Liberian President’s Coronavirus Containment Measures: Resuscitating the ‘National Tragedy’ of 1979, 1980, 1985 or 1990

By Samuel G. Dweh—development journalist—+231 (0)886618906/776583266/samuelosophy@yahoo.com |

Liberian President, George Manneh Weah

This article ends with recommendations—solution methods

Disclaimer: This commentary isn’t a ‘prophecy’ of recurrence of events mentioned above, neither is it a ‘foretelling’ against the life of the President or any other person mentioned herein. It’s just a candid caution of the writer for the sustenance of national peace Liberians—with the tremendous assistance (with money, blood, or lives)—sacrificed so much for. Addition: This man (whose photo is above) is my for-life “idol” (on his: exhibited athletic talent, ‘humility’, patriotic works for his Country, and civil war-time ‘political neutrality’), beginning from the day, in 1986, I saw “Oppong” playing in a football match (between Young Survivors—of his community, Clara Town—and La Modelle International—of West Point Township) in my childhood community (Township of West Point—in Monrovia), beside his being my fellow ‘Grand Kruan’ (indigene of Grand Kru County, located in South-Eastern Liberia) However, I won’t be a ‘blind loyalist’ to this my ‘icon’ by being silent on or support to the President’s political or discretional missteps that are causing excruciating economic and political pains to over 90% of Liberians, and posing threats to his personal life.

A glimpse of current Liberia under global football-turned Head of State: Exodus of foreign investors going out of Liberia (due to much economic loss on government officials’ corruption, excessive spending on gas to power electric power-generating set—government’s national electric power grid is dead or epileptic); community-size of willing-to-work young men and women sitting idle (can’t find jobs); swarms of Liberian beggars on every street (especially in the City—Monrovia); high transport fare for   transport vehicle (privately own) on hike in gas price or ‘unregulated pricing’ by Central Government;  unending cries and threats from retired Armed Forces of Liberia’s officers and other civil servants on government’s long-delay to settle years-long national service benefits; high death rates of poor people at Pro-Poor Government’s health centers on corruption by senior health officials (regularly stealing drugs for their private hospitals) and junior health officials (often demanding bribes from patients before attending to them); mass deaths from drinking from contaminated wells (Liberia’s national drinking water supply source—Mount Coffee Dam—has been damaged since  civil) war time over 15 years ago); congestion of national prison centers on Government’s failure to curb crime (or facilitation of crimes by some law enforcement officers by renting their uniforms or arms to civilian criminals); and ‘national insecurity portrait’ of Liberia by reportage of journalists (creating an ‘unsafe business environment’ of Liberia to foreign investors outside) and Government’s biased actions (“political injustice”) against real or perceived political opponents.

MY STANCE ON THE SUBJECT

I strongly believe that the “Coronavirus virus” is real, that the Government of Liberia has the constitutional responsibility to protect citizens’ lives against the virus by instituting humane life-saving measures, and I advise all those in Liberia to adhere to “preventive measures” suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Government of Liberia (GoL)

THE CORONAVIRUS ISSUE

In March, 2020, the George Manneh Weah-led Government of Liberia announced presence of Coronavirus—that was first discovered in China— into Liberia.  Through the Country’s Chief Medical Office, the Government said the virus came into the Country Dr. Nathaniel Blama—Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

PRESIDENT WEAH’S CORONAVIRUS-BASED ACTIONS—TO PREVENT SPREAD OF THE VIRUS

In March, the Head of State gave order banning any “public gathering” of persons. This order covers religious worship services, learning at educational institutions, all economic activities carried out along various streets (where majority of the Country’s traders get money to sustain their lives and those of their dependents)

The President’s order was enforced in market areas by destruction of stands (tables, etc.) for traders’ wares by members of the Joint Task Force (composed of members of various State security agencies) formed in the City Government of each County. Each member of the Task Force has been issued a baton or a herdsman’s whip (called ‘ratten’ in Liberia) Many of them used this ‘weapon’ on the body of some traders who ‘defied’ or affronted them.

For Monrovia, the Capital of Liberia, the main ‘enforcement agency’ of the President’s order in market areas is the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC), headed by Mr. Jefferson Tamba Koijee (Mayor of Monrovia), who is the current National Chairman of the “Youth League” of the Congress of Democratic Change (CDC)—George Weah’s own political party—and holding same position in the ruling Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC)—a merger of four different political parties including that of the Vice President H.E. Jewel Howard-Taylor, National Patriotic Party (NPP) Mr. Koijee has brought into the MCC most members of the CDC’s “Youth League” who share a common mindset of “militarization”—use of hostility, thuggery, or hooliganism (mindset) during enforcement of an order from “above”.

