The Case for and against Henry P. Costa: Liberia’s New Patriot

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If there was ever a black nation with so much promise with so little results, Liberia is that nation.  Africa’s oldest black independent country, Liberia, is faced with a series of social and economic setbacks- albeit, more economic than social.   This is now shaking the core of the country and its stability: the disappearance of millions of dollars of unissued currencies, corruption and complacency slavering over its newly elected famous president George Weah.  But one man has mustered enough courage to call the president out and on June 7, staged one of the largest peaceful protest in the country’s history.  Only 36 years of age, and even much younger than Liberia’s current president, Henry Costa is commending the media respect and activism the like of which Liberian and the world have not seen, or at least since the Late Gabriel Bacchus Matthews, who is credited for developing a multi-party political system in Liberia.  

Costa is doing what opposition party leaders; season politicians and Liberia intelligentsia should be doing speaking up against corruption and arbitrary power.  His modest media studio in Monrovia reaches the largest audience of Liberians around the world.  For those who overlook this man, they do at their own peril.

Although Costa isn’t heavily-formally educated (with no fancy college degrees), he is articulate, sharp and unapologetic- especially toward Liberian inept past and present government officials.  Few days ago, he lambasted Liberia formal Auditor General, John S. Murlu, on his show publicly for failing to audit his own agency during the time he himself raised so much clatter about transparency in Government.  Liberia academic and political elites are used to praises and adorations, not accountability and scrutiny.  Therefore, they are outraged. 

The Case for Henry Costa

Henry P. Costal is not new to political controversies in Liberia, he is the host of one the most popular opinion radio shows, Root FM, which also transmit on Facebook Live that reaches a cross section of Liberia in and out the country.  He was jailed twice by the previous government of Ellen Johnson-Serleaf.  After backing the failed presidential candidate of Benoni Urey, a businessman and formal official of Charles Taylor’s Government, he pledged his support to the George Weah’s Government for about nine months.  Then, he backtracked, claiming the government was corrupt and president Weah and his team were grossly incompetent.  The Weah government retaliated by essentially pulling his radio station off the air for a little while.  He retreated from Liberia to the US and alerted the international media: BBC, VoA and other global media houses, and in May return to Liberia to stage the June 7th massive protest dubbed Save The State Protest, which paralyzed the nation and provoked the George Weah Government into blocking  internet and social media for an entire day. The rest is history. 

But who is Henry Costa is can he help bring an end to Liberia economic crises which will prevent the country from slipping in another protracted chaos? This is the million-dollar question.     

Having gained the respect of the Liberian people for his courage, he has set himself apart as an agent and voice for real change.  Although, the Weah Government and his supporters wished he would just go away it order for them to focus on turning the country around after inheriting and economic mess; Costa, or at least his popular movement, isn’t going anywhere.  By now the Liberia government should have come to terms with this practical knowledge.  Costa and many other Liberian opposition could be key to peace and progress in Liberia; therefore, Mr Weah should have by now arranged a “sit-down” with Mr. Costa and others to figure a way out.  That’s what great leaders do, sit with their critics and reconcile differences in order to lift the country up.    

First and foremost, Costa is a freelance journalist, commentator and activist, which guarantees his protection under international laws.  The world has no more tolerance for governments (no matter how powerful or popular) who harass and intimidate journalists.  Just ask former noble laureate and president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Serleaf, who attempted to silence the editor of one of the largest Liberian Newspapers, FrontPage Africa, by her kangaroo court sentencing him to a 5,000 years prison and millions of dollars in restitution.  She failed, as international journalist organization rained condemnation, and which secured his early release from prison. His new book, Journalist on Trial is a must read.  

I regularly listen to The Henry Costa Show and although it lacks an even exchange and there are hardly opposing views, the overall format and depth is enriching.  I also watched a few of his posts on YouTube and thought he is extremely bright and passionate.  What is most admirable about Costa is the he is no “big shot”; this makes him a man of the people.  He literally created the Council of Patriots, along with Darius Dillon, an astute Liberian bureaucrat with an implacable public service track record, and who is currently campaigning for a Senatorial position in Montserrado County (the capital seat) by-elections.  

