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Liberia: Weah Must Go – Through the Ballot Box; NOT Protest or Step-Down Campaign

Oct 07, 2019

LIBERIANS HAVE LONG been consumed with an urge demanding their leaders to step down.

DURING THE 1980’s, many upset with the dictatorial tendencies of Samuel Kanyon Doe, who had shredded his military uniform for civilian clothes did all they could to get rid of Doe. Multiple Coup d’etats, alleged assassination attempts finally climaxed into a bloody civil war on Christmas Eve of 1989.

DOE WOULD DIE a year later at the hands of one of his nemesis, Prince Y. Johnson, head of the breakaway National Patriotic Front of Liberia, his ears chopped off, as he labored in pain, refusing to divulge the whereabouts of the millions he had supposedly stashed away in foreign banks.

THE IRONY of Doe’s death was clear for all to see. Nearly a decade prior to seizing power, he had led a coup d’etat that ended decades of Americo-Liberian rule under the age-old True Whig Party that dominated Liberian politics under a one-party system for more than a hundred years; depriving the ethnic and indigenous majority of their share of the economic spoils.

PRESIDENT WILLIAM R. TOLBERT, like Doe was slain to death on the morning of the April 12, 1980 coup while a dozen of his cabinet ministers executed like dogs. Like Doe, murmurs of his supposed millions remains entrenched in gossips and speculations. The latter stage of Tolbert’s reign was marred by mounting pressure from the progressives who finally staged a rice riots in 1979 that preceded Tolbert’s demise.

THE RIOT WAS SPURRED by a decision by then minister of agriculture, Florence Chenoweth, to propose an increase in the subsidized price of rice from $22 per 100-pound bag to $26. Chenoweth asserted that the increase would serve as an added inducement for rice farmers to stay on the land and produce rice as both a subsistence crop and a cash crop, instead of abandoning their farms for jobs in the cities or on the rubber plantations. However, political opponents criticized the proposal as self-aggrandizement, pointing out that the Tolbert family of the president operated large rice farms and would therefore realize a tidy profit from the proposed price increase.

THE PROGRESSIVE ALLIANCE of Liberia called for a peaceful demonstration in Monrovia to protest the proposed price increase. On April 14 1979 about 2,000 activists began what was planned as a peaceful march on the Executive Mansion. The protest march swelled dramatically when the protesters were joined en-route by more than 10,000 “back street boys,” causing the march to quickly degenerate into a disorderly mob of riot and destruction.

TOLBERT WAS OVERTHROWN after the progressives rightfully complained about some injustices in the system and members of the Progressive Peoples Party, formerly Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) marched and sat at the executive mansion at midnight and asked Tolbert to resign. They were arrested and jailed at the then post stockage. The next even after this was the 1980. The coup ended the over 100 years of Americo-Liberian rule but became a major development set for Liberia.

CHARLES TAYLOR, head of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia preyed on the vulnerabilities of a nation that had become fatigued by Doe with a firebrand tough-talking persona that won him a cross-section of support. Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf even acknowledged contributing US$10,000 to help Mr. Taylor and his rebellion, albeit she testified before the Truth and Reconciliation that she gave the $10,000 for “humanitarian” purposes.

WHEN MR. TAYLOR and his rebels finally gained traction and began capturing counties and territories, it was the very people who supported his rebellion that received the short-end of the stick. What followed was a trail of endless tribal and ethnic killings, looting and unprecedented flight of Liberians from their own country, into exile and strange lands where many have become citizens and residents after escaping the carnage in their homeland.

LIBERIANS WANTED Taylor out and he was replaced by an interim government comprising of warring factions that were seeking the interest of their individual factions and not national interest.

DURING THE FORMER regime of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, murmurs of resignation and step-down campaigns were a dominant chorus from the opposition, including some, now in the current ruling party.

THE IRONY of the Sirleaf era is as chronic as was that of Doe’s.

AFTER SERVING HER FIRST six-year term, the masses overwhelmingly gave Sirleaf a second term. But not long after that, in January, 2013, two years after the 2011 elections, a group of Liberians operating under the banner of the “Ellen Step Down Campaign,” emerged, calling on Africa’s first woman head of state to step down from her democratically-elected position.

THE CAMPAIGNERS, WHO had all voted in the 2011 elections, took President Sirleaf to task amid accusations that she was corrupt, nepotistic and overseeing a government that had failed to improve the lives of the Liberian people.

