MONROVIA, Montserrado – President George Weah has met for the first time with leaders of the pending June 7 protest in Monrovia.
The Council of Patriots, a group of citizens including current and former public officials, have announced a peaceful assembly of mass citizens beginning on June 7 to demand meaningful reforms that will lead to the improvement in governance and the economy.
After initially expressing interest in meeting with the June 7 protestors, the president followed up and invited the organizers to a meeting at his office on Tuesday, May 14, which was also National Unification Day, a public holiday in Liberia.
The meeting was attended by leaders of the protest, including its spokesperson Darius Dillon. Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, Senate Pro Tempore Albert Chie, House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, Justice Minister Musa Dean, and Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar Findley also attended, along with other senior cabinet officials.
At the meeting, Weah opened the discussion by thanking COP’s representatives for honoring his invitation. He noted that he was pleased to listen to their concerns and dialogue, in the interest of the country.
But Dillon said the group’s only concern was for the president to commit to upholding the constitution and to guarantee their right to protest on June 7, when they would present their grievances through a petition to the president.
“It is disrespectful in our culture when the highest in the land or someone older than you invite you and you fail to attend,” Dillon said.
“It is ordinarily said, don’t refuse the call, but that which is in the call, you can make your determination.”
In his address, Dillon said the protest was being called to focus on the state of the economy, good governance, transparency, and the rule of law.
“And, we’re getting back to our people – the masses, the ordinary people who will look to us for direction,” he also noted.
Dillon maintained that Liberia’s peace and stability remains the paramount concern to the protestors and that anyone making insinuations that the exercise of their constitutional rights is a threat to the country’s peace is equally insinuating that he or she does not respect peace.
“Because when you deny people, deprive them of the exercise of their rights, sometimes it results to something else,” he added. “We do not intend to do so.”
Meanwhile, the president expressed disappointment in the failure of the June 7 protest organizers to present the issues they had planned to present to the government. However, he acknowledged their right to do so.
“It’s unfortunate that today, they only made a statement that they want to give their concerns during the protest,” he said.
“I just want to let you know that because of respect for humanity and respect for my fellow human beings, every time you asked me to do something, I do it. It’s not because I am weak. It’s because it is the right thing to do and it is respect.”
According to the Liberian leader, the courage to sit with COP’s executives grew out of a meeting he had with the Senate recently.
“I had the opportunity to deliberate at the Senate, which subsequently led to today’s meeting,” he said.
He praised the representatives of the international community, including the U.N., ECOWAS, and the African Union.
“Every time you ask me to do something and I do it doesn’t mean that I’m weak, but I just think it’s the best way in order for peace,” he said.
Weah also promised to deliver on the general concerns but said addressing personal issues was not his goal. He said fixing the economy can only be done through collective efforts and not solely by the government.
“My government inherited a broken economy and I have to fix it, which started by signing three executive orders to reduce the price of some basic commodities,” he added.
ECOWAS’ ambassador to Liberia, Babatunde Ajisomo, praised the president and COP’s representatives for the meeting, noting the importance of dialogue to maintaining peace and security.
Ajisomo recalled the role of ECOWAS in achieving the country’s peace and the sacrifices that were required.
For his part, the special representative of the U.N. in Liberia, Yacoub El Hillo, called on the government to support the June 7 protest and allow it to take its course.
“This day should be given to the people of this country to petition their government in peaceful, orderly conduct, in close coordination with authorities of the country, especially with the Ministry of Justice,” El Hillo said.
He said Tuesday’s dialogue sent a message to the world that Liberians are now choosing the “force of logic” to solve their differences and not the “logic of force.”
He also committed the U.N.’s continuous engagement with all sides, including the government and those in opposition, as a way to move the country’s forward.
At the same time, the African Union’s special representative to Liberia, Ibrahim Mbaba Kamara, praised members of COP for accepting the president’s invitation.
The heads of religious and traditional councils also participated in the meeting and expressed fear against any threat that could lead the country to its bitter past.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah