A delegation from ECOWAS and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Dr. Ibn Chambers were in Monrovia over the weekend to hold talks with the Government of Liberia and organizers of the planned June 7 protest. The talks, according to sources, aimed to defuse the tension as the date to the protest draws near.
For weeks now, the airwaves of the various radio stations around the country have been filled with vitriolic exchanges between supporters of the government and those of the June 7 protest movement. These exchanges have served to create and build tension which is virtually palpable as the countdown to June 7 continues.
In a very surreal way, current developments closely mirror that of the April 14, 1979 crisis and rice riots which left over 200 persons dead and millions worth of property destroyed. But that was more than a quarter of a century ago and of which the current generation are generally ignorant. And that was at a time when the country’s youths had not been exposed to the kind of mindless violence to which the generation of today have been exposed.
And that was also at a time when youth unemployment was not as prevalent as it is today and living conditions were not as difficult and challenging as it is today.
And today, unlike then, the nation has a youthful leader whose victory at the polls had raised so much hope and expectation, which have remained unfulfilled for most, save a tiny few whose ostentatious display of wealth have not gone unnoticed.
In the face of mounting economic difficulties and challenges confronting the Liberian people, which appear beyond the grasp of this government, it becomes clear why the planned June 7 protest is taking on a life of its own.
Developments have reached such a crucial point that even were the organizers of the June 7 protest were to call it off, it appears unlikely that the Liberian people will heed such a call. And this is exactly why the intervention of ECOWAS is timely because diehards and hardliners on both sides of the divide, if left to their own devices, could likely square off with unforeseen but dastardly consequences for the peace, stability and security of this nation.
But judging from hard experience, it would behoove the ECOWAS leaders to take a very firm stance against dare-devil die-hards by making a show of force enough to deter any would-be trouble makers. Such show of force could be in the form of visible air patrols coupled with the temporary deployment of a limited force in Monrovia since it promises to be the major flashpoint and epicenter of any potential outbreak of violence.
But more to that, the mediating team ought to encourage and support constructive engagement of the parties to ensure peaceful outcomes. Additionally, President Weah must realize the gravity of the situation such that he is prepared to take some hard decisions without regards for sacred cows, be there any. The call also goes out to lieutenants of the President who, from all indications, are largely responsible for the current predicament, to refrain from goading President Weah into taking wrong decisions meant only to enhance their personal fortunes.
President Weah however still has the chance to turn things around only if he realizes that he has few options under the current situation. A peaceful mass protest by any means will serve to undermine whatever pretensions to mass support CDC Chairman Mulbah Morlu never fails to flaunt. Whether it is the fear of such an eventuality unfolding remains unclear.
What appears however clear is government officials are in panic mode and are behaving in ways that tend to undermine President Weah’s legitimacy and he needs to realize this sooner than later.
Such critical times, in the opinion of this newspaper, would require out-of-the-box thinking with the view to deriving real and applicable solutions. Things are unravelling faster that than anticipated. In last June for example, the exchange rate hovered between 130-145 Liberian dollars to one U.S. dollar.
A year later the rate has since climbed to 190 Liberian dollars to one U.S. dollar and there is no indication that the rate may drop anytime soon. In fact, speculations are rife that the Liberian dollar may experience a further drop in value which suggests that even more difficult economic times may lie ahead.
Already shortages are beginning to be felt and seen judging from the generally understocked store and supermarket shelves. This suggests that imports are drying up, thanks in very large part to the imposition of the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) which importers and the business community alike have expressed opposition to, but to which Government has paid very little attention.
In the view of this newspaper, President Weah will have to make some concessions particularly on the CTN, as well as letting go of Finance Minister Samuel Tweah and CBL Governor Nathaniel Patray, whose continued presence in authority has served to attract an endless barrage of criticism to this government and to President Weah himself.
But whether President Weah is prepared to make such concessions remains to be seen. He should however be careful to avoid getting himself boxed into a tight corner from which he may forced to make the very concessions he is being implored to make.
A Word to the Wise is Sufficient.