analysisBy Sherman C. Seequeh
The month called April, each year since 1979, has continued to unleash its ominous chills upon the nation and every citizen. Even April 2013 isn't proving itself different in terms of the annual nervousness that this part of the year discharges upon the nation.
The anarchic dates that everyone points to as the historical flashpoints crowning April with its ill-omened coloration are April 14, 1979; April 12, 1980; April 22, 1980, and April 6, 1996. There are other historically anarchical accounts that cite April as a radical period in Liberia's political calendar which portrays it an apocalypse--a traumatizing omen--for the people.
April 14, 1979 marked the first major civil upheaval that left dozens dead in the streets of Monrovia. Demonstration against the attempted increase of rice price resulted into the deadly melee. April 12, 1980, the True Whig Party oligarchy and Americo-Liberian hegemony were jointly violently dethroned by pre-dominantly indigenous coup plotters on account of "rampant corruption and misuse of public office". April 22, 1980, nearly two dozen former officials of the True Whig Party were gunned down by the revolutionary junta. April 6, 1996 is the date of devastating infighting in the power-sharing transitional government of rebel conglomerate—infighting that turned Monrovia into an inferno for weeks.
According to other historical accounts, there are countless other dates of April that outdate 1979 not merely in age but also in their calamitous character that spelled doom for the people of Liberia.
The details of those accounts—both far distant and very recent events—are not the objective of this piece. The concern here is to trace and expose how and why April, the widely acknowledged feared Armageddon in Liberia's history has become, and will remain for ages, the most ideal/strategic capital and launching pad of political agitation or political subjugation depending on the motive.
The testament is no doubt emerging this year. The apocalyptic euphoria of April has once again become to loom; it has in fact been raised to new alert levels in the aftermath of a contemplated people's mass action scheduled for April 12 of this year. Prosecutors of the action are justifying it on long-running critical governance nemeses--broad-day thievery, political arrogance and minority (others say family) domination—that are as old as the date on which the demonstration showdown is timed.
The entire nation now appears flustered in wake of the pronouncement to demonstrate on those issues. And what is paralyzing about this new April threat is that individuals propagating the anti-establishment agitation, like their predecessors of April 1979, are not shying away and cowing; they are visibly beating their chests to resiliency and gallantry.
Though the Government of Liberia is doing or saying nothing visible in reaction, at least for now, the rhetoric of the would-be demonstrators is extremely bellicose that political pundits are upbeat that the looming April augury is once again in the air, seriously hovering over the horizon.
President Sirleaf, whose administration has got no record of granting demonstration permit to opposition in the name of "preserving the hard-won peace we enjoy", and is notorious in its repression of non-permitted protests, is quoted as welcoming the demonstration but not without a threat. Her administration will visit the full weight of the law on demonstrators when things run awry. From the periphery, one may be attempted to agree with the President on this threat because "the exercise of a right comes with responsibility." Granted! But she did not, and has not, said how her administration will provide security for the demonstrators, who are citizens of Liberia and deserve Government protection. One can see from the point, the despotic legacy of viewing political dissenters as enemy of the state and not as citizens seeking greater change still appears bequeathed to the current administration. April therefore remains a roving ghost even today.
More so, in a country where the security forces traditionally carry a paranoid mentality bend in favor of the ruling elites, a mentality amply proven existent under the Sirleaf administration, President Sirleaf's reaction can be considered a disapproval or an invitation of security repression to the demonstration.
Concurrently, Liberians are mixed in their reactions to the planned April 12 demonstration. Some, interestingly including some sections of the media, have hastily editorialized their opposition: that they are not supportive of a demonstration. Thoroughly checked, the wisdom of such an opposition is largely informed by the desultory view about April rather than by the constitutionality of the right of Liberians to assemble and express an opinion, even if it means to call for a change of regime.
Perhaps if the demonstration were scheduled on another date other than April or April 12, many opponents would commute their arguments and opposition. We can see from this point that there still exists the culture of sycophancy and fidelity, which is why April is likely to be a roving monster in the minds of the populace for so long.
There is the contention that Liberians witnessed or suffered the tragedy of a civil conflict which, when traced, has a familial root in April and its schemes of things. A demonstration consciously timed in April, particularly April 12, represents a rude evocation (or reincarnation, if you would) of the monstrous ghosts which Liberians and their international partners have tried fending off in the last decade or so.
This line of opposition appears to suggest that the planners are therefore "April monster incarnates". From this point, it can said with certainty that some reactions to the planned demonstration are largely clad in and informed by fear of conflict and derailment of whatever gains made in the last 13 years rather than passion for the obviation of, and redress to, conditions that necessitate prevailing uproar.
