By Alfred P. B. Kiadii
On January 6, 2020, Liberians erupted at the center stage with a bang. Scores of ordinary people took to the streets in a mass protest action reminiscent of June 7, 2019. Tens of thousands of ordinary people got mobilized under the banner of the Council of Patriots (COP) against the dismal regime of the know-nothing Weah administration. While some commentators derisively dismiss Liberians as too tepid to get involved in popular mobilizations to put pressure on failed regimes, these mobilizations against the risible Weah regime consign that notion to the garbage of history. The people are awakening to a radical consciousness that the established institutions in the state are too rotten to give them social relief, but the streets offer a viable answer. These mobilizations have been unusual in their demographic composition, and the setting of struggle as the streets also adds a curious flavor. The protests bring ordinary Liberians and professional citizens from far and wide across the country together—most are from different economic strata of the population seldom in social protests. From poor working people to radical students, young professionals, and a huge chunk of the lumpen elements—all have been part and parcel of the risings to fight for the very heart and soul of the republic against a regime which is a circus of scandals.
However, the protest actions also revealed the decadence of the opposition political formations in the country. The Council of Patriots focuses on the material imbalances in the society to rally the poor Liberian masses. Many commentators consider the group as the leading opposition force in the country. Such presents a bigger problem, as the more the established opposition political formations play flippant indifference to the social plights of the laboring masses, the masses would see through them as not fit for purpose. While it is true during the organizing of the June 7 protest, the so-called four main opposition political parties were at the front and center of it. The Alternative National Congress became loud in its condemnation of the January 6 protest, vowing never to endorse it. Similarly, hours before the Jan 6 protest, the chairman of the Unity Party took to the media to throw a monkey wrench in the effort as he called on his partisans to not show up for the assembly and remain home. The reasons for his exhortation were threadbare and confusing, provoking a bitter debate in certain quarters about his credibility.
For many on the Liberian Left, the emergence of the Council of Patriots further validates their thesis about the ideological bankruptcy of these opposition formations and expose their acute lack of understanding that the social struggle in the homeland Liberia is ideological. Political forces have to see the fight to rescue the country through the prism of class struggle. COP has been good at keeping the people mobilized, weakening the regime. What COP has done is what the opposition formations have been refusing to do: to make Weah and his reactionary sidekicks account for their sordid stewardship. This role COP play has shown the ineffectiveness of the mainstream opposition and their lack of strategies to interpret the trends. A major part of the many problems is that most of these opposition parties have not made a break with the neoliberal policy regime, failing to understand that to play an effective opposition to a regime contemptuous of minimum scrutiny is to offer a popular alternative.
Although Weah displays stubborn arrogance, street mobilizations have hugely discredited him globally. Since his presidency, the country got gripped by protests and uprisings on a scale never seen in recent memory. Whether the protest of university students or nurses taking to the streets, civil servants going slow in demand of their arrears, they are not just resistance against Weah but also a rejection of the economic logic of neoliberalism. The socioeconomic stagnation of the country is even generating a bitter debate among the Liberian masses about ideas for transformation. Already, we are seeing a huge section of young people from universities and other corners of the country drawing legitimate conclusions and brandishing their socialist credentials, thus analyzing the backwardness of the country in a class sphere. For elements on the Liberian Left, this is welcoming as more and more people realize that tinkering on the edges cannot solve Liberia’s age-old underdevelopment and bring the people into history except a social revolution that places the interests of working people and the poor masses front and center. That is why we hold Weah’s presidency may be a nightmare, but it opens the window for contemplation and critical thinking. Such a period provides the space for the Liberian Left to build a winning coalition and organize the people around radical left-wing policies to save the country from the doom and build a new society on the pillars of social justice, social equality, and egalitarianism.
Meanwhile, ever since we stated that the notion that a reactionary contraption can govern roughshod over the masses of the people, tear up every stricture of democracy, loot and plunder the commons without provoking a popular backlash is a charade. For the biggest faux pas of the discredited regime in our homeland and its cultish supporters was to denounce the people’s power and take the poor and oppressed masses for a ride. Dripping with irrational thought, Weah thought as president; he got a license for endless plunder. Howbeit, the people’s resistance against such arrogance has made dubious the mind-set and thus forcefully registered true power rests with them. Audaciously, they are rewriting the history of this lost period through gallant mobilizations and defiant fight-backs.