The President’s order has been extended to closure of even neighborhood’s Tea Shops (main ‘breakfast’ centers for majority of present-day Liberia’s poor mid-night workers) on Sunday. This ‘law’ is mostly implemented with brutal force wherein members of the Task Force often barge into ‘open Shops’, create a ‘noisy scene’ on the shop owner about the ‘breach’ of the ‘Presidential law’—just to intimidate and extort money from the shop owner. The “money” collected from the law-breachers—to avoid being dragged to Court—do not reach the revenue box of the Municipal Government. It is shared among members of the Task Force and its ‘Commander’ relaxing at another place. On Sunday, you’ll see Task Force members (in various Counties) marching around  with herds man’s whip in each person’s hand to enforce the President’s order, some of them in dirty or faded uniform, sweating profusely, mouths smelling foul from drunk liquor, or eyes redden from smoked ‘grass’.

 

THE PRESIDENT’S “STATE OF EMERGENCY” SPEECH

On April 8, the Commander-in-Chief of the Liberian Armed Forces addressed the Nation on a platform tagged “State of Emergency”. Some of the “orders” issued in the President’s Address are: No business center should be open beyond “3:00pm” and everybody should be off the street during this time; nobody should be outside from 11:59pm to 6:00am (indirect curfew); and nobody should leave or enter any of thirteen Counties of Liberia, except Montserrado County (where the Head of State resides has his Presidential office) and Margibi County (with Liberia’s International Airport—where officials of the World Bank, African Development Bank, and other Liberia’s International Financial Benefactors enter through)

According to the President’s speech, the ‘national emergency’ will begin at 11:59pm of Saturday, April 11, 2020, and will last three weeks (21 days), with extension if the number of “confirmed cases” continues rising.

But on Day One of the “national emergency” order enforcement (Saturday, April 11, 2020), some State security elements began enforcing the no-movement-at-3:00pm component of the “national emergency” as early as 6am of the commencement date (Saturday, April 11). For example, a team of armed Police officers created a barricade at the “Vamoma Junction” (25th Street), preventing passage of vehicles going to Liberia’s current largest market ground (popularly called “Redlight Market”)—that supplies fresh and dry foods to various markets in the City—and to Central Monrovia. Most of the blocked passengers were traders heading to “Redlight Market”, to return to their trading bases (in their communities) before “3:00pm” arrives. All the traders in the vehicles (including their colleagues waiting around the Traffic lights for public transport vehicles) turned back. All frustrated!

“I heard President Weah call three-pm as the time everybody should be off the street, but Government’s security people have started preventing movement seven hours to the announced time,” a woman with several binded empty rice bags complained, after the stopped mini transport bus she was running to board made a u-turn on the ‘President’s order’ enforcers.

“They will soon start preventing poorer civilians like me from going to our daily bread sources during this time too,” lamented Mrs. Alice Massaquoi, a resident of Lakpazee community, on being prevented from going to her house-care work in Old Road community, about thirty-minute walking distance from the barricaded area. She was standing about four yards from the wall of State security officers. She had waited over 25 minutes for a public vehicle going toward her work place, but prevented from entering the first bus that stopped for her.

About twenty-five minutes to the 3:00pm, of Day One of the enforcement, some members of the Joint Task Force (of various law enforcement agencies), began raiding pedestrians, flogging some of men walking to their houses far away, and seizing motorcycles from their operators.

“In the Fiamah community, a group of the Task Force members seized a motorbike being operated by a Guinean baker rushing with plastic bags full with Fula bread to his customers, about fifteen minutes to the time. One of them rode the bike away,” Mr. Varney Massaquoi, a teacher at a school in Central Matadi, Sinkor, Monrovia, reported to me when I was writing this article. “They have breached the part of Liberia’s Constitution that says enforcement officers should save a civilian’s property from robbery, not to rob the civilian,” Mr. Massaquoi added.

On the other hand, many civilians have been consciously breaking the Government’s ‘no movement’ order, loitering through main vehicular or pedestrian roads in their communities beyond the “3:00pm” and the “curfew” time (11:59pm). In the community I live, for example, many young men and women have been marching to the street only to drink alcohol at one of the liquour sale spots sill serving its costumers against the Government’s directive on “social distancing” (gathering), or talk non economic or academic things—only politics—and staying here one or two hours. They only run back to their homes or into corners of the community when they spot a team of the Task Force or a Police car coming toward them. But they soon move back to the street when the enforcers or the car vanish from sight.

On Monday, April 12 the official report on the Coronavirus, from the Government, stated: “51 confirmed cases and five deaths.” This report covered the entire Country.

THE ECONOMIC PANGS OF PRESIDENT WEAH’S “CORONAVIRUS-RELATED ACTIONS”

Over seventy percent (70%) of the Liberian population had been living in abject poverty before Coronavirus entered Liberia (as reported by the George Weah’s Government)—exacerbated by the Country’s “broken-down economy” (President’s Weah recurrent description) the current Head of State “inherited” from his immediate predecessor: Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on January 22, 2018.

The economic condition of this “higher number of citizens” has been deepened by the President’s announcement—coupled with closure of Liberia’s border points through which more than ninety percent (90%) of foods of the Country’s poor foods (beside rice) enter through and downloaded at Redlight Market before being transported to various markets in many of L.iberia’s Counties with no bigger agricultural base to feed the County.

With the President’s order of “restricted movement” (barely five traditional working hours given—9:00am-3:00pm) and “a curfew” (11:59am-6:00am) in force, how can the Nation’s poor people “find” food to survive? Over eighty percent of the citizenry can’t afford foods sold at Supermarket, most of which are imported. And majority of the citizens get money—to buy food—in the period the President had announced as start-point for everybody to be off the street.

Majority of citizens have started imagining brutal or criminal enforcement methods by some members of the Presidential Task Force during nighttime. They say the enforcers would start flogging persons on “breaking the law” even before the curfew time (6:59pm) reaches; some would turn into “robbers” on stores and other bigger business centers whose owners are sleeping at other places.

Other Task Force members will use the ‘curfew’ as an opportunity to unleash ‘terror’ against persons they had been harbouring grudge against on land-related matter, lover-snatching, or another long-time issue.

Hopeless on the Government’s failure on protecting them against actions not endorsed by the Government (beating and robberies) by the State security persons authorized only to “humanely enforce the President’s order”, many civilians will brutally or tragically defend themselves. The ‘defenseless people’ would use hunter’s gun (when they can’t find pistol or AK47 being used by some of the Task Force members), cutlass, knife, baton, acid—just any ‘weapon’ whose ‘once hit’ would sniff life out of the law enforcer-turned ‘terrorizer’.

These “Presidential actions” and counter-actions by the “ordinary civilians” will magnify the “national emergency”, which will “emotionally move” (empathy) the International Donor Community to rain the “millions” (money) down to Liberia through the Liberian Government to “fight Coronavirus”. Some Liberian skeptics are saying most of this money will be diverted to personal accounts or kept in private homes. Is this the wish/scheme of President George M. Weah—to get money from playing on foreigners’ “empathetic emotions”, when he can’t generate money from the Country’s natural resources, citizens’ talents and skills—on counsel from his “political advisors” or “foreign international lobbyists”?

The President’s actions—channeled through State security persons—might engender (cause) national tragedies as did those of two of his predecessors before Liberia’s civil war and those of his forebear during the war, or may cause his ‘dishonorable exit’ from power as it happened to the ex-war lord-turned Head of State, in 2003.

GOVERNMENT’S  “MEDIA BIAS” AGAINST INDEPENDENT MEDIA INSTITUTIONS IN THE NATIONAL FIGHT AGAINST CORONAVIRUS

On the day after President George M. Weah made the speech on “national emergency”, the leadership of Liberia’s media umbrella—Press Union of Liberia (PUL)—approached the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) to issue Passes to (all) ‘registered’ Liberian Journalists wishing to monitor and report on “actions” by Government’s Task Force members and the members of the civilian community during the “national emergency” period. The PUL leadership’s request to the Information Ministry was based on President Weah’s promise, in his speech, of his Government’s issuance of Passes to “accredited media institutions”

But the number of Passes MICAT—headed by Lenns Eugene Nagbe, a retired Journalist—issued through the leadership of PUL on Friday, April 10, is less than the number of “accredited media institutions” the President had targeted, Mr. James Davids, Project Manager at PUL’s Headquarter, disclosed to me during my engagement with him on the media Passes-related matter on Saturday, April 1, 2020.

“The Ministry told us there was no sufficient funding to print all the Passes to cover all the accredited media institutions,” Mr. Davids, a print journalist (now inactive) added.

