Liberia’s Popular Student Party Faces Integrity Issues amid Infighting
Monrovia – The visible crack in Liberia’s popular student political party at the state-run University of Liberia mirrors a scary past, but this could further undermine the legitimacy and integrity of the country’s most outspoken student movement.
Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, [email protected]
The Student Unification Party (SUP) is in disarray for the first time in many years. Its leadership is reportedly segmented. Suspicions are swirling that the leadership is divided by extended forces.
Since 1970, the party has earned itself a place for speaking truth to power – advocating for social justice and democracy. It has fallen in trouble with past regimes many times, and some used iron hand to muzzle or annihilate the party for allegedly being rebellious.
Over the past six months, a feud has apparently deepened between SUP and officials of the new ruling Coalition for Democratic Change. The situation reached a boiling point when members of SUP led a protest in the commercial district of Red Light over increasing economic hardship. President George Weah, who was on his way to attend an event in central Liberia, was reportedly jeered by the protesters.
Few days after that protest, came a leadership crisis that is yet to be resolve. It has prompted observers to insinuate that the party has lost its way.
The wrangling has seen controversial suspensions of officials and subsequent upheavals including a Friday [August 3] morning riot on the Capitol Hill campus of the university.
During the protest, SUP office was shut when violent clashes ensued between the two segments of the party and the embattled leadership claimed that it asked the school administration to rescue its offices by sealing it.
There are mounting allegations that some influential figures of the ruling CDC are inciting the feud within the student political movement as a means of neutralizing dissent swelling against the government.
Observers say SUP’s vehement criticisms of the new regime are becoming intolerable and the government, through its surrogates, is aiming to destabilize the core of the party.
Several names including Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee have surfaced as prime instigators of the rift in the party. Some SUP officials alleged that the CDC stalwart is pouring money to stir up confusion.
The allegation is contentious, but critics of the youthful Mayor claim it is his strategy to remotely manipulate and offset potential political threat the regime may struggle to shatter from the student community.
However, Koijee, who remains the CDC youth wing chair, has refuted these allegations, arguing that by making such claims against him only further dampens the integrity of SUP while its leadership embroils in crisis.
“It is very much unfortunate that the person who is believed to be the secretary-general of a very noble institution is implying that the institution is susceptible to infiltration and bribery,” Koijee said in July after the speculations heightened. “This is an institution that has fought for social justice for over 70 years.”
While there is no evidence to substantiate these allegations, relationship between the Mayor and SUP appeared to have soured.
The conflict ignited when Martin Kollie, SUP secretary general, was controversially suspended and reinstated within less than a month’s time.
Kollie’s suspension sparked outrage within the party after suspicion intensified that the move was a ploy orchestrated by elements within the government to muzzle his political candour.
Butu Levi, the party’s chair, is accused of going in bed with Koijee and the government, prompting an outburst from renegade members who then demanded his suspension on grounds that he received bribes to trigger Kollie’s suspension.
So far, Levi remains adamant that the proceeding leading to his suspension was unlawfully, and some are claiming that the move to unseat him has further deepened the fragility of the party’s legitimacy.
But Kollie, who appears to be supporting Levi, told FrontPageAfrica that the leadership wants “to safe the image of the party” so they are backing the chairman to stay put.
Citing SUP constitution, Kollie said out of a 28 member central committee, only five persons have called for the Chairman’s suspension.
“The rule says, according to Part 5 [of SUP constitution], if you want to suspend, the chairman should convene an emergency sitting or a constitutional sitting and there are 28 members of the central committee and only one-third (1/3) majority of the central committee has the power to expel,” he said.
Salvaging the party’s image is now a daunting task, but first resolving the tension is a massive challenge for the party, as allegations of government’s meddling send shockwaves to the larger society.
Considering the allegation by Kollie and his colleagues means SUP is grappling to salvage its long-standing integrity. Prove or no proof, observers say, the crack has exposed the party’s missteps in helping to enhance a democratic space.
The infighting within the leadership also renews debate about the credibility of the long-time student movement credited for championing democratic tenants in the country.
However, the party insists that the Executive Mansion is backing moves to disrupt its status quo.
“This is not the first time this thing has happened; it happened under Doe, it happened under Taylor and it happened under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,” claims Kollie, who insists that SUP has often endured the challenge of infiltration by political actors.
“The point is, there will always be planted elements in SUP, there will always be guys who will go for the money but it doesn’t mean it will divide the party.”
Kollie insists that the party will continue to venture into national politics regardless of its status as a campus-based political party, arguing that opposition politicians have once upon the time found solace and asylum in the party including members of the CDC during their recent opposition period.
“When there was one party system in this country, the party challenged True Wing Party. We were never operating within the confines of the university. Anything that affects the larger society affects the party – we are not limited to the university.”
The tension seems far from over as renegade members reportedly stormed the campus on Monday morning and reopened the office, insisting that Levi has not legitimacy as Chairman.
It is a campus concentrated upheaval but the kind that has the propensity of impacting the democratic space beyond the walls of the university as a dark cloud hovers the image of a long time pro-democracy institution.