Liberia: International Stakeholders in Mediation Play Over Looming June 7 Save-the-State Protest


Monrovia – Just sixteen days to the June 7 Save the State Protest in Liberia, international stakeholders including the United Nations, the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS and the African Union are continuing to mediate in a bid to ensure a smooth protest while encouraging and commending the government of Liberia and the Council of Patriots for the recent meeting held on Unification Day, March 14, 2019.

Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]

On Monday, representatives from the UN, AU and ECOWAS met with the following members of the COP – Mo Ali, Henry Costa, Darius Dillon, Wilmot Paye, Theodore Momo, Senators Daniel Naatehn and Sando Johnson, Rufus Neufville, Rev. Sanjee Stepter and Rep. Francis S. Nyumalin, in a meeting that reportedly lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours.

The organizers reportedly presented the stakeholders a laundry list of demands which FrontPageAfrica has not been privy to.

Open to Dialogue; But No Compromise

A source privy to the discussions said a wide-range of issues were on the table. “The meeting was attended by the AU, ECOWAS and the UN. We met and discuss issues relating to the protest. We maintain that no amount of discussions will change the June 7 peaceful protest. The three bodies asked if they can mediate in a dialogue and we said no problem once said dialogue is not intended to water down the Protest or compromise June 7,” said a source privy to the discussions Monday.  

Dialogue has been a central theme in recent days. At last week’s meeting between the President and COP, Ambassador Babatunde Olanrewaju Ajisomo, stressed: “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.”

Some political observers say while behind the scenes calls for mediation is key, the momentum preceding June 7 has moved beyond the organizers with many in support of the protest resigned to making a statement in pushing President George Manneh Weah to act in addressing issues of corruption, greed and waste in government.

This was reportedly made clear Monday in COP’s meeting with stakeholders. The source explained that discussions also centered on security issues relating to the protest – the routes we will be taking and the assembly. “We made them to understand that the protest is not about us personally but that Liberian people that are feeling the pinch of bad governance, unabated corruption, violations of the laws of Liberia, refusal to taking actions against those implicated in squandering the US25 million meant for mopping up excess LRD from the economy,  the 16 billion issues, the continuous increase in inflation and more.”

In recent days, the three bodies have been working the clock and tightening the screws around the details surrounding the upcoming protest.

In a joint statement late last week, the UN, AU and the Office of the Special Representative of the ECOWAS Commission in Liberia commended the Weah-led government and people of Liberia, “the Council of Patriots”, and other Stakeholders for the inclusive dialogue held last Tuesday, which coincided with ‘Unification Day’.

The three bodies stated: “We welcome the dialogue as an indication of the willingness of all Parties to continue to work to reach amicable and encompassing political agreements. We wish to emphasize that any prolonged political disagreement in Liberia will undermine peace, as well as worsen the prospects for improved socio-economic development. We therefore reiterate the need for inclusive, transparent and continued dialogue on the planned 7 June protest, without denying Article 17 of the Liberian Constitution, which guarantees the right of all Liberians to lawful, peaceful and orderly assembly and association. The United Nations (UN), the African Union Liaison Office in Liberia (AU) and the Office of the Special Representative of the ECOWAS Commission in Liberia (ECOWAS) wish to renew our continued support to this process and our firm commitment to supporting the people and Government of Liberia in all their endeavors for a peaceful, stable and prosperous country.”

Mr. Yacoub El Hillo, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Liberia is hopeful that the June 7 protest will be peaceful. “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.”

Interventions from the UN, AU and ECOWAS have triggered the ECOWAS Commission to dispatch a delegation to Liberia for talks with the Weah-led government of Liberia and organizers of the June 7 protest.

ECOWAS May Dispatch Delegation

It is still unclear whether Dr. Jean-Claude Kassi, President of Ecowas Commission will lead the delegation or Mohamed Ibn Chambas, a Ghanaian lawyer, diplomat, politician and academic who is currently the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, and head of UNOWAS. 

Chambas has previously served as the UN SRSG and Head of the Joint UN-AU Peacekeeping Mission in Darfur (2012-2014), the Secretary-General of the African, Carribean and Pacific Group of States (2010-2012) and the President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS, 2006-2009).

Political and regional observers say, the seriousness stakeholders are attaching to the protest’s buildup is raising the stakes for both the government and the protest organizers to curb the potential for violence from supporters.

The government has been forced in recent days to tone down chatters of a counter protest from some within its ranks.

President Weah recently suspended his Deputy Minister of Information for Press and Public Affairs after he threatened that he would lead a counter protest of so-called country people against the June 7 protesters he says are dominated by members of the Congau group of Liberians.

Interventions by ECOWAS is not new.  In 2016, the regional body played a leading role in the historic transfer of power in The Gambia and has been heavily engaged in protests in Togo where its former Chair, Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé, the president of Togo, has overseen deeply flawed and biased elections since he was installed by the military after the death of his father, longtime president Gnassingbé Eyadéma, in 2005.

The late Eyadéma had ruled Togo with an iron fist, coming to power in a 1967 coup. 

In recent years, his son, Fauvre’s grip on power have been in jeopardy.

In August 2017, protests erupted in Sokodé, Togo’s second-largest city. Security forces killed two people while trying to break up the initial demonstrations, but the protests quickly spread to Lomé, the capital, and within a month there were reports of between 100,000 and a million people on the streets of Lomé (out of Togo’s total population of some 7.6 million). Since then, Lomé and other cities have periodically been shut down for days or weeks at a time amid protests and strikes by businesses, health workers, teachers, and others. They are demanding an end to the Gnassingbé family’s reign.

In April 2012, supporters of Mali’s junta attended a rally organized by Oumar Mariko, leader of SADI (African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence), to protest. That protest saw Interim Mali President Dioncounda Traore beaten and taken to hospital with a head wound after being attacked by demonstrators.

In Liberia, organizers have repeatedly said they expect a peaceful gathering in hopes of delivering a clear message to President Weah and his government.

Rhetoric Flying Ahead of Protest

For President Weah, that message could come sooner as he told COP in the Unification Day meeting last week: “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?” 

A week later, the tone of unification appears to be subsiding as the President, while rallying support Monday, for the ruling party’s candidate in the upcoming legislative by-elections, slammed protests organizers as a frustrated bunch of looking to score points against his government despite his administration performing to far more expectations than its predecessors. “Yes, there are challenges, but what we are doing here is to cover the dark holes that have been dug.”

The President added: “Today, they are accusing you for the economy that was bad under their leadership,” President Weah said amid thunderous cheers from thousands of partisans. But let me say that the only reason any Liberian will get into the street is simply because they were defeated and don’t want you to lead.”

Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon, Spokesman for the protest organizers countered when contacted by FPA Monday that the President is a complete contradiction of himself and his statements about reconciliation. “He says one thing today and a completely different thing the following day. He really needs to define himself. He should realize he is President of Liberia and Liberians in general; not President of CDC and only CDCians.” The visible strains between the two sides at least for now appears to be raising concerns as ECOWAS ponder dispatching a mediator to Monrovia. But as the clock ticks toward June 7, the rhetoric and uneasiness between the Presidency and COP is likely to continue even as regional and international stakeholders look toward forging more dialogues and the key players stand their ground ahead of the ultimate showdown dubbed Saving the State.