By Samuel G. Dweh |Freelance Development Journalist|
A group of visually impaired (blind) persons stormed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—where President George Manneh Weah’s official Office now is—on Thursday, September 17, 2020. There were on a ‘non-violent protest’
They were under the aegis “Hope For God Association of the Blind”
Children, who served as ‘walking aids’ to the adults, were in the group.
Some of the adults held placards with various inscriptions, including “WFP Where Is Our Food?” and “WFP, Please Give Our Food”
On my way to Central Monrovia at 11am, I met the group, comprising of more than 40 persons, less than two feet from a crossing metal bar serving as a ‘Security Check Point’, but being manned by a team of the Executive Protection Service (EPS), a special Presidential Guard.
“Gbekugbe, you know an empty bag can’t stand,” the group chanted, repeating the song. The “Gbekugbe” is President Weah’s Traditional Title or Name.
“My brothers and sisters, please move across the street, the President will still see you,” pleaded a plain cloth man, Francis Awona, Commander of the EPS detachment on ground.
“We can’t come from that far place, Barnesville, and you are telling us to leave this place!” replied one of the male protesters, who identified himself as Mulbah D. Sackie.
“President George Manneh Weah will meet us standing here!” supported one of the female protesters, Jardoh Beyan, holding here placard high into the air.
The information on most of the placards revealed the group’s common mission at this place being used as “Executive Mansion” by Head of State George Manneh Weah—similar to the entire 12-year Presidential tenure of his immediate predecessor, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
“We are here to tell President George Weah that we’ve been left out of the Government’s Coronvirus Food Distribution through the World Food Programme,” James Kiawu, who claimed to be leader of the protesting group, told me at the point of protest.
James said the Government’s registrars for the “Stimulus Package”—comprising of rice, beans and vegetable oil—had met his Organization during the nationwide Census, recorded the names of the Organization’s membership, but the food distributors couldn’t reach the base of the Hope For God Association of the Blind.
“Since the food distribution started more than four months ago, we this group has received, this other group has gotten, but the food distributors can’t come to us,” James Kiawu added.
He also said the leadership of the group had complained to Madam Naomi B. Harris, president of the National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD) to intervene on the Association’s behalf to the Government. NUOD is an independent advocacy body for all disabled people not covered by the Government’s “food package”
“But Madam Naomi Harris is not talking for us,” James Kiawu continued.
The NUOD president, who represents the independent disabled community on the Government’s Food Distribution Committee, didn’t respond to my e-mail (sent on same day of protest) soliciting her comments on James Kiawu’s “allegation”.
In June, member of another visually impaired group, United Blind Association of Liberia, with head office on Somalia Drive, outside of Monrovia, rejected eight (8) bags of rice (25 kilograms) from the Government as part of the COVID-19 “Stimulus Package”.
The group said the quantity of food was “too small” to cover a membership exceeding 100 persons. The Government had reported, via the media, that two persons will be entitled to a bag of rice.
The Government of Liberia, through the World Food Programme (WFP), started distribution of the COVID-19 “Food Package” on May 25,2020.
However, large percentage of the people, whose names had been recorded by the Government’s registration officers, is complaining of being “left out” of the distribution.
For example, many members under the Rock Valley Community, Electoral District # 8, Montserrado County, a another food distribution ground, on July 3, 2020 were complaining of being left out, even though their families’ names had been taken by the Government’s Food Census people.
spoke to me on the distribution ground about her situation.
“I registered my family of five including my husband and our three children on June 28, but the people sharing food here told me my name I had registered is not on the list with them. But I showed the supervisors my photo ID number issued by those who took our names in June,” Mrs. Famata George, one of the unfortunate family’s representatives told me at the distribution ground for Rock Valley community.
Many members of Liberia’s disabled community, who the Government considers as the “priority group” in the “Stimulus Package” target persons, haven’t received anything.
Many private Organizations are filling the void created by the Government’s limitation to reach these unlucky disabled people with dry food.
For example, on Sunday, August 16, 2020, an Indian Religious Group, Hindu Religious Society of Liberia, shared rice to a body of seventy five (75) persons of the Group of 77, directly under the Government through the Office of the Vice President of Liberia.