Liberia: Shop Owners Protest Closures at Red Light

​Store owners from Red Light blocked the ELWA Junction to call attention to their plight.

The arbitrary shut down of the Red Light market by the Liberia National Police on June 13, has raised the ire of business owners who are now demanding the reopening of their stores with immediate effect.

The police had closed the country’s largest commercial center to reinforce its backup operation with the Municipal Police of Monrovia and Paynesville in ensuring that Red Light Market is cleared of marketeers. The operation seeks to provide means for the completion of the road project and ensure that marketeers will return to the newly constructed and dedicated Omega Market.

However, the police operation has been criticized by marketeers and small business owners who think that such action deprives them of livelihood. And with emotions running high, they yesterday blocked traffic at the ELWA Junction in response to the police action and demanded the reopening of their respective shops and stores.

Many carried signs or shouted “freedom”, as they assembled at the ELWA Junction, Paynesville City Hall, and at President George Weah's Rehab Road residence to call for the reopening of their businesses. They claimed that the closures of the market would make it difficult for them to survive and take care of their families.

Red Light has remained a place of contention for several months as many traders have been defiant to the government’s mandate to halt business activity to allow the completion of the ongoing road construction work.

But that has not been the case, as the project experienced delays, making it difficult for the road construction company to operate its equipment, with thousands of vendors who spread their wares on the roadside to sell.

Getrude Wilson, the chairperson of the group said yesterday that “they went to open their businesses, only to be stopped by police officers who threatened to beat them if they disobeyed.” She said there was no notice from the police informing them about the abrupt closure. 

“We went to Red Light this morning but, to our utmost surprise, they [police officers] shut the whole Red Light down. They said there wouldn’t be any stores or shops open. They barricaded the whole place,” she said.

“We asked the police what happened and they said that we shouldn’t ask them,” she explained.

“Some of us took loans from Access Bank Liberia to do business and we must sell every day to meet up with our obligations. So closing our businesses for one day is dangerous,” said Teta Johnson.

“The government is making life very difficult for its citizens,” said Emmanual Duo, who also owns a store in Red Light. “The business people are taxpayers and can’t be treated in such a manner. You can’t shut down their businesses because of the reason to ensure restrictions. Allow the business to go on why you try to restrict the people,” he argued.

When contacted, Police Spokesperson Moses Carter maintained that the police had decided to restore order at the market in order to allow the road construction to be carried out smoothly. According to Carter, the decision to shut down businesses at the market is for time indefinite.

“I can’t tell when we are going to allow stores and shops to reopen in the market. We are working to remove the street vendors from the area so as to continue the road construction work,” he told the Daily Observer in a mobile telephone interview. 

The relocation of marketers from Red Light to Omega began on July 10, 2021. The decision was predicated upon the need to facilitate a smooth process of road construction work. 

The Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill, once said that the government would lose more than US$1 million if sellers in the area are not relocated to allow the road construction work to continue without any hindrances.

But the government’s mandate to relocate marketers to the Omega Market has been met with constant resistance from petty traders, who say there is a lack of sufficient space and other much-needed amenities at Omega Market for everyone who would move from Red Light to sell.