Liberia: The Council of Patriots Organizing Another Round of #SavetheState Protest

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MONROVIA – FrontPageAfrica has reliably learnt that the Council of Patriots (COP), organizers of the famous June 7 #SavetheState protest, is said to be getting battle ready again for another round of protest.

This time around, our sources have said that the COP is going to call for a nationwide strike action, unlike its June 7 protest, which epicenter was only Monrovia. 

On the day of the June 7 peaceful demonstration, even though the Liberian Government had deployed many tactics ahead of the protest to thwart the efforts of the organizers and to make Liberians afraid, hundreds of thousands of Liberians braved the storms and came out in their drove to tell their government that they aren’t satisfied with how the state of affairs is being handled by the George Weah-led administration.

The whole of Monrovia, which is the central nerve of the entire country, was practically shut down with no viable economic activities taking place in all of the economic zones in the city. Waterside, Vai Town, Redlight, Duala and other places where economic activities are concentrated, were practically emptied even though it was not a national holiday.

COP’s #SavetheState protest had turned that Friday, into a national holiday even though it wasn’t officially one, which had been legislated by their lawmakers but by COP. The people listened to Henry P. Costa, main brain behind the protest and others, to turnout for the protest. 

Opposition political parties’ leaders, including Mr. Alexander B. Cummings of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), supported the COP in their protest action and even joined the peaceful demonstration.  

The Executive Branch of the Liberian Government had forced its employees to go to work. Even at that, not all of those agencies directly under the Executive, had all their employees turning out for work. There are reports that most of those who went to their places of work just signed in and left to go and join their colleagues in the protest. Others joined in when they knocked out from their offices. The other two branches of government — the Judiciary and the Legislature — had a complete shutdown because of the protest. Partly because where the main actions of the protest had focused, the headquarters or main offices of the two branches are just stones’ throwaway. 

Even though, the June 7th protest wasn’t announced by the COP folks to be a nationwide demonstration, practically the entire nation was shut down. 

Other Cities Affected by June 7

One bustling Liberian city that is always active with economic activities is Ganta, which is 700.6kms away from Monrovia. But the June 7 protest had it looking eerie in appearance. Every economic activity was dead. Normal activities in Ganta, which is referred to as the “City that never sleeps” came to a standstill due to the June 7 protest. 

Ganta’s main streets, which are very busy 24/7 became very deserted. The government did all it could to thwart the protest by telling Liberians to go about their normal businesses, including going to sell their goods. Most of the moving around in Ganta is done by motorbike, which are many in that city as it lies just on the border with Guinea, where most of the commercial bikes are brought in from. But on that June 7th Friday, there were only few motorbikes on the roads and their operators sat idly as nothing seemed to be moving. 

There are reports that economic activities of other cities, including Voinjama in Liberia’s northern most end in Lofa County, was also affected by the protest in Monrovia, several hundreds of kilometers away.

Economy Impact of the Day-long Protest 

The total economic impact of the protest is yet to be collated as Liberia doesn’t have any agency with such sophistication to do such calculation and come out with the data. The Liberian Government, on the day of the protest, basically shutdown the Internet in the country. 

However, Netblocks, an international organization that monitors internet disruptions and shutdowns, confirmed on Friday, June 7, that social media sites including WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Google’s Gmail service and the website of The Associated Press were among the sites affected to quell the protests. Even this newspaper’s website went down and it took its tech guys few hours to get it back up and running. 

According to the NetBlocks’ Cost of Shutdown Tool, which estimates the economic impact of an internet disruption, mobile data blackout or app restriction, the 12-hour blockade of social media platforms cost internet service providers and the government to lose at least US$109,913 or L$17,781,180. The cost breakdown is gathered using indicators from the World Bank, ITU, Eurostat and U.S. Census.

According to Quartz, a digitally native news outlet dedicated to telling stories at the intersection of the important and the interesting, internet shutdowns are becoming common among governments in Africa. Liberia joins a running list of countries including Zimbabwe, Chad, Uganda and Cameroon, whose governments have shutdown their internet. In 2018, there were 21 such shutdowns on the continent. 

Earlier Impact of the Protest Before the Day

Meanwhile, days before the main June 7th protest day, the COP’s protest had already begun to make impact on the country’s economy. On May 14, Unification Day, President Weah, along with Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, House Speaker Bhofal Chambers and Senate Pro-Tempore Albert Chie, led some members of his cabinet, including Foreign Minister Milton Gbehzohngar Findley, to meet with some members of the COP at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During that meeting the President disclosed that just to provide security for the protest would cost the government more than one million United States Dollars. 

“Every time we get into the streets, it costs us two times what we are looking for. To pay for community services, I spent about 3 to US$400,000; to get in the streets to make sure that we provide security for protesters, will cost me a million plus dollars,” the President stated.

Pres. Weah’s revelation couldn’t be far from truth as on the day of the protest, Liberia security apparatuses, especially the police, Fire Service, and immigration forces’ personnel, most of whom are usually found with ragtag uniforms, were seen in brand new amour-riot gears on June 7th. There are also reports that the government had to do some unprecedented things— it supplied those law enforcers each with 50-kg bags of rice and other essentials ahead of the protest.     

New Protest Date

With such massive impact the first protest had on the country’s economy even though it was not nationwide, one can easily guess should the next round of protest be held what it is going to cost the country. The June 7th protest lasted for only a day, but this newspaper was told that the next protest, which is being planned to start on July 24th, two days to the nation’s 172nd independence anniversary, will last until demands presented in the COP’s Petition to President Weah, are addressed. 

It is not clear, whether the President has seen the protesters’ original petition, which they submitted few days after June 7. However, during the Unification Day Meeting, the President had said that the list of COP’s demands that he had seen, most of them are personal issues, which according to him can’t be solved. Notwithstanding, he stated also, that the general issues can be solved. The President, however, failed to clearly say which ones were personal and which were general.

 Costa told this newspaper that the new protest is aimed at compelling the President to act on their demands as contained in their petition statement and to also demand the government to call off the planned Independence Day celebration.

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