The Issues Desk wishes to look at a statement made by Ma Ellen recently and prove, evidentially, that her statement is wrong and, at the same time, unfortunate.
According to the Friday, December 16, edition of the Insight newspaper, Ma Ellen told a group of journalists on Wednesday, December 14, that protests solve no problems. According to the paper, Ma Ellen exact words are: “Protest solves no problem.” As indicated earlier, the Issues Desk is interested in proving this statement otherwise, in other words, to evince that, indeed, protests do solve problems; protests do work.
Obviously, the word “again” is used in the title to indicate that Ma Ellen has made other wrong or inaccurate statements before. For instance, she stated in March of this year that it is only in Liberia where the audit process (referring the John Morlu-led General Auditing Commission’s audit process) was always controversial. That was disproven in an article I wrote in the same March. The article was title “No, Ma Ellen, You Are Wrong.”
Ma Ellen’s statement at the time followed an equally inaccurate statement by Mr. Harry Greaves, former Managing Director of the Liberian Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC). Mr. Greaves said at the time that it is unprofessional for audit reports to be published in newspapers. He, too, was denouncing the Morlu-led GAC’s publishing of audit reports in Liberian newspapers. His statement was disproved in an article titled “It’s False, Mr. Greaves!”
Now, let’s turn to the crux of the article – to disprove Ma Ellen’s statement in light of a plethora of historical facts, stories and so forth. Although there is a plethora of cases to prove that protests do solve problems, I will cite only a few examples since this is not a thesis or a book, but a one-page article. Perhaps a student of politics at the University of Liberia – whether graduate or undergraduate – would like to explore this further for his thesis. The title could be “The Impacts of Protests on African Politics,” “How protests Impact/Influence Africa’s Public Policies,” or something of that nature.
Indeed, Ma Ellen’s statement is incorrect. It is incorrect not because it came from her, but because the statement itself is false in that past and present events indicate that protests can solve problems, do solve problems, have solved problems, and will solve problems. Now, permit me to cite a few examples:
The Arab Spring
Let’s start with the citizens’ revolts, popularly known as the Arab Spring, a series of protests that started in Tunisia. This is how it began. Some officers of the Tunisian police seized the goods of a struggling peddler. All efforts aimed at enabling him to retrieve his goods failed. Frustrated, confused and disappointed, he set himself ablaze. The news spread. In protest of the situation, the citizens staged a series of demonstrations that resulted in the exit of the insensitive and dictatorial regime of President Ben Ali. Democratic elections were held and the country now has a new government. Yes, protests can solve problems. The Tunisian situation shows that Ma Ellen is wrong.
From Tunisia, the citizens’ revolt spread to Egypt. It will be hard for those following world issues to disremember the name “Tahrir Square,” the place which has become the symbol of the Egyptian citizens’ revolt that saw the resignation of strong-man Hosni Mubarak. How could Ma Ellen look at the citizens’ revolts that took place in Tunisia and Egypt and opine that protests solve no problem?
The citizens’ revolt also visited Libya, starting from the city of Benghazi, the symbol of the Libyan revolution that saw the end of the forty-two-year-rule of Muammar Gaddafi, as well as the demise of Gaddafi himself. Yes, protests can change things. Protests can trigger things. Protests do work.
Let it also be remembered that a few demonstrations staged by the citizens of Morocco caused King Mohammed VI to relinquish some of his power to the Prime Minister, promising to institute more reforms. Indeed, protests do solve problems.
Although the kind of citizens’ revolts that took place in places like Tunisia and Egypt didn’t occur here during the civil war, protests were held, and some of them helped to end the war and bring peace to the country and its people. For instance, women groups staged sit-in actions and other protesting strategies, all aimed at forcing or causing the main actors to pursue peace. Those women didn’t do it for fun; they knew that their actions would produce some fruits, and many of us know too well that they did. In fact, many Liberian women or women groups have been recognized for their role in the peace process.
Just a few months ago, public school teachers laid down their chalk in demand of better salaries and incentives. Public school students, who were affected in the rigmarole, staged a protest in the process. During their protest, the re-echoed their teachers’ demands. Government – that is the Sirleaf-led government – has since taken some actions to improve the status of teachers in the country. Protests solve no problems? Yes, it does and the Sirleaf government knows it well.
The same is true with some past administrators. Protests staged by the citizens or a group of citizens helped solve or prevent certain problems. The 1979 RICE Riot is a case in point. It is a known fact that protests do solve problems. It is also an indisputable fact that some major companies operating in Liberian have paid attention to workers and improved their conditions all because those workers continually protested against the bad policies and treatment the entities subjected those employees to. It is undeniable that protests do solve problem.
There are many other cases which prove that protests do solve problems. These protests come in various forms. Some protesters get in the streets. Others go on hunger strike. Others do it in a completely different way. An Indian man called Anna Hazare, a seventy-four-year-old reform activist, staged a series of protests in the form of hunger strikes and forced the Indian government to institute certain anti-corruption measures, including the establishment of an anti-corruption agency. In fact, many Indian citizens have since begun to follow Hazare’s method in protesting against corruption. Yes, protests do solve problems.
When one considers the protests of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and how those protests helped to change situations around, it is impossible for that person to say that protests solve no problems. Also, those who know about the introduction of laws in human society tell us that the Magna Carta came into existence in 1215 in Great Britain because the barons and the citizens had revolted against the King; in other words, they protested, and that revolt caused the formulation of a legal document in which the King spelled out some provisions of freedom or rights of the citizens, and those rights included freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of possession, due process of law and so forth.
Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” – The Protester
Time Magazine recognizes the power and importance of protests so much that it named “the protester” as its “Man of the Year.” Time Magazine writes this on its website: “No one could have known that when a Tunisian fruit vender set himself on fire in a public square, it would incite protests that would topple dictators and start a global wave of dissents. In 2011, protesters didn’t just voice their complaints; they changed the world.” Yes, protests do solve problems.
So, what have we said in this article? We have indicated that protests can solve problem, do solve problems, have solved problems and will continue to solve problems. We have not said, however, that all protests are necessary or that all protests solve problems. Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.