In President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's August 19 announcement of the nationwide curfew, she ordered the closure of all entertainment centers, and that video clubs be closed by 6pm.
The decision of the president has left many entertainment venue owners and managers in a state of dilemma and confusion. Speaking to this paper on Wednesday wasTarek Ghosn, a Lebanese national who manages Lila Brown, a well-attended restaurant/pub in along the beach in Mamba Point. Tarek has been in Liberia for the past three years now; and what really attracted him to Africa, he says, was the fact that you could build something with your own hands and have a long future to look forward to. But that doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment given the ebola crisis and the President's latest announcement.
Tarek expressed his confusion about the closure of entertainment centers and his disappointment with the early curfew. His opinion of the entire issue is that the government of Liberia should be more specific. “I’m sad that such a decision was taken, and I’m also sad that they’re not clarifying what an entertainment center is. Because if you notice, my place has a lot of space to keep you preoccupied — to come here and have dinner — and normally people don’t last here till after 11pm because most people come just to chill during the day mostly to have drinks and pass the time and relax. Also, because I have the beach next to me, now its being created like one of those small places that holds up to 500 people gathered just to buy beer and stuff. So I’m kind of disappointed that its not very detailed as in which of the restaurants are you talking about. For example, the sushi bar in Mamba Point — is it considered an entertainment center? Are they protected because they are a hotel and I’m not a hotel?”
Mr. Ghosn also told this paper that his sole livelihood depends on his business and if he should close it, he will have no means of survival.
Meanwhile Tarek is not the only one disappointed about the latest declaration by the President. Also speaking to this paper was J. Wallace Quaye, manager of Tides The Bar, a rooftop cocktail bar and seafood restaurant located on Water Street, lower Mamba Point. According to Mr. Quaye, the bar was his only line of business and means of income, and the closure would be a major set back for not just him but his staff as well. When asked what would be his next step, he answered, “We’ll be looking up to the government; what it says is what we will go by. We want to remain law abiding citizens.”
But whether Lila Brown or Tides, or Exodus (one of the most populated local entertainment centers, which is still not closed), the question still remains, whom does the government consider an “entertainment center”?
In a phone interview with the Daily Observer, Information Minister Lewis Brown put it simply, "Once it forms the gathering of individuals, it should be shut down."
But when questioned about places like Royal Hotel and other hotels that also do gather individuals, he responded saying, "Royal Hotel is not an entertainment center, it's a hotel. And if they have a place open there that brings people together, it should be shut down." But he quickly added that "Restaurants are not entertainment centers, they're places people go to eat and we're talking about night clubs."
As the government zooms in on what is and what is not an entertainment center, what is actually clear is the gray area, where many of these well established facilities serve as both bars and restaurants all in one — where people go to actually have a decent meal, as well as drinks. But the government may not have thoroughly considered that.
Now if the government wants to order bar-and-restaurant establishments to reduce their bar facilities and permit them to keep their restaurants open, that could be a consideration. But the government has not made any distinctions. And these are some of the ambiguous mandates that give places like Lila Brown and Tides the short end of the stick.