Liberia: June 7 Saved the State Protest ‘Carved in Stone’; Organizers Defiant After Meeting with President Weah
Monrovia – Organizers of the upcoming June 7 Save the State Protest in Monrovia walked out of Tuesday’s Unification Day meeting with President George Manneh Weah unmoved, reiterating their primary concerns that the government should allow the protest to go on, while seeking protection to ensure things do not get out of hand. At the end of the tete-a-tete Tuesday afternoon, President Weah obliged, telling the Council of Patriots that if there’s no way to convince them to end the protest, his administration will ensure that it is guarded peacefully.
Analysis by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon, designated spokesperson for the protest had told the President that they attended the meeting out of respect for the highest office in the land to make a simple plea. “Our concern is to ask you to kindly permit that you uphold the constitution and guarantee our rights, beginning June 7 during which period we will present our grievances to you and the government for possible redress and this is our concern.
Prez. Weah: Why Wait for June 7?
The President responded: “If we reach to that point where we can’t seize the protest then the justice minister and our team will make sure they guide you in a very peaceful condition and atmosphere as we have done in the past because we have had more than two protests since we took office and both ended peacefully and that it is good for the country.”
The complex but somber tone of Tuesday’s deliberations climaxed a day many Liberians and political observers hoped would see some breakthrough, concessions or demands between the Save the State protest organizers and the president.
In the days leading to Tuesday’s meeting, some organizers had murmured a list of demands which included the resignation of Finance and Economic Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, who heads the government’s Economic Management Team and Central Bank Governor Nathaniel Patray; the establishment of a war crimes court and prosecution for those accused of stealing government money, notably the missing LD16 billion and the fate of US$25 million intended for infusion in the economy to curb the rising US dollar exchange rate on the market.
Those demands appear to be on the burner for a later date, preferably for COP, June 7 to be exact.
The perplexity of the dilemma that presented itself Tuesday mesmerized President Weah, prompting him to query COP: “What are you going to say in the streets that you cannot say on the table? The list you are going to present for someone to receive on June 7, you could have brought the list here- and so let us not think that going to the streets, if it’s not chaotic is already distracting businesses and you people going to school?”
Fears of the Unknown
The President’s sentiments were equally shared by Mr. Ibrahim B. Kamara, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union in Liberia who also wondered why COP did not come to the table Tuesday with a list of their grievances. “If you have your grievances, I thought that today COP will present their petition and come and demonstrate later. It’s your right, but here in front of this gathering, with all the eminence here, I think it’s time for us to dialogue. Nothing can move this country more than Liberians talking to one another.”
Drawing irony from his days in the opposition, President Weah reminded COP that he had to personally called off a number of protests for the sake of peace. “I called it off because it’s not in the interest of the country and this is why I did. Some protests were necessary but, in most cases, we had to call it off. I’m not saying that we are doing to stop protesters from protesting – I mean that’s the right to protest but what I’m saying is that is it necessary to protest?”
Fears of the unknown has been in the air for weeks with many unsure what to expect on June 7. How will the protest go about? What would government do to counter? How would protesters respond?
ECOWAS Envoy: ‘No Better Alternative Than to Die’
Ambassador Babatunde Olanrewaju Ajisomo, Special Representative of the President of the ECOWAS Commission to Liberia issued a cautionary reminder of Liberia’s recent history. “I want us to be reminded by this in the course of our negotiation, in the course of engagements because there is no better alternative than to die.”
Ambassador Ajisomo urged members of COP and Liberia’s political leaders to be guided by the supreme national interest of Liberia which is far bigger than the personal interest of anyone in this room.”
The ECOWAS Ambassador said the Tuesday’s meeting coming in the month of Ramadan which calls for the greatest virtues of love, peace, unity and forgiveness stresses the importance of dialogue. “When we bear this in mind, we then need to accord the highest level of priority to dialogue. And when we’re dialoguing, we need to be sincere. When we are dialoguing, we need to be bold, when we are dialoguing, we need to be mindful of our language. Our language should be civil, our language should d be polite, our language should be constructive and our language should be cordial. In terms of conflict prevention, you will also agree with me that EOCWAS lost good men in this country. Thousands of soldiers from Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Senegal lost their lives here for a crisis that they did not know anything about, for crisis that they were not privy to, but they came here to rescue their brothers and sisters.”
