Liberia: Weah disowns ruling party splinter group accused of violent attacks

By Dounard Bondo, in Monrovia
Posted on Monday, 15 August 2022 12:12

Liberia's President George Weah attends a plenary session at the start of the Paris Peace Forum, in Paris, France, November 11, 2021. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

The political temperature is heating up in Monrovia – ahead of presidential and legislative elections due in October 2023 when George Weah is seeking a second term as President of Liberia.

As oppositionists step up their protests and lambast the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) government for failing to rein in corruption, improve health and education services and lessen the burden of spiralling fuel and food costs, some of Weah’s supporters have been fighting back.

But sometimes their backing can prove embarrassing to President  Weah.

On Independence Day, 26 July, a group known as CDC-Council of Patriots (COP) took to the streets to counter an anti-government demonstration using the #fixthecountry hashtag that activists have made popular in Ghana.

After the two sides clashed, several of the anti-government protestors were injured and two were taken to hospital. As criticism of the CDC-COP operations mounted, President Weah publicly disowned the group on 2 August.

Anyone or group that has my image on a banner in support of me and my government has to be peaceful, respectful and tolerant.

“I want to stress, as the founding father of the Congress for Democratic Change, now Coalition for Democratic Change, that we do not have any CDC-COP within our organisation,” insisted Weah although the CDC-COP militants were carrying pictures of him as they clashed with the anti-government protestors.

“Anyone or group that has my image on a banner in support of me and my government has to be peaceful, respectful and tolerant,”added Weah.

CDC-COP goes solo

That day the police arrested seven members of CDC-COP, including its chairman Ben Belive Togbah. All of them were later released on bail. According to the script, the CDC-COP now insists it is independent from Weah’s ruling coalition.

Weah also instructed the ministry of health to ensure that those injured at the demonstration on 27 July would be given “the best medical treatment”at state expense.

After five years of Mr. Weah presiding over the state … [there have been] injustices, flagrant disregard for the rule of law, mysterious deaths, proliferation of rape cases and many more.

The protestors were from the Student Unification Party (SUP), the biggest and oldest student political party on Liberian campuses.

According to Peter Kollie Jr. one of the #fixthecountry protesters and a member of SUP, the protest was: “A gathering by students and Liberians to state our displeasure and dissatisfaction with the way the country is being ran.”

“After five years of Mr. Weah presiding over the state … [there have been] injustices, flagrant disregard for the rule of law, mysterious deaths, proliferation of rape cases and many more” he adds.

SUP outside the campuses

This isn’t the first time that the SUP has protested against the government. It is based on university campuses but the party has been a mainstay voice in national politics.

Recently, most of its protests have focused on the management of the state-run Universities. Last year, SUP protested against an inefficient online system and the living conditions of university campuses.

  • In April, the SUP threatened more protests if the University of Liberia administration failed to renovate its two campuses. This led to the prolonged closure of the university undergraduate programs until the school was renovated.

The attack against the SUP protestors has been widely condemned by opposition parties, civil society, diplomats and international organisations.

One of the most contentious issues in tertiary education is the government’s decision to end tuition fees at public universities. The ruling CDC and its supporters heralded the policy as a major advance.

The die-hard supporters of Weah in the CDC-COP lauded the ending of tuition fees, and accused the protestors of being covertly funded by opposition parties. And they claimed the “success” of the free tuition policy made the demonstrations unnecessary.

Yet some groups critical of government argue that the free tuition policy has robbed public universities of much needed revenue. They add that in the absence of adequate government funding, the operations of public universities have been undermined by this loss of revenue. But the SUP says it supports the principle of free tertiary education but criticises the way the government is implementing it.

‘Growing dissatisfaction with Weah’s government’

“The protest reflects growing dissatisfaction with Weah’s government,” according to Ibrahim Nyei, a Liberian political analyst. “He is in a difficult position as he goes into an election next year with a faltering economy and a government roundly criticised for deploying thugs against protestors”.

The attack against the protestors last month sounds an alarm about the dangers of escalating political violence. Hon Yekeh Kolubah of the House of Representatives in Monrovia has said he will train men to protect opposition figures.

Others warn that the government might crack down on opposition voices and rallies in the build-up to the 2023 general elections. Senator Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence of the Liberty Party, an opposition party, has called for other oppositionists to unite against a government crackdown.

“The growing wave of brutal attacks against opposing views and actors in Liberia,” she said, “… by members and supporters of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led-government of President George Manneh Weah is a wakeup call for opposition politicians to stand up against undemocratic acts in the country”.

Now the SUP has announced plans to organise another protest against the government on 24 August – the day of Liberia’s Flag Day celebration.

According to the SUP’s Peter Kollie, “…the plan is to gather and petition the Government of Liberia. We had 35 counts in our petition stating why we are dissatisfied with the system, ranging from massive corruption, terrible health sector, messy educational system and many other social paralysis that have engulfed the State”.

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