By: Joel Cholo Brooks |
As hundreds of Chinese are said to be perishing as a result of the outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus which has taken the lives of 1,665 and 68.500 number of cases in mainland China, according to the latest statistics released, Liberians who are the major importers of RICE from China and Taiwan (Republic of China) are now thinking what will happen in few weeks to come after fighting for the arrival of gasoline.
Already, Liberians are expressing fears for the would be delay in the arrival of their staple food RICE, worrying over the current health disaster that hangs over China, Liberia major importers, which they believed will have the propensity of stalling the importation of the product to Liberia.
Over the past decades China and Taiwan or the Republic of China (ROC) have been the major importation of RICE in Liberia, the stable food of Africa’s oldest republic but is yet to produce its own, the Asians have been the driving force for the importation of their stable food.
RICE has always been the food that has over the years irritated Liberians whenever it is lacking, RICE has been a political commodity in Liberia; the historical April 14, 1979 rice riot when the then Minister of Agriculture, Florence Chenoweth, proposed an increase in the subsidized price of rice from $22 per 100-pound bag to $26, on this day about 2,000 activists began what was planned as a peaceful march on the Executive Mansion turned soured.
The April 14, 1979 Rice Riot was the proverbial straw that unleashed 25 years of violence, mayhem, anarchy, death and destruction in Liberia.
The Rice Riot was organized by the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), headed by the late political activist Gabriel Baccus Matthews against the backdrop of a proposed increase in the price of a 100lb bag of rice from $22 to $26.
According to official records the intent of the increase was to buttress Liberian farmers’ efforts to maximize production and economic viability for the nation’s staple food producers.
Since that fateful day, some political activists and observers of political events in Liberia have described the event as the most turbulent in the annals of Liberian history.
Sadly, a year later a bloody coup was staged by 17 non-commissioned officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) that led to the overthrow of the grand old True Whig Party (TWP) of the then Liberian government.
Many opinions gathered from all sides of the Liberian political spectrum, including the young and older generations, pointed to the fact that change was inevitable in Liberia.
Some of them argued that the change was not necessary through the barrel of a gun. Others warned that it was well known that people who seize power through gun violence would eventually turn dictators.
The demonstration signified, for the first time in many decades, that Liberians had seized the right to assemble and protest against the government.
The PAL leaders at the time convinced many Liberians that they could import rice to Liberia and sell it for US$9.00 per 100lb bag. Considering the fact that rice is the Liberian staple, the demonstration drew a massive crowd, unparalleled in the history of Liberia.
Such political rhetoric and sugar coated statement persuaded many Liberians to buy the sentiments of these “progressive” political leaders.
In their wisdom (or lack thereof), little did the PAL leaders expect the demonstration to turn violent and that many Liberians would die as a result of their well-planned action.
The PAL leaders introduced a new phrase which became famous in the Liberian political lexicon: “In the cause of people, the struggle continues.”
In my view, the struggle still continues today because the price of rice, for which the late President William Richard Tolbert, Jr. was made the sacrificial lamb in a bloody military coup on April 12, 1980, is still quite high.
Ironically, immediately after the coup, all the tried and convicted PAL leaders were set free and awarded with lucrative positions in the military government of the late Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe.
Making matters worse in Liberia, the coup makers, having tasted power, sounded a clarion call to Liberians that they were prepared stay and lead the nation and its people to prosperity through a sound democratic process.
However, in a highly and politically contested presidential and general elections in 1985, the coup makers and political fortune hunters manipulated the results in a well master minded and rigged elections, never to be equalled in the political history of Liberia.
In my own sober reflection and recollection of the political calendar of events in Liberia for the past 30 years, most if not all the lofty promises made by the then new political leaders did not reach the “Promised Land.”
To date, the struggle to regulate the price of rice continues, something for which on April 22, 1980, Liberia’s most powerful and economically potent leaders were tied to light poles and executed by a firing squad on a beach in Monrovia.
Liberians who spoke to the GNN say they are of the hope that history of such nature will not be repeated, where they will have to back to those dark days to rekindle another rice riot; lesson to be learned from our past history must be for Liberians ton go back to the soil and grow their stable food, RICE.