President George Weah is smarting under immense pressure as his government faces repeated protests both from public and civil servants many of whom have not taken pay for months and the opposition group under the banner of the Council of Patriots or COP.
All these are happening at the time the country is broke, as commercials banks remain cashless with depositors unable to withdraw money from their accounts.
However, the embattled Weah has refused to back down or negotiate with protesters whose demands he say are his constitutional rights as a president to exercise and not coward into.
On early Monday, December 30th, businesses and offices were closed, with streets virtually emptied up to 10 AM in anticipation of a planned demonstration by the opposition COP to force the resignation of Mr. Weah.
The planned demonstration was postponed at the eleventh hour, thanks to the intervention of the Ambassadors of the United States of America, European Union, ECOWAS and the UN Residence Coordinator in Liberia due to security reasons.
The four senior diplomats had had sleepless nights trying to broker a deal between both Mr. Weah and the COP on the shifting of the protest date from December 30th to the 5th of January 2020, something the COP has accepted but insist that instead of the 5th which falls on a Sunday, it will carry out its protest on January 6.
Why the push for the December 30th protest?
The planned December 30th protest is a fallout from the June 7, 2019 protest. It could be recalled that on Friday June 7, thousands of protesters marched before the Capitol Building, the seat of the Liberian Legislature to demand several reforms within the nearly 2-years old regime of President Weah amidst allegations of massive corruption, but failed to present their petition, promising to return to the streets after a press conference on Monday June 10.
The Weah government and organizers of the much heralded June 7 protest had earlier reached an agreement that they (protesters) would have presented their petition to Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, the estranged wife of jailed former President Charles Taylor, but the latter was reported ill and could not make it to the capitol to receive the petition.
The Government at the eleventh hour designated Justice Minister Musa Dean, who was accompanied by Foreign Minister Gbehzongar Finley and officials of ECOWAS but the protesters insisted that it was either President Weah or his Vice President- that was after they demanded that some students who were arrested ahead of the planned protest be released.
Following their failure to present their petition on June 7, COP called a press conference on Monday June 10, at which time they made public their demands to the government of Mr. Weah. Among their demands were reforms in all sectors of government. This include rule of law, security, health, education and agriculture.
“We have a list of demands. We have identified problems and we have proffered suggestions for the way forward. It is with no choice,” Senator Darius Dillon, then Senatorial aspirant said.
These demands include for an example the establishment of a war crimes court, a clear definite action on the economy which include action on the double digit inflation, the alleged unconstitutional removal of Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, something he said has undermined the independence of the Judiciary and the demand for explanation on the missing 16 billion Liberian bank notes as well as the USD25 million mop up money.
Have there been other protests beside the COP?
Mr. Weah’s government has faced several protests leading to the postponed December 30th planned protest.
On October 15, 2019, several students took to the streets demanding that their teachers return to their classrooms, a day after public schools’ teachers had laid down their chalks in protest for unpaid salaries and wages running into months. The teachers took the action a day before a scheduled testshave been due to begin.
On October 17, students of the State run University of Liberia also took to the streets demanding the presence of their lecturers in the classroom after the lecturers too laid down their chalks. This resorted to sacking of the UL President Dr. Antoinette Weeks.
On October 30, the Consortium of Public Sector Workers Organizations of Liberia, a group comprising health workers, public school teachers and all civil servants threatened a nationwide go-slow if government fails to pay all arrears due public employees by 31 October 2019.
On Monday December 16, hundreds of disbanded soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) planned to regroup in a general muster in Monrovia, to coincide with the commencement of a go – slow by Civil Servants in demand of arrears.
How have president Weah handle this?
President Weah’s failure to address these protests drew a condemnation from former Vice President Joseph Boakai who described Liberiaas “a rudderless ship adrift on a turbulent sea hurtling towards disaster.”
“The President has failed the Liberian people and that instead of addressing them he has deferred to surrogates who have resorted to inflammatory language to find scapegoats and to add fuel to the fire,” Mr. Boakai said in a widely circulated nationwide address in early December.
“As regards the December 30th Protest, it is important that aggrieved group of citizens exercise their constitutional right of assembly and freedom of expression. The government must perform its obligation to provide security and protection. On the go-slow by civil servants, government must meet up with its obligation. These patriotic citizens have played their part. They deserve the dignity of their labour and the right to provide for their families,” the former Vice President said.
Are there any hope?
With the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programs in place with conditions attached it is hope that Weah could find his footing. But this solely depends on if he can follow through with the laid down conditions of the Fund’s regulation. Also the USAID technical assistance program to manage the country’s currency could also help turn the ailing economy around and restore hope. But there are fears that the country could be slipping towards dependency as the president remain embattled with so many protests to deal with.By Othello B. Garblah