MONROVIA, Montserrado – Several thousands of Liberians gathered on Capitol Hill in Monrovia today to protest against a rapidly declining economy and rampant corruption under President George Weah.
Members of the Council of Patriots, who organized the protest, have previously said they wanted to draw attention to the ever-depreciating value of the Liberian dollar, the president’s failure to make public his assets declaration, the failure of the president to act against Finance Minister Samuel Tweah and Executive Governor Nathaniel Patray of the Central Bank for their role in the implementation of the US$25 million mop-up exercise.
Protesters arrived from all parts of the city to the assembly point on Capitol Hill, amid huge security presence and random vehicle searches.
James Carter, one of the protesters, told The Bush Chicken that life had become increasingly difficult for ordinary Liberians because of the continuous increase in the U.S. to Liberian dollar exchange rate and its adverse impact of the high cost of commodities.
“We have assembled here today to make our petition to the national government on issues that are confronting the citizens, most especially the ordinary people. There are critical issues in our country,” Carter said.
“The rate is increasing, which has caused serious hardship for us.” He also accused Weah of constantly violating the constitution.
The exchange rate with the U.S. dollar has now increased by 24 percent since the start of the calendar year and 52 percent since President Weah was inaugurated, just 18 months ago. The increase has been accompanied by a surge in the price of basic commodities and goods.
“I am here for the betterment of our country,” said Evans Wamah Chuku, Unity Party’s assistant secretary for the Montserrado Youth Congress.
“The betterment of our country in the sense [that] since the inception of the ex-soccer legend’s regime, there has been skyrocketing of prices. There has been [a] constant violation of our laws. There have been constant disappearances of donors’ funds from our country’s account. There have been constant disappearances of funds from our national reserve and there has been mismanagement of the economy. There has been serious economic hardship in our country. That’s why we are here.”
Chuku said their peaceful assembly today is a right guaranteed by the Liberian constitution.
For the 42-year-old Nancy Dolo, she joined the protest to demand that the president live up to his promise for a pro-poor government.
Dolo demanded that the president also work to address the skyrocketing exchange rate, bring to book individuals responsible for the mismanagement of the US$25 million mop-up funds, and establish a war and economic crimes court in the country.
Organizers had earlier anticipated that the president would meet the protesters to receive their petition. Just before the day of the gathering, it was agreed upon in a meeting attended by members of the Council of Patriots, representatives of the government, and international partners that Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor would receive the petition.
But up to 3:00 p.m., neither Howard-Taylor nor any member of her office had shown up to meet the protesters. Later, Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar Findley, Justice Minister Musa Dean, and Minister of State Nathaniel McGill showed up to represent the government and receive the petition on behalf of the government.
However, the protest leaders never did present their petition to the government. Instead, they asked for the release of five students arrested on the University of Liberia’s campus before they could present their petition. The students had been arrested on Wednesday as part of the unrest that occurred ahead of the June 7 protest.
Authorities said they would have to meet and discuss whether to grant the request to release the five students.
Henry Costa, one of the spokespersons for the Council of Patriots, said the protesters would reconvene on Monday to read their petition, pending the government’s response to the request to free the students.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah