around the opposition Congress for Democratic Change  (CDC) commemoration of the 7 November 2011 events, in which one partisan had been shot dead in a clash with security forces, a peaceful environment prevailed.

"All of the demonstrations were addressed by national security agencies, with UNMIL advice and/or operational support, and no major incidents were reported," he said.

He said owing to limited employment opportunities in the mining sector and the continued underperformance of the agricultural sector, unemployment remains extremely high, particularly among young people.

"Meanwhile, inflation was expected to fall to 5.2 per cent in 2012, down from 8.5 per cent in 2011, but Liberia remains vulnerable to increases in international food and fuel prices, as the country is still heavily dependent on imports, which could affect the inflation rate," he said.

Liberia's woes in April began on April 14 1979, when Liberians took to the streets in protest of the increase in the price 100kg bag of rice and on April 12, the following year in 1980, Master Sergeant Samuel Doe led a bloody coup d'état against president William R. Tolbert.

That same night according to historians, President Tolbert and twenty-six of his supporters were murdered; ten days later thirteen of Tolbert's Cabinet members were publicly executed thereby ended 133 years of Americo-Liberian political domination over Liberia but the woes of April continued.

Doe himself overcame seven coup attempts between 1981 and 1985. On April 6, 1996, the civil war led by former President Charles Taylor escalated when followers of Taylor and Kromah assaulted the headquarters of Roosevelt Johnson in Monrovia, and the peace accord collapsed leading to an all out war that led to the displacement and death of thousands.

With these developments tied to the month of April some are convinced that it is indeed the wrong time to stage a protest.

"Why should Liberians go back to the past? Going back to the past will in no way help us," says Ayoubah G.D. Swarray a student leader.

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