Following the April 14th, 1979 rice rebellion during which the security forces shot and killed over 140 Liberians and jailed hundreds more, Liberians in Monrovia adapted a popular song which they sang everywhere in protest against the atrocities committed by the goons of the Tolbert administration. It went something like this: “April 14, aye yah, Tolbert mistake, yeah…”
Our Government seems to have made its own mistake on Monday, 7th November, when its police and other security personnel attacked and killed unarmed partisans of the CDC and other political parties in front of and on the grounds of the headquarters of the CDC. The partisans, dressed in white to symbolize the peaceful nature of their rally, had gathered in front of the headquarters of the CDC with the intention to make a peaceful march through the streets of Monrovia.
I was present in a vehicle in front of the CDC headquarters that morning in the company of Counsellor Winston Tubman and Ambassador George Weah, the Standard Bearer and Vice Standard Bearer of the CDC, respectively. We were discussing with an UNMIL General who was urging that the partisans return to the grounds of the CDC headquarters. As the conversation progressed, we were surprised when the security forces opened fire with tear gas. All of us then retreated inside the grounds of the CDC.
But this was not enough to stop the blood-thirsty security forces from pursuing us, firing tear gas and live bullets. I myself saw three dead bodies and three severely injured persons. Other eye witnesses reported seeing other bodies. As in 1979 when Tolbert’s security forces murdered innocent citizens, the partisans were unarmed and well-meaning. The blood spilled on the grounds of the CDC headquarters and the tears flowing down the faces of many of those who witnessed the police brutality–all speak of the atrocities visited upon our people by the very security forces that are paid to protect them. Not since the dark days of April 14th, 1979 have the security forces in our country acted with so much aggression against unarmed Liberian citizens.
Of course, this was not the first time that the security forces have unleashed their cruelty on unarmed Liberian citizens. On March 22nd of this year, the police and other security personnel brutalized students of the Tubman High School and GW Gibson High School in Monrovia. The students, in a peaceful demonstration, had taken to the streets to protest the absence from classes of their teachers who were boycotting their teaching assignments over demand for an increase in their salaries.
Here again, as in 1979, when unarmed citizens were brutally murdered, the students were non-violent and well-meaning. Even the most hardened of hearts who watches the video of this ugly incident will most certainly be moved to tears by the brutality visited on the students by the security forces. Among the many injured was a handicapped student, Cecelia Parker, who was severely assaulted.
Because civil society and the political parties did not condemn in sufficient terms this act of violence against the people, the security forces seem to have been emboldened, thus repeating on November 7th the same act of atrocity which they launched on 23 March against unarmed students.
Not satisfied with brutalizing and killing our people, the security forces went on to arrest and detain so many of the partisans. Dr. (Mrs.) Cecelia Ndegbe, that Amazon of energy and commitment, was detained for several hours—without charge. At least 89 others were detained—without charge and in horrible circumstances. Thanks to our intervention, most of them have been released although we continue to get reports of persons deemed missing since the events of Bloody Monday.
In the days leading to Bloody Monday, our brother, President Obama, issued a statement in which he called on the security forces “to exercise maximum restraint and allow for peaceful protest”. But it seems like only the UNMIl forces read the President’s statement and tried to follow this advice. Indeed, were it not for the UNMIL forces who, for the most part, exercised a degree of restraint; the casualties would have been even higher. In one instance, a trigger-happy Liberian police was forcibly disarmed by UNMIL soldiers to prevent him from further killing. All of this is graphically captured on video which is being widely circulated for all to see.
To add insult to injury, the police and the Ministry of Justice have refused to apologize for their illegal and unpatriotic actions and are insisting on making all kinds of asinine justification, including placing blame on the CDC who, as anyone who watches the video will confirm, are, in fact, the victims—not the perpetrators—of violence and the abuse of human rights.
In continuation of its campaign of human rights abuse, the Ministry of Justice has, through a most compliant and dependent judicial system, shut down three radio stations which have dared to air the views of those not in support of Government. The three stations were charged with broadcasting “hate messages”. I ask myself: And what is being done about Truth FM radio—that station which has positioned itself as the adjunct Ministry of Disinformation, spewing forth all kinds of falsehoods and provoking even the most die-hard pacifist? Sheer poppycock!
And what reaction do we get from President Sirleaf? After a period of undignified silence, the President went on to issue a statement expressing sadness at the loss of life but went on to urge citizens to go out and vote in the run-off election the next day which was being boycotted by the CDC and its cooperating parties. The boycott was effective as evidenced by the very low turn-out at polling stations throughout the country. Nevertheless, the National Elections Commission went on to declare the President duly re-elected, and the President herself has wasted no time in claiming this victory.
But, as even the most incurable idealist (and I use this term in the context of Marx critique of Hegel) knows, our Liberia remains a deeply divided country. The President may have satisfied all the legal requirements for being elected, but as any two-bit lawyer will remind you, what is legal may not always be expedient. We need to unite our country, for without this unity no progress is possible.
Who is best suited to lead this campaign for unity and reconciliation in our Liberia? Nobody but President Sirleaf. In the aftermath of Bloody Monday and a most contested and acrimonious election, it is time for the President to use the prestige of her office and the force of her personality to effect reconciliation and peace in our Liberia.
Against the advice of the hawks in Government who think that Presidential magnanimity is a sign of weakness—against the advice of these political Lilliputians—the CDC must be engaged. I repeat: The CDC must be engaged. In the political calculus of our country, the CDC as a party, as a movement of our people—this CDC cannot be ignored or willed away.
Fortunately, the partisans of CDC, stripped of the rhetoric born out of a sense of marginalization and deprivation, are indeed patriotic Liberians who desire, as all patriots, to live in a Liberia where there is justice and peace and progress for all our people. With this shared vision for our country and appropriate measures taken to bind the wounds, we can still establish our Liberia as a “glorious land of liberty” for all our people.
Ambassador (Prof) Dew Tuan-Wleh Mayson is the Standard Bearer of the National Democratic Coalition (NDC).