By Gabriel I.H. Williams
Liberia is back from the brink after months of tension. There is calm following widespread public fears and anxiety that the anti-government protest, which took place in the post-war country on January 6, 2020, would have erupted into violence and degenerated into death and destruction.
However, during the course of the protest, the protesters conducted themselves in a peaceful manner. The thousands of mostly young protesters who gathered on Capitol Hill – the seat of the national government in Monrovia – were mostly singing, chanting and dancing. Video images online, including television broadcasts by international television networks like Aljazeera, show nothing but a peaceful assembly.
This is why the Weah government’s decision to have police use force to break up the peaceful protest is being universally condemned. The use of teargas and water cannon to forcefully disperse peaceful protesters, arrest and detention of some protesters and the reported planting of weapon in the vehicle of a protest organizer allegedly by the police, are some of the acts of what appears to be an emerging dictatorship in Liberia. The government also employed other draconian measures to arrest leaders of the Council of Patriots (COP), a young-people driven organization that organized the protest.
According to the COP, the protest was intended to demand answers from the Weah government regarding the need for full accountability of Liberia’s resources in light of tens of millions of dollars that have gone missing, as well as to demand for adherence to the tenets of good governance. The protesters accused the Weah government of nonperformance, which has caused unbearable hardship for Liberians.
The international backlash and rebuke the Weah government has endured in the wake of its desperate attempt to have COP leader Henry P. Costa arrested and extradited from Sierra Leone to Liberia is an indication that undemocratic practices will lead to Liberia’s international isolation. While President Weah and his government have been reduced to nothing more than an international laughing stock, neighboring Sierra Leone has won international praise for rejecting the Weah government’s extradition request. Many Liberians at home and abroad have also applauded the government of President Maada Bio for rejecting the Weah government’s request. We also express immense gratitude to Sierra Leone’s civil society organizations, which advocated for the Sierra Leone government to set Mr. Costa free. This is an indication that the Sierra Leonean government and people have chosen to remain on a path of democratic governance, while Liberia is sliding back to the dark days of dictatorship.
Despite the government clampdown, the January 6 protest succeeded in bringing to the full attention of the world that all is not well in Liberia, and that trouble is brewing in the country due to unbearable economic hardship. The protesters succeeded in putting the international community on notice that Liberia is in a state of rapid decline due to rampant corruption and bad governance. The government’s failed attempt to detain Mr. Costa on forged travel document allegations also exposed to the world that Liberia is once again becoming an unsafe place, especially for real and perceived enemies of the Weah government.
Considering that the deteriorating state of affairs in Liberia has been brought to the full glare of the international community, every well-meaning Liberian who truly desires peace and progress in Liberia must do whatever is possible to prevent the country from sliding back into dictatorship and civil upheaval. That is why this call is being made especially for Liberians in the United States to seize the opportunity that is now to launch another serious campaign to lobby Congress on behalf of Liberia. Among the issues of focus, the campaign must draw attention to the rampant corruption and growing abuse of human rights in Liberia.
Similar to the campaign in Liberian communities across the US that successfully led Congress to recently pass the immigration act granting permanent resident status to Liberians on Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED), Liberians must begin to strongly lobby the US Congress to ensure accountability and democratic governance in Liberia. A strong advocacy must include for Liberians and friends of Liberia to seek Congressional actions for the US to impose sanctions on officials and supporters of the government who may be found culpable of corruption and human rights abuses. If President Weah continues to reject public demand for accountability and democratic reforms, Liberians in the US must lobby Congress for the imposition of sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, which was passed into law in 2016 by the US Congress to apply sanctions on human rights abusers and corrupt officials across the globe.
This is why many peace-loving Liberians have applauded US Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Africa and co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, who issued a statement on December 23, 2019, in which he expressed serious concern regarding worsening economic and political conditions in Liberia. In his statement, Congressman Smith warned that anyone in Liberia who suppresses the fundamental rights of the people, or “engages in ongoing corrupt acts, may very well become subject to targeted Global Magnitsky sanctions.”
