When former football star, George Weah became the president of Liberia a little over a year ago, there was dancing in the streets of the West African country. Today, there are protests.
Thousands of Liberians took to the streets of Monrovia, the city’s capital last Friday to protest the increased cost of living, corruption, injustice and emerging dictatorship in the country. More than five thousand protesters walked to Capitol Hill to present the government with a list of demands and a petition which stated that Liberians are suffering harsh economic conditions caused and encouraged by bad governance. The protests were organized by the Council of Patriots, a conglomeration of citizens, civil society activists, youth leaders and major political parties.
In a bid to ‘quell the protests’ Social media sites were blocked by the government. WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Gmail service and even the website of The Associated Press were shut down, according to internet monitoring platform NetBlocks. This was confirmed by the country’s Minister of Information Eugene Nagbe who said social media platforms were shut down temporarily due to security reasons. However, citizens bypassed the restrictions using virtual private networks.
Weah is being challenged over the persistence of the same issues on which he campaigned, issues he promised to tackle but instead, these issues have worsened since he assumed leadership – increased inflation in a country where 64 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Angeline Flomo, a 35-year-old housewife and mother-of-four told Al-Jazeera that before now her family could rely on 500 LD ($2.50) daily to feed. But now, they can’t even feed on 1,000 LD. “This is how bad things have become. A bag of 25 kilos of rice used to sell for 1,500 LD, now it is 2,800 to 3,000 LD. We are finding it difficult to make ends meet,” she said.
Weah’s government is also smeared by stories of missing funds that cannot be accounted for. Citizens also accuse him and his administration of tolerating impunity asking that he set up a war crimes court to prosecute the warlords of the civil wars as he had promised during his campaign.
Weah had issued a statement on Thursday, prior to the protest the following day saying he would neither permit insults to his reputation nor protests under his administration. He also blamed the current issues of the country on the past governments. “…be warned that insults and incitement of violence will not be permitted under my administration … We met the hardship and inherited all the bad conditions and without making excuses, we are solving them,” he said.
According to political analyst, Ibrahim al-Bakri Nyei, Weah has a responsibility to deliver on his campaign promises and not lose the confidence of Liberian youths. “George Weah needs to deliver. Young people, most of them first-time voters, believed so much, passionately campaigned for George Weah. They saw him almost like the last trump card for their liberation from economic hardship. And so George Weah has the responsibility now to continue to inspire confidence and deliver on his campaign promises to those people … This cannot be done in the absence of a clean, competent and credible government,” Nyei told The Guardian.
Information Minister, Nagbe told the press that the opposition is responsible for the protests, an opinion shared by Nyei. Although the validity of this is uncertain, the suffering and economic hardship faced by Liberians are certain, and the protests are valid.