Africa: Echoes From Mali - Is Anyone Listening?

A caricature of Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, known as IBK, being thrown off a chair by a soldier.

Popular street protests in Mali against corruption and misrule had continued for a protracted period. The protesters had called on the President to step down, which he refused to do. The protesters however remained adamant and, eventually, their mass action culminated in the sacking of the government by the country's military. As expected, the coup has been condemned by regional and continental bodies, namely the AU and ECOWAS and they have called for a return to constitutional rule. The military, for its part, has pledged to transition to constitutional rule in the shortest possible time, following the holding of elections.

What is important about the developments in Mali is that it bears strong echoes to the situation in Liberia. Since President Weah assumed office there have been several public protests against corruption, which have received hostile reaction from state security forces, which are said to include in their ranks ex-rebel fighters and ex generals of various defunct warring factions. Further, the steady rise in political violence perpetrated in the main by supporters of the ruling party with impunity is a topic of common and mounting public concern.

Additionally, the displayed nonchalance of the Police and the state security apparatus towards these developments is causing the build of tension, particularly as the countdown to the December 8 elections continues. The ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) has vowed to win back, at all costs, the Montserrado seat currently held by opposition politician Darius Dillon. Towards this end, President Weah has called on his officials to leave no stone unturned to ensure victory at the polls in December.

Finance Minister Samuel Tweah's lavish splurge of cash to marketeers and the public in the Fiama and other markets around Monrovia appeared to have been a response to President Weah's exhortations to his officials to go all out to ensure victory. These developments notwithstanding, it appears the public has been unmoved by President Weah's pronouncements as could be seen in the mass reception accorded to Senator Darius Dillon when he visited the Giblata slum neighborhood in Kla Town.

However, Dillon's popular reception triggered a violent response from CDC supporters who began to stone the crowd of Dillon's supporters. And this has been a consistent pattern of politically inspired violence carried out by supporters of the CDC. The recent violent episode in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County during which visiting opposition politicians Alexander Cummings and Rep. Yekeh Kolubah were stoned and asked to leave the county by ex-rebel general and now Superintendent, Kai Farley, is another example.

In all this, the Daily Observer has consistently urged President Weah to act decisively to bring to heel those party zealots who are fomenting violence. This is because such violence, left uncontrolled, will more likely than not trigger an equally violent response. One should never lose sight of the fact that Monrovia and increasingly Liberia is once again becoming awash with arms, mainly small arms, light caliber weapons and the locally manufactured ubiquitous single-barreled pistol.

Additionally, it should not be forgotten that thousands of the country's youth have been steeped in the gun culture along with a prolonged period of exposure to violence. Thus, threats of the use of force may not prove sufficient enough to deter a violent response to what appears to be state sponsored violence in view of the spate of violent incidents involving CDC supporters to and to which Police response has at best been feeble and ineffectual.

Moreover, economic conditions and hardships, growing worse by the day could, down the road, serve to trigger mass public protests. Against the backdrop of current experience, such protests could be violently suppressed. However there can be no guarantee that such violent response will serve to douse public anger. To the contrary, it may more likely than not further incense the people and spur them into active mass resistance of the kind witnessed in Mali recently that led to the downfall of the elected government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

It would augur well for officials of this government to draw lessons from ongoing developments in Mali. Currently, there are a number of Liberian troops serving Peace Keeping duties in that country and there can be no telling what impact such developments are likely to have on those troops. Recalling history, a group of young Sierra Leonean and Gambian soldiers returning from Peace Keeping duties in Liberia overthrew their respective governments.

Far from suggesting that such may obtain in Liberia, this newspaper is instead urging public officials including President Weah to draw lessons from those ongoing developments in Mali. In this regard, he will need to act to ensure that the upcoming December elections be violence free. If not, a free for all violent melee resulting in chaos and public disorder will prove tempting enough to provoke the military to intervene to restore order. And the potential danger is, once out of the barracks, getting the military to return may prove a daunting challenge.

However, the hard experience and bitter taste of military rule left in the mouths of Liberians leaves little room for public tolerance of any return to the past. And perhaps this can explain why Liberians have generally displayed tolerance and restraint even in the face of unprovoked violence and kept the peace even after the departure of UN Peace Keeping forces. However, the patience and tolerance of the Liberian people cannot and should not be taken for granted. Violent provocations by state-sponsored agents must come to an end forthwith.

The upcoming December elections will be a crucial test of President Weah's professed commitment to eschew violence especially in view of his call to his supporters to refrain from violence if they truly love him. Echoes from Mali, is anyone listening?

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