Is There Any Cause to Protest On June 7 in Liberia? An Assessment of the Impacts and Consequences of Protests Around Africa

By: Josephus Moses Gray | Assistant Professor of International Relations |

Author: J. Moses Gray

A francophone philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his social contract theory revealed that: “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains; people who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much say little”. The concept of a “social contract” in general terms means that people give up some of their rights to some form of authority – a government in exchange for social order and political participatory, economic, social, and political security and inclusiveness. In the interest of lasting peace and stability for the state and its peace loving people, President George Weah’s administration and organizers of the June 7 protest must dialogue, which is a way of exploring the roots of the many crises that face humanity today. It enables inquiry into, and understanding of, the sorts of processes that fragment and interfere with real communication.

This article, among other things, examined and critically reflects on the wave of protests that is associated with the spread of democracy across the globe, and protest again economic, political and social injustices. It goes further to catalog the major protests that occurred on the African continent in recent time and also remind the Liberian populace that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and privileges. They are endowed with reasons and consciences, and should act towards one another in the spirit of unanimity, toleration of opinions of critical and restrained voices of both opposition and government.

But the question: Is there any cause to protest on June 7 in Liberia? What are the reasons for such planned protest across the country considering the fact that protests are interpreted and carried out in different ways?   Another question is: Under what primarily contexts- is the much publicized 7 protest is being triggered? Is it against economic concerns that squally bordered on the livelihood of the ordinary masses or political decisions or by transnational issues which are unknown, or the combination of all?

Amidst ongoing political disunity in the country, there are pressing important elements that the nation need to focus on in order to move forward and offer better opportunities for the survival of all Liberians, and not to invent conditions that have the potential to create more division in the country.  Liberians are war exhausted and conflict fatigue; let us not repeat the past mistakes regarding critical national issue, which can properly be handled and amicably resolved than to drag this nation into another prolonged national divergence.

However, in the interest of lasting peace and stability for the state and its peace loving people, President George Weah’s administration and organizers of the June 7 protest must dialogue, which is a way of exploring the roots of the many crises that face humanity today. It enables inquiry into, and understanding of, the sorts of processes that fragment and interfere with real communication.  Frantic efforts should also be made at the national levels by policy makers, politicians, state actors, religious and traditional leaders, scholars, to ensure national peace and security in the country, and find the root causes of conflicts and finding solutions to issues that affect the nation’s growth and well-being.

 

Unlike the last major global wave of protests that was associated with the spread of democracy in the 1980s and 1990s, protests are increasing now in every region of the world and in every type of political context. The current wave of protests is triggered primarily by economic concerns or political decisions, not by transnational issues animated some previous protests across the world in the 80s and 90s… The forms, methods, and aims of the current wave of protests do not overall represent a new form of democracy or better living standard; in some cases the protestors profoundly regret their actions, while in some instances help to diminish economic and political injustices and inequality.

Major demonstrations have occurred around the world with increasing frequency since the second half of the 2000s. Given the superficial resemblance of such events to each other especially the dramatic images of masses of people in the streets from one region to another, from one state to another is a defining characteristic. The spike in protests on the African continent is becoming a major trend in international politics, but what have been the impacts of this new phenomenon across the globe especially in Africa, a continent divided into five regions and 55 states with competing national interests? Has the new phenomenon of incessant brought about any true economic, social and political benefits?

Some protests have failed to translate protest dynamism into sustainable institution building or political contestation; others have led to the creation of new political parties or economic impact in states where the phenomenon occurred. Protests have flared in many countries recording comparatively high rates of economic growth and political advancement but socioeconomic troubles have sometimes been present, but usually less consequentially than political ones. In most recent, oppositions and civil society movements were successful to force some of the longest serving African leaders and dictators to be forced from office.

The list of countries that have been hit by major protests since 2010 to present is remarkably long and diverse including Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Brazil, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Iraq, Japan, Lebanon, Macedonia, Malaysia, Moldova, South Korea, and Venezuela. It includes more than 80 states that span every region of the world. By region, the greatest number of protests has taken place in higher-income countries, followed by Latin America, then East Asia, then sub-Saharan Africa.

