Businesses Play Safe

PATEL Strike 2, Day 1:

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Business on Water Street, Monrovia during the first day of the latest PATEL strike action in 2017. Many businesses seemed closed, but owners still showed up for work and kept a narrow door open, “just in case...” (Photo: E. Dennis)

The first day of the second protest action of Liberian businesses, organized by the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL), passed with a less-than-profound observance of the group action as most participating enterprises opened their doors by the early afternoon.

The day began slowly yesterday as business owners in central Monrovia, majority, decided not to open their stores ‘all the way’.

Even up to the evening of Sunday, April 9, many customers and business people alike, were still unsure whether the PATEL protest would hold.  Some hoped that appeals from the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, the Legislature and other related government stakeholders would have inspired some compromise.  Therefore, many shop owners showed up for work, but kept their doors ‘cracked’ – a balancing act to receive customers, but still be prepared to close in case of an emergency.

“We thought some people would come and make trouble,” said a business owner on Randall Street, “we chose to play it safe.” He said the last release by PATEL had announced that the protest would involve all businesses, including gas stations and commercial transport operators.

However, gas stations and transport operators did not see the need to join the protest, especially so when the Liberian government, through members of the Liberia National Police, encouraged businesses to go about their respective activities.

While many businesses seemed to go along with the protest during the morning hours, though the organizers were nowhere around, by mid-afternoon some stores had widely opened their doors. Though stores on Benson Street in central Monrovia were mostly closed, there were few others that were open for business.

While the PATEL protest aims to demonstrate the strength of the role of Liberian owned businesses and business people in the economy – many of who have complained of harassment at the hands of national and municipal police – these business people nevertheless turned out in their numbers on the street yesterday in search of their daily bread.

At the Redlight Market in Paynesville, Daily Observer’s Edwin Fayia reports that foreign businesses had their stores open for business as usual, though it was after the morning hours.

“By 9:30am, many foreign business entities at the nation largest food market were open and customers were pouring in to make their daily business transactions,” Fayiah reported.

“Dozens of early-morning sellers of fresh produce had done their deals between the hours of 5:30am to 8:45am,” he said.

Many Liberian business owners interviewed by the Daily Observer explained that though they don’t have any dealings with PATEL, they chose to close or partially close their businesses for fear that some people may have come to cause them trouble.

“I don’t know who the people (PATEL) are and I have never attended any of their meetings but I have to be careful,” a business owner at the ELWA Junction, said, “I came to open when I heard that police officers are encouraging people to open.”

In reality, yesterday morning seemed like a national holiday, until the afternoon.

Many business owners, aware of the fact that there were no reports of violence yesterday, told the Daily Observer that they would open their businesses today, the second day of the protest. PATEL said last week that the current protest would be more severe, but did not specify as they did with the first one. However, they had suggested to Liberians to make purchases of what they would need.

 Daily Observer’s William Q. Harmon reported from Waterside and Duala:

“Many of the stores in Waterside and Duala were closed as the day broke.

The deployment of police officers by the Liberia National Police yesterday fulfilled government’s response that it would not tolerate anyone risking the country’s security.

Last week, Information Minister Ellen Eugene Nagbe warned PATEL against disrupting the peace and security of the state. He said PATEL’s action “is in conflict with the laws of Liberia and strongly warned the group to immediately desist from it.”

Meanwhile, PATEL Secretary General Mentee Gbeimie described yesterday’s action as “a success” because, in his opinion, “80 per cent of businesses in Monrovia and its environs joined the protest and closed their doors.” He however noted that no one is forced to join the protest.

Gbeimie also claimed that many Liberians were afraid to open their stores because police officers deployed in the streets were armed.

In reality, while some Liberians felt the protest was unnecessary, others said the government should take steps to accommodate the concerns of any group of Liberians who may have, in their opinion, a legitimate cause that affects the interest of the majority of the people.

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