Will Mama Liberia Weep Again?


I cannot concentrate. I cannot work. I am just sitting behind my computer in my office and tears is dropping from my eyes once more. Some 40 years ago, on April 14, 1979, anarchy descended on Monrovia. It was the infamous “Rice Riot”. One of my Deans from the Salvation Army Polytechnic (T-SAP) narrates his ordeal: We were the ones protesting. My friend and I locked arms and were moving down the street. As we bend the curve, my friend quietly descended to the ground and my t-shirt got soaked with his blood.

By Dr. Emmanuel K. Urey, [email protected], Contributing Writer

He was short in the head. His head cracked open! I rushed across the road and looked back. I saw the blood oozing and it took me many years to recover from this trauma.” A Senator cautioning people against protest narrated on ELBC: “All the stores on Camp Johnson Road were beautifully built with glasses. The entire street used to be light up. I was the commander commanding that entire Camp Johnson Road. After the protest, people began to install iron doors and that road has never recovered since the 1979 Rice Riot.”

The following year, on April 12, 1980, Monrovia was quiet. President Tolbert was advised not to sleep at his Bentol home as there were rumors of threat on his life. He decided to sleep in the Executive Mansion.  On the night of April 12, 1980, President Tolbert, a President that was hopping to break away from Americo-Liberian Oligarchy for over 125 years was killed. The following week was a total chaos. Thirteen officials were tied on wooden poles. One man to one pole. Soldiers lined up. Each had a trigger to pull. Each former government official looked directly into the eyes of each soldier as thought the eyes could perform a miracle. Without any sense of humanity, the soldiers pulled their triggers. The sounds were heavy like thunders. Innocence blood splashed. The sand on the Popo Beach was soaked with human blood. The people standing by looked with mixed-feelings. Some saw it as a new day for Liberia while others questioned such brutality in the name of fighting corruption. The mightily ocean washed away the blood. In the decade that followed, corruption could become the order of the day. 

Gomue village. December 24, 1989. We were getting ready for Christmas celebration the next day. Grandma had just returned from the market with my new Christmas clothes. I tried the short yellow Maradona shorts. They were beautiful. Then went out the Kpelle language on the radio. “There are people fighting today in Nimba. It is like a war but the President says we all should be calm and have a wonderful celebration tomorrow”, the Kpelle news continued. A nightmare had started. A survival of the Lutheran Massacre narrates: We were mostly Gio people and some other tribes as well. The church was parked and our women were praying. At that point, we had no other place to go and we were thinking that since the church is a place of worship, we could be safe. But that was not the case. The soldiers encircled the church at midnight. Some had cutlasses and some had axes. Some had guns. They started killing. They started with the men first, and later women and children. Where to hide?  Nowhere. Some of us pushed against the wall. Some of us tried to cover ourselves with dead bodies. By the time the early morning sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean, some 600 Liberians were killed. In 14 years 250 pressure lives were lost. In 14 years, children had no good education. In 14 years, Liberia had become a failed state. 

As Mama Liberia tried to console herself and push herself out the aches of war, there was another step down. Ebola was here. 

May 2014. I was in Monrovia with a team of researchers from the UK and the USA. We were here to continue a shoot for a documentary that I was the protagonist. Ebola had it Redemption hospital. It had hit the Phebe Hospital. The Chief Medical officer at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital was dead at the hand of an invisible war. It was a total calamity. Wives were advised not to touch their sick children. Sons and daughters were instructed not to touch their sick parents. Pregnant women could not get treatment at hospitals. It was overwhelming and we had no option but burn our love ones in massive fires. If we ever read about hell, it had befallen us!  

It is exactly 40 years since the Rice Riot, 39 years since the ousting of President Tolbert, 29 years since the civil war started and 5 years since Ebola hit Mama Liberia. Here I am again today. I am sitting and watching on social media the prelude to a potential nightmare that is about to come. I am watching the Henry Costa show and a man who owns a shop in the Sinkor area is narrating how a law maker ordered his security officers to flog him unmercifully without any cause. It is a one-sided story but there is a big scar on his head and he is showing a blood-stained shirt on his phone camera. I am watching this on my phone. Then on my computer is another scene. Angry disadvantaged youth, the ones that suffer most in the wake of the economic woes, are on camera on my computer. They are angry and are shouting: “We will join the protest tomorrow”. There are men and there also women. They are complaining to the Journalist that a group of police officers stormed their “home” this morning and started beating them. A pregnant lady shows her leg and there are some scars on her need. She says the police beat and hurt her and even naked her. The youth say that they were not intending to join the protest tomorrow but since in fact they did not do anything and the police decided to harass them, they will join the protest. How come we are in a mess again?

The protest in question is organized by a diverse group of Liberians calling themselves Council of Patriots (COP).  This group is so divided in personalities, interests and over issues that it is difficult to determine their actual intention. What is sure is that they have a unique opportunity. It is a perfectly time for such group to emerge as the Weah led Government has shown too much controversies, incompetency and corruption. These have resulted to extra-ordinary hardships for ordinary Liberians and this group, some of whom have already expressed their ambition for the Presidency, is taking advantage of this situation. Mr. Henry Costa, one of the leaders of the COP, says that they have divided their demands into two categories: The first category (which includes dismissing the CBL Governor, the Finance Minister, the declaration of asset by the President) needs immediate action by the President and the second category (establishment of war and economic crime court, and so on) will take some time but will require the immediate commitment by the President in the form of written agreement. These are the criteria for cutting off the Protest. 

On the other hand, President Weah had requested all public offices to remain open and people should go on their normal business. In contrast, Mr. Costa has declared on his radio and social media platform that he is calling for Friday, June 7 to be a holiday. President Weah has not directly responded to any of the demands of the Council of Patriots. It is difficult to analyze what he will do after he receives the COP petition tomorrow. Will he yield to the demands of the COP? What will his government do if he is not willing to yield to the demands of the protesters? The COP is clear that they will remain in the streets until their demands are met. 

Tomorrow and possibly next week will be another defining moment for Mama Liberia. All I can do now is to console myself here. I will wait and see.