EDITORIAL: Encouraging Signs of Peaceful June 7 Protest in Liberia

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TO PROTEST OR not to protest – that’s the question. But what has become more important to Liberians, being very conversant of our nasty historical past is maintaining the peace that was regained with lives and blood of other compatriots. 

THE JUNE 7 ‘Save the State’ protest is carved in stone, the organizers have said. Branded under the banner, Council of Patriots, their aim, according to them, is to ensure that the CDC-led government lives up to its social responsibilities towards citizens and ensure good governance and adherence to the Constitution of Liberia.

THE PRONOUNCEMENT of the protest has, however, irrespective of how good the intent seems to be, has caused panic amongst citizens residing here and in the diaspora. Their fear, of course is legitimate. It takes them back to the April 14, 1979 Rice Riot.  

THE PROGRESSIVE Alliance of Liberia called for a peaceful demonstration in Monrovia to protest the proposed price increase on rice. On April 14 about 2,000 activists began what was planned as a peaceful march on the Executive Mansion. The protest march swelled dramatically when the protesters were joined en route by more than 10,000 “back street boys,” causing the march to quickly degenerate into a disorderly mob of riot and destruction. 

WIDESPREAD LOOTING of retail stores and rice warehouses ensued with damage to private property estimated to have exceeded US$40 million. The government called in troops to reinforce police units in the capital, who were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the rioters. In 12 hours of violence in the city’s streets, at least 40 civilians were killed, and more than 500 were injured. Hundreds more were arrested.

THAT WAS THE beginning of Liberia’s nightmare, leading to subsequently almost two decades of colossal damages that might take the country forever to repair.

BEING A RESILIENT country, strides have been made in getting Liberia back on the track. These strides were made with enormous resources and sacrifice which have all summed up to help strengthen our democracy – one that is gradually becoming a success story in the region. 

PEACEFUL PROTEST is a tenet democracy itself. In an electoral democracy, protest provides an essential voice for minority groups.

THE CLASSIC THEORISTS of representational government recognized that universal suffrage and majority voting threaten to impose the ‘tyranny of the majority’ and override the rights of minorities. Protests are a vital corrective to majority rule.

The country and its citizenry are in trouble when the government become intolerant to protest. 

THIS IS WHY WE commend President George Weah for inviting the organizers of the ‘Save the State’ protest to sit and dialogue on their concerns for which they want to protest.

THIS IS RARE IN Africa, evident by the admittance of the Special Representative of the African Union Special Representative in Liberia when he said, “I represent the African Union here and that is our biggest challenge – to have Presidents sitting with their compatriots as we are having here.”

AMB. IBRAHIM KAMARA in his remarks at the meeting cautioned the Council of Patriots: “The Council of Patriots it is your right to demonstrate, it is the right of every Liberian, but what we are emphasizing here is to keep Liberia first. You have no other country other than Liberia.”

THE UNITED NATIONS Resident Coordinator in Liberia who hails from Sudan, Yacoub El Hillo, intimated that June 7 should “be supported and June 7 should be allowed to take course and June 7 should be given to the people of Liberia to actually petition their government in a peaceful, orderly and organized way that is conducted in close coordination with the appropriate authorities in the country.”

HE EXPRESSED OPTIMISM that June 7 would be peaceful based on his interaction with the organizers.

IRRESPECTIVE OF all these calls for peaceful protest, let’s be reminded – both the government, ordinary citizens and would-be protestors, that June 7 would only be peaceful if there is mutual respect at both ends and a cordial coordination between the security apparatus and the organizers of the protest.

WE BELIEVE IT IS INCUMBENT on the organizers of the ‘Save the State’ protest to properly, orderly and bearing in mind the rights of others who may not join the protest, control themselves in a fashion that would prove to our region that indeed Liberia’s democracy has come of age. 

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