Liberia: Be Careful What You Wish for

The Government of Liberia (GoL) or rather its functionaries appear not to be mindful of the seriousness of the current economic crisis facing the nation. The rapid depreciation of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar has apparently triggered the decision by authorities to withhold Liberian dollars from circulation as a way of inducing upward movement of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar. This has had an effect of bringing down the exchange rate from 230 LD to one US dollar to the current rate of 190 to one US dollar.

Officials of this government however appear to be grossly insensitive to the excruciating economic hardships people have to cope with daily. The convergence of former AFL soldiers and widows in protest for benefits due them should constitute a wake-up call to this government to get its act together else it could invite trouble upon itself for no good reason,

The ex-soldiers, making no secret of their intentions to peacefully assemble to consult amongst themselves, attracted the attention of GoL to the point where it deployed large numbers of security personnel including POLICE in the streets of the capital, Monrovia. Fortunately, the assembly passed off without incident. However, the development conveyed a distinct impression of apprehension and heightened insecurity on the part of this government.

In this regard, it would serve the interests of this government well to have its officials refrain from making statements and utterances that tend to inflame the situation and provoke counter reactions including street protests which have become commonplace recently. Deputy Information Minister Eugene Fahngon's recent outburst threatening to arrest Henry Costa upon arrival at the airport and have him jailed is the latest example.

He was later countered by Justice Minister Musa Dean who declared that there was no such arrest order pending for Mr. Costa but passions have been enflamed already and, judging from experience, this will certainly be a test of nerves. If Henry Costa were indeed arrested upon arrival at the airport and taken to jail, charges would have to be brought against him within 48 hours and have him arraigned before Court.

The point here is, can this government afford the spectacle of what would be a highly politicized trial in a highly polarized environment amidst excruciating economic hardships on the people and not expect to incur mass public disapproval of the government and, instead, engender popular support for Henry Costa? This is a matter over which Deputy Minister Fahngon should reflect deeply. Perhaps he may be unaware of the lessons of history or he could be feigning ignorance.

Whatever the case, he ought to be reminded that it requires just one spark to set a tinderbox afire. Recalling history, the first World War, for example, was sparked by a single shot fired by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip that killed the presumptive heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo (now capital of Bosnia) on June 28, 1914 and triggered a chain of events that set an entire continent ablaze.

Similarly, the April 14, 1979 shooting and killing of unarmed protesters was the spark that set into motion a chain of events that led to the eventual demise of the Tolbert administration in 1980. Tolbert had given in to hardliners who wanted street protesters shot to drive home the lesson of what awaits those who engage in public protests against the government. Apparently, not realizing the implications, he gave the go-ahead to fire on demonstrators. And that proved to be a fatal mistake that would eventually cost his life.

Forty years later, the George Weah government finds itself in similar straits with the difference being, the loss of innocence of the nation's youth made possible by 14 years of violence and anarchy. Then, unlike now, the nation's youths had never before had such prolonged exposure to violence on a mass scale. Forty years later the nation and as a legacy of years of conflict, thousands of our children have had their lives impacted in ways that have militated against their attainment of a proper education and the acquisition of life skills.

Just what does this government hope to achieve with all this talk and threats of the use of violence against opposition elements or anyone or groups perceived as posing a challenge to its dominance of the country's political landscape? From all indications, the CDC today is no longer the CDC of yesterday when thousands would turn out, walking miles, sporting T-shirts or uniforms they purchased themselves to identify with the CDC.

The reality is however different today and it appears its (CDC) officials are finding great difficulty fathoming the hard reality that their relevance of yesterday is fast withering before an emergent tomorrow that may see the CDC out of power and back into the ranks of the opposition. In a desperate attempt to fend off this advancing new reality, anything, including physical elimination of perceived enemies or opponents is on the table.

This country has seen enough bloodshed and hatred already and does not need another dose of conflict. Government officials, particularly those at high levels of authority, should be circumspect and avoid the use of inflammatory language. The Ministry of Information cannot continue to ignore the dangers posed by hateful, inflammatory and inciteful messages currently propagated on Freedom FM which was, like Roots FM, recommended for closure by PUL President Charles Cuffy.

In a situation of extreme hardships, people become tense and tend to become annoyed and aggravated very easily at the slightest provocation. And such provocation could invite a response which could set into motion a train of events over which those responsible could have no control should they spill out of hand. This is why the Daily Observer has cautioned and warned agent-provocateurs the likes of Minister Fahngon to be careful what they wish for.

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