MONROVIA – Decontee Weah, a local petty trader selling at Waterside Market, who never anticipated leaving her goods two days ago, had to run for her life and hide in a nearby store when rumors of gunmen in the market broke out, leaving marketers in disarray. She stated that due to the previous chaos caused by rumors, before the announcement of electoral results, the entire market could turn into a ghost town, as everyone might leave out of fear.
By Mae Azango, [email protected]
Sitting at her market table, she explained what led to the chaos that contributed to making the famous Waterside Market deserted before 4 p.m.
“There was a misunderstanding between two ‘zogo’ boys, which led to fighting. Some auction women ran toward them, shouting, ‘They are coming!’ and, out of fear, everyone started running towards us. I left my market and sought refuge inside a Fulani woman’s store,” she said.
“Before NEC starts announcing results, the market can become empty like a ghost town due to fear. Everyone might leave the market because the bike boys could be saying that the party people will come and cause trouble,” she added.
Ms. Weah said she was very scared because she had never experienced war before, having been in Ghana during the Liberian civil war.
“Do you think if a war was happening, people would be able to pack their goods before running? We would be fighting for our lives,” she said.
William S. Cooper, Chairman for street vendors on Michelin Street, never expected to leave his business in Waterside to pick up his son from Cathedral Catholic School when rumors of gunmen approaching the Waterside market broke.
He stated that he saw people running from Down Waterside hill towards them, shouting, ‘They are coming!’ When he saw a little girl running in their direction and asked her what was happening, he said the only thing the child did was make a throat-slitting gesture with her hand, which he demonstrated and it scared him.
“She even repeated the throat-slitting sign to the people in the tailor shop. Right away, I told my nephew to pack my goods while I ran to pick up my son from school. When I arrived at my son’s campus, I saw other parents also running to get their children due to fear. Upon my return, people had different stories. Some said it was the former rebel, ‘General Power,’ who was walking in the market, but it was just hearsay and nothing was verified,” he said.
He further lamented that after Monday’s event, the following morning, other schools sent their kids home, but Cathedral School was administering tests to their students.
“Therefore, I am appealing to the Ministry of Education that our children should stay home until after the entire election period because it is fearful to worry about the safety of our children while selling. People were calling to ask me if there was a war in Waterside, and I told them it was a false alarm,” said Cooper.
Geraldine Henri, selling ladies’ beauty supplies, said they were selling their products peacefully and were concerned about attracting customers when suddenly, women came from Down the hill in Waterside Market and started shouting that war was coming.
“Right away, a customer buying from me dropped my goods and started running away. People were running and dropping their money and bags in the process. They said people were coming, but we could not see anybody coming,” she said.
She also said she could pack her goods and leave the market by 3 p.m. because, before the election results were announced, fear could take hold, as bike boys usually said that staying on the streets after the election results would be risky.
“The entire country is looking fearful because of this one election. For us to even get food money to feed our children, it is very hard because people are scared to spend the little money they have. We want this election to come and pass because the election results are making everything tight. As for me, my children’s school opened on the 17th, but I closed their school, so they are at home. I can’t be worrying about food for my children to eat and be worrying about their safety on campus. Because if a riot breaks out, when will I pack my goods to reach their school campus to pick them up,” she said.
The news of gunmen entering the Waterside Market spread like wildfire, causing people working in both private and public offices to be seen running to get home. In a telephone conversation, a friend working at the One UN House, the Pan African Plaza Building, said that due to the news, when she arrived from a meeting in the building, she found everybody closing up and fleeing the building, so she also followed suit.
At the Waterside Market, business appeared slow, with few buyers moving about while sellers called out, but the atmosphere looked tense.
Alexander Theo, a local vendor selling women handbags in Waterside, said it was a false alarm when people were running due to fear raised by some market women. He gave the same story of two ‘zogoes’ fighting and auction women running towards them, shouting, “They are coming ooo,” but they could not tell who was coming.
“For this reason, other people got scared and started packing their market. But when I went to find out, it was two ‘zogoes’ fighting. People started packing their goods as early as 3:00 p.m. to leave the market. I have been receiving calls from family and friends who said they heard there was shooting in the market, and I told them it was a false alarm,” he said.
Catherine Mulbah, also a seller, said that war was not in Waterside but the auction women started the panic when they ran from Down Waterside, shouting, “The people are coming.” They themselves started packing their market.
“We decided to ask what was happening, and a man said that something was happening in Red Light Market, so this was why people were running. That was fake news people were carrying around to say war was in Waterside. Let the children stay home until the elections are over because some of our children are small and cannot find their way home when anything breaks out. When this thing happened in Waterside, my heart was worried about my children,” she said.
Samuel S. Boikai, also selling women blouses in Waterside, said people told him that because Eugene Falgon said on Spoon FM that the National Army had split, it created panic among people who packed their goods and ran. He said it also happened the following day when they heard CDC partisans gathering at their party headquarters to celebrate pre-victory and also heard Unity Party was also gathering to celebrate, so people were afraid that a clash was going to happen, and they started packing and running from the market.
“I believe the government should shut down Spoon FM until the election is over because we are living in fear due to what they post on Facebook, and this is putting fear in the citizens. My daughter’s school sent her home and said she should return after the elections. My main recommendation to the government is that all schools should close until after the entire elections,” he said.