Liberia: Practice Makes Perfect

Riot police officers of the Liberia National Police

Can anyone tell us of any incident of election-based violence that took place in Liberia since 2019, that was investigated by the Liberia National Police and the respective reports released to the public? 

What about the mysterious murders of the four auditors? 

What about mysterious deaths of civilians that caught national attention? 

If your answer is a definite ‘No’, or even if you struggle to give the LNP the benefit of the doubt, then, people, we have a major problem. 

Sorry to say, but the Liberia National Police has had ample opportunity to practice dealing with electoral violence — an existential threat to democracy and to the state — and has failed at every instance. 

We stand to be corrected. 

There is a truism in the world of sport — and any profession, for that matter: “Practice makes perfect.” This means that one who has not been disciplined by practice cannot satisfactorily perform at full display. Our dear President George Manneh Weah, from his glorious athletic exploits, can attest to this. 

Even the Holy Bible says the same, albeit in a way that we seldom perceive. 

In Luke 12:2-3, Jesus Christ had just warned his disciples about the hypocrisy of those who were the experts in the law. “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known,” he continued. “Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.” 

The typical interpretation of this passage would be that whatever one seeks to hide and cover up will eventually work its way up to the light and become known — even if it is petty theft, rampant corruption or murder. However, in a rather unusual interpretation, the fundamental principle holds true. The tactics, equipment, strategies, scenarios, mindset and maneuvers that have been practiced (when no one was looking or listening) is what will eventually be performed at full display. If you practice to the point of mastery, then a masterful performance will be the result. And if your practice was nothing more than a series of clusterfucks and shitshows — or worse yet, no practice at all — then that’s exactly what can be expected!

Now, let’s go down the list and see what and how well LNP has practiced. 

Montserrado County District 13 by-election (2019): Unity Party (UP) candidate Cornelia Kruah Togba held her campaign rally in one part of the district, while her opponent from the ruling party, the Coalition for Democratic (CDC), held his rally in a completely different part of the district, which was fair. Suddenly a group of CDC supporters decided that they would march through the very location where her supporters had assembled and pandemonium ensued, resulting in several injuries. Kruah Togba had to go into hiding for a while. The LNP and the Ministry of Justice later claimed that the investigation was inconclusive due to lack of witnesses to come forward and give statements. 

Montserrado County District 17 by-election (2019): Telia Urey, a candidate of the All Liberian Party (ALP), was in the district campaigning. A few days earlier, President Weah had taken the stage to address his partisans at his CDC party’s headquarters, saying, “I want you all to flog that little girl,” (referring to Ms. Urey). So, a few days later, while campaigning in the district, a mob claiming to be supporters of the ruling party attacked her bullet-proof vehicle. They then surrounded the building in which she was hiding and threatened to burn it down. Social media accounts showed video footage that officers of the Liberia National Police were present at the scene, clad in riot gear and armed to the hilt, but they did not engage the mob or attempt to rescue the female political candidate. One of them confirmed that they had not been given orders to engage and, therefore, would not engage. Some of these very armed officers — apparently while awaiting orders that never came — were also seen filming the incident on their smartphones. 

Again, LNP and the Ministry of Justice claimed that the investigation was inconclusive due to lack of witnesses to come forward and give statements. 

Gbarpolu County Senatorial election (2020): Botoe Kanneh, the leading candidate for her county’s senatorial seat, came under attack, along with her supporters, and were held hostage by people loyal to the county superintendent (who was appointed by the President of Liberia). Some of her female supporters were allegedly raped. The county authorities brought the country devil outside, which means, in their tradition, that women should be nowhere in sight. Again, the police did not engage. Officers of the Liberia Immigration Service in the vicinity of the incident also stood down. It took a group of Monrovia-based women to pack themselves in a Land Cruiser and descend upon Gbarpolu and call national attention to the situation in order to have Kanneh and her supporters released. 

Up to now, it’s the same story — no witnesses, the LNP, claimed. Therefore, no investigation report. 

What’s the status of the investigation of the NEC magistrate for Grand Gedeh County, Alfred Dunner, who went missing

There are many more instances in which the police under the Weah administration have practiced disturbing silence in the face of chaos and violent attacks against those perceived to be political opponents of the President and the CDC. These have been well documented on public record, in newspapers, on websites, social media, and radio. We have not even told the half of it here, for lack of space and time to do so. 

Whenever the Daily Observer brings up these accounts, an official of the Weah administration would reach out to express their dissatisfaction and promise to submit a rejoinder. We don’t hold our breath waiting for that rejoinder — their only argument being that “no witnesses came forward to aid in the investigation.” Our question to the Administration: If the police, being present in each instance, could not protect this who were under attack in the moment, then whose mother, father, child, brother or sister would be willing to put their name on record as witness to such acts of extreme violence, knowing that the same police would be unwilling or unable to protect them? 

The pattern of practice is self-explanatory. 

So what do we make of the violence perpetrated against peaceful citizens in Foya, Lofa County on September 29? The police are still asking for witnesses to perform its investigation. If anyone can remember, the last election-related disturbance that took place in Lofa county was when the Zoes and elders of the county cut off access to their province by blocking the Lofa bridge. This was in apparent response to political rigmarole between the government and then Senator-elect, Brownie J. Samukai, over the legitimacy of his election. The people and zoes of Lofa did not pick up sticks and stones to express their grievances. So why now, to the point that it should result in fatalities?

What do we make of the recent statement made by Philipbert Browne — a close friend of President Weah — predicting that there “will be bloodshed on the streets of Monrovia”? First of all, we thank Mr. Browne for the public service announcement, albeit a very disturbing one. Many are quick to dismiss Brown as a sensationalist — he ran a newspaper, National Chronicle, which raised the ire of the then-President Ellen Sirleaf administration in an article it published and resulted in its shut down. He later founded another newspaper called the Hot Pepper — what a name and a chip off the old block! 

But Browne is also a former Deputy Minister of Defense from the administration of war-time President Charles Taylor. It is a fair assessment that, with such a portfolio, he must have picked up a few skills in the gathering and handling of intelligence. And now, from his current vantage point, which gives him access to the current ‘kitchen cabinet’, so to speak, it would not hurt to take his warnings with a grain of salt — and sense.

Who wants another round of war and bloodshed in Liberia? Certainly the vast majority of Liberians do not. We’ve seen enough carnage across this land to last multiple generations! But when access to six years of state power is up for grabs, bloodshed is but collateral damage to those who possess the ways and the means — and who will stop at nothing to become or remain President of the Republic of Liberia. 

God forbid that any further bloodshed should stain our peaceful Land of Liberty! Yet, if Browne’s assessment-warning bears any iota of fact, then the playbook is simply drawn from the last five years of practice. 

Either the LNP will be complicit (as they have been perceived to be by their actions and non-actions); or they will be completely unprepared. 

Whichever way you put it, practice makes perfect.