Nearly three months of riotous public debates about a single day created into the minds of many people that Friday, June 7 “Save the Nation” Protest was a heaven-come-down event. Indeed, the debates over whether or not the protest was necessary consumed the Liberian discourse and left odd impressions about the day. Finally, it is all over—others say not completely over. Stalemate over last-minute demands are still lingering and portending possible showdown depending on what Government responsibility for security and order will react to those demands. The public, meanwhile, remains divided yet again over who’s to blame for the protesters’ petition remaining on its shell, as Our Special Correspondent reports.
The long-awaited protest finally took place on June 7 as agreed by the government of Liberia and the organizers of the protest dubbed, “the Council of Patriots”.
It was planned more than 65 days in advance. News of the protest took center stage of almost every discourse around the country. The organizers noted that the protest was going to be nationwide but that was not the case. Their stated purpose was to call the Government attention so some of the many “ills” in the country.
Prior to the much talk about June 7, there were lots of interventions from the government, ECOWAS, religious groups, the private sector as well as the UN and other bilateral partners. The most interesting meeting was held on May 14, the country’s Unification Day. Many Liberians were of the thought that there would have been a grand negotiation between both parties so as to halt the protest. But even with interventions of bilateral partners, the meeting ended up in a deadlock.
Calls from domestic actors including the Catholic Church in Liberia could not stop the protest from taking place. In a broadcast to the nation, the Church called on the organizers to understand the implications of their protest on the state of the economy as well as the implications of violence. Said the Catholic Church: “The country is still traumatized from more than a decade of civil war and that any form of violence during the protest would send the wrong signal”. Citing historical protest which took place between 1901 and 1951, the church noted that dialogue was the best option to resolving problems.
In spite of the numerous calls, the protest took place under what many termed as “peaceful” both in recognition of the role of the security apparatus including the police and the protesters themselves. Said Marie Kolleh an observer: “I was afraid to the extent that I told my children to stay indoors, but what I saw made me to believe that there is a high degree of tolerance from this government and the protesters”.
The politics of the protest did not play well for the organizers. With overwhelming publicity spanning more than 60 days, one would have thought that the four political parties ALP, ANC, LP and UP would have pulled a mammoth crowd as anticipated. Observers believe that the crowd was just around a small size of between 3000-3500 persons. Few even noted that the crowd was no different from what Henry Costa singlehandedly pulled during his arrival in the country few weeks ago. Benedictus Seyon, a regular Facebooker noted on his page: “4 political parties, three months of preparation, and you can’t pull 4,000 people self, what a shame? Even the UK Guardian Newspaper in their reportage, estimated the crowd to be around 4000 to 5000 persons.
In spite of the peaceful nature of the protest, it failed to yield the expected results that millions of Liberians anticipated on Friday. During meetings with Officials of Government, it was agreed that Vice President, Jewel Howard Taylor was going to receive the Petition from the protesters, but that didn’t work. The VP according to sources got sick few hours or a day before the protest. The government immediately dispatched few high-level officials including the Doyen of the Cabinet, Representative Edwin Snowe and ECOWAS’ Ambassador to receive the petition. But then, everything went wrong: A good protest gone bad.
The organizers at the first instance noted that they were not going to present their petition to the officials except the VP as was previously discussed. After some informal discussions, they agreed to present their petition. But as Henry Costa was about to read the statement, Wilmot Paye, the Chairman of Unity Party grabbed the microphone and demanded the unconditional and immediate released from prison of some individuals arrested by the Liberian National Police.
The organizers became muddled will one group calling for the reading of the petition, while the other insisting on the instant and categorical release of individuals arrested. Justice Minister Dean noted that those arrested will have to be given their day in court as oppose to releasing them outside the boundaries of the law. But the protesters insisted and booed the officials out of the Capitol Building where they had assembled.
With the petition not presented to the government, thousands of protesters became dismayed with the organizers citing egos, selfishness and political influence as the basis for not presenting their petition. “How can you insist that the government release people who allegedly committed crimes before presenting your petition? Was it a part of the petition or are we not law abiding enough” said George Forkpah a protesters who expressed his frustration over the attitude of the organizers.
The end game of the protest was not what many Liberians expected. No doubt, it was one of the best protests ever held after years of civil war, but the last-minute U-turn by the organizers killed the expectations of thousands of Liberians who felt insulted by the outcome. While the organizers insist that they will hold a press conference on Monday to read out their petition, there are others who believe that their time were wasted on Friday and going forward, they will “no longer participate in any protest with a confused bunch of people”.
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