Stopping One Protest Builds Momentum For A Larger Mass Protest
By: P. Nimley-Sie Tuon
The recent “suspension” of the proposed April 12 demonstration may appears as a relief to the Sirleaf government, or according to a Liberian newspaper headline, describing the suspension as “the storm has passed over Liberia.” If this was a real attempt to hold a demonstration, its suspension means nothing, but rather a preparation for a much larger demonstration that will be unstoppable: one that will be inclusive and very hard for the government divide or infiltrate. During the planning of the April 12 demonstration, planners told the Liberian people that their reasons for wanting to hold the demonstration were due to corruption, nepotism, unemployment, injustices, among other uncouth behaviors that continue to plaque the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Unity Party-led Government. No one expects the Sirleaf government to make a dramatic turn for the better in addressing the concerns described by the April 12 demonstration planners. In fact nepotism, unemployment, injustices will continue to grow even more. This means there will always be a justification for a mass protest. In other words the next call for a protest or demonstration will be widely embraced by almost every Liberian if measurable signs are not detected that the government is addressing the issues or concerns put out by the planners of this so called suspended demonstration.
No experienced political activist or pundit was completely confident that the 2013 April 12 demonstration was going to go anywhere, or if it had taken place would have been successful, however, the brief press coverage it generated revealed the level of nervousness within the Sirleaf government by associating the planned protest with violence. But what the Sirleaf government failed to realize, this practice of branded every protest or demonstration as violent driven even before the demonstration occur will soon run out of steam. Interestingly, according to press reports, the vice president’s meeting with some of the protest planners failed to yield any concession from the government in exchange for suspending the demonstration. All what the vice president said was some individuals, without naming the individuals or groups, will take advantage of those organizing the protest and start violence. The vice president neither commented on the grievances expressed by the planners or promise that they would be addressed. Now we are hearing that the amount US $34,000 were given to those who suspended the protest, a move to smear their names and efforts. Despite hyping of a violent-scenario during the demonstration as a reason not to protest, the main reason for the vice president’s meeting was to save and protect his own lucrative job and the rest in the Sirleaf government.
If there was any lesson to learn from the upheavals in the Middle East, each of the fallen governments did everything they could, including bribery, imprisonment, murder to stop many previous demonstrations. Then it happened. The people overcame their fears. Realized no matter how many briberies the government throw at them, nothing was changing, their conditions were not improving, however, the presidents, their families, friends, and officials were living large and doing nothing to address their concerns. So after stopping and crushing one demonstration after another came the mother of all demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and others where these once invincible leaders were swept out of power. It is important to note, the issues that prompted those demonstrations in these countries are the same issues the planners of the 2013 April 12 protest planners say were the reasons for wanting to protest and highlight. By April 12, 2014, can the Sirleaf government effectively address these issues, or if there’s another call for protest will they rely on bribery or associating the next demonstration with violence as a way out? As war-weary people, the violent images and memories of the 14 years senseless war, waged by those now in power, it is easy for the Liberian people to buy this propaganda by the Sirleaf government that associate every protest to question and highlight its failures with violence. It may be record, 7 months following President Sirleaf’s questionable victory for her a second term, young people within Madam Sirleaf’s own Unity Party protested the presence of nepotism. Branding every demonstration or protest in Liberia with violence is an old Liberian government trick used by every Liberian government
By the way, if the 2013 April 12 demonstration had taken place, and there was violence, who do you think would be the perpetrator? Of course, the government. The Sirleaf government is on record, through its defense ministry, from the lips of its Defense Minister, Mr. Bownie Samukai, that all lethal and non-lethal force will have been unleashed on those that were demonstrating. Liberia’s governments have always been the perpetrators of violence. Samukia and his partner in crimes, Chris Massaquoi, in their attempt to pre-justify their use of violence against the would be protesters, keep using distorted interpretation of the Liberia constitution that there should be permit before anyone demonstrate, or else, hell will break lose. Samukai, who as defense minister has failed miserably to produce a fitting Liberian army in nearly ten years and blamed the US government for that, however, dare to say he was willing to use lethal force against unarmed Liberian citizens. According to the report of the Mary Lauren Browne Commission, which was setup to investigate another violent episode by the Sirleaf government, when the government security forces unleashed live ammunition at unarmed citizens on November 7, 2011, it was noted that Liberians need no permit to assemble. So why Brownie Samukai and Chris Massaquoi were insisting that the 2013 April 12 protesters planners must request for permit before their demonstration. The insistence that to hold a demonstration in Liberia you must request a permit is a cunning ploy to infringe on the rights of Liberian citizens and how deeply paranoid the Sirleaf government is.
It is expected of a defense minister to threaten force against any group(s) or individuals based on intelligence that possessed arms with a clear intention of destabilizing the nation. It falls within the prerogative of the defense ministry of any nation to threaten force against external enemies in defense of the nation. But to have a defense minister willing to use force against unarmed citizens for exercising their rights is one of the most insensitive comments coming from any security official. Mr. Samukai, who as defense minister suppose to be above internal politics was bent to use illegal means to prevent a legal action, the right for Liberian citizens to peacefully assemble and freely express themselves as guaranteed by the constitution. Mr. Chris Massaquoi who, following his appointment as Police Director, said he knew where the armed robbers that were breaking into the homes of Monrovia residents and threatened to go after them has yet to put out a report showing the progress he has made. Yet he was willing to use the resources of the Liberian National Police to stop what was considered the exercising of the legitimate rights of Liberian citizens with no probable cause. Where there was a probable cause to act by waging an all out war against armed robbers he failed. The security forces of any country should be able to take a balanced approach in executing their duties, Samukai and Massaquoi failed to do that when they took side with the government against the people with the threat of using lethal force. In their right minds, can they say since the demonstration did not take place corruption, nepotism, injustices, unemployment have now disappeared or no longer in Liberia? As long there is nepotism in Liberia, including corruption, injustices, impunity, unemployment, violence against women among others, justification to protest will always be there, and there will be a time when getting a permit will not be an issue since a protest could erupt spontaneously when the people overcome their fears: like in the cases in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, with Syria on the brink.