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Time to Change Our Politics and Protest Methods

Lovetta Tugbeh

Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh
Political demonstrations usually happen when a group of people takes to the streets through a form of grievance to publicly express a viewpoint concerning political, economic and social issues that affects their community and people.

     With passion, conviction, and legitimacy, and the numbers (in terms of attendance and message) that backs their cause, the emboldened group now can make their presence felt by demanding change to influence public opinion and policies that benefits the larger society.

     The cancelled November 28 demonstration in Liberia, and the subsequent (some would say) poorly attended December 2 demonstration in Washington D.C., are two protest rallies leaders of the two groups hoped would change the course of events in Liberia; in the wake of the recent presidential elections that paved the way for the state of political disillusionment in the country today.

     I did not attend the Washington D.C. demonstration because I believe the message was one-dimensional, self-serving, too partisan, and not about issues advocacy and finding practical solutions to solve the nation’s massive problem.                                       

A lady believed to be political activist Lovetta Tugbeh speaks at the Dec 2, 2011 anti-government demonstration in Washington D.C. (courtesy, OLM Listserv, 2011).

     My support of issues advocacy, nation building and infrastructure development don’t mean I am an Ellen Johnson Sirleaf supporter, and I will not allow that to affect my desire to continue to fight for democracy and the rule of law in Liberia.

      As a lifelong political activist, I’ve led, written extensively, and done my share of political demonstrations in the streets of these United States against throngs of corrupt, autocratic and visionless Liberian presidents. “Been there, done that” and don’t have to prove anything to be recognized, period!

     As a pragmatic nationalist, however, I also believe strongly in nation building, coupled with an unwavering devotion to improving the lives of the Liberian people by being practical. As such, I don’t believe demonstrations alone can solve Liberia’s problem, but working with others to build and strengthen political and entrepreneurial institutions as a way to progress and development.

     However, what makes these two demonstrations so different from previous demonstrations can be attributed to many factors.

     1) Time has changed tremendously and the current occupant in the Executive Mansion is not named Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, or Taylor. 2) Other then the despotic William V. S. Tubman who died before he ever could meet his own violent demise, the other three despised bogeymen also ruined the nation, and their excesses ultimately unified the Liberian people to advocate change in the early 1970s and in subsequent years. 3) Liberia’s allies and the Liberian people don’t see Ellen alone as the problem, and the singular attention focused on her as the problem delegitimizes the protester’s grievance; 5) polarization of politics and the obvious lack of vision and conviction on the part of the politicians and the progressive elites is a turned-off for Liberians, who see the protesters as not serious about genuine change but mere headline grabbers.    

     Because demonstrations that are held for the sake of demonstrations can hurt a cause, especially when that particular cause is loosely defined and targeted. And when the protesters cherry picks and shields their political favorites from criticisms because of personal friendship, family connections, and party loyalty, can taint the message and undermine the reasons behind the demonstration.

     As is widely reported in the press, there were agitations from both the ruling government’s side and also from the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC). During a recent gathering organized by the Election Coordinating Committee, Assistant Secretary General Phil Tarpeh Dixon denied CDC’s involvement in the post-election fatality that shocked the nation, but apologized for his party’s alleged involvement. Why apologized if you are innocent of any wrongdoing?

     It was also reported that some in the CDC even threatened to oust Senator Geraldine Doe-Sheriff, Representative Edward Forh and others from the party if they did not resign their legislative positions. Senator Geraldine Doe-Sheriff, it is believed, was attacked for her refusal to tote her party’s line.

     Instead of demonstrating to put an end to hooliganism from both sides, the demonstrators are busy elevating Winston Tubman to the unaccustomed and laughable role of a political activist, which he is not; because political activism is not a seasonal occupation that comes only when an individual wants to be president, but an ongoing process that stems from a passionate desire to speak for or give one’s life to the welfare of the poor, downtrodden and the oppressed in society.

      If the Washington D.C. demonstrators were interested in stopping violence, they would have included in their rally a condemnation of all violence and political killings, and not only target the ruling government.

     Well, the elections are over, the presidential candidates participated in the campaign process, and together with their supporters voted in the first round. Who do you blame if the presidential candidates decided at the eleventh hour not to participate in the runoff election? The incumbent who’s seeking her own political interests?

     Now that the presidential elections are over, do we dwell on removing a president whom local and international observers certified to have won the race? Do we waste our precious time beating on a dead horse just to hear ourselves talk for the sake of talking?

     As one of the oldest countries in Africa, we are far behind in infrastructure development, and also behind in every category to dwell on demonstrations alone to move Liberia forward.

     Why not turn our energies into issues advocacy, and focus on packing the legislature with like-minded legislators who will seek our interests and the Liberian people’s interests in nation building? Why not put pressure on Senators and Representatives to enact sensible legislations that improves lives? Why not pressure Representatives and Senators to be a genuine balancing act to the executive branch?

      Why are we so preoccupied with the presidency when other burning national issues painfully stares at us daily? Do we want to repeat the same mistakes in 2017, as we did in 2011?

As it is now, the same issues that caused the electoral turmoil in 2011 hasn’t gone away.

     The National Elections Commission is still not neutral and independent. The president still appoints the NEC Commissioners. Why not demonstrate to either abolish or drastically change the way the NEC operates?

     Corruption is rampant. Unemployment is as high as 85 percent. There are no libraries in all of Liberia. There are no parks and recreational facilities in all of Liberia for kids and adults to exercise and play. Land ownership and the policies regarding land needs to be studied and reformed. Government should begin to get in the land ownership business, and must protect wetlands and other valuable natural resources.

      There are no running/modern public toilet facilities in many parts of the country. Electricity is scarcely provided to all of Liberia. Garbage/trash collection is either non-existent or poorly collected and disposed. Erosion is burying all of coastal Liberia. The Atlantic Ocean that was once miles and miles away has suddenly reached the mainland and is destroying homes. There is no code enforcement and city planning in all of Liberia. As a result, homes are recklessly built just about anywhere there is land. Why not demonstrate to fix these issues?

     Term limits of Legislators needs to be changed. The Constitutions needs to be drastically amended. Why don’t we concentrate on the Legislative branch to effect meaningful change? Why not focus on the Legislators that are considered ineffective, and work to defeat them?

     The centralized form of government needs to be abolished, with Mayors, Superintendents, Commissioners and Paramount Chiefs, etc, etc elected, and taxes collected redirected to the various counties for their own use. Liberians in the Diaspora cannot even vote in their own country; non-Negroid (white people) cannot own land and property in Liberia  but are legally allowed to take their money and profits with them? Is it fair, and is that policy in the nation’s interest?

      The labor laws of Liberia, or the lack of genuine labor laws to protect workers from slave wages and slave labor needs to be addressed. The children of Liberian women born to Lebanese men and others need to be addressed. What become of the children when their fathers leave Liberia? Are there any laws on the books that protect the children and their mother’s emotional well-being when the children are taken away by their foreign fathers? 

     Why don’t we also demonstrate to advocate these issues?

     Removing a president from office without changing existing problems and attitudes will do Liberia no good, but only exacerbates the problem when the new president, who will do no better than the last one repeats the same.

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