Today’s called meeting (May 14, 2019) by the Liberian leader, President George Manneh Weah with leadership of the Council of Patriots (CoP), the group spearheading the June 7, 2019 protest was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the presence of the media, other officials of government, UN, AU and ECOWAS and members of the Religious Community.
At the meeting, the leadership of the CoP made its point very clear that it honored the invitation as a traditional to honor such an invitation, and further stated the since the invitation was about the President to “hear their concern”.
The CoP strictly said their sole and only concern to the President and the government is to have the President commit to upholding the constitution and guaranteeing before the media, the UN, AU and ECOWAS that government will provide the enabling environment and security protection for citizens gathering beginning June 7 to express their grievances and petition the government for redress.
For its part, the UN spoke, encouraging that June 7 is not compromised and that citizens be granted their rights to protest in an orderly and peaceful manner, the group also said, “We stand by our decision to hold up to June 7 and that our people cannot be let down.”
Earlier during the meeting, the Liberian leader, President George Manneh Weah told the Council of Patriots, organizers of planning a major Save the State June 7 Protest in Monrovia to rethink their plans in order to maintain post-war peace and stability in Liberia.
Speaking further the Liberian leader said, his administration is doing all it can to fix the economy. “To fix the economy we have to put in all those measures. Now, to do all these things, the semblance of instability protest is not the best way. That’s why we are here today to dialogue. Is that the only to talk about what happened in our country to get into the streets? Mine you; we have an economic issue, according to all of us. Every time we get into the streets, it costs us,” said President Weah.
The President reminded protest organizers in the presence of Mr. Yacoub El Hillo, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Liberia and Ambassador Babatunde Olanrewaju Ajisomo, Special Representative of the President of the ECOWAS Commission, that government could be force to cough out millions to contain their protests. “To pay for community, we spend about three to four hundred dollars and the dwellers are happy. To get into the streets and guard protesters, it costs us million plus United States dollars; that money could be going toward fixing our community roads instead of going to put security in the streets, logistics and what have you. So, as long as we continue to protest, there will be of course economic issues. So, let us be mindful that it is helping to bring the economy down.”
President Weah said his administration would never try to stop any citizen from speaking to their government, issuing a reminder that there have already been a handful of protests since his administration took office last January, all ending peacefully.
“To fix the economy we have to put in all those measures. Now, to do all these things, the semblance of instability protest is not the best way. That’s why we are here today to dialogue. Is that the only to talk about what happened in our country to get into the streets? Mine you, we have an economic issue, according to all of us. Every time we get into the streets, it costs us.” President George Manneh Weah
Said the President: “Day One when I got here, I saw market women at the junction, I brought them because it was not the right thing to do; so, I brought them in for us to talk, they gave their concerns and we were able to help them, the same with LU students – they were at the corner here and I called them in to dialogue and they came and we fix the issue – and those issues, you listen to even the LU students saying that it’s not true and what have you but as we speak, LU has received $2.3 million of this free school we are talking about for their own operations. So, when you listen to some group in LU you will think that nothing is going on. But there are just few things I went to the Senate to speak on and I think, I’m not an economist but I know what is happening to this economy, you are left with 2,000 health workers, we have to put them on payroll but if we didn’t do that we will have 2,000 people in the streets.”
“The government alone cannot fix the economy. We have a lot of political actors to help, those people who aspiring to be leaders tomorrow, you have about four more years to come in leadership, anything you can do for the country, your ideas are welcomed, we listen to your suggestions and ideas, you don’t have to work to bring businesspeople in, I mean that’s why we said to Liberians, you will not be spectator to the economy, so if you have ideas to make agriculture boom – you come on the table, we are willing to do so but again, in the spirit of unity, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I think the best thing to do is to think about the past where we came from and those horrible past and let us conduct ourselves in a peaceful manner.”
President Weah said a gathering of protesters now would only bring more hardship on struggling Liberians feeling the pinch of a dismal economy. “We have two thousand people to employ, so we have 2,000 people we have to bring on board to the health sector. What about the effects? So, all of these things we fixing them, the government, even with some semblance of hardships, the government is doing well. We are developing our roads because as I said to the United Nations and everywhere, we want to make roads a priority because if you have roads, you have access to health, you have access to agriculture, you will have access to many parts of the country. We have not had that for seventy, eight years.”
President Weah said his administration is at the moment trying to decongest the country and the only way to do that is to build roads and connect the country. “With protest, we can’t do that.”
The President said, as a former political actor when he was in the opposition, he had to call off protests in the past because of peace. “I was a political actor here and I sat here so many times and it came a time that people appealed to me that kids have to go to school and people need to go about their daily lives so I found means to put it off and we did.”