The Government’s failure in promise and the PUL leadership’s handicap have started compelling many owners/employers of accredited media institutions to directly engage MICAT for Passes for their employees, instead of waiting for the PUL leadership—the Government’s channel for Passes to “independent media institutions. But none of them could get Passes for the total number of names of staff employees—especially reporters—they had given to the PUL.

An owner of an accredited (Government-approved) independent media institution, who begged me to not reveal his name in this article, which could cause the Government’s total exemption of his entity on the Pass matter, said MICAT’s complain of “insufficient funding to print more Passes” for independent media institutions is a ploy solely intended to leave out private media institutions that had been critical on Government’s actions before arrival of the Coronavirus and during the national fight against the epidemic.

“Without the Passes, reporters of these independent media institutions will not go out on reportorial assignments or tours during the Government’s don’t-go-out time. If they ventured out, just to report on happenings, they will be flogged by the State security officers enforcing the President’s orders and their gadgets seized,” the media employer presumed, responding to my inquiry.

But not all owners of independent media institutions were unlucky on getting less than the number of Passes they had put in for.

“For my media institutions, I sent in five names and received Passes for all the five persons,” Mr. Frank Sainworla, veteran journalist (now inactive), Publisher/Managing Editor of News Public Trust revealed to me on Sunday, April 12, 2020, when I asked him on the Media Pass matter.

If the rumor of Government’s ‘selective Pass issuance’ becomes a reality with less than the total submitted names to PUL/MICAT issued on the last day of the Pass issuance, only reporters working with State-owned media institutions and pro-Government’s independent media institutions will be in the field, covering happenings of the Coronavirus-related “national emergency” And these pro-Government Journalists will remain mute or never write about the ‘atrocities’ committed by the Government’s “law enforcers”

This Governmental ‘partiality’ may also be extended to freelance journalists, but are member of the Press Union of Liberia (like the writer of this article), who often keep the Government’s feet to the fire to do the right thing for the unity and development of Liberia—and regularly lambast their colleagues and leadership of the Press Union of Liberia on ‘deviation’ from “ethical journalism”

But we, Journalists, should first remove the speck (of unethical reportage) in our eyes before telling national leaders to remove the block (of immoral behavior) from their eyes.

RESUSCITATING THE TRAGEDIES OF 1979, 1980, 1985 & 1990

George Manneh Weah, who rode easily to Liberia’s most exalted seat (Presidency) on the masses’ love on his global stardom in soccer and his “neutrality” in Liberia’s civil war, seems unaware that he’s ‘bringing back to life’ one of Liberia’s national tragedies which engendered loss of the life of the orchestrator (President) during that time or shameful exit of the President from power.

THE NATIONAL TRAGEDY

1979: Hundreds of Liberians murdered by armed Government’s security agents dispersing the masses’ revolt against a US$4.00 increase on a 100-pound bag of American Parboiled rice by the William R. Tolbert’s Government—through Commerce Minister Florence Chenoweth. One of the organizers the protest was influential politician Gabriel Baccus Matthew. Most families couldn’t afford the US$4.00 increment.

President George Manneh Weah’s Coronavirus-containment actions, that began since March, has caused a hike in the price of a 25-kilogram of rice from LD$ 2,500 (in most stores/shops—before arrival of the Coronavirus in Liberia) to LD$3,150 (in most stores/shops) The “no movement” and “curfew” order would increase the price beyond the current price (between LD$2,900 and 3,150) as most rice sellers are now causing “artificial scarcity” (hoarding) just to sell at high price to “rich people” on “panic buying”.

When the price of the bag of rice has gone beyond the current amount (LD$2,900) most families can’t afford, “extremely hungry” people will come out during the curfew time to find food. The President’s order enforcers will apply force in removing the hungry people off the street. Most of the hungry people will retaliate. The reciprocal actions will cause harm on bodies of most of the State security officers and the civilians. Lives will be lost during the altercation—similar to the 1979’s “Rice Riot”

1980 (April 12): President Tolbert was assassinated by a junior Army officer named Samuel Kanyon Doe. The murder was partially attributed to “hunger of the masses”, due to President Tolbert’s “economic measures” that further pauperize most of the citizenry.

Some of the victims of hunger during current President George Manneh Weah’s Coronavirus-related actions may raise their guns toward the Head of State.

1985: Attempt at the life of the new President, Samuel Kanyon Doe, through an ambush. He survived, escaped, but Presidential bullet-proof Jeep riddled with marks of the bullets. Body guard dead on the spot. Bazooka used, according to some reports. Army officer Thomas Quionkpa, of the Gio/Mano ethnic, suspected as culprit of ambush, arrested and murdered. Ambusher’s action linked to Liberians’ cry of the masses on “hunger” with nepotism (political injustice) by the Head of State—a member of the Krahn ethnic group.

