7 June Save The State Protest: If there will be a dialogue, let it be about the people, not the organizers

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By Baba Sillah

In analyzing state power and resistance in Liberia, one must draw lessons from history, particularly the history of last five decades which teaches that resistance can be complicit in reproducing domination, if its only goal is political power, and its only strategy lies within the structures of the very power it resists.

The histories of the administrations of presidents William Tolbert, Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf are replete with instances whereby regime critics cease to criticize just when their criticisms are most needed – when they shall have attained access to the corridors of political power. This is true with only slight variations across administrations. Many of the leaders of those resistances, haven been appointed to strategic positions in the Executive or incorporated as so-called ‘special advisors’, soon realize, as if by epiphany, that abandoning the cause was in fact a convenient compromise. The consequences, however, were often grievous.

The problem which arises therefore does not lie necessarily with the inclusion of critical voices in government. After all, it is often said that the best place to orchestrate change of a system is from within. Rather, the problem lies in the question: what happens to those voices when they shall have secured their places within the corridors of state power? More often than not, they begin to practice self-censorship, and their silence is heard through its strident absence! This trend drains the reservoir of political critique, or at least saps it; thereby reinforcing the perception that resistance is in fact merely a situational strategy useful only when critics have not yet been welcomed to the banquet of political spoils.

There should not be much difficulty in comprehending why critical voices co-opted by government go silent, or in some cases, are reborn as some of the most unapologetic defenders of the very government they once criticized. Certain levels of participation in governmental politics in Africa tend to guarantee the distribution of rent and other benefits. The need to secure such benefits therefore demands strict alignment of opinions and public elocution with regime talk-points.  

But critical voices do not invent the situations about which their critiques are anchored. Those critiques find their original and spontaneous expressions in the objective realities which citizens confront on a daily basis. While critical voices are necessary for giving structure to, and lending wider dissemination to the critiques of governance through their articulation, the critiques themselves are simply products of the lived experiences of the people whose voices are heard only along the peripherals. These people constitute the masses!

The organizers of the planned “7 June Save The State” protest must be given due credit for sharpening the consciousness of Liberians today. However, they are only the faces of the protest, the people are its backbone without whom it will crumble. It is the people en mass who suffer under a declining economy, ballooning inflation, debilitating effects of corruption and poverty, and the growing sense of insecurity associated with the brazen threats to the peace by so-called “ex-generals.”

When the government unagreeably and surreptitiously debits monies from accounts funded by donor partners meant for quick-projects affecting the wellbeing of ordinary citizens such as the Liberia Social Safety Nets Project, Liberia Urban Water Supply Project, Ebola Emergency Response Project, among others, it is the people who suffer.

That is why we believe that any dialogue between the Government of President George Manneh Weah and the organizers of the protest must be expanded to include such stakeholders as the Inter-Faith Council of Liberia; the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU); the Civil Servants Association; the Marketing Association of Liberia; the University of Liberia Faculty Association (ULFA), and such other stakeholders as may be necessary to build confidence and a broad public consensus.

Some have already begun to falsely impute self-seeking motives to the organizers of the June 7 protest. We have read on social media and other outlets that the protest organizers are only protesting because they lack control of government. The worn-out but dangerous ‘Congo vs. Country’ rhetoric has also found its way into the public discourse, vociferously propagated by senior members of the Weah’s administration who believe the president is being criticized because of his identity as an indigene. Such claims are not only bereft of any iota of reason, to be dismissed by serious observers of the declining state of governance; but they also carry a dangerous potency reminiscent of Liberia’s recent civil carnage.

To provide further assurances that the protest is not about the interest of a few individuals, it would necessary for its organizers to honor the call to dialogue by President Weah.

In the spirit of concretizing the outcomes of such a dialogue (if it proceeds), we make the following recommendations to both the organizers of the planned protest (The Council of Patriots) and the Government of Liberia:

  1. That the dialogue be expanded to include such stakeholders as the Inter-faith Council of Liberia; the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU); the Civil Servants Association; the Marketing Association of Liberia; the University of Liberia Faculty Association (ULFA), representatives of ECOWAS, AU, and the UN, as well as such other stakeholders as may be necessary to build confidence in the dialogue;
  2. That a communique outlining the points and issues discussed, resolved, and agreed upon at the dialogue be prepared, signed by the stakeholders and immediately disseminated for domestic and international confidence building;
  3. That such communique must contain concrete time-bound commitments from the government which make good-faith efforts to address the issues raised by the leaders of the protest. A central commitment of government must include credible anti-corruption measures meant to renew public trust and ensure accountability and transparency in crucial aspects of governance.

Liberia will grow from our collective efforts, or bleed from a similar neglect and lack of consensus-making. Let Liberians choose the former. 

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