The number of protests in North Africa and the Middle East has fluctuated more than elsewhere, with the most dramatic spike of any region in 2011, and most recent protests in Sudan and Algeria. Many of these protests have been profoundly important events in the countries where they have taken place. They are often large-scale gatherings of citizens who are determined to challenge fundamental policies or structures of power. Protesters have been prepared to confront harsh treatment by security forces and sometimes brutal repression

It appears that political factors also show to have been the main cause of most recent protests across African especially in Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Guinea and other semi authoritarian contexts. In a number of cases, specific political issues served as triggers bringing out protesters angry about unworkable policy and bad governance; economic factors appear to have played only a secondary role in many of these cases, except in the political contexts. The multiplication of citizens’ protests have significantly  erupted governance in states where the phenomenon has occurred in recent time; in certain instance the situation deteriorates while in some cases the situation turned out for better reason.

The tensions that are building up in the country must be harmoniously resolved and handled peacefully. Considering the nation’s ugly past to the present where Liberians and foreign resident can sleep in peace without the echoes of guns and other deadly weapons, or without the country being divided between factional lines, the nation especially state actors must sustain the peace.

As a recall of the recent political melees and reflection of events which have torn the nation apart, it is time that the authorities of the organizers of the planned “June 7 “demonstration in the country soberly reflects on the nation’s ugly and blood-driven darker past. Seeking a peaceful means to resolve our disagreements is unity in strengths; let the critical and restrained voices of both opposition and government calm down the words since unusable words are most destructive than bullets, let try to discipline our disagreements especially on issues that concerns national interest and wellbeing of the struggling messes.

Civil society is dynamic, vibrant and influential in the contemporary world’s politics; it is recognized as a diverse and ever-wider ecosystem of individuals, communities and organizations and have been effective in protects to force leaders to abandon their lucrative offices. Civil society networks are built across geographical, social and physical divides. These networks allow greater numbers of people to aggregate and collectively address societal challenges. Across the globe there are examples of civil society exhibiting an energetic voice in promoting the principles of fair and equitable economic development, gender equality and human rights; in many countries including Africa.

In early 2011, amid a wave of popular protest in countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa, largely peaceful demonstrations against entrenched regimes brought quick transfers of power in Egypt and Tunisia. For instances, April 2019, thousands of protesters held a sit-in outside Sudanese former President Omar al-Bashir’s residence in central, having camped there overnight following the biggest demonstration in months of protests against his 30-year rule. As a result of the protest, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir was removed by the military after months of anti-government protests against his three-decade rule.

Also in April Algerians protests, also called the Smile Revolution, began on 16 February 2019, ten days after Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his candidacy for a fifth presidential term in a signed statement. Thousands of protesters demanding the departure of Algeria’s ruling elite rallied in Algiers for a 10th Friday. Former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down after 20 years in power this month, bowing to pressure from the army and weeks of demonstrations mainly by young people seeking change.

“The system must go” and “We are fed up with you,” read banners held up by protesters in central Algiers. The protests, which began on February 22 and have been largely peaceful, have continued as many want the removal of an elite that has governed Algeria since independence from France in 1962 and the prosecution of people they see as corrupt.

As a reflection of the Arab citizens’ revolution dubbed “Arab Spring”, in December 2011, 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi was getting ready to sell fruits and vegetables in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. Bouazizi was the breadwinner for his widowed mother and six siblings, but he didn’t have a permit to sell the goods.

When the police asked Bouazizi to hand over his wooden cart, he refused and a policewoman allegedly slapped him. Angered after being publicly humiliated, Bouazizi marched in front of a government building and set himself on fire. His act of desperation resonated immediately with others in the town. Protests began that day in Sidi Bouzid, captured by cellphone cameras and shared on the Internet. Within days, protests started popping up across the country, calling upon President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his regime to step down. About a month later, he fled Tunisia, ending his reign.

From Tunisia the revolution spread to Egypt; the Egyptian revolution of 2011, also known as the January 25 Revolution, started on 25 January 2011 and spread across Egypt. Millions of protesters from a range of socio-economic and religious backgrounds demanded the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.. On 11 February 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak resigned as president, turning power over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

In Libya, however, an uprising against the four-decade old rule of Muammar al-Qaddafi led to civil war and international military intervention.  On February 15, 2011, antigovernment rallies were held in Banghāzī by protesters angered by the arrest of a human rights lawyer, Fethi Tarbel. The protesters called for Qaddafi to step down and for the release of political prisoners. Libyan security forces used water cannons and rubber bullets against the crowds, resulting in a number of injuries. To counter the demonstrations further, a pro-government rally orchestrated by the Libyan authorities was broadcast on state television.

