DELIVERING HIS special message on the occasion of the observance of the 173 Independence Anniversary of Liberia, President George Weah called on Liberians to put aside their political, religious and social differences for the good of the country. "We are one people, who pledge allegiance to the same flag," the President said.
A WEEK LATER, the country President Weah governs was plunged into yet another violent turn, dealing a painful reminder of Liberia's bitter past, just when the post-war nation is nurturing its bourgeoning democracy.
IT ALL STARTED early Thursday morning when some residents in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, the home of late President Samuel Kanyon Doe, launched an attack on Mr. Alexander Cummings, leader of the Collaboration of Political Parties(CPP) and the Alternative National Congress(ANC) and Representative Yekeh Kolubah(ANC, District No. 10, Montserrado County), while on their way back from Maryland County where they had traveled to celebrate the 173rd Independence anniversary of Africa's oldest republic.
OVER THE PAST DECADE, Africa's oldest republic has held three successive elections, and one successful transfer of power from one government to the next.
WHEN FORMER PRESIDENT Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf transferred power to Mr. Weah in January 2018, it was the first time in 75 years that presidential power had been transferred peacefully and democratically in Liberia.
THE TRANSFER BEFORE in 1944, saw William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman receive the baton from his predecessor Edwin Barclay.
TUBMAN was elected unopposed and went on the rule for 27 years until his death in a London hospital on July 23, 1971.
BUT EVEN AMID THAT TRANSITION, Liberia remains a fragile state. Institutions are still young and are being tested, and resources remain scarce. Nations in a state of fragility, particularly post-conflict nations, need special attention and support.
THIS FRAGILITY was made even more complicated following last Thursday's attack. Mr. Cummings believes that the attacks were orchestrated by the county government. "To come to Grand Gedeh and to have rock throwing, threatening our lives. It's just unacceptable. We have a constitutional right to be here, to express our points of view, we did so peacefully. And to have some Grand Gedeans - and I believe this was orchestrated, this was not spontaneous, to come and threaten us, it is just unacceptable. This is not the Liberia we all want to live in, we all are striving for, we all trying to improve."
KAI FARLEY, Superintendent of the county, told FrontPageAfrica after the incident that it is unfortunate that Mr. Cummings) would say that as a political leader of an institution. "For Hon. Cummings to say I came forcibly asking him out of the county-that is not true. It was something that was suggested by the Deputy Police commander in the county in the presence of Hon. Cummings. Hon. Cummings even asked me, but what's your suggestion? And I told him that based upon the advice of the Joint Security; I think that this is something that we should go by".
THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH has not said a word since the incident took place although the activities of two officials on the social medium Facebook are raising eyebrows, triggering concerns from the opposition community that the attacks may have the backing of the administration.
Deputy Information Minister Eugene Fahngon posted on Facebook Thursday: "Racoon Supposed to Know Le Stick to Clean His Butt on... Go and Try Palm Tree Again, Ehn You say Da You alone Crazy?"
Also, Presidential aide Sekou Kalasco Damaro changed his profile photo to that of former President Samuel Kanyon Doe, who hailed from Grand Gedeh County. Damaro defended the post insinuating that changing his photograph to the former president's is not a crime.
PRESIDENT WEAH owes it to Liberia as its leader to put his officials in check, especially within close proximity to him.
THE FAILURE of the administration to speak on the issue is getting the attention of stakeholders.
AT THE WEEKEND, the Catholic Diocese of Cape Palmas, whose pastoral and administrative jurisdiction cover the five counties of the southeast of Liberia, has expressed grave concerns about the incident of intimidation and threats of violence by some residents of Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County against a political grouping of Liberians exercising its constitutional rights to free movement and peaceful assembly, which occurred on July 30, 2020.
IN A STATEMENT ISSUED in Monrovia Friday, the Cape Palmas Diocese described the attacks as a gross violation of the fundamental rights to free movement and peaceful assembly goes against the principle of political tolerance and peaceful co-existence despite differences of political association and ideology. "We have seen that when we become politically intolerant, we invite ourselves to breakdown and destroy, and undermine the foundations of Liberia's peace, stability and development," the statement said.
THE DIOCESE'S statement signed by Bishop Andrew Jagaye Karnley, said the response was necessary due to Liberia's tragic history that it is democratically unhealthy and portends danger to the peace and stability of the country.
SAID THE DIOCESE: "It also violates the fundamental rights of the members of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) and other collaborating opposition parties to free movement and peaceful assembly as enshrined in Chapter 3, Article 17 of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic Liberia which states, "All persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceful manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizqtions."
WE AGREE WITH the Diocese that in the face of these presenting threats to Liberia's collective peace and security , silence, including from the Church or State, offers the wrong signal to the perpetrators that their actions are acceptable, and makes us collectively complicit.
THE WEAH ADMINISTRATION must strive to always been seen as taking the high road, even against those perceived as enemies or strong critics of the administration.
FAILURE ON THE PART of the administration to respond is likely to open old wounds and disagreement that could plunge the country into chaos.
THE COUNCIL of Patriots (COP), organizers of last year's June 7 successful protest, has urged the administration to muster the courage to show leadership by condemning such actions and launch a full-scale investigation into the gravely disturbing matter. "The CoP believes that this is a calculated attempt ahead of the Special Senate Elections to intimidate the opposition through violent tactics. This will NOT work!" the statement said.
THE WEAH ADMINISTRATION must sanction a fair and impartial investigation and erase the perceptions in the air that it approved of the attacks on the opposition figures.
ALL THIS when many are concerned about the integrity of those appointed at the National Elections Commission (NEC) and their ability to oversee free, fair and transparent elections both in 2020 and 2023.
ACCEPTING THE 2018 Charles T. Manatt Democracy Award, shortly after leaving office, former President Sirleaf trumpeted that Liberia's successful political transition was reflective of Africa's quest for democracy. "It is a continuum of the continent's struggle for liberation and freedom. This is particularly important in Africa, where we tend to focus on elections and celebrate them as "the milestone." But, as it is often said, "elections do not a democracy make." We must look behind the process and examine the barriers that shut down competition before the campaigns ever start."
AFTER 173 OF INDEPENDENCE, Liberia is still struggling to find its footing. With every passing day, month, year or decade, new problems emerge, and new leaders or rulers arrive on the scene with lofty promises and ideas, pledging to be much better than the previous bunch of actors.
THE SAD REALITY is that the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same. As fragile as Liberia is at the moment, a lot remain uncertain. If the government cannot address unfolding developments, now compounded by an emerging political crisis that has the potential to disrupt the country's hard-fought peace, Liberia and the Weah administration may be sitting on a ticking time bomb on the verge of explosion.