April 14 1979: Remembering What Happened 37 years ago

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The April 14, 1979 Rice Riot was the proverbial straw that unleashed 25 years of violence, mayhem, anarchy, death and destruction in Liberia.

The Rice Riot was organized by the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), headed by the late political activist Gabriel Baccus Matthews against the backdrop of a proposed increase in the price of a 100lb bag of rice from $22 to $26.

According to official records the intent of the increase was to buttress Liberian farmers’ efforts to maximize production and economic viability for the nation’s staple food producers.

Since that fateful day, some political activists and observers of political events in Liberia have described the event as the most turbulent in the annals of Liberian history.

Sadly, a year later a bloody coup was staged by 17 non commissioned officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) that led to the overthrow of the grand old True Whig Party (TWP) of the then Liberian government.

Many opinions gathered from all sides of the Liberian political spectrum, including the young and older generations, pointed to the fact that change was inevitable in Liberia.

Some of them argued that the change was not necessary through the barrel of a gun. Others warned that it was well known that people who seize power through gun violence would eventually turn dictators.

The demonstration signified, for the first time in many decades, that Liberians had seized the right to assemble and protest against the government.

The PAL leaders at the time convinced many Liberians that they could import rice to Liberia and sell it for US$9.00 per 100lb bag. Considering the fact that rice is the Liberian staple, the demonstration drew a massive crowd, unparalleled in the history of Liberia.

Such political rhetoric and sugar coated statement persuaded many Liberians to buy the sentiments of these “progressive” political leaders.

In their wisdom (or lack thereof), little did the PAL leaders expect the demonstration to turn violent and that many Liberians would die as a result of their well-planned action.

The PAL leaders introduced a new phrase which became famous in the Liberian political lexicon: “In the cause of people, the struggle continues.”

In my view, the struggle still continues today because the price of rice, for which the late President William Richard Tolbert, Jr. was made the sacrificial lamb in a bloody military coup on April 12, 1980, is still quite high.

Ironically, immediately after the coup, all the tried and convicted PAL leaders were set free and awarded with lucrative positions in the military government of the late Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe.

Making matters worse in Liberia, the coup makers, having tasted power, sounded a clarion call to Liberians that they were prepared stay and lead the nation and its people to prosperity through a sound democratic process.

However, in a highly and politically contested presidential and general elections in 1985, the coup makers and political fortune hunters manipulated the results in a well master minded and rigged elections, never to be equalled in the political history of Liberia.

In my own sober reflection and recollection of the political calendar of events in Liberia for the past 30 years, most if not all the lofty promises made by the then new political leaders did not reach the “Promised Land.”

To date, the struggle to regulate the price of rice continues, something for which on April 22, 1980, Liberia’s most powerful and economically potent leaders were tied to light poles and executed by a firing squad on a beach in Monrovia.

Basically, may I appeal to all Liberians that never again should our people from any political and economic persuasion ever make the mistake of helping any military person or group to lead the nation into so-called ‘prosperity and democratic governance.’

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