‘Rattan Raid’ on Monrovia Street Sellers

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The huge amount of money reportedly used by the LNP to buy rattan (cane wicker) that would help in the enforcement of the rule of law or Ebola protocols during the height of the 2014 EVD crisis in Liberia was never justified up to the time the country was declared Ebola-free.

But that didn’t mean not justifying what was considered a “controversial buy” at that time, could not be justified in the future—or the LNP would never have the opportunity to put their purchase to work. They therefore did just that during the morning hours of Monday, July 18, when hundreds of street vendors were whipped off the streets. Had the LNP indeed justified one of the most controversial purchases during the EVD crisis?

One of the many controversies of the GAC audit of the Ebola fund in Liberia, where a mammoth US$15,169,635 was allegedly misused and abused by the Incident Management System (IMS), the functionary responsible to oversee the fight against the EVD, was the LNP rattan purchase issue. The IMS was headed by then Assistant Health Minister, Tolbert Nyenswah.

Officers, especially those from the Monrovia City Police and the Liberia National Police Support Unit (PSU), were yesterday seen whipping street vendors with rattans that might have likely retrieved from nearly two years of storage. Locally known as “I tire talking,” the rattan is usually used to intimidate or beat on stubborn children, usually at home or in the learning environment.

The police say Government does not want these people selling in the streets as they (police) have been mandated to get them off the streets.

The vendors were being chased from every corner of central Monrovia and their merchandise seized. Some were beaten severely with bodily wounds sustained. The sellers are usually accused of retarding the smooth flow of traffic, especially during rush hour or at busy intersections throughout the day, while selling on the streets.

Worse yet, the street sellers pose a safety hazard to themselves and motorists. Yesterday morning at the ELWA Junction, a woman driving a white pickup hit a young male street seller and wounded his left foot, which bled profusely. The young man lay on the tarmac for several minutes until one of his fellow sellers helped him into the back of the pickup, so he could be taken for treatment.

This time in Monrovia, it was not police officers, who were the victims, but rather Streets vendors who were selling in central Monrovia, along the busy commercial areas along Randall, Mechlin, Ashmun and other streets, where they usually come to carry on their daily hustles. They had no idea what they would have met upon their arrival at their various place of sales.

To their dismay of the many vendors, they were about to encounter the rough sides of officers of the Liberia National Police, Who were accordingly enforcing an order from the municipal government.

The police versus vendors’ incident, some of which almost turned into scuffle, nearly brought the city to a standstill as victims ran helter-skelter through every street corner, trying to get away from the officers.

“What you people want us to do? How yor want us to live if we don’t sell?” one of the victims, who sells imported clothes, asked while being whipped by officers.

“We do this for our living and you people are again taking our livelihood from us. How do you expect us to survive,” said Amanda, whose goods were destroyed while being seized and bundled into a pickup. Amanda only chose to provide her first name when asked.

Another victim, after being whipped by an officer, insisted that he be taken to court so that he can be informed of what crime he committed. “What have I done wrong? Have I committed any crime that I should be treated like this? I will not leave from behind you until you take me to court,” he said.

Many of the victims were unable to speak to the press as they were agonizing over the physical – in some cases, bloody – assault by police, while also bearing the frustration of their merchandise being taken away.

The victims said they are being whipped off the streets without notice, though MCC and LNP officers indicated that the vendors were informed over the weekend that as of Monday (yesterday) they would not be allowed to sell in the streets. They said the exercise is meant to give the city a facelift as the Independence celebration approaches.

Many considered the whipping of the street vendors downtown Monrovia as police brutality, but officers said they were executing an assignment given them by their bosses – authorities of the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC) and the Liberia National Police

According to some LNP officers, who could not speak to reporters but rather preferred talking out rightly or randomly, they have been mandated to carry out the exercise in preparation of the nation’s 169th independence celebration, which occurs on July 26, one week from today.

An impeccable source also indicated that the officers are enforcing an order from the higher ups. The source also said that the police want to ensure that as of August 1, there will be no more street selling in Monrovia. According to reports, similar exercise will soon take place in the City of Paynesville, especially as its mayor has just returned from a foreign trip.

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