Liberia: The Zwedru Fallout - As Government Commissions Probe, Clergy Alarms Over Growing Atmosphere of Violence


Monrovia — Shortly after 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) came under attack in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, while on their way back from Maryland County last Thursday, Presidential aide Sekou Kalasco Damaro changed his Facebook profile photo to that of former President Samuel Kanyon Doe.

Damaro's action triggered a wave of reaction, with many suggesting that his proximity to the Presidency meant the attack may have had the blessing of the Executive Branch of government.

Late President Doe hailed from Grand Gedeh County and many took the president's aide to task for trying to inflame tribal tension over the incident. Damaro would later defend his decision to change his profile photo, insinuating that changing his photograph to the former president's is not a crime.

The Tribal Fallout

ANC sympathizer, Mouna Farhat took Kalasco to task and came under fire for what some critics say was her indictment of member of the Mandingo ethnic group.

Farhat wrote: "The Mandingo people starting again." This other Mandingo man just want to bring trouble for his people. He has joined the people from Grand Gedeh to start trouble. This is how problem starts. The thing that Doe couldn't finish, that Weah will finish it? Liberians should not sit down this time around for these unscrupulous people to cause trouble again. Charles Taylor is sitting down in jail somewhere while these people are causing trouble. This time y'all will have nobody to blame. We forgot that Liberia was sitting on a time bomb waiting to explode in 1990. Now, It's starting all over again right before our eyes. Let the elders from the Mandingo tribe warn Sekou Kalasco Damaro. The chicken change he's getting from Weah, not all Mandingo people are eating it with him. Let the elders from Grand Gedeh warn their people. Remember when a Ghanaian pastor prophesied that there will be another war in Liberia? Weah is doing everything that Doe did. Don't know why Liberians voted for this troublemaker. Weah is our biggest problem."

Ms. Farhat would later issue an apology, suggesting that her comments were taken out of context. "I want to apologize to all my brothers and sisters of the Mandingo community who may have been hurt by my statement. It is unfortunate that my statement has been taken out of context. My comment was a sober reflection of our recent dark history and I wish I had chosen my words differently. I didn't' mean to indict the entire Mandingo tribe."

The issue was compounded the same day by another controversial post by Mr. Eugene Fahngon, Deputy Minister of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism who wrote: "Racoon Supposed to Know Le Stick to Clean His Butt on... Go and Try Palm Tree Again, Ehn You say Da You alone Crazy?," in what some says was an apparent reference to Rep. Kolubah, in retaliation of his many public insults and ridicule of President George Weah.

Rev. Reeves Laments Return to 'Unforgettable Nightmare'

The fallout from has since triggered a wave of reactions.

In a Pastoral letter delivered Sunday, on his first return to the pulpit since the deadly Covid-19 forced the closure of churches, Rev. Dr. Samuel B. Reeves, Jr. of the Providence Baptist Church declared that Liberia cannot afford to return to such an unforgettable nightmare. "The ensuing violent clashes should claim our utmost attention, whether members of the ruling party, the government of Liberia or the opposition community. With these growing waves of sponsored violence across the country, especially the recent one in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County in the wake of the 8th December 2020 Senatorial elections; I call on the President, His Excellency; Dr. George M. Weah to address these fearful and tragic acts that have the potential to derail this nation's hard-earned peace."

Rev. Reeves said, as Head of State and of Government, President Weah is backed by the Constitution to protect the peace of the Nation. Thus, that burden rest solely upon him to instill peace in the minds of the citizens, including officials of government and members of the opposition.

Rev. Reeves said it saddens him to see Liberians engaging in all forms of violence include physical and verbal attacks. "This, we believe, Mr. President, must be brought to check."

The clergyman added: "The recent utterances from some officials in government, on the radio, the media, on Facebook, are beginning to send discomfort and fears in the hearts of the

people; as our President, these officials are directly accountable to you and as such you are clothed with the responsibility to bring them to check when their utterances undermine you personally, your government and our peace."

The Inter-religious Council of Liberia which has of late come under fire for not speaking truth to power, strongly condemned the attack on Mr. Cummings District No. 10 Representative, Kolubah.

The IRCL, a conglomeration of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) and National Muslim Council of Liberia (NMCL) also urged the government through the Ministry of Justice for a speedy investigation and subsequent lawful action on the perpetrators. We call on the Government to create the necessary atmosphere for the peaceful conduct of the mid-term Senatorial election in December 2020.

Separately the Catholic Diocese of Cape Palmas, whose pastoral and administrative jurisdiction cover the five counties of the southeast of Liberia, expressed grave concerns about the incident of intimidation and threats of violence by some residents of Zwedru.

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."

