Liberia @ 173: “One of the Toughest Independence Days Ever”

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President of Liberia, George Manneh Weah

“We are fighting both an economic war and the COVID-19 virus”

On Monday, July 27 Liberia held the official celebration of its 173rd independence anniversary but, unlike in the past, this year there were little practical celebrations.

The day comes on the heels of months of lockdown intended to battle the spread of COVID-19, amid shortage of resources and an economic meltdown that continues to pinch the masses. The outbreak of the coronavirus scourge, which has brought the world to its knees, has compounded the Liberian situation—further exacerbating the masses’ entrenched economic woes.

Calls for the Coalition for Democratic Change-led government to postpone the July 26 Independence Day due to the “No money” cliché had resurfaced time and again but, this time, more logical by the marauding virus and its impact.

Worst of all, many civil servants did not even get paid and the usual verve that greets the festive season in marketplaces were not seen this time around, as both buyers and sellers blamed the pandemic, rising inflation and other aspects of the ongoing economic crisis.

“This is the toughest Independence Day I have seen. We had Ebola in 2014 through 2016, but the situation was not like this. It was better,” Emmanuel Moore, a resident of Somalia Drive noted. “The situation is more complicated now than before since we are fighting both an economic war and the COVID-19 virus.”

Even President George Weah could not agree more. He said while there is much to be thankful for as an independent country and people, the economy and the masses are still severely affected by the negative consequences of this pandemic. President Weah added that the coming of the pandemic has caused a drastic downturn in business activity, and a consequent decline in revenue generation, as well as food shortages, rising inflation, and negative projections of GDP growth, amongst others.

“There is no doubt that this unfamiliar, deadly and invisible enemy has changed our lives in no small manner, and will continue to have a negative impact on our well-being and prospects for growth and prosperity in the years to come. That is why we are commemorating this 173rd Anniversary of our Nation’s founding without the usual pomp and pageantry but in a somber and sober manner,” President Weah said.

He admonished all Liberians to take the Independence Day as an opportunity to ponder and reflect upon a realistic, sensible, and united approach to the crisis that “We face at this time as a nation and a people.”

As of July 28, 2020, Liberia has recorded 1,179 confirmed coronavirus cases and 72 deaths. And with a grim pandemic future, many Liberians including Erasmus Togba of the state-run University of Liberia say the pandemic has led to uncertainty about the future.

“I am not feeling independent but just stressed over the pandemic,” Togba, who lives in Barnesville said. “We do not know what happens after Independence Day. Will we go back to school, or what next? If there were no COVID-19, I would be happy. This disease outbreak is affecting my studies and might likely cause a year of extension for me.”

Just as Togba, a market woman who only identified herself as Edith, said that the current economic constraints and their effects are too much. “What do we have to celebrate as a country? The suffering is just too much,” she said.

For Richard Williams, who graduated from the UL more than three years ago, Liberia has never actually been independent.  “Personally, I am not independent and I am not happy, because it has been a struggle since my adulthood until now,” he noted. “We talk about financial freedom, but it is only happening for few elites. Most of us are still struggling, so independence is just a word. Here in Liberia, if you are not connected, then you continue with the struggle. Hard work does not matter if you are not connected.”

He said until a merit system is introduced in the governance of the state, sycophancy and patronage will continue to be prioritized over hard work, brilliance, and good citizenship.

As a popular candidate for the presidency on two separate occasions, President George Weah was declared winner in the 2017 presidential runoff election on December 26, 2018, succeeding Africa’s first elected female President, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Weah promised to address corruption, human rights abuses and economic problems that his predecessors had been accused of perpetrating and failing to curtail.

Some critics say Weah has failed to deliver on his promises but has rather concerned himself with wealth accumulation, pomp, and pleasantries.

Among issues referenced to his failure are the erections millions of U.S. dollars worth of real estate within two years of his administration; the vanishing of billions in local currency in 2018, his first year in office; violence during the by-elections of Montserrado County Districts 11 and 15; the unconstitutional removal of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, as well as appointments to public office based less on competence and more on tribalism and party loyalty.  Then there is also the delay in salary payments to civil servants and difficulties that are now associated with banking in the country.

The Weah Administration has also been publicly criticized for having a lot of incompetent people in his government who are said to be performing dismally.

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