On February 22 Qaddafi delivered an angry, rambling speech on state television, condemning the protesters as traitors and calling on his supporters to fight them. On October 20 Qaddafi was discovered and killed by rebel fighters in his hometown, Surt, as they fought to solidify their control of the city. Besides Africa, protests also extended to asia. South Korean protests, also known as Candlelight Struggle or Candlelight Revolution, were a series of protests against President Park Geun-hye that occurred throughout South Korea from November 2016 to March 2017, resulting to her impeachment of Park Geun-hye from office by the Parliament.

In October 2014, angry demonstrators in Burkina Faso went on the rampage on in protest at plans to allow ex-president Blaise Compaore to extend his 27-year rule, setting parliament on fire and wreaking havoc across the capital. Hundreds stormed parliament and other public buildings including the national television headquarters in the capital Ougadougou, ransacking offices and setting fire to cars despite a heavy police and army presence. Hundreds of angry demonstrators in Burkina Faso in October 2014 stormed parliament before setting it on fire in protest at plans to allow former President Compaore to extend his 27-year rule. He took power in a 1987 coup after he overthrown He was a top associate of President Thomas Sankara during the 1980s, and in October 1987, he led a coup d’état during which Sankara was killed.

Hundreds of protesters marched in the capital of Burkina Faso on Friday demanding that President Blaise Compaore step down, a day after the military dissolved parliament and announced a transitional government in the face of mass protests and violence. The demonstration came a day after Mr. Compaore refused to give up power but called off a state of emergency imposed after a violent uprising against his 27-year rule that saw parliament set ablaze. Blaise Compaore fled to Ivory Coast where he is granted citizenship of which his wife is also a citizen.

From Burkina Faso  to Guinea where the former Guinean military leader Moussa Dadis Camara  decision to context election spark mass protest in which protestors were shot.  This led Lieutenant Abubakar “Toumba” Diakite, a former aide to the junta leader to shot Camara on 3 December 2009 on grounds that the junta leader wanted him to take the blame for a massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators; he was taken to Morocco where he still remained.

The September 28, 2009 a carnage occurred at the stadium in Conakry in which security forces reportedly killed over 150 peaceful opposition supporters, and raped dozens of women. In December 2017, the panel of Guinean judges investigating the massacre concluded over seven years of investigations. At least 13 suspects are indicted, including Moussa Dadis Camara, the then leader of the military junta that ruled Guinea in September 2009, and two high-ranking officials currently serving in the security forces.

Liberia is a tiny state but politically large and complex with a fascinating but a sober political history; politics is wildly practiced in the country. In my candid opinion, the planners of the “June 7 “demonstration might have a reason for their pending demonstration which is in line with constitutionalism, there are reasons, for the planned “June 7” protest to be cut off, let the organizers solemnly   mirror the fashion that “April 14, 1979’; “April 12, 1980” coup and “April 6, 1996” Factions Fighting in the country.

But the biggest opportunity to enhance domestic confidence lies in how public officials maintain the right tone in all aspects of publicity, how they discipline their words and deed when addressing national issues; they should be aware that criticism and self-criticism will do the nation no good, instead they should find the balance and communicate effectively since clarity is very essential in communication. There have, to some extent, been inconsistent regarding information dissemination on the local and international fronts. Positive publicity should be attractive and appealing; truth and accuracy are the lifeblood of information dissemination. Therefore public officials should strengthen their ability to effectively communicate and have a stronger voice and properly coordinate information reaching the domestic audience.

Let us also be reminded of the these three major events in April “April 14, 1979’; “April 12, 1980” and “April 6, 1996” were all characterized with violence, mayhem, anarchy, death and massive destructions in Monrovia and its environs; the riot or protest came about as a result of the backdrop of a proposed increase in the price of a 100lb bag of rice.

The demonstration drew a massive crowd for the first time in many decades, that Liberians had seized the opportunity to stay national protest against the government-Tolbert regime. According to several researchers, the miss information was that rice-the nation’s staple food could be imported and sell for US$9.00 per 100lb bag. Such political rhetoric and sugar coated statement persuaded many Liberians to buy the sentiments of these “progressive” political leaders.

The hostilities of 14 years warfare in the country, from December 24, 1989 to August 18, 2003, in which an insurgent groups killed thousands of persons, ruined the various sectors and destroyed billion dollars’ worth properties across the country, have also witnessed 17 years of an uninterrupted peace across country guns have fallen silent since the Ceasefire and Cessation of Hostilities triggered by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on 18 August 2003 in Akosombo, Accra Ghana. The 17 years of an uninterrupted peace across the country which has witnessed three successive politically-driven democratic exercises of 2005, 2011 and 2017 General Elections which came about on the back of the assurances and commitment by Liberians to bury their differences and demonstrate the will-power in resolving all trials and tribulations in order to protect the years of fragile peace and co-existence in the interest of genuine peace and sustained stability.