In addition to turning the police and other state security apparatus into instruments of state terror, according to Liberian human rights and civil society organizations, the Weah government has also integrated former generals and ex-combatants from the civil war into the national security system. Most of those former generals are known to have committed some of the most unspeakable crimes against humanity during the Liberian civil war. That the Weah government is using those notorious former generals and ex-combatants to organize pro-government paramilitary groups in order to terrorize peaceful citizens, is a chilling reminder of Liberia’s return to its recent evil past akin to the respective dictatorial eras of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor.
With the growing wave of threats and violence against real and perceived enemies of the Weah government, rights activists have raised alarm that Liberians are now experiencing mysterious deaths, such as the unsolved mystery surrounding the death of Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) employee Matthew Innis. Mr. Innis, who was reported to be directly involved with the bank’s financial operations, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in the wake of the scandal that racked the Weah government and CBL for the missing L$16 billion and the US$25 million for Liberian currency mop-up.
Another glaring example that democracy is under attack in Liberia relates to the official communication from Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor in which she recently complained of marginalization of the Office of Vice President. In her communication, published by the media, Vice President Howard-Taylor complained that resources allocated in the national budget for her office were being withheld, resulting to her security being compromised and the functions of her office impeded. Owing to this development, she was recently reported to be unable to leave her residence to report to work for about three weeks.
President Weah must begin to exercise the level of maturity that is expected of him as the leader of a democratic country. He cannot continue to wear his feelings or emotions up his sleeves and go after those who may not be singing quite to the master’s pleasure.
Encouraged by Congressman Smith’s statement on the deteriorating state of affairs in Liberia, I contacted Capitol Hill in Washington recently to inquire as to whether there were avenues available for Liberians in the US to present their grievances to Congress regarding the state of affairs in Liberia.
The answer was yes. All you do is google the name and contact information of the Member of Congress responsible for the electoral district where you are resident. Call or email the offices of your local Member of Congress and express your thoughts about developments in Liberia.
You have nothing to fear for calling because no one will know that you called besides the Congressional staff members. You can also fax and mail information to the offices of your local Members of Congress or contact them through social media such as Facebook. Mindful that there is power in numbers, there is a need to mobilize the various Liberian constituencies within the US for the purpose of keeping Liberia-related matters on the front burner of Congress, as was the case related to advocacy during the Ebola crisis and the recent passage of the Congressional legislation granting permanent resident status to Liberians in the US. Let us be mindful that a phone call or an email note from every individual to Members of the US Congress would go a long way to help save Liberia from another dictatorship.
For those seeking further clarity regarding how to proceed in contacting the offices of Members of the US Congress, you may feel free to contact me at the following: Email: [email protected]; Cell: 240-396-7246. Let us seize the moment to demonstrate that power is inherent in the people, and that in the fullness of time, President Weah and his followers will realize that they are headed on the wrong side of history.
As we commemorate the anniversary of legendary civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this month, I am reminded by the words of civil rights icon and US Democratic Representative John Lewis, who said in an interview on National Public Radio (NPR): “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to stand up, you have to say something, you have to do something.” Today, we as people of color enjoy our rights as human beings in America because there were people who saw something wrong with the system in those days and they stood up and took action. The challenge is ours to do the same to save Liberia.
This is why I recently published the book, Corruption is Destroying Africa: The Case of Liberia, although mindful of the potential negative political repercussions arising therefrom. This is why I continue to write articles, including this one, to help draw international attention to the state of affairs in Liberia.
We must all play our part to keep our country on a path of peace and progress. Despite political differences, Liberians are generally agreed that things are worse now than ever before since the end of Liberia’s civil war because of rampant corruption and incompetent leadership. This must stop.
About the Author:
Gabriel I.H. Williams has served in the government of Liberia as a diplomat in the United States and Deputy Minister of Information. He is the author of the recently-published book, “Corruption is Destroying Africa: The case of Liberia,” which is available online.