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Liberia shows President Weah the yellow card, threatens red

By Eromo Egbejule
Posted on Tuesday, 11 June 2019 09:10

Protestors march against the presidency of Weah, whose policies they see as having failed to curb economic decline and mitigate corruption, in Monrovia. REUTERS/James Giahyue Liberia June 7, 2019. REUTERS/James Giahyue

Dissatisfaction with the Weah regime is reaching fever pitch.

The Council of Patriots (COP), a group of dissatisfied citizens who organised the ‘Save the State’ protests that made the headlines last Friday, have given President George Weah a one-month ultimatum to meet their needs.

Thousands took to the streets of Monrovia in what was dubbed “the largest gathering of protesters since the end of Liberia’s brutal civil war” and the organisers seem to have no interest in slowing down.

  • In a press conference on Sunday, the COP said it expected Weah or Jewel Taylor, his vice-president and ex-wife of former warlord Charles Taylor, to receive their petition.
  • It also said that some of its members are being detained. “Currently, about twenty peaceful and law-abiding youth and students are being held at the central prison in detention. We call on the government of Liberia to release those peaceful citizens that have been abducted by the state. We also noticed the use of foreign security forces on the day of protest wearing state security uniforms.”

One year in Weah is feeling the heat. Inflation is up, growth forecasts slashed, and the IMF says government wages are crowding everything else out.

Protestors also want Finance Minister Samuel Tweah and Central Bank governor Nathaniel Patray. The youth, a big part of the coalition of voters that put Weah into power, feel betrayed.

In addition, corruption and legacy issues relating to the tenure of his predecessor Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf still linger.

  • There has been controversy surrounding a $25m cash injection into the economy after the president revealed that $8m was missing.
  • Shipping containers laden with about $104m freshly minted Liberian bank notes – about 5% of the country’s GDP – went missing last year.
  • There is also an outcry for the establishment of a war crimes court to try those involved in Liberia’s civil war which lasted from 1989-1997.

The former World Player of the Year responded by borrowing a leaf from the playbook of fellow West African states like Togo and Benin; internet was cut, suppressing access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, in a bid to undermine the convening power of the organisers.

“Those that are constantly insulting the President, I want to be clear”, he warned in a June 6 address while commissioning a market. “After this, there will be no citizens in this country… that will ever insult the President and think you will walk on the streets freely.”

But on Sunday night, the COP made their list of grievances explicit. These include:

  • the granting of contractual rights, for handling services at the Roberts International Airport, awarding of Container Tracking Number (CTN) contract to GTMS without consideration for the PPCC Act, in clear violation of the Budget and PFM Law and the attending security implications.
  • witch hunting of critics and members of the Opposition through wrongful dismissals even from the civil service and denial of opportunities in the private sector.
  •  the suppression of press freedom and freedom of speech
  •  the construction and acquisition of scores of luxury private buildings by the President in the wake of his refusal to declare his assets within six months after assuming office

Bottom line: Threats are unlikely to work, and protestors won’t be satisfied with the electioneering-style grand promises that Weah used to get into power.