ONCE AGAIN, THE nation is flustered as a group of Liberians, representing the country’s opposition community, announced a street protest dubbed, “We Tire Suffering”. Each time a protest is announced in this country, nearly everyone gets nervous because of the violent nature of protests, with recollection centered on April 12, 1979. Though the April 12, 1979 protest was not nationally widespread, for it was centered only in Monrovia, it upset the long lingering social, economic and political nemeses that had afflicted the nation up to that date, and it sowed the seed of violent politics that culminated in the dethronement of a constitutionally elected government and subsequent incessant instability for nearly thirty nears.
SO, EVERY HONEST Liberian would agree that opposition protest or demonstration in this country is more than the exercise of the right to freedom and liberty; it also reverberates old memories and old wounds. And it invites national attention.
THUS, AS THE Liberian opposition community steps up efforts to register its disenchantment through the “We Tire Suffering” Protest, it behooves the independent media and civil society to sound a caveat and issue an advisement that would summon the conscience of the ruling establishment and the protesters not only to the frigidity of the peace but also the imperative of democratic norm and constitutional order.
THAT IS, THE protesters have all right to vent their embitterment through public demonstration over what they perceive to be political misrule triggering misery and want amongst the people of Liberia, and it is the obligation of Government to respect that right. Fortunately, the Government, through the Ministry of Justice, has accordingly granted the opposition a permit to protect.
HOWEVER, GRANTING A permit is one thing, and the ensuring that public safety officers on the ground behave orderly and accordingly is another. Let it be emphasized that the Government of Liberia has a political and moral obligation to protect the peace, while at the same time obliged to ensure the protesters’ exercise of right to protest does not inhibit the rights of the larger public or endanger the peace. It is often the thin line between both rights and obligations of protesters and the ruling establishment’s interest to preserving the peace that is often misunderstood and perverted, and which often leads to violence.
WHAT IS PETRIFYING is that all the noise about protests is coming not only the portal of a crucial election but also when Liberia’s democracy is widely believed to be maturing in the West African Sub-region and Africa at large. There are fears that protestation which is an acceptable democratic practice and norm could slip into chaos and melee and disrupt the maturity credential of the country’s democracy, and offset the gains made in the last two decades. This is why we contend that both the opposition and the Government need to take notice of this and demonstrate proper attitude towards and during the pending protest.
FIRSTLY, WE EXPECT that the opposition would conduct themselves as peacefully and orderly as possible. There are often infiltrations of protests and demonstrations by criminal minded elements whose intent is to loot and cause mayhem. At times, the organizers themselves become so emotionally charged that they intentionally push their foot soldiers in harms’ way against armed state security operatives. In other instances, the organizers lose control over the mass of people, mainly rowdy youth, who act contrary to the established procedures and intent of the protest.
THE ORGANIZERS ARE therefore under obligation to take leadership, to ensure that when they prosecute their protest, they would do so within the confines of the law. There must be mechanisms to ward off infiltrators and take absolute charge of things, including potential marauding elements.
SECOND, TO THE Government, we seek constraint and flexibility despite the granting of permit. Let the ruling class and their apologists remember that public protests are a building block of sustainable democracy. The Constitution of this Oldest African Republic is clear on citizens’ right to hold their government accountable and to demonstrate and protest if they so desire. It therefore need to pass on a straight order to law enforcers in the streets to behave.
IT MUST BE NOTED that being heavy-handed, cracking down on protesters or acquiescing let alone supporting parallel protests is unhealthy. These are some of the past undemocratic and chaos-laden attitudes that not only proved that that political administrations in this country were tyrannical and autocratic. We call on the Government to provide security corridors, and if possible provide water and food, to the protesters as was done in a previous incident months ago.
WITH THE CRUCIAL 2023 general and presidential elections in the offing, ordinary Liberians and the international community look forward to a process that add to and bolster the democratic and human rights credential of Liberia. It would be a huge distraction and minus if a day of protest was left to ruin the prospects everyone wants to cherish—sustainable democracy and peace, and an oasis of freedom and liberty.