Liberia: The 12 - 30 Protest That Wasn't - 'Intervention' or 'Intrusion'? Intl. Community Put On Notice

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opinion

Monrovia - By daybreak Monday, December 30th, hundreds of supporters of District No. 10 Representative Yekeh Korlubah had assembled at his home, ready to protest. It was reminiscent of a similar scenario that played out on June 7th, this year when Rep. Korlubah led one of the largest group of protesters to the historic protest demanding answers from the George Manneh Weah-led government, now limping into its third year.

The fiery and outspoken lawmaker told FrontPageAfrica that he had no alternative but to inform his supporters, that in respect to the wishes of the international community led by the United States embassy, the European Union, ECOWAS and the United Nations, the protest had been put off to a later date.

Rep. Yekeh Korlubah: "We live to Protest Another Day"

"People think we took money to call off the protest, but this is not true. Higher powers prevailed. We live to protest another day."

Rep. Korlubah's frustration resonated across Liberia as many looking to once again send a message to President Weah's governance lapses, were left in tatters and somewhat betrayed by the international body, the Council of Patriots now believe intruded into the space of Liberians looking to exercise their constitutional rights.

Mr. Henry Costa, head of the COP, made that much clear at a news conference Monday morning when he lamented: "The COP did not call off the protest, the COP is not calling off the protest. But our international friends who claimed they are in our interest to ensure that lives and properties are protected and people are not harmed, they are the ones proposing and we are obliged. I want to make it clear; we do not reject their intervention or intrusion - as much as we feel they are getting too much involved in our domestic affairs - which is not a bad thing."

Mr. Costa however, hoped that the international community would elevate the same level of intrusion on the Weah-led government. "We also so hope that that same level of intrusion will be made when it comes to the US$25 million, that same level of intrusion will be made when it comes to the missing LD16 billion and other bread and butter issues, that same level of intrusion will be made when it comes to the threat the President makes against peaceful citizens of this country, the same intrusion will be made when it comes on the attacks on Honorable Yekeh Korluba or Senator Dillon or Henry Costa or Mo Ali or all of us. We welcome their intrusion but we want it to go further than that."

The hours leading into Monday was mired in confusion as the diplomatic community, engaged in back-and-forth negotiations with both the government and the COP, fought to avoid an ugly situation, fearing that things could turn violent.

"They had said today would be war, clearly there is no war today. There will be no more war in this country. Peace will reign in this country," Mr. Costa boasted, in apparent attempt to allay the fears of the international partners.

Late Sunday, the Over Seas Advisory Council (OSAC) of the U.S. State Department cautioned that the Government of Liberia's reaction toward protesters and the orderliness could play a major role in determining scale, duration, and potential escalation of the protest.

Diplomatic Jitters Ahead of 12:30

The OSAC could not overrule the possibility of what is intended to be a peaceful protest from escalating into violence. The Advisory Council, therefore, urged that "given limited or reduced local security and emergency response capabilities, security managers should review their duty of care to foreign and local staff, including understanding what organizational resources they can provide to protect their personnel and operations. Ensure sufficient supplies including food, water, and fuel are available in case of prolonged unrest or disruption of commercial services. Contingency plans should include accountability protocols, shelter-in-place scenarios, use of redundant communications systems, and crowd avoidance techniques. Many in-countries private-sector organizations have bolstered physical security measures to deter crime and are reviewing these in light of potential unrest."

Things became even more complicated when just minutes before midnight Sunday, a senior Weah government official leaked an unsigned copy of a statement, said to be from key development partners - US, EU, ECOWAS and UN, calling on the Council of Patriots not to continue with the December 30 demonstration until January 12, 2020 when the Government of Liberia shall be fully prepared to provide security and logistical support.

In a joint statement, the stakeholders said: "We strongly encourage the Council of Patriots to shift their demonstration to this Sunday January 5, and various counter-protesters to shift their demonstrations to Sunday, January 12, at the large venues offered by the government, in order to ensure that the rights of all Liberia's citizens are equally respected. We, your partners, strongly endorse this plan and look forward to those successful and peaceful gatherings, supported and protected by your government."

The stakeholders cited that fact that Liberia has witnessed important democratic milestones of hosting peaceful elections, debates, dialogues, and demonstrations. "These are all important elements that strengthen the country's core institutions."

Although the Weah administration had earlier said it would provide security for the protest, last-minute jitters appear to have prompted a different approach from the government as the foreign missions urged the COP to comply with the proposed date from the government in the interest of keeping the peace in the country.

Senator Abraham Darius Dillon, a member of the COP said the organization is rejecting the new date proposed by the government because it falls on the first Sunday of the new year.

Said Senator Dillon: "Liberia, being founded on a Christian principle, Sunday is a religious day in our country and to protest on Sunday is not feasible. If we to come out and demand accountability from our government, it will not be on a Sunday and we will even advise, it will never be on a Friday again - because it's a Muslim day, since we are taking the religious aspect into consideration. The 5th of January is not feasible, we are demanding the 6th. This protest is not canceled, it is only postponed on the intervention of the international partners."

In a way, Senator Dillon averred, that the postponement may have been the intervention of God. "Too many evil things were being planned. Most of us here know that a lot of things were being planned. We see this as a divine intervention. We will not protest in a stadium, we will not gather in a stadium, our international partners should understand that."

