16 May 2019

Liberia: Weah's Unique Opportunity

Photo: Liberian Observer
Angry protester at the Temple of Justice (file photo).
editorial

Liberia was a divided country before the exchange rate hit US$1/$L183. We were a divided country before George Manneh Weah came into office as president of Liberia. Unity is a mindset - a way of life. It gets passed down from one generation to the next. But so is division.

Today, we have two competing sets of rhetoric on the national stage: the country-congo divide and the economic situation; and one has absolutely NOTHING to do with the other. These two issues are mutually exclusive. Yet the country-congo divide gets injected into national politics and economics in order to evade the real answers that are needed.

So here we are. Liberians are crying out over the prevailing economic climate. Prices of basic commodities are escalating and buyers are getting less and less for their money. The cup of rice now stands at L$50. Concurrently, the questions are not being answered as to what has happened to funds intended to stabilize said economy. Ordinary Liberians have been bearing the brunt of the difficulty and have been making their grievances known, but to no avail. For a long while it has seemed as though there has been no effort on the part of government surrogates to respond to the cries of the people.

As life has gotten harder and harder, Liberians have decided that the only option left to them is to stage a protest scheduled for June 7, 2019. As the date fast approaches, government surrogates and many Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) partisans alike have been politicizing the issues. They have claimed that it was "congo" people ratcheting up the rhetoric. Instead of providing the needed answers to the problems and at least letting the people know that their cries are being heard, the old country-congo divide is once again being used as a scapegoat in order to avoid answering the questions and providing the necessary leadership.

But we wish to bring some facts to the attention of the government and its surrogates - and this government has many. There are top level surrogates and bottom-level surrogates. Top level surrogates are officials of government clothed with the authority to speak for and on behalf of the government. Bottom-level surrogates are those who defend the government at a societal level - in communities, at attayi shops, etc. And even at the bottom level, the rhetoric has become increasingly violent. Anyone critical of this government gets labeled anti-CDC and becomes a marked man or woman by supporters of this government. Critics are beginning to feel increasingly unsafe in their various communities as June 7th, 2019 approaches. The fear is that this date will be used as an opportunity for retribution against the critics of this government, and many are afraid.

But let us go back to the market prices. A cup of rice at the market is fifty Liberian dollars (L$50) regardless of one's political point of view. CDCians have to eat, Liberty Partisans have to eat, Unity Party partisans have to eat, Alternative National Congress partisans have to eat. And when we all go to the market, we all pay the $L50 price for that cup of rice. Vita (bouillon cubes) are 3 pieces for $L20. Chicken feet are being sold at 3 pieces for L$50. They used to be 5 pieces for L$50. So why are CDCians pretending not to be feeling the pinch? This is a Liberian problem, with no separate prices for the CDC. So let us stop the factional fighting and admit that we are all catching hell!

Politically and socially, the President of Liberia, Dr. George M. Weah, needs to provide what we refer to as thought leadership. It means that he needs to exercise leadership in transforming the way we Liberians think - which would then translate into a transformation of the way we speak. Mr. Weah understands Liberians. He understands the things that divide us as well as the things that unite us. He is loved, if not idolized, by those who voted for him. If he were to mount a podium one day and say that he no longer wants to hear the "country-congo" words being used again, it would make a huge impact. He needs to explain that each generation needs to pick up its own cross and walk instead of blaming our dead-and-gone forefathers for everything. Let's face it: "congo" and indigenous presidents alike have proven corrupt! Good governance is not a matter of tribe; it is a matter of character and love of country!

The truth is that most of those considered "congo" are no longer even here. The older generation is passing on, and their children are in the United States and elsewhere making a living. Many would like to return to help rebuild, but the rhetoric is so divisive, it is unwelcoming. Besides, intermarriages have taken place between the "congos" and indigenous, and we are all mixed.

As an indigenous Liberian who has been democratically elected with no ties to the Liberian civil conflict, President Weah has a unique opportunity to unite Liberians that the last five presidents of Liberia did not have. But he has to take the bull by the horns. He has to lead hands-on, and he has to lead from the front - not from the back.

And so we say to President Weah what Mordecai told Esther when she gave every excuse as to why she could not go to the king on behalf of her imperiled people: "Don't imagine that you are safer than any other Jew just because you are in the royal palace. If you keep quiet at a time like this, help will come from heaven to the Jews, and they will be saved, but you will die and your father's family will come to an end. Yet who knows - maybe it was for a time like this that you were made queen!"

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