Seeing President Weah as the cause of their families’ “suffering” (long-period hunger), some frustrated persons could finally resort to “unconstitutionally remove” Dr. George Manneh Weah as the Head of State of Liberia. The opposition political bloc “may support” the “ambush”

1990 (September 9): President Samuel Kanyon Doe murdered. “Suffering of the masses” as part of the “reasons”. Some of the other causes presumed by concerned people: Nepotism ( a form of political injustice), political witch-hunt by the President and his loyalists (especially kinsmen) and murder of “hiding” members of the Gio/Mano ethnic group (kinsmen of perceived “Ambush leader” Thomas Quionkpa) by the President’s kinsmen in the Compound of the Lutheran Church—located on 14th Street, Sinkor, Monrovia.

Is current Head of State George Manneh Weah imagining this “end”?

SEEING THE “PRESIDENCY” AS A “FORTRESS”

Most Presidents, especially those in Africa, see the Presidency as a fortress (or Castle) that is so tall that no “unauthorized person” can get through. On this thought, each of these Leaders gives a damn to the crushing effects his/her action would have on their disadvantaged compatriots.

Incidents from Liberia, prior to the George Weah’s Leadership period, have shown that the “Presidency” isn’t a Fortress. Examples: President William R. Tolbert was murdered in his office (Presidency)—1980. His “magical stick” couldn’t save him. President Samuel Kanyon Doe was captured and murdered while he was in the “Executive status”—1990. None of his huge and “towering” body guards of the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit (SATU) could save him. President Charles McArthur Taylor’s hands were placed in “silver bangles” (hand cuffs) and bundled out of Liberia when he was still having access to his “Fortress” (Executive Mansion) None of his Libya-trained, fearsome Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU) members could save him.

On personal security, Liberia’s current President George Manneh Weah is not as secured now (2017-2020) as each of his predecessors was. His office is in a ‘rented private building’ (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), located few meters from the only route connecting Central Monrovia other parts of Liberia toward the Country’s International Airport. Besides his immediate predecessor (Ellen Johnson Sirleaf), who spent her 12 years of Presidency at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but was ‘guarded’ throughout by the ‘presence’ of United Nations armed peacekeeping group (United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL) throughout her 12-year rule, each of his other predecessors had his office at the Executive Mansion (Liberia’s historical Presidential Villa), ‘guarded’ by closeness of the Nation’s main Army Base (Barclay Training Center, BTC) In 2006, President Ellen Sirleaf changed BTC into “Ministry of National Defense” for her own safety.

President George M. Weah ‘inherited’ his current ‘Presidential Guard’ (Executive Protection Service, EPS) from his successor—Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—who formed it (for herself) The two are on “sour relationship” (beginning from elections in 2017), reflected in still-being-played ‘insulting political songs’ for the Presidential elections in 2017: “Ugly monkey” (a song referring to Presidential candidate George Manneh song by Presidential candidate Ellen Sirleaf’s song writer/singer) and “Old German Monkey” (a song referring to Presidential candidate Ellen Sirleaf  by Presidential candidate George Manneh’s song writer/singer) Some of the EPS members are still ‘loyal’ to their ‘former’ political benefactor (ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf), and she can  ‘use’ them against their ‘new employer’ (current President George Manneh Weah)

RECOMMENDATIONS

Having described President George Manneh Weah’s actions—through State security persons—I will now end this article with the following solution methods:

The Head of State should extend the day-time “no-movement” to 5:00pm, considering current scarcity of public transport vehicles due to high price of gas on the local market.

The Government should establish Hotlines for citizens to report any human right violation by any of the State security officers enforcing the President’s law against spread of Coronavirus. And the Government should respond promptly to any “crisis call”

The Government should empower the independent Liberian media community (all) to adequately and impartially educate the citizenry on the Coronavirus

The Task Force enforcing the President’s orders should perform with patriotism—meaning they are enforcing the order on fellow Liberians (their own), not strange creatures from another planet

All persons directly affected by the President’s orders (civilians) should show respect for the Head of State and his ‘ambassadors’ by obeying the Coronanviru-spread instruction from any of the Task Force members.

Fighting Coronavirus isn’t the time to rake money, unduly offend anybody, or destroy the life of any Liberian.

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About Cholo Brooks 12187 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.