ORGANIZERS PENCILED in October 9, 2013 as the protest date, while allegedly distributing T-shirts to supporters of their campaign. But even as some members of the step-down drive, including Mulbah Morlu, now chair of the ruling CDC-led government, Julius Jensen, Bah-Wah Brownell and others were either arrested or under surveillance, a euphoria greeted Sirleaf as she returned home following a trip to the United Nations General Assembly.

PRAISE SINGERS gathered at the airport to welcome Sirleaf calling on her to continue to steer the state and maintain the ten years of unprecedented peace.

IN A FEW MONTHS, the current administration of President George Manneh Weah will be marking its second year in office and already, chants of step down are already in the air.

ON JUNE 7 THIS YEAR, thousands took to the streets to protest against the corruption and economic decline pointing the blame on Mr. Weah, an iconic figure, who made his name on the football pitch.

PROTESTERS TOOK aim at the stagnant economy in which most still live in deep poverty and a scandal in which the country last year allegedly lost $100 million in newly printed bank notes destined for the central bank.

IN THE WAKE of mounting challenges, some Liberians have in recent weeks questioned why the international community is not doing something about the declining economy, the failing political environment amid spurts of protests which is becoming a norm over the past few months.

MAYBE THE INTERNATIONAL community are simply tired and fed up with Liberia, and are also tired coming to their aid and maybe for once they expect Liberia and Liberians to cry their own cries.

PERHAPS SOME have become frustrated that the opposition never can seem to get its act together, often wailing and crying about the person in power but never willing to make the sacrifices to remove them from power through the ballot box with egos often colliding amongst political forces, most times to their own detriment.

RECENT RESULTS in District No. 15 and last weekend’s Senatorial By-elections in Grand Cape Mount County is just the latest in a season of discontent to expose the disunity and lack of cohesion amongst those in the opposition.

TO BE HONEST, how many times can the world come to one country’s aid? How many times should one country, as old as methuselah, the oldest on the African continent, continue to make SOS calls to the world to come to its aid.

THE WORLD WAS not a party to the 2017 elections and was never a party to the two elections held in 2005 and 2011. Going back to 1985, when Doe won, the world was not a party and neither was the world a party to the 1997 elections won by Taylor, marred by now infamous chants – He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him.”

THE STARK REALITY is that Liberians have always taken it upon themselves to put the leaders or rulers they desire in office, often voting on lines of friendship, populism, family – or who will be better for them to enrich themselves.

THE PAINFUL truth is that in the end, often rapidly, they regret their votes and begin complaining, suddenly turning their attention to the rest of the world to help them correct their mistake.

ALSO PAINFUL is seeing those who were in power and were defeated or overthrown quickly becoming broke and so agitated to be given employment back in Government, creating the infamous “recycled politicians”.

WELL, THE WORLD appears to be tired cleaning Liberia’s diapers and has perhaps had enough.

MR. WEAH OVERWHELMINGLY WON the 2017 presidential elections, ahead of an impressive field of candidates with more than 60% of the vote in the second round.

MR. WEAH, IMMEDIATELY TOOK to Twitter after the final results were announced, declaring: “I measure the importance and the responsibility of the immense task which I embrace today. Change is on.”

MR. WEAH won fairly and squarely, according to the National Elections and he deserves to end his six-year term, peacefully.

IF ANYONE is unhappy with the way things are, now is the time to mobilize, set egos aside and do what they feel needs to be done to defeat Mr. Weah at the ballot box.

SINCE 1847, Liberians have been clamoring for change.

THEY SEIZED the opportunity when the American Colonization Society encouraged it to proclaim independence, as it no longer wanted to support it. Although the United States declined to act on requests from the ACS to make Liberia an American colony, or to establish a formal protectorate over Liberia, but it did exercise a “moral protectorate” over Liberia, intervening only when European powers threatened its territory or sovereignty.

LIBERIA RETAINED its independence throughout the scramble for Africa by European colonial powers during the late 19th century, while remaining in the American sphere of influence.

EVEN AS AN INDEPENDENT nation, the country has for more than a century, appear unwilling to seize control of its destiny. Governments have come and gone, repeating the same mistakes – over and over again.

THIS IS WHY we strongly believe that no amount of protests can save Liberia. Protests only prolong the suffering of a people, exploit the vulnerabilities of those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder and enrich those advocating for change, often driven by their own selfish agenda to the detriment of a nation in desperate need of redemption and social, political and economic cleansing.