The Weah regime should blame itself for poisoning society and polarising the political discourses, not anyone else. This regime has sought to govern the country like a mafia establishment showing no respect for decent norms, turning a deaf ear to the people’s legitimate grievances by threatening to crush peaceful protesters while normalizing the tapestry of ruthless exploitation and industrial-scale looting. The arrogance of the arch-narcissist Weah and his claque of out-and-out charlatans has been the main catalyst that has fuelled hard-nosed polarization. Their mismanagement of the economy coinciding with a dramatic rise in their fortunes has also galvanized widespread public antipathy towards the regime and also increased desperation among the disinherited masses. The crushing economic disaster has led to a spike in the wave of crime sweeping across communities in the urban centers, making them less safe for a large swathe of the population which lives in constant fear. So to a great deal, these street mobilizations are decisive expressions of the failure of the Weah leadership and the rejection of his ugly agenda.
George Weah’s presidency has exposed the long-laden rottenness of Liberian democracy and the ideas that underpinned it. His leadership has made the whole idea of democracy premised on the theory that a leader would exercise judicious judgments to respect institutions and allowing people to exercise their rights rings hollow. Also, they have defenestrated the thought of classical liberalism where opposition elements would exercise their rights and that the law would protect them. The notion that a president would be more interested in addressing the living question of his people as opposed to going rogue to achieve self-serving ends—at least he has shattered that illusion. Weah exposed the cracks in the system and lay bare the rot to the public. And all we see is entropy.
The president has become a political joke. He is a tinpot dictator who got consumed in the aura of his own delusion that he can misgovern the country and nobody would stand up to him. In Weah’s mind, the country owes him a great deal and now is the time for him to rape and plunder it and how dare anyone questions his industrial-scale looting escapade. But Weah is not alone. Like all dictators, he barracked himself with a goon of enablers, sycophants and loyal opportunists who pander to his prejudices, biases, produce and reproduce vituperation-laden defense for him even when his blunders are crystal clear. Central to all demigods and dictators is that there is always that ubiquitous collection of deplorables who sing their praises and make them feel they have a god-like character. It is what is happening in Liberia.
But Weah represents a greater problem: the crisis of leadership and the crisis of disaster neoliberalism Liberia mired in and there is no effort to seek a way out of this dead end. He is not an aberrational character of the system. As from the decline of the Roman Empire to late-stage capitalism, systems in decline always produce scandalous amateurs and crude horribles with ugly politics and strange ideas. Nowadays, we see these melodramatic characters leading countries both in the periphery or center of capitalism, with the same phenotype as Weah. Extricating the country from the stranglehold of such a nightmare requires riding the system of domination and inequality which produces persons like Weah and the other political clowns who have poisoned our society and frustrated the efforts of the citizenry.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and her greedy cabal were the masterminds behind the foisting of the spoiled brat Weah on the people because, for them, their political survival and impunity from prosecution are superior to the national interests. However, it would be unintelligent were we not to recognize Weah’s huge following among the lumpen elements and the slum masses and what made him a relevant political constant in our polity for more than a decade. His rise is largely because of decades of decline provoked by crushing imbalances and disaster neoliberalism. To put it contextually, in most societies in decline, a political formation emerges, galvanizes public discontent by offering simplistic answers to complex problems, promising quick fixes, and loudly clinging on to wrong concepts and catchphrases as an article of faith, thus getting political power. With Liberia, the neoliberal policy regimes increased public anger, but the Liberian Left was weak and fractured to fill in the void and also stop Ellen’s orchestration.
We can stop the emergence of people like Weah and the rottenness he represents. His vile streak for wealth by focusing on the material issues of the people and bringing them into the centerfold of history where they become masters of their destiny and not alienated objects of history, thus ending the legacy of exploitation, marginalization, and domination. Central to this is to rework our economic fundamentals not with the slavish attitude to promote corporate growth but to build an economy of needs where the masses get ownership and control of its commanding heights. This way, you bring dignity to the laboring people and inspire hope among them. Then we can mobilize their agency to build an egalitarian society that would guarantee a sustainable future.
To ensure that people like Weah wouldn’t emerge again is for Liberia to take the path of social revolution, which brings hope and dignity, fosters egalitarianism, leading to massive investments in social programs to solve issues verging on the survival of the poor and vulnerable and the weak and marginalized. That is the only way we can never return to the nightmare of a Weah presidency. We can make this period a footnote in our history, recast our priorities, and together rewrite the destiny of a country steeped in valor and common purpose.
About the Author:
Kiadii, a Liberian, writes from Accra, Ghana, and you can contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org