Another Liberia patriots who is breaking away from the corrupt business-as-usual culture is Liberia’s House of Representative Member Yekeh Kolubah, who is also from the Montserrado district.  His folksy charm, red beret and down-to-earth style has made him the first Liberia member of parliament very popular with his people.  Like Julius Malema of South Africa’s LEA Party, Yekeh Kolubah, a real nationalist.  He can be blunt, honest and eloquent.  His participation in the June 7th protest has sent a resounding challenge to President Weah.  This in effects also generated what many Liberians now see as a politically motivated bogus criminal charges against representative Kolubah for an incident with his bodyguards.  Something for which he had nothing to do with, and something Liberian are troubled by: Liberian presidents continuous use of false accusations against charismatic opposition leaders or journalists (President Doe used it against Ellen Johnson-Serleaf and  Ellen Johnson-Serleaf tried to use it against Rodney Sieh and now George Weah against Yekeh Kolubah).  

Together, Costa and his band of patriots are like the ombudsman of the French Revolution.  The six-foot-tall, heavy-built and fiery Costa embodies the spirit and personality of Jean Paul Marat, the French journalist who is immortalized as the main voice and agitator of the French Revolution.  His courage and challenge to one of the most provocative and flamboyant newly elected presidents in Africa, George Weah, will go down in history.   

The Case Against Henry Costa

Meanwhile, Costa cause is not without flaws.  Costa is an idealist who is often angered, animated and sometimes his rhetoric a bit arrogant.  His mood and temperament unpredictable but seem to be a genuinely nice person who is overburdened by the woes of Liberia’s tribal and factional politics and economics.  And although he uses his daily morning show [The Henry Costa Show] to fight successive venal Liberian governments, he also allocates time on his show to call attention to humanitarian issue and to help raise money for the poor and disenfranchised.  He recently called attention to a young Liberian mother, who boyfriend’s body was discovered in his bosses’ swimming pool and raised thousands of dollars to fly another Liberian girl to China for a lifesaving surgery. 

Still, by and large, Costa and his show have one main objective and that is challenging corrupt Liberian presidents and their governments and in this regards he sometimes often fall short.  Having organized one of the greatest peaceful protests, many would think would have earned him a seat at Liberia political table.  Instead, there have been claims and counter claims within the CoP rank and file accusing him of misappropriation of funds and his lack of leadership.  The Minnesota-based Fadiga Brothers who also have a huge media online platform, although not as pervasive as The Henry Costa Show have distanced themselves from Costa and the CoP.  The Economic Freedom Fighters of Liberia (EFFL), a newly formed grassroot, young-energetic Liberians seeking economic reform has also distanced themselves from the CoP. 

Costa’s decision to not present the June 7th petition to a representative of the Government when President Weah or his Vice President was not available raised doubts about his leadership.  Some eminent Liberians think of him as egotistical, domineer and hypocritical.  Having once been an unabashed supporter of the Weah’s government raises suspicion of a disgruntle political cheerleader who didn’t get his way and is now upset.  

Costa has announced that he would likely run again for a parliament seat in 2022.  This places him amongst the hundreds if not thousands of Liberians who only means of bringing change to their country is by being a representative and thereby sharing in on the lucrative salaries which lawmakers and high government official award themselves.  

Another blow to the CoP came couple weeks ago when, Oscar Cooper, Senator of Margibi County held a press conference to announce he was resigning from the Council of Patriots and essentially bailing out of the cause even before it began.  This makes Costa the sole leader, although the COP is still backed by thousands of ordinary Liberians.  Costa in the recent press conference announced another round of protests beginning in July. 

Conclusion

While the June 7th Save the State Protest and the ensuing economic conditions which led to the protest in the first place is still well and alive, the momentum or at least his leadership is met with mixed reactions amongst Liberian these days.  Costa’s own role within the CoP, after losing key high-power members has not diminished but elevated.    And while he has done a remarkable job organizing a formidable opposition with teeth in Liberia, he has done a poor job keeping his leadership intact- at least, in terms of his original compatriots.  Whether this is due to inexperience, poor leadership or sheer egotism, only time will tell.  I have reached out to Costa as I often do to many Liberian leaders including President Weah but have yet to hear back from either of them as of the publication of this article.  In the meantime, we can only hope, wait and watch both the plays and the players. 

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