THOUSANDS OF LIBERIANS died in an endless civil war and scores also died in vain attempts to overthrow a sitting government, many felt was not governing right.

WHAT HAS CHANGED since 1847? What new ideas have been thought of in a bid to make a difference – or to do things differently? What has the nation learned from April 14, 1979, April 12, 1980, November 12, 1985 or December 24, 1989 – key dates that remain entrenched in Liberia’s rugged history – for all the wrong reasons.

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED since June 7; Save the State protest this year? What needs to be done differently? What do planners have in place in case of a premature end to the Weah presidency? Another political stalemate? Uncertainty?

THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER is even those who advocated change on those dates – would not even know the answer when the stuff begins hitting the fan.

AS HISTORY HAS SHOWN, many of them were in positions of power – and still are, repeating the very same things they accused others of yesterday.

FOR THIS, Liberians need to rethink and reprogram themselves to the changing realities of what it is they really want and how they really want to go about achieving it.

THE SAD REALITY is, Liberians can protest from now until judgment day, if the mindset remains the same, if the corrupt tendencies and urging for greed, nepotism and favoritism are still entrenched in those with aspirations for power, no amount of protesting will bring about any kind of change.

IT IS IMPORTANT that all Liberians advocate for the perseverance of the country’s bourgeoning democracy and resist any attempts by anyone to revert the course of the political dispensation.

WHAT GUARANTEE IS THERE that this latest stepdown call will yield anything different? If the Weah-led government is as bad as those advocating for his early exit feel it is, the democratic route is their best chance at removing the government from power.

FORMER US ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE, Herman Cohen once said: “If this war should reach Monrovia, it will take Liberia one hundred years back”. Liberians did not listen but were welcoming Taylor because we wanted President Samuel Doe out. Today, Liberia that was once considered the beacon of hope in Africa that attracted immigrants and investors from around the world is now considered as one of worst, corrupt or poorest countries in Africa.”

PHILOSOPHER AND WRITER George Santayana in his original writing or quote, wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

FOR THOSE advocating for Weah to stepdown or be removed, the best way is through the ballot box in the next presidential election in 2023.

THE COUNTRY’S FRAGILE history has shown that modern Liberia experienced major setbacks when our leaders were removed before their constitutional terms ended.

SEVERAL DEVELOPMENT projects that would have benefitted the nation from Tolbert last development plan produced by the Rural Development Task Force were not implemented because of the coup.

THE DEVELOPMENT PLAN called for electing county Superintendents by the residents of the counties, construction of vocational schools like those that were in Grand Gedeh and Lofa at a community college level in each county, expansion of the University of Liberia, Construction of the Atlantic Highway from Grand Bassa to the southeast by Mensah Construction Company, a Liberian Construction Company that constructed the Monrovia-Robertsfield Highway. The company was in the process of carrying out a survey of the road when the coup occurred, bringing that program to a halt. It should have been completed by 1983. Also, the pave road from Ganta would have been connected to this road through Grand Gedeh to Maryland. We lost all these because of the 1980 coup.

Under Samuel Doe, Liberia saw the first group of inexperienced and incompetent Liberians at the top of government entities during his first three to four years. After the 1985 election, Doe tried to transition himself from a Military man (Master Sergeant) to a statesman. He brought in some of the most competent Liberians and came out with his development agenda – whether some were inherited or not. He started or continued the Ganta-Harper highway that would have connected Nimba to the southeast, a road from 12th Street Sinkor to Gardnerville, called the Beyan Kessely Drive, extending the Gardnerville road to four lanes by a company called Armtel, construction for a bridge from the YMCA broad street curve to Garnerville, battery factory and the construction of the Ministry of Defense where the New Ministerial complex is located.

IT IS CLEAR THAT LIBERIA HAS lost a lot because of removing our leaders pre-maturely, often replaced by governments that were corrupt or worse.

THE MILLION-DOLLAR question is, would removing Mr. Weah pre-maturely immediately solve Liberia’s economic, social or other problems?

IT IS HIGH TIME that Liberians begin to wake up to the realities that violence is simply not the answer, it only prolongs the suffering and exploit the vulnerable masses. The experience of the players in the current government, who were in opposition yesterday is the best lesson anyone can learn about how the shoe fits when one is on the outside looking in.

A Hint to the Wise!!!