LIBERIA’S HARD-EARNED peace, stability and democratic consolidation over last 17 years is now left with chance as the people brace themselves for street protests and demonstrations threatened by citizen groups, reportedly including major opposition political parties. As the traditionally ominous month of April unfolds and news and spirited mixed reactions bellow in the air, citizens are flustered, not knowing what the future owes for the economically and politically beleaguered country.
ALREADY, THOSE PLANNING the demonstration which they scheduled for June 7, 2019 are beating their chests about their God-given and constitutionally sanctioned right to speak out, to assemble and to put out their grievances to their government. They are contending rather militantly that nothing can stand in the way of their right to protest and their right to assemble in public places. According to them, Liberia is misgoverned; everything is falling apart, as evidenced by widespread hardship and economic paralysis and that they would not sit aloof without bringing their contentions to the attention of a government in charge and the world at large.
ON THE OTHER hand, Government and its supporters are describing planned demonstrations as untimely, needless and mischievous, intended by “frustrated political” vanquishers to give false impressions about the state of things in the country and to thereby score political points. They contend that the harsh economic conditions in the country, created by some of the would-be demonstrators such as partisans of the former ruling Unity Party, are already being salvaged and cured by the current government which is less than two years in office. Those opposed to the demonstrations also posit that the true intent is sinister and unpatriotic in nature—giving the impressions to external partners, including investors, that Liberia is chaotic, ungovernable and unfit for business.
THE ORDINARY LIBERIANS and their silent peace are faced with a catch-22 situation: should the constitutional right to protest and speak out be brushed away or should it be exercised in a fragile situation that could ignite unlikely scenarios?
OUR CANDID ADVICE under the circumstance would be twofold. To the demonstrators and its planners, we want to say this: Street protests and demonstrations are not the only solution to pestering a ruling establishment to act properly. Liberia’s history of protests and demonstrations has been one of the horrors that increased bitterness amongst citizens. It would therefore be wiser to use alternative political actions in engaging Government.
WHILE THE DEMONSTRATORS have rights to protest, and it is true that things are truly taking on a bad shape lately, we all know that, historically, demonstrations are highly fluid and often degenerate into violence. Evil people often take advantage. Thus, we agree with those who say uprisings, whether violent or nonviolent, creates an odd image that prevents direct foreign investments and contributes to poverty and instability. Certainly, no good politician would desire this condition.
ON THE OTHER hand, and in case the demonstrators insist to jump in the streets, with or without official approval from the siting government, it is our plea that the Weah administration would provide security corridors and a congenial atmosphere for the event. That’s while, the government took oath to do: to protect all citizens and protect their constitutional rights.
IT SHOULD NOT be a big deal even when the Government provides the marchers with a matching band or more importantly with sufficient security guards and free corridors and let’s see how the opposition politicians who want to be leaders will conduct their demonstrations peacefully.
PRESIDENT WEAH MUST know that opposition politicians would take glory for being arrested and jailed. They get political dividends out of how they are handled by a sitting leader. It gives them the false appellation of being “political prisoners” who are persecuted for speaking out. And we all know how much popularity they will get and how popularity of opposition politicians gives them the chip to victory in subsequent elections.
IT WOULD THEREFORE be unwise were the Government to give the demonstrators and its planners prominence and deference they don’t deserve. Whatever they want to roam the streets must be given consistent with our laws and Constitution. It would not dwarf the sitting government’s popularity. But doing otherwise will diminish its popularity.
Liberians are not fools. They don’t elect people because they demonstrate or fund demonstrations. THE ONLY TIME the people might feel that the demonstrators and their funders have some substance to be elected is when the government of the day gives them undeserved credence—jailing them, charging them with trumped-up crimes and talking about them time over time.
TRULY, WE ARE in crucial times. Liberians and the international community are watching both ends of the aisle.