The President said while there were segments in the CDC that always complained that they had paid for the protest, he used his leadership of the party to convince them to call off protests a number of times. “I called it off because it’s not in the interest of the country and this is why I did. Some protests were necessary but, in most cases, we had to call it off. I’m not saying that we are doing to stop protesters from protesting – I mean that’s the right to protest but what I’m saying is that is it necessary to protest? What are you going to say in the streets that you cannot say on the table? The list you are going to present for someone to receive, you could have brought the list here- and so let us not think that going to the streets, if it’s not chaotic is already distracting businesses and you people going to school.”
The President assure protests organizers that his administration is not a dictatorship. “We do not have dictatorship in our government and it’s never going to be because we were once advocates, advocates of what freedom and justice should be – and so to the COP, I know we have up to June 7, we can continue to dialogue and find the reasons why we want to protest and we can talk about it but if you still desire to protest it’s your right – and we will ask the justice minister and the minister will make sure that they guide you and protect you because, according to your leader, they want to guarantee protest.”
The President added that if there’s no way to convince COP to end the protest, his administration will ensure that it is guarded peacefully. “If we reach to that point where we can’t seize the protest then the justice minister and our team will make sure they guide you in a very peaceful condition and atmosphere as we have done in the past because we have had more than two protests since we took office and both ended peacefully and that it is good for the country.”
“The peace and stability of this country is a paramount concern to all of us. Anybody making insinuations that the exercise of a democratic right is a threat to the peace that person is insinuating that they don’t respect the peace because when you remind people and deprive them from the exercise of their rights, sometimes the result can be bad. We do not intend to do so.”
The President invited members of the opposition to help contribute and offer advice to the government on a way forward and help contribute to the development of Liberia. “The government alone cannot fix the economy. We have a lot of political actors to help, those people who aspiring to be leaders tomorrow, you have about four more years to come in leadership, anything you can do for the country, your ideas are welcomed, we listen to your suggestions and ideas, you don’t have to work to bring business people in, I mean that’s why we said to Liberians, you will not be spectator to the economy, so if you have ideas to make agriculture boom – you come on the table, we are willing to do so but again, in the spirit of unity, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I think the best thing to do is to think about the past where we came from and those horrible past and let us conduct ourselves in a peaceful manner.”
President Weah lamented that contrary to perceptions that he does not have tough skin, he has come under fire as perhaps the most insulted President in the history of the world. “If you notice, honorable Yacoub, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, elders, I am the most insulted president ever in the world – I take that, that is good because I am the one that fought hard in the legislature to sign your human rights law, but I’m the most insulted person, now you have the freedom to insult the president, to say anything you want to say because you have that freedom but you see, freedom comes with responsibility.”
The President said that fact that Liberians are today enjoying freedom and many are freely expressing themselves, it comes with responsibility. “Because you have the freedom to express yourself it doesn’t mean that you should abuse that freedom, to insult the president, to threatened the state and to incite people, that is wrong.”
President Weah said he too has a responsibility to maintain the peace. “I have a responsibility given to me that you give me, my constitutional duty to protect the state and the freedom of the people that I’m not with you because as you know protesters will go to the streets, non-protesters will need to do business, so, I only ask you that we sit on the table and talk about our differences – and I don’t want to say that you are not leaders but I know that you have more than ten leaders with you, like the Imam said, I listen to the Imam one time on radio, the protesters have their rights but since it’s Ramadan time, let them wait, so, that’s his own right, he’s trying to advocate for. Again, everyone has the right to advocate for their rights and that is a good thing. So, let’s make sure that we think about this country, think about where it came from to today.”
The President urged all Liberians to put aside their personal feeling and work for the common good of Liberia. “Forget about the personal thing, let’s talk about the general things, how Liberians will be better, our country will be better and what have you.”
The President said he has been on the back of his officials who have been in the habit of insulting Liberians and making sure that they stop. “Every day our country is behind the government officials to say that those things that they say on the internet and the way they work they have to work diligently; this is where we are. So, because of the respect I’m here but I notice that your leaders, every time they ask for meeting, they walk away. But I just want to say something, it’s not because of the respect I’m here, it’s because you who turned out, it’s because of your respect that I’m here and I want to assure you that I will continue to engage any time you call me but this state, by the law we have to respect the state and make sure that we protect civil liberty and make sure that Liberia moves forward because we have a responsibility to make sure that we maintain the peace of this country and protect our people. Your rights are your rights, we will continue to work with you and am happy that you are here today and Happy Unification Day to all.”
Mr. Abraham Darius Dillon, spokesperson for the COP said organizers are planning a peaceful protest and no one should interpret otherwise. ‘The peace and stability of this country is a paramount concern to all of us. Anybody making insinuations that the exercise of a democratic right is a threat to the peace that person is insinuating that they don’t respect the peace because when you remind people and deprive them from the exercise of their rights, sometimes the result can be bad. We do not intend to do so. “