June 7 Save The State Protest: If There Will Be A Dialogue, Let It Be About The People, Not The Organizers

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The Editor,

In analyzing state power and resistance in Liberia’s political history, particularly over the last decade plus, I am  constantly reminded that, resistance can be complicit in reproducing domination, if its only goal is to work within the structures of the power it seeks to resist. 

The political history of the last decade plus is replete with examples of many a critic of the past administration who ceased to be critical when they gained access to the corridors of power. Some were appointed to serve in strategic executive positions while others played more latent roles serving as advisors. 

The problem however does not lie with the inclusion of critical voices in government. For it is said that the best place to change a system is from within. This point is both relative and very debatable and may unnecessarily bog us down should we seek to expatiate further. Rather, what is problematic about this lies in the question, what happens to those voices when they secure seats at the dining table of the state? More often than not they go into self-imposed censorship. They become loudly silent! This trend drains the reservoir of critical voices of its sap and reinforces the popular perception that some are only critical when they have not been welcomed to share in the spoils of power.

There should not be much difficulty in comprehending why critical voices co-opted by government go silent or in some cases are rebirthed as some of the most unapologetic defenders of the very government they were once critical. Certain levels of participation guarantee distribution of benefits and the need to secure such benefits demand an aligning of opinion and observation on existing realities.  

But critical voices do not invent the situations on which they anchor their  criticisms of governance. Those criticisms find their original expressions in the objective realities that citizens confront on a day to day basis. While critical voices are necessary for giving structure to and lending wider dissemination to the criticisms  of governance through their articulations, the critical views are products of the lived experiences of the people whose voices are not necessarily publicly heard. They constitute the masses!

The organizers of the planned “7 June Save The State” protest must be given due credit for sharpening the consciousness of the people. However, they are only the faces of the protest, the people are its backbone without whom it will crumble. It is the people en masse who suffer from the declining economic situation, the accelerating inflation, the debilitating effects of corruption and poverty, and the growing sense of insecurity that is visited upon them from brazen threats to the peace by so-called “ex-generals.”  

When the government,  surreptitiously debits monies from accounts funded by donor partners and meant for projects that should directly impact on the wellbeing of the common citizens such as the Liberia Social Safety Nets Project, Liberia Urban Water Supply Project, Ebola Emergency Response Project, among others, it is the people that suffer. 

This is why we believe, that any dialogue between the Government of President Manneh Weah and the organizers of the protest must be expanded to include such stakeholders as the Inter-faith Council of Liberia; the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU); the Civil Servants Association; the Marketing Association of Liberia; the University of Liberia Faculty Association (ULFA) and such other stakeholders as may be necessary to build confidence in the dialogue. 

Some have already begun to impute self-seeking motives to the protest. We have read from the Social Media and other informational spaces, that people organizing the protest are only doing so because they are not in control of government. Some even bring the worn out congo-country binary to make a point that the Manneh Weah administration is being severely criticized because he is an indigene. These claims are at best unreasonable and will not be taken seriously by any keen observer of the regression governance in Liberia is experiencing currently. We don’t believe such claim.

To provide further assurances that the protest is not about the interest of a few individuals, it would be a good example, were its organizers to honor the call by the president to dialogue.

It the spirit of concretizing the outcomes of the dialogue, whatever they may be, should the dialogue happen in the first place, we make the following recommendations to both the organizers of the planned protest (The Council of Patriots) and the Government of Liberia:

That the dialogue be expanded to include such stakeholders as the Inter-faith Council of Liberia; the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU); the Civil Servants Association; the Marketing Association of Liberia; the University of Liberia Faculty Association (ULFA), representatives of ECOWAS, AU, and the UN, as well as such other stakeholders as may be necessary to build confidence in the dialogue;

That a communique outlining the points and issues discussed at the dialogue be prepared, signed by the main stakeholders and issued to the press immediately following;

That such communique must contain concrete commitments from the government that focus on clear, cogent and urgent measures to address the issues that will be discussed including measures on anti-corruption and accountability and transparency in governance, economic growth, national security, among others;

Liberia can grow from our collective effort or bleed from our collective stab. Let’s choose the earlier.

Baba Sillah

[email protected]

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