Credit first to the ex-war factions and their belligerent groups; the late Gyude Bryant’s transitional government that was able to piece together the fragmented puzzles that significantly oiled the political wheels thus resulting into the conduct of a peaceful democratic elections with the Ellen Jonson-Sirleaf’s and George M. Weah’s regimes being ushered in that thereafter continue to maintain the democratic space.

The late Bryant’s administration, although was a difficult one due to its hybrid- composition, succeeded in bringing about a negotiated settlement of the conflict and successful disarmament and demobilization of ex-fighters; and ended the loss of innumerable lives, wanton destruction of our infrastructure, factors of production, properties and massive displacement of people which as an open secret also led to brain drain in the country.  Then came the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration with all eyes focused on to keep the peace, this  display has witnessed a 12 years of an uninterrupted peace again came as a direct result of the Sirleaf administration’s initiatives undertaken and purposely supported by the people of Liberia and its development partners  and key international actors.

Therefore, President Weah’s administration has a national duty to play a pivotal leading role to hold discussion with the planners of the June 7, listen to their concerns and move forward with positive discussions. This entails instituting the right policy at the right time by the right people at the right place, while those at the helm of leadership on the continent must be proactive not reactive.

The trustworthy religious and traditional leaders have a national duty to play a leading role in finding a amicable remedy to the planned “June 7 protest” and cement unity and peaceful co-existence in the country. It has been observed that that these leaders both traditional and religious have personal interests, therefore they have been silenced; except for few like Rev. Dr. Kortu K. Browne, a champion of good governance. This involves the role of religious leaders in promoting unity and love among populations and respect for one another is highly important. The weaknesses of past peace-building efforts with the potential of religious leaders helps to answer the question of how religious leaders could be further involved improving the current disunity between the administration and oppositions political in the country.

The role of Religious Leaders during the crisis have played an essential role in speaking against ills and gross human rights abuses with the late Catholic Arch Bishop Michael France and other leaders of the religion community raising their voices to protect civilians during the entire 14-year  crisis. Not only that but also they provide shelter and a place to hide, but also engaged in offering ‘food, water, and health services, and in one instance helping in the safe evacuation of communities at risk. ‘In the process, some were targeted and victimized by the ex-fighters.

As the historical review showed, the country has experienced numerous military coups and political conflicts from the days of the commonwealth rule, independence and second republic to post-conflict period. The unstable political situation made sustainable state-building impossible and it has been certainly due to political interests among changing elites that the Liberian state has remained fragmented until today. Especially in the post-colonial period, the Liberian leaders struggled to successfully govern the large territory with open heart and arm.

Due to the strong external interference into domestic affairs by other global powers especially the United States of America, Liberian successive administrations continued to  struggle to build viable institutions in the state. The continuing political power struggles among elites, including military coups and rebellions, have led to the fact that the government has lost the monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

Looking at its early post-colonial history, one can conclude that the Liberia’s first steps as an independent state were determined by power struggles and kleptocracy colonial masters who came to power mainly through a compromised election. Nevertheless, America had always maintained its influence in Liberia due to its position as Liberia’s important strategic partner in the world. America assisted in the successful state situations building.

Due to the repressive and authoritarian rule of law, past leaders had to face resistance from the country’s grassroots population, and through the indirect involvement of external powers, several past leaders have been overthrown becoming victims of another coup. State-building in the Liberia has been a difficult proposition from the dawn of its history and is since then facing slow progress due to frequent changing of governments and leader.

Since then, Liberia’s postcolonial history was characterized by several military coups, elitist power struggles; the international community has continuously interfered since independence and the emergence of cleavages, which have made it difficult for state-building and the creation of a national identity to progress.

Meanwhile, during the 14-year dark era of Liberia, numerous gross atrocious and human rights abuses were committed without direct prosecution of the alleged perpetrators due to disagreement on which course to move forward with. For others, reconciliation is the best formula while others are calling for justice. The dynamics of the current disagreement among Liberians is driving another potential conflict which is undermining the co-existence, institutional building and governance exercises.