UN Envoy: ‘June 7 A Good Thing’
Mr. Yacoub El Hillo, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Liberia said the Unification Day tete-a-tete between President Weah and members of COP should send a clear message to the world that Liberians are using the force of logic to solve our differences and not the logic of force, “because when that was last tried in Liberia, we all know what happened here.”
Added Mr. El Hillo: “We know today that under the leadership of President Weah, any Liberian and all Liberians want to fight for peace and not fight any other war, except perhaps the war of development and prosperity. So it is in this context we commend the spirit with which this event was organized, for the importance you attach to it by the presence of the entire leadership of the Government of Liberia, H.E. the President, H.E. Vice President, the leadership of the legislature and the cabinet, and that is again another reminder that peace is paramount, that peace is a priority.”
Mr. El Hillo, however, expressed confidence that June 7 would be peaceful. “We engaged the leadership of the Council of Patriots, we say June 7 is a good thing; June 7 is actually a demonstration that government of Liberia which of course understands that there is an enshrined right in the Constitution for peaceful protest, that’s why June 7 should actually 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. I say this out of confidence that June 7 is going to be peaceful because the leadership of the Ministry of Justice, my brother Minister Dean, we have had several sittings in the last several months.”
The UN envoy explained that while there were some fiery language initially from organizers and supporters from both sides, when stakeholders, including the UN, ECOWAS and the African Union sat for conversations and discussion, they found out that it was actually among the Liberians, and the conversation was about how to ensure that tomorrow the demonstration is going to be peaceful and the demonstration stands out to be very peaceful, very orderly and very meaningful because they always came with a message that they are dealing with it in a very organized way.
AU Rep: Avoid Rwanda Here
This, Mr. El Hillo acknowledged, gives him the belief that June 7, despite all the sensation and all the dramatization that is accompanying it, would be yet another peaceful day. “If they have the opportunity that is given them by the Constitution to express whatever concern they have to their government…I just returned from my home country, Sudan, and I was actually sitting with the demonstrators. There is one difference in spite of what is happening there. What’s happening in Sudan is to through the power of the people remove a dictatorship that has been there for the last 30 years, we know that in Liberia the power of the people will peacefully petition and elected government and that is the difference we should always keep in mind.”
Mr. El Hillo’s contrast from his homeland to Liberia is something the AU’s Special Representative Kamara believes rings true for Liberia. “When you talk of difficulties in your country, go to other countries and see how difficult it is. My colleague here and friend Yacoub just ended by citing the difficulties in his country. Sometimes they say you don’t value peace until you lose it. We don’t want to lose peace here again for the second time.”
The AU representatives hoped that Liberia does not become another Rwanda. “Sometimes, I read the press in this country and I end up being very much disturbed. I listen to the radio and the discussion and the things that come out of it, it brings back to mind Rwanda and we hope and pray that does not happen in this country.”
COP: ‘June 7 is carved in stone!!’
Looking to allay the fears of the protest getting out of hand to rest, Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon, spokesperson for the COP said organizers are planning a peaceful protest and no one should interpret otherwise. ‘The peace and stability of this country is a paramount concern to all of us. Anybody making insinuations that the exercise of a democratic right is a threat to the peace that person is insinuating that they don’t respect the peace because when you remind people and deprive them from the exercise of their rights, sometimes the result can be bad. We do not intend to do so.
For the protest organizers, honoring the invitation of the President was a matter of respect for the highest office but the protest will go on.
“We stated that since the invitation was about the President to “hear your concern”, COP strictly said our SOLE and ONLY concern to the President and the government is to have the President commit to upholding the constitution and guaranteeing before the media, the UN, AU and ECOWAS that government will provide the enabling environment and security protection for citizens gathering beginning June 7 to express their grievances and petition the government for redress,” COP said in a statement late Tuesday.
At the end of a day trumpeting unification and signaling a sign of hope, political observers are still unsure what to expect. Yet, for the AU’s Kamara, Tuesday’s tete-a-tete offered a rare encounter seen on the continent of Africa. “The President you have today is a democrat. Things might be difficult in Liberia, but go to other neighboring countries. I represent the African Union here and that is our biggest challenge – to have Presidents sitting with their compatriots as we are having here.”