By Robin Dopoe and Simeon S. Wiakanty
The leadership of the Council of Patriots has complied with the suggestion from diplomatic missions in Monrovia to postpone its planned protest that was scheduled for December 30. The CoP, headed by popular talk show host, Henry Costa, had gone to great lengths to organize a mass citizens’ protest, scheduled for December 30, to ask President George Weah to step down on accusations of bad governance, corruption and his “incapacity” to lead the country.
While the CoP was gearing up to begin the street protest amidst controversies, diplomats representing countries and international organizations resident in Monrovia issued a joint statement, expressing their concurrence with suggestion by the Government of Liberia that the protest be rescheduled to a later date.
“As representatives of the United Nations, ECOWAS, the European Union, and the United States,” the diplomatic joint statement said, “we are among the many international partners who have invested heavily in Liberia’s peace and development. We have watched with pride as the Liberian people have passed important democratic milestones of hosting peaceful elections, debates, dialogues, and demonstrations. These are all important elements that strengthen the country’s core institutions.”
The joint statement continued: “We note the Government of Liberia’s statements on December 28 and 29 regarding the exercise and protection of key constitutional rights of freedom of expression, assembly, and petition for the redress of grievances. We also note the Council of Patriots’ press conference December 29 that assured all Liberians of their commitment to peaceful assembly and conformity with Liberian law and the sharing of details for their assembly. In light of these recent communications, we strongly encourage the Council of Patriots to shift their demonstration to this Sunday, January 5, and various counter-protestors to shift their demonstrations to Sunday, January 12, at the large venues offered by the government, in order to ensure that the rights of all Liberia’s citizens are equally respected. We, your partners, strongly endorse this plan and look forward to those successful and peaceful gatherings, supported and protected by your government.”
At a press conference on Monday morning, December 30, CoP Chairman Henry Costa said “We are not canceling the protest and we are not the one postponing it either, but the international community including the US Embassy. We have to agree with them on issues of national security concern like this, and the fact that the international community can intervene in a matter concerning us is a victory by itself.”
On the issue of date for the protest as suggested by the international community, Mr. Costa said “We cannot protest on Sunday because our Christian brothers and sisters have to attend church on that day which is the first Sunday in the year, and we cannot also take Friday out of respect for our Muslim brothers and sisters. We will consider having our protest on January 6; that will be the first Monday in the new year.”
Costa reiterated further, “The COP did not call off the protest; the COP is not calling off the protest…” According to him, the move was solely an intervention by Liberia’s international partners on behalf of the Government of Liberia due to the government’s professed lack of capacity to protect citizens who plan to peacefully assemble.”
Another issue opposed and rejected by the COP is the restriction to assemble in a closed location designated by the government; which Costa said that CoP will not assemble in an enclosed space (such as a stadium).
Montserrado County Senator Darius Dillon in a statement during the press conference said the intervention of the international community was God’s own will because, according to him, counter-protesters had gone earlier to arm themselves with deadly weapons to harm citizens who would gather to exercise their constitutional rights.
“The economic hardship, the bad governance, all of the issues surrounding the reason why we decided to come and protest reasonably and peacefully, the suffering of the Liberian people, we lay it barely and squarely at the feet of our international partners on whose intrusion, positively though, we are yielding today,” said Dillon.
Like Dillon, other political pundits also said intervention by the ambassadors was intended to avoid an ugly situation, fearing that things could turn violent if the protest were held.
While the protest is postponed somewhat indefinitely, the attention of the public is fixed on whether the government and the CoP might agree on a new date and venue. The Ministry of Justice had said earlier that protesting on a working day is out of the question—a situation that suggested that given COP’s requirements, negotiations could result in a deadlock.
In a statement issued on December 28, 2019, the Ministry of Justice said: “When the government ultimately issues its permits for the public gatherings at times alternate logistical arrangements that differ from the original request will be offered, for example when the duties of the state to balance the rights of all citizens take precedence over the preference of one group. For example, in general, mass demonstrations should not take place on weekdays on a capital city’s main roadway when to do so would cause the greatest disruption to educational, governmental and healthcare functions and commercial activities.”
In support of the ministry’s statement, President George Weah, during a worship service at the Georgia Patten United Methodist ChurchDecember 29, 2019 said his administration which was elected democratically, will stay on its course until he ends his constitutional term.
“The state will be protected by me,” the President emphasized. “Go about your normal activities. Our Constitution is clear about peaceful assembly. No protest is going to take place,” the President said.
Meanwhile, authorities of COP referred to the intervention of Liberia’s international partners at this 11th hour as “an intrusion” into the internal affairs of the state.
“We do not object to intervention or intrusion, as much as we feel they are getting too much involved in our domestic affairs — that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is the intrusion of our foreign partners that makes us obliged,” Costa added. “I want to make it clear; we do not reject their intervention or intrusion – as much as we feel they are getting too much involved in our domestic affairs.”
“But we hope that same level of intrusion will be made when it comes to the US$25 million [infusion]; that same level of intrusion will be made when it comes to other bread-and-butter issues like the L$16 billion; that same level of intrusion will be made when it comes to the attacks on Honorable Yekeh Kolubah, Senator Dillon, or Henry Costa or Mo Ali,” he said.
Costa added that they were obliged to concede with the ambassadors’ demand to postpone the protest after they were told that in the absence of government protection, there would be chaos.
“We believe we have captured the attention of the International Community. Few senior diplomats will be up late at night, gathered in a room, going back and forth over our assembly. We think that, it is a singular accomplishment; that today Monrovia is quiet and peaceful… that nobody has been hurt and, God’s willing, nobody will be hurt,” Costa said.
Meanwhile, Henry Costa posted on his Facebook page that the Council of Patriots spent rest of Monday, December 30, donating the thousands of loaves of bread, which had been procured for the protesters, to orphanages.