As a matter of reflection, Article XIII of the peace agreement states that Truth and Reconciliation Commission, shall be established to provide a forum that will address issues of impunity, as well as an opportunity for both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences, in order to get a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation.

The deal further states that in the spirit of national reconciliation, the Commission shall deal with the root causes of the crises in Liberia, including human rights violations and pinpoint cardinal issues that Commission shall, among other things, recommend measures to be taken for the rehabilitation of victims of human rights violations.

Liberia owes a duty under both international humanitarian and human rights laws to investigate and prosecute the heinous crimes, including torture, rape and extra-judicial killings of innocent civilians, committed in the country by the ex-warring parties in the course of 14 years of brutal conflict. In the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), our leaders need to display the confidence reposed in them by the people through their votes to bring to book all those responsible for the depopulation of the nation over the 14 years civil war to answer to the role they played in the long disturbing bloodbath.

Justice is indeed precious and beneficial, but where it is being delayed, obviously what is implied is then that the latter is also being denied; the issue of TRC’s recommendations must be addressed once and for all.

The various ex- armed factions targeted civilians and were responsible for massacres and systematic human rights abuses, and none of which was fighting for any recognizable cause or ideology. Tens of thousands of innocent Liberians have been brutally murdered in cold blood by armed factions that fought to have state power by force. The war was also characterized by the extensive use of child soldiers, boys younger than fifteen years old who were easy prey for all the factions.

But can either of the two essential dynamics -reconciliation or justice ensure true unity and peaceful existence in the country?  For other, war crimes court may contribute to justice, but this can be counterproductive for ensuring reconciliation between the alleged perpetrators of theses gross human rights violations. Moreover, the issues of political alienation and the persistent political struggles remained serious problems.

Also the issue of large impunity for war criminals has not yet been tackled with clear modalities-something which sparked the recent separate demonstration by advocate of justice for war crimes court. Equally, the 2004 DDRR process has not produced many results so far beyond collecting small weapons and offering lucrative positions to ex-warring factions’ leaders and heads of civil society organizations. In totality, the Accra Peace Accord is yet to be fully implemented almost 17 years now while the TRC recommendations for baring of certain individuals from holding political positions and the persecution of violators the processes nearly impossible.

Many of the opinions that, in short, the Liberian Government still struggles to implement TRC recommendation due to external factors,  financial resources, confidence of the people and a lack of commitment by certain individuals whose fears of being targeted. For others, the TRC recommendation is hindered by the continued fears of cycle of violence, the security vacuum, and the nation’s current economic stagnation.

The Accra peace accord process has shown that agreements were made between the government and the top ex-leaders of the main disbanded armed groups but failed to reach out to the majority of the population. The concluded peace agreements do not include the grassroots and middle-range organizations, institutions and average Liberian, as political elites and politicians wriggled for powers-occupations of positions in government.

The trustworthy religious and traditional leaders have a national duty to play a leading role in finding an amicable remedy to the planned “June 7 protest” and cement unity and peaceful co-existence in the country. It has been observed that that these leaders both traditional and religious have personal interests, therefore they have been silenced; except for few like Rev. Dr. Kortu K. Browne, a champion of good governance.

This involves the role of religious leaders in promoting unity and love among populations and respect for one another is highly important. The weaknesses of past peace-building efforts with the potential of religious leaders had in some meaningful way helped to answer the question of how religious leaders could be further involved improving the current impasse rapidly breeding disunity between the administration and oppositions political on one hand and the governors and vast majority of the governed in the country.

To conclude, in the interest of lasting peace and stability for the state and its peace loving people, President George Weah’s administration and organizers of the June 7 protest must dialogue, which is a way of exploring the roots of the many crises that face humanity today. It enables inquiry into, and understanding of, the sorts of processes that fragment and interfere with real communication.

About the Author: Josephus Moses Gbala-hinnih Gray is an Assistant Professor at the University of Liberia Graduate Program Of International Studies. He is a native born Liberian, hails from the Southeastern village of Kayken Chiefdom in Barclayville, Grand Kru County. He is an author, professor, diplomat and scholar with a wealth of rich credentials including a doctorate in International Relations and Foreign Policy Studies from Paris, France. He has authored two books, published Two Graduate Theses and a 600-page Doctoral Dissertation on the theme: “Geopolitics of African Oil and Energy: China and America New Strategic Interests in Africa”. He has written extensively and published over 70 articles on of contemporary issues. He can be contacted at Email: graymoses@yahoo.com/  Mobile (231) 880-3302-99

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