In continuation of his efforts to engage every sector of the Liberian society, President Dr. George Manneh Weah on May 14, 2019, met with organizers of the June 7 protest under the banner "Council of Patriots (COP)."
The meeting which was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs brought together representatives of COP, senior government officials including Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, Speaker Dr. Bhofal Chambers, Senate Pro-Tempore Albert Chie, representatives of Liberia Council of Churches, Muslim Community, Traditional Council of Liberia, United Nations, ECOWAS, African Union, among others.
Speaking during the meeting, President Weah said his government is interested in engaging every sector of the country to ensure the maintenance of peace and stability.
He said his decision to meet with COP was predicated upon his recent meeting with members of the Liberian Senate who asked that he meet with organizers of the June 7 protest.
Ambassador Weah said his government believes that dialogue is the best way forward to address grievances that any segment or group of people may have.
The Liberian leader said protest or placing people on the streets to seek redress is never the solution but dialogue.
Dr. Weah said though organizers of the June protest have the right as provided for by the Liberian Constitution to protest, however, it is not the best way to proceed.
He said Liberia in the past experienced difficulties especially doing the war, something his administration is not prepared to allow.
The President said it is important for Liberians including COP to always dialogue because it is the surest way of preventing and resolving conflicts.
He told the gathering that putting people on the streets will disrupt normal activities especially school activities.
Dr. Weah further said it is costly to protest considering that the government has to deploy security personnel to provide protection for the protesters and non-protesters as well.
The Liberian leader said he can use about US$300,000 to US$400,000 to build a road in a community; but will have to use about US$1,000,000 just to provide security for a protest, adding the protest money can be used to develop the country.
President Weah said while his government will not trample on the rights of people to protest, however, he is equally concerned about the peace of the country, something he took oath to defend and protect.
He recalled the difficulties Liberians experienced in refugee camps during the war, which he admitted Liberians are not willing to experience again.
The Liberian leader reiterated that he inherited a broken economy, adding that the current challenges the country is going through is as a result of what he inherited.
However, he said his government is doing everything possible to fix the economy.
The president is upbeat that despite the challenges, the country is on the right path, adding that sooner or later, things will improve because his government is working assiduously to make things better.
President Weah, however, expressed disappointment that during the meeting, the leadership of COP could not put forth their concerns or demands on the table for discussion.
But he assures his government's commitment to dialogue any time in the interest of the country.
The President hoped that up to June 7, "we can continue to dialogue but if you insist on protesting, we'll ask the Justice Ministry to make sure that they guide you to ensure that the assembly is done very peacefully not to infringe on the rights of other people who are going to school, work and business centers."
Earlier, the spokesman of COP Abraham Darius Dillon said their decision to attend the meeting was to show respect to the president's invitation.
He also said all they (organizers) need from the president and his government is to ensure that their rights to freely assemble and petition the government are guaranteed and upheld.
Dillon said on June 7, their demands or concerns will be presented to the government through a petition.
He said COP does not have any intention to disrupt the peace that Liberia currently enjoys.
In remarks, Senate Pro-Tempore Chie said the Liberian Senate believes that dialogue is the way forward.
He said the Senate does not support any decision to protest on June 7 considering risks attached to the protest.
Pro-Tempore Chie said the country is already beginning to experience negative impacts of the planned protest, as such; it must not be encouraged.
According to him, the planned protest could shatter the peace and stability of the country, something he believes, COP does not support.
He pleaded with COP to give consideration to dialogue by bringing its grievances on the table for discussion and amicable solution.
For his part, House Speaker Chambers said it behooves everyone to always dialogue rather than taking to the streets to protest.
He said Liberia is at a cross-road and noted that protest is not the way forward.
Dr. Chambers calls on COP to pursue dialogue rather than demonstrating, which has the proclivity to undermine the hard earned peace.
He acknowledged that it is the right of people to protest, but emphasized that dialogue is the best way forward.
Like others, Vice President Taylor called on COP to dialogue instead of protesting.
She said it is important for COP to present its concerns to the government and gives it the opportunity to look at them for redress.
The Liberian Vice President said protest should be the last result but not the other way around.
She said everyone should be concerned about sustaining the peace. Madam Taylor referenced former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for doing everything possible to keep the peace by being patience.
The Vice President told the gathering that without peace, there can be no development, adding "without peace, we have nothing... "
She recalled how thousands of Africans particularly from ECOWAS countries died here just to restore peace.
Madam Taylor emphasized the need for COP to take its grievances on the table for dialogue.
In remarks, Babatunde Olanrewaju Ajisomo, the Special Representative of the President of ECOWAS Commission to Liberia also called for dialogue.
He said ECOWAS is deeply concerned about the current situation in Liberia considering that thousands of lives from ECOWAS countries were lost in Liberia just to restore peace.
Ambassador Ajisomo said ECOWAS believes that dialogue is the best path to pursue.
He said ECOWAS has invested so much in Liberia to sustain peace, and sees dialogue as the way forward.
But the UN Resident Coordinator and Head of the UN Country Team in Liberia Yacoub El Hillo said protest is the best way because it allows the people to petition their leaders.
He said no one should stop the June 7 protest from happening considering that it is one of the ingredients of democracy, adding "it is a good thing to protest."
Ambassador Hillo said all of the protests that have been staged under this government turned out to be peaceful and believes the same will be done come June 7.
He cited his country Sudan where protest was held and led to the resignation of the president of that country who he referred to as dictator.
But he was quick to add that this is not the case with Liberia, because the people just want to petition their government.
However, President Weah differed with Ambassador Hillo, adding that the people of Sudan did not pursue the path of dialogue which has today divided the country.
According to him, had the people of Sudan pursued the path of dialogue, that country could have been peaceful today.
He said though it is the right of people to protest, but they should always consider the common good of the country.
For his part, Chief Zanzan Kawor said the traditional chiefs will engage COP to ensure that it pursues dialogue rather than protesting.
He said they as traditional leaders do not have any green card to travel out of Liberia when conflict breaks out, as such; they are under obligation to prevent conflict by pursuing dialogue.
Chief Kawor said his institution will do all it can through dialogue to ensure that the planned protest is not held.
In remarks, the Secretary General of Liberia Council of Churches Rev. Christopher Toe said LCC has been longing for the government and COP to meet and dialogue because it is the best thing to do.
He said LCC believes that it is time to dialogue rather than protesting.
The National Chairman of the Imam Council of Liberia, Sheikh Ali Krayee said dialogue should be pursued.
He however, expressed disappointment in the decision of COP to stage its protest on June 7, a day after the end of Ramadan, which also falls on Friday.
Imam Krayee said the Holy month of Ramadan is for unity, reconciliation and forgiveness, as such; it is unfair to the Muslim community for a protest to be staged right after Ramadan.