By Johnny Baryougar White (Human Rights Practitioner and student of International Relations)
Violence is destructive, whether it is physical or emotional. An act of violence leaves a person, place or situation in a less appreciative state. Violence can be caused by a natural phenomenon; it can be caused by the action, inaction or non-action of individual or group. Violence is a vice and must be avoided, no matter who caused it or where it occurred.
Liberia is not a stranger to violence. The vice is deeply rooted in the country’s history. Violence runs as far back as the country’s foundation. The most vivid and recent picture of violence on the mind of Liberians is the brutal civil upheaval that caused the death of over a quarter of million people, ruined the fabrics of the development trajectory and destroyed basic social services. In short, violence rendered Liberia nothing, and violence is responsible for the current state of underdevelopment.
Given that violence is destructive, the human race decided to find means through which physical violence (caused by man) could be curbed or punished. Philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that a central authority is needed to ensure law and order. To the effect, Rousseau coined the social contract theory, arguing that the people agree to surrender their power to a central authority that provides their needs and keeps everyone safe. When the authority effectively and unbiasedly performs its duties, the issue of violence can be handled. It is then true in the reverse that the failure of the sovereign to perform its duties often leads to violence.
The case in Liberia is closely associated with the failure of the sovereign to live up to its responsibilities. Groups of people who have lost faith in the sovereign or more specific, the law, have carried out some of the violence that have occurred in the country. Such violence of a group can be termed as mob violence. Mob violence is part of the violence permeated throughout the Liberian society because of distrust in the system. The mob can easily be gathered but difficult to disperse. The mob is made up of people with different motives.
The country is currently facing a high level of mob violence. The makeup of the mob raining violence on the country is not homogenous but heterogeneous. There are three identifiable segments of the mob: government, opposition and general population. These groups of people forming the mob in the violence against Liberia are ensuring that Liberia does not move forward. The violence from these groups is making sure that the country remains divided and underdeveloped. As a result of the violence, hate is permeating the society and selfish motives have defined the politics. The violence has ensured the misinterpretation of the definition of politics. Instead of politics in a general term being about determining who gets what, when and how, ‘it has become how I get what, when and how’.
What is the interest and role of the different groups as mentioned above in this violence? For a start, let us look at the government. The Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led government has been in power for one year two months. The government alongside its fanatic supporters is seeking to ensure that the country is transformed and developed. Howbeit, the government sees it as a competition in which its strength can be shown thereby leading to more political benefits (re-election). In this effort, the government has come up with the notion that there should be no dissent and that everyone with opposing idea on the development of the state is an enemy of the state. The bigger picture of Liberia being developed in the end has been replaced with the thought of Liberia being developed by CDC. The government has forgotten the fact that whatever becomes of the country, everyone will be impacted by it. Economic, political or social mishaps know no party or special group of people. The civil war and the Ebola crisis bear testimonies of this fact. The government and its fanatics are beclouded with this thought of glory to the extent that it has taken the posture of self-righteousness wherein it considers everything done as good (even when the facts prove contrary).
To ensure that no one steals away its glory or hinders it from attaining its desired glory, the government has allegedly dismissed staff(s) who it considers anti-government. The government has not hidden her view of opposition or individuals who shared critical thoughts of the government. The government has defined patriotism to be in total unison with government’s policies, agenda or actions; anything short of that you are branded enemy of the state. Yet, the economy of the country is in a “free fall”, poverty is rising and hatred is being groomed among the population. A turnaround of the current situation is needed as fast as possible. This attitude of the government is a violence that is hurting the country.
The opposition to the government is also contributing to the mob violence. Opposition is often viewed as a government in waiting. Opposition is expected to have an alternative as to how the country should be governed. In Liberia’s case, it seems to be a contradiction. The opposition is redefining opposition to mean ‘it shouldn’t be you, but me’ or ‘a means through which I can also benefit’. The opposition in the country is currently engaging in activities that point to nothing but hate and jealousy of the government and a hunger of wanting to be there too. What difference can or would the opposition make, remains to be seen. In the first place, the political parties are just group of individuals wanting government jobs rather than individuals with particular political ideology or philosophy. This fact limits the opposition from drawing out a viable plan that can even help the government develop the country.
Like the government, the opposition sees the politics of the country as a competition of glory rather than a collective effort through which we can develop and progress as a country. With the mind-set of wanting to win this contest, the opposition sees nothing good or appropriate in the actions of the government. In their constant and arrogant criticisms, they provide no viable solutions. The opposition obnoxiously believes that the government and its supporters are inept, unqualified and unsophisticated for statecraft. As an opposition, it is not expected that one would agree with everything done by the state. However, as an opposition you must be able to carve out alternatives to situations that are not going well. Those alternatives must be provided out of respect and not with disdain. Some elements of the opposition have even resigned themselves to fabrication and doom-saying, while others have become satirists (an act that should arguably be left to comedians). Some elements of the opposition even use their status as a means of amassing wealth or landing a job. This level of violence perpetuated by the opposition is hurting the country as well.
The general population, who should be on a truce-breaking mission or ensuring a rescue of the country from this mob violence is joining the fray. The general population has divided themselves into three groups: pro-opposition, pro-government and fair-weather. The pro-government and pro-opposition forces will stop at nothing in supporting the action(s) of their respective groups. They do so with no regret. These people could easily be counted as opposition or government but cannot because they hold no affiliations with any party nor do they work for government. They are just infatuated and sympathetic about their sides. The other force of the general population involved in this mob violence (fair-weather folks) is made of those who support the side that brings them daily bread or joy for the moment. They could support any of the previous two sides. This group of people could easily be seen as objective but they are not. They are making their choices based on their personal benefits. These are in fact the most dangerous because they appeal to independence but cheer on the wrongs in as much their interests (rather than the state’s) are taken care of.
All sides in this violence must be stopped. It is high time everyone got involved in curbing this violence. Our inability to curb this mob action will do us no good but bleed this country to its demise. The mob action is not only affecting the development of the country but also the people. We are becoming tense in our every action; we are bitter; we are divided. In Liberia, we now celebrate evil news of another, insofar that person does not fall in our interest group. We demean the dead in the name of politics. We now measure success by the failures of others rather than an acceptable standard or successes beyond the benchmark. With our mob action against the country, we are becoming parochial, complacent and refusing to look at the bigger picture. We all (opposition, government and general population) have ascribed to the ‘Tu Quoque’ Fallacy. We believe that our opponents or opposing side has no right to make any suggestion to improve the country because either their actions run contrary to their suggestions or they failed to improve the very situation when they had the opportunity.
Howbeit, it is worth mentioning that there are still neutral and good people in the general population who are yet to get involved in the conflict. These people who are adjudged by their conscience are ought to encourage others to halt this mob violence. This rally call to curb the violence against Liberia is a call that we all must answer. We need no reach within and rekindle that gleam of patriotic consciousness and put an end to this quagmire. Let us not forget that united we will stand and divided we shall fall. It is only with hearts and hands and with the cause of our country to defend that we can defeat the foes (underdevelopment, poverty, poor health, corruption among others). Let us put Liberia first.
Johnny Baryougar White is a Human Rights Practitioner and student of International Relations.