An uneasy calm prevails over Monrovia. Public schools are shut with some private schools following suit out of fear of reprisal attacks by public school students who have threatened to ensure that learning activities at private schools will be disrupted as long as public-school teachers are not paid. This is the result of the student solidarity protest which turned violent and left several students injured.
But put plainly and squarely, President George Weah did not display true courage as would have been expected from a leader. It is in times of trouble and great danger that a true leader distinguishes himself from the lot. Was he actually in danger of being killed or physically attacked as his spin doctors are trying to put it?
Did President Sirleaf, during her tenure, not encounter similar protest actions? She did but she did not flinch nor beat a hasty retreat. Instead she disembarked from her vehicle, much against the advice of her security officers and marched up to the protesters and met them. Together they walked to her office from the City Hall area and had a meeting with the leaders of the protest where matters were resolved.
This happened on more than one occasion. One of such occasions was that of the protest involving AFL widows when President Sirleaf, displaying the courage of a leader, went to meet the protesters and they dialogued until they reached a mutually acceptable compromise. President Weah could have handled the situation in similar fashion but he faltered out of weakness and “cut his paypay”, leaving the Police to run riot with the student protesters. Such is not the quality of a true “Krobah” which he is expected to be.
Clearly this recent episode has placed a dent in his pubic standing whether he realizes it or not. And the tragic aspect of it all is that his officials would take to the airways, spewing invectives and casting blame on so called opposition elements or puppet masters, as some call it, claiming that students, as if they have no minds of their own, were instigated to get into the streets to protest.
And apparently President Weah believes in the lies and half-truths they spin to him, else he would have not “cut his paypay” in the face of such challenges. The Daily Observer has consistently pleaded with President Weah to take charge and lead from the front, else he could find himself being led to an unkindly fate.
Videographed scenes of Police assaulting students as well as that of scores of fainting students some lying about the floor in a hospital emergency room have gone viral on social media around the world and no amount of official spin placed on the Tuesday, October 15, 2019 events can change the negative impression cast of this government.
This newspaper has also consistently urged President Weah to demonstrate sensitivity to public concerns, else he runs the risk of alienating himself from the people which would certainly not augur well for him personally and that of his administration. For example, why would President Weah openly tout himself as being fortunate to spend his birthday in three different countries, considering the cost implications in these austere times when most families can barely afford to eat a fitting daily meal? Is he not aware that such vainglorious touts offend the sensibilities of the people?
Is his charge about the country or all about himself? This is the question weighing heavily on the minds of the public. Is he unaware that the public knows that his travels by private jet accompanied by large delegations are all done at the public expense? Imagine public school teachers going unpaid for months and when students who feel the effects of absent teachers from school publicly demand government to pay their teachers, government officials and their supporters especially the “Baghdad Bobs” of this world, charge back insisting that students are being manipulated by opposition politicians to get into the streets.
Were Education officials not aware that prolonged delay in teachers’ salaries would have led to student protests? Were Finance Ministry officials also not aware that teachers had gone unpaid for months and that continued failure to do so would have resulted into problems of the kind witnessed on Tuesday? Is it insensitivity, ineptitude or the both responsible for the outcomes witnessed on Tuesday?
Faced with a rotten and broken economy, the IMF has once again been called on to “help”. And, as usual, its diet calls for cuts in public spending, especially in wages as one sure way out of the current economic and financial quagmire. Invariably, adopting such measures calls for enormous amounts of fiscal discipline, which is a major weakness of this government. As such, it remains unclear and uncertain whether this IMF Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) for Liberia will not run into hurdles imposed by official fiscal indiscipline.
President Weah may not be aware but he needs to be told that time is fast running out for him to make amends and turn things around. This means that he has to take charge. When the opportunity did arise on Tuesday, October 16, to take charge and demonstrate true leadership, he let it slip through his hands on the advice of people whose “wise counseling” is seeing the nation drifting apart and teetering on the brink of economic collapse.
He must either let go of them if he means to turn things around or they will let go of him as soon as his political fortunes begin to wane and have the worst to say about him. Let him ask Willie, Sammy, Charlie and even “Dahboe”, who is still alive. And so the lingering question is, who is manipulating who? Are students being manipulated or is President Weah being manipulated?