Demonstrations in Liberia: The United States and Other International Partners “Encourages” Free Speech Cages in Liberia.

30 December 2019

Take Notice: The editors of Globe Afrique supports peaceful assembly by the people to petition their government. We do not support or advocate the forceful removal of an elected president of any country. If a President violates the Laws of the Land, citizens should petition their representatives to move for impeachment.

As many anticipate what some is calling the largest peaceful demonstration in Liberia’s history against the Government of Liberia due to its failure to fight corruption, poor governance, and address economic failures over the past 24 months, supporters of the Council of Patriots (CoP) and other demonstrators were met with news that the planned December 30th demonstration is postponed to January 6, 2020; still, a key area of contention remains the venue for the demonstration.

The news comes on the heel of a joint statement of the ambassadors of the United States, the European Union, ECOWS, and the UN Resident Coordinator in Liberia. An essential element of the statement reads, “… we strongly encourage the Council of Patriots to shift their demonstration to this Sunday, January 5, and various counter-protestors to shift their demonstrations to Sunday, January 12, at the large venues offered by the government, in order to ensure that the rights of all Liberia’s citizens are equally respected.” The statement goes on to say, “We, your partners, strongly endorse this plan…”

It is baffling to see the United States, a beacon of free speech and assembly supporting and encouraging the use of free speech cages in Liberia. Not only does the encouragement violates the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, but it also creates precedence to embolden and encourage governments to shirk its responsibilities of good governance while disallowing freedom of assembly to free speech cages or zones.

June 7, 2019 Protest in Monrovia

The Council of Patriots has validated through their actions on June 7th, that they can hold a peaceful assembly in the streets in Monrovia. The group led by Henry Costa, a radio show host and staunch critic of President George Weah, Abraham Darius Dillon, a Liberian Senator, and Yekeh Kolubah, a Liberian Representative, have repeatedly advocated for a peaceful assembly.

Henry Costa, standing with a white shirt at the forefront of a welcoming celebration in downtown Monrovia

Encouraging Free Speech Cages Violates Liberia’s Constitution and Supports Corruption

Article 17 of the Republic of Liberia’s Constitution of 1986, offer several fundamental rights including the right of “All persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others…”

Henceforth, the Government of Liberia cannot make a law abridging the people from peaceably assembling on the streets before the capitol building. And, the international community should never encourage such affront on the Constitution by allowing, encouraging or supporting the use of free speech cages in Liberia. Their support encourages poor governance and vitalizes the government to remain unaccountable to the people.

The essence of Article 17 in Liberia’s Constitution is to dissuade the Government of Liberia from making laws or rules that hinder the right of the people to assemble peaceably. Liberia’s laws have a historical root in English common law and several other charters which states that the people have a right to petition the king – and that all prosecutions, prohibitory proclamations, and commitments for the same are illegal.

Giving Liberians the right to assemble is far more important than the right to petition the government. While the government has the right to impose restrictions on the time, place, and manner of a peaceful assembly, their restrictions are only permissible so long as they are justified.

The Council of Patriots has precedence of peaceful assembly thus nullifying any argument inferred by the government and Liberia’s international partners that suggests a violent protest. 

Again, the United States and other international partners are going to embolden the Government of Liberia to continue its poor governance and allowing them to create free speech cages that will forever silence and restrict the constitutional rights of all Liberians.

Corruption and economic inequality remain the underlying factors why African countries fall victim to civil unrest and the forceful removal of presidents. Allowing peaceful street assembly encourages governments to listen to the voices of the people and avoid civil wars.

Inconsistent Foreign Policies

On Tuesday, November 19, 2019, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill supporting the pro-democracy street protesters in Hong Kong. The Bill instructs the U.S. Department of State to, among other mandates, report and address issues relating to civil liberties in Hong Kong, including freedom of assembly and freedom of the press. Unlike the June 7th peaceful assembly by the CoP, Hong Kong’s protests have been violent. Yet, the U.S. openly supports the protesters.

On the other hand, in Haiti, anti-corruption street protesters are demanding the U.S. withdraw its support of the Government of Haiti.

Haitians protesting in front of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince carried signs that read, “Ambassador M. Sison supporting this corrupt government of Haiti is racist.”

Since July, thousands of protesters have gathered on the streets in Haiti to express their disappointment and anger at the continuing U.S. support in Haiti.

According to data published by Perkins and Leung, since January 20, 2017, it is estimated that there has been a total of 4,296 protests, with nearly 6 million people protesting in cities around the United States. While the U.S. advocates street protests, it is highly unusual for the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia to encourage the use of free speech cages.

Why Are People Demonstrating in Liberia?

Over the past several months, there have been a series of demonstration throughout Monrovia.  Liberians are demonstrating against corruption, and economic mismanagement under former footballer turned politician George Weah. A group called the Council of Patriots led by its chairman Henry Costa had listed several complaints against the Government.

Henry Pedro Costa with supporters in Monrovia

While George Weah has insisted that he inherited a broken economy, prices for staple goods have doubled and the economy is near collapse.

The Liberian Government insists the economy, which hovers at an anemic 0.04% growth, is still recovering from a devasting setback brought on by the Ebola outbreak.

On the other hand, Guinea and Sierra Leone, who also suffered similar economic difficulties from Ebola, have managed to grow their economy to 5.0% and 4.8% respectively.

According to one social media post, “How do you expect a change in the Liberian economy when the President nominates, and the legislators confirm one of the most unqualified central bank governors in the region?”

The CoP is calling on President Weah to prosecute individuals complacent in financial malfeasance at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). Specifically, on allegations of nearly US$ 102 million that went missing.

President Weah at the UNESCO Internet Forum

Although a report by Kroll (a forensic accounting group based in the United States) suggests monies may not be missing – Kroll cautioned that they couldn’t validate the accuracy of funds in the vaults at the CBL.

The CoP is further asking the Government of Liberia to give a full account of a US $25 million that allegedly vanished during an exercise to mop up excess Liberian dollars off the market.

Today, the Government of Liberia has been accused of allegedly bribing Liberian lawmakers to authorize the printing of billions of Liberian dollars to reinject back into the Liberian economy.

The mop-up and subsequent request to inject monies into the economy shows the government lacks the ability to manage the Liberian economy competently – said one lawmaker who refused to be quoted.

Despite Liberia’s fragility, supporting a group with a record of peaceful demonstration encourages good governance and draws attention to grievances in Liberia. By encouraging the use of free speech cages, the United States Embassy in Monrovia and other ambassadors will embolden corrupt regimes around the world to perpetuate corruption and gross mismanagement.

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