Like Mr. Costa, Senator Dillon implore on the international partners to see reason to prevail on President Weah to do what is right for Liberia and Liberians. "We welcome the intervention of our international partners, we take it back to them however that the economic hardship, the bad governance, all of the issues surrounding the reason why we decided to come and protest in a reasonable and peaceful manner, the suffering of the Liberian people, we lay it bare and squarely on the feet of our international partners on whose intrusion, in a positive way though, we are yielding today. Our Liberian people are looking to us, our Liberian people, we will call on them to remain calm, peaceful and orderly. Do not take the risk of your lives, look up to us, trust us to lead you and guide you constructively and in a positive way."

For COP, the failure of what has now been dubbed and marketed as the 12:30 protest, to takeoff is a result of an international community that may have crossed the line. "The United States Ambassador Madam Christine Elder, the EU Ambassador, the UN resident Coordinator and the ECOWAS representative - all four of them had decided to get involved with the planned peaceful assembly of December 30th protest which is today. They said, they went to the government and made the case to the government that it was not acceptable that the government had decided to defer or postpone the exercise of a constitutional right. These four senior foreign diplomats said to us, that they made the case to the government that the government could not arbitrarily decide to postpone the rights of citizens to assemble, therefore they said that the government made the case to them that they did not have the logistics or manpower to provide protection for us for our peaceful assembly today."

Mr. Costa said the fact that Liberians woke up to a peaceful Monrovia, just as they did on June 7, is a testament to COP's ability to hold its nerve and control its supporters. "Monrovia is peaceful and quiet and businesses are closed; that nobody is hurt and God willing nobody would be hurt, is a celebration of our democracy that the people of this country, the men and women of Liberia, the members of this organization, refuse to be compromised, refused to be brought, insist that our demands be met, that the protest will be held and has not been cancelled, it is a victory for us, the Liberian people."

Taking a line from late US President John F. Kennedy, Mr. Costa said: "One of my favorite American President once said, those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. So, we must have the right to exercise our right in a peaceful fashion.

Weekday Protest Out of Question, Govt. Says

With the 12:30 protest now put off to another day, many are unsure whether the Weah administration would accept COP's rejection of Sunday, January 5th and allow - or at least have the logistic and security to offer protection in the future.

Late Sunday, the Ministry of Justice, in a statement appear to offer a hint that the COP's rejection could run into problems, suggesting that protesting on a working day is out of the question.

The Ministry wrote: "In democracies around the world, it is common practice for the organizers of large public gatherings of all kinds to seek permission from governments as to the venue and time-frame of said gathering. International governments then adjudicate the application for a mass gathering, on a non-political basis, on the grounds of scale, duration, purpose of demonstration, as well as impact on the rights of other citizens to access schools, hospitals, workplaces, courts and other necessary elements of daily life. When the government ultimately issues its permits for the public gatherings at times alternate logistical arrangements that differ from the original request will be offered, for example when the duties of the state to balance the rights of all citizens takes precedence over the preference of one group. For example, in general mass demonstrations should not take place on weekdays on a capital city's main roadway when to do so would cause greatest disruption to educational, governmental and healthcare functions and commercial activities."

The ministry's statement was earlier bolstered by President Weah, who while worshiping at the Georgia Patten United Methodist Church on Sunday, urged citizens and residents to go about their normal activities including work, business amongst other regular chores as he assured Liberians that his administration, which was elected democratically will stay its course until he ends his democratic tenure. "The state will be protected by me," the President emphasized. "Go about your normal activities. Our constitution is cleared about peaceful assembly. No protest is going to take place."

Sunday Protest 'Unacceptable', Says COP

On Monday, Mr. Costa made it clear, that the government terms backed by the international community is unacceptable. "They've proposed January the 5th. January the 5th would be the first Sunday in the new year 2020. It is a very important date for many of our brothers and sisters who happen to be of the Christian faith. Out of respect for them, we have decided that January the 5th is not tenable, not acceptable to the COP. Therefore, we are proposing January the 6th 2020 - that is the day the Council of Patriots wishes to assemble. We also want to state very clearly that we refused the government's proposal that we assemble in a stadium for a protest. Never before, perhaps you have read it somewhere but we haven't - there has never been any protest in the world where people gather in a stadium."

For many political observers, the protest that failed to take off Monday illustrate the undue influence international stakeholders, particularly the United States of America continue to have on Liberia's domestic affairs. "The international community - they are the ones who did this, they are the ones who got involved," Mr. Costa lamented.

He added: "Let's be clear, the Americans, whether you like it or not, is there anybody in this room who does not know how much influence the international community has in this country? When you stump your toe right now, America, when you sneeze, America. These people brought men and women in uniform during the war. We are not cancelling the protest, we are only telling you that due to security concerns, we have intelligence that if the state does not provide you with security, there will be trouble, we are simply asking you to defer the protest to a date when the government is able to provide security. It is an intrusion which is true because Liberia is a sovereign state."

In the end, in the eyes of international stakeholders, it all came down to how prepared the Liberian government was to protect its citizens - and most importantly, those looking to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard to the Weah-led government.

The Ministry of Justice insists: "In no democracy in the world do rights exist in a vacuum or without responsibilities. The government of Liberia will continue to endeavor to protect and defend the rights of all her citizens in line with the constitution of Liberia."

For the COP, Monday's called off protest is in itself an opportunity to live to protest another day. "We want to make it categorically clear that it has not made any decision to call off the protest of today," Mr. Costa said while insisting: "It is the intrusion of our foreign friends which they say because of our safety and the threat level in the country and the attacks you have been seeing happening against members of the COP and ordinary Liberian citizens, they fear that without government security protection for thousands of people, that when we do assemble the government would provide security; so that if anything should happen, we the COP will not be blamed."

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