In the face of these presenting threats to our collective peace and security, the Diocese said, silence, including from the Church or State, offers the wrong signal to the perpetrators that their actions are acceptable, and makes us collectively complicit. "Hence, we feel compelled to speak out against this danger, and urge the political leaders of the country, and those blessed with the authority to uphold, protect, and preserve the law, to do so without fear or favor. We cannot fail within this regard because failure to preserve the law, and protect all citizens irrespective of differences in tribe, gender or political association, is actually an invitation to the breakdown of the society and the return to lawlessness."

Govt Commissions Probe; Some Skeptical

Amid growing criticisms, perceptions and suspicions surrounding the attacks, the government through the Ministry of Justice finally addressed the issue at the weekend, announcing that it had commissioned an investigation. "Having conducted preliminary investigation into circumstances that led to an attack on opposition leader Alexander Cummings and his entourage in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Justice, has commissioned a full scale probe into the incident, while condemning the appalling violence," the statement said.

The MoJ said Grand Gedeh Superintendent Kai Farley has been summoned to Monrovia to assist in the probe.

The Ministry, however, notes the fact that the Cummings delegation safely visited several other counties without incident, a clear indication that the Government is committed to protecting all its citizens, regardless of their political persuasion. "The rights to free movement and political assembly are fundamentally guaranteed by the Liberian constitution. The government will continue to ensure that these rights are protected at all times."

The MoJ also noted that as the country moves closer to elections in December, the Justice Ministry assures the public that it is employing additional measures that will ensure security for all those engaging in political campaign activities.

Some Liberians took to the social medium Facebook to welcome the decision of the government to investigate the Zwedru attack.

Mr. Patrick Mbayo, a former Deputy Minister of Labor wrote: "The GOL has done the right thing by instituting a probe into the Grand Gedeh incident which saw the local government of Grand Gedeh attempting to restrain opposition leader Mr. Cummings and his entourage from the exercise of their right to free movement as guaranteed by the constitution of Liberia. This is laudable, and hopefully we can all learn to peacefully coexist as Liberians no matter our differences. Liberia, One Nation, Indivisible, with Justice and Liberty for all!"

But others like UK-based Douglas Farngolo are skeptical, owing to the government's record of setting up investigative commissions with no meaningful outcomes. "Point to note: Launching of the probe has always been the government of Liberia's way of bringing a matter to a close. This government has a track record of never concluding an investigation neither disclosing its findings. Those wishing to see any action taken against the organizers and perpetrators of the attacks in Zwedru have a very long time wait. No one is being pessimistic here. We are only judging this government and holding its feet to the fire based on its past performances in similar regards."

ANC Draws Line of Demarcation on Tribalism

Whichever direction the saga turns, the fallout appears to have reignited an ethnic divide and the ANC was forced to issue a statement distancing itself from Farhat's comments, declaring that it does not support any form of tribalism.

The statement signed by its National Secretary General Aloysious Toe states:

"Tribalism, whether practiced or exhibited against a person or group of people is wrong and unacceptable. This recent violent incident that occurred in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County on Thursday, July 30, 2020 against our political leader and Chairman of the CPP and ANC, is no justification to attack any person or group of people based on their tribe. The ANC is a political party for all Liberians, and disassociates itself from all derogatory and tribalist statement statements or comments made on social media or any other forum- especially those made about our Mandingo and Krahn brothers and sisters. Finally, we strongly resist any attempt to ascribe negative tribalist connection to any actions of a person or group of people. We denounce this as backward thinking and aske all of our members and supporters to desist from such behavior."

On both sides of the aisle, some political observers are calling for Liberians to move on from the fallout. "Since ANC issued statement, distancing itself from the divisive comment made by Amb Mouna Farhat and since she has apologized for her divisive comment, we should now move on,' wrote Nvassekie Konneh: "I hope lesson has been learnt by the lady, her party and any political party representatives in the future. We must understand that in the heat of political moments, politicians and their surrogates are prone to make statements which they are forced to walk back. This happens everywhere in the world, even in countries of advanced democracy. So let's move on, hoping that what happened in Grand Gedeh should not be repeated anywhere in Liberia."

With respect to Sekou Kalasco Damaro using President Doe's photo as a profile photo, Konneh suggests it may have been a mere coincidence with the violence perpetrated against ANC and CPP entourage in Grand Gedeh by CDC supporters. "Over the years between March 2014 and now, Sekou Kalasco Damaro has used president Doe's pictures as either his profile or cover photos several times. To some of us, Doe was indeed a tyrant and divisive figure whose appetite for power dragged the country to war. To others, he's a heroic figure."

For the immediate future, some diplomatic observers are monitoring the situation keenly to see how much of an impact the fallout could have on Liberia's post-war democratic transition. As one, speaking on condition of anonymity Sunday, clearly put it: "The government should go beyond the usual investigation this time around in a bid to prevent future incidents from happening. "The simple thing is for the leadership to issue a statement to denounce the violent and criminal behavior. Anything short of that I'm afraid, we are likely to see such attacks popping up again, which is not good for Liberia's future."

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