In other words, all the desultory views about April and/or the civil conflict, and the fertility these perceptions provide in masking totalitarian exercise of political power, many contemporary foes of demonstration and protests are in their opposition not only consciously or unconsciously sweeping under the rug bundles of civil liberties and rights guaranteed by the Constitution but also illusively—and vainly—attempting to blot or annihilate the ancestral underpinnings of these apocalypses in Liberia's history.
However cataclysmic and doleful the aftershocks of April and the civil conflict came to be, it would be a gross disincentive for people who struggled for, and/or perished to, events associated with these periods if all that is projected of them is their phony orgy of "chaos and disunity" without doing the prudent thing of acknowledging where the nation stands today (in term of democratic and economic renewal ironically acclaimed by some of those who speak ill of these events) and without correlating cause and effect.
April 12 and perhaps other "violent dates" of the month in Liberia as well as the civil conflict—which now constitute feared ghosts in the pigments of some Liberians—did not fall from the vacant sky. They are no historical accidents. Even those currently in the acme of power corridors still acknowledge them as necessary revolutionary volcanic outbursts of long years of accumulation of social inequality, marginalization and political suppression.
Like today, the discourse yesterday over whether citizens had valid reasons to demonstrate for "rights and rice" was deeply popularized between the poverty-irked majority of the people and their advocates on the one hand and the gluttonous few sucking the juice of the country and their lackeys on the other. Like today, the fear of violence and the assumed motives of "heartless politicians" overtook the pervasive sweltering injustice and inequality that was prevailing and the peoples' burning and desperate desires for equity and justice. Like today, aficionados, surrogates and bootlickers of yesterday actively incited and solicited the cruelest measures against nonconforming Liberians, saying in effect, "we prefer slavery and cheat in poverty and exclusion, than freedom in agitation and bickering."
The only difference between the discourse of today and that of yesterday is that the protagonists of yesterday, unlike their counterparts today, had had no lesson—no past experience—upon which to ground and measure their propositions and make a sound determination. Today, that opportunity avails itself in April and the civil conflict of yesteryears. Unfortunately, today, the lessons are being perverted by others, who are reading them through lenses that have ancestry to the parochial, elitist and domineering ego of the oligarchic establishment of yesterday.
The so-called apocalypse of April and the civil conflict are they only lessons etched in the memory of some people. The lenses are failing to see the conditions of desperation that necessitated those events. The sharp, emerging shift from tyranny and despotism, and the prevailing democratic progress that have become brags of even those now opposing the so-called apocalypses are not recognized as products of the struggles so badly detested.
But take it or leave it: the "ghosts of the past" that seek to use April to promote chaos and disunity would be difficult to "resist" or it would be impossible to fend off the "evildoers" if the conditions of the past which necessitated these events still exist crystal clearly in the cask of government policy and in the psychic of political leaders.
Current and past world events have shown that protracted and deliberate ignoring and suppression of long accumulated felt needs of people drive people to extremism. As former American President Ulysses S. Grant once put it, "Too long denial of guaranteed right is sure to lead to revolution—bloody revolution—where suffering must fall upon the innocent as well as the guilty."
True, those who see April an annual earth-shattering omen hanging over Liberia will always do the status-quo thing of indulging in fear tactics, hooting alarms and ricocheting horror sensitivities. They may even succeed in suppressing or averting public demonstrations once or twice or for some time from now. But in the short or long run, the accumulation of corruption, nepotism and political failure over a period of time may explode discharging the lava of justice to consume the culprits and forming the next mountain upon which a new national progress will be pursued; for those who believe in the revolutionary spirit of April may continue do the activist thing of confronting the stubborn Establishment not only with the so-called apocalyptic history of the Month but also and mainly as the launching pad of freedom, democracy and intellectualism in Liberia.
This is where April's dual meaning stands out. While the status quo and its beneficiaries define April a vicious orgy of horror evoking national upheaval and division, there are other citizens who believe in it as a shining oracle of progressivism to which they pay their revolutionary pilgrimage as to facilitate a sober review of history—an imperative for national transformation. And this dichotomous and irreconcilable meaning of April and its descendant events, like the civil conflict, will continue to be struck in the annals of our times as long the conditions that necessitate their feared perspectives still exist.
When professed intelligentsia and progressives of yesteryears succumb to, or become swallowed by, the status-quo, April sets the prism for decipherment. When the price of rice, the trigger of April's feared fact, remains skyrocketed beyond the poor financial powers of the people, April raises the question of progressive hypocrisy and socioeconomic and political stagnancy—and justification for contemporary progressives' pilgrimage. When state security forces are indoctrinated with anti-progressive mindset and continue to unleash brutality on activists and even journalists, and the platitudes of "government will probe" become a mere resonation of the past, April is the barometer that measures the country's political progress.
It is only reasonable that sober reflection of these stark realities guide all of us as the nation cruises through April and its presaged apocalypse.