BY: James Fasuekoi’s
Minneapolis, MN, [July 21/13]-What began as a fun but gradual listserv conversations among Liberians regarding an alleged misappropriation of a recent European Union (EU) funding to Liberia in the tone of 13 Million, and the expected visit of Finance Minister Amara Konneh to Minnesota, has seemingly created a big split here within the Liberian community, resulting into two main contending groups, the “pros Amara supporters” and those who oppose his pending visit to Minnesota on corrupt allegations.
A third group considered by this writer as “independent” has also joined the fray. This group entails Liberians with various professional backgrounds that share moderate views about Min. Konneh’s controversial visit to Minneapolis, MN, described by many as the hotbed for Liberian politics where visiting officials often scrambled to “sell themselves politically” or try to project a “good image” of a corrupt and nepotistic regime at home.
Politics, the world over, and especially in all of Africa where democracy by its true definition, remains something new, can turn very nastier at times. In Liberia itself, and in the diaspora Liberian communities abroad where thousands still struggle to overcome the traumas of a 14 year brutal African war, politics fueled by ethnic hatred can be far worst-worst that it can even turn best of friends into everlasting foes.
At least, for the past week, one group, mainly the “pro-Amara activists,” has branded those opposed to Min. Konneh’s visit as “trouble makers,” “instigators,” “Amara haters” and so forth. All this bickering between the two groups-pros and antis-stemmed out of fear that the intent behind the pending protest is to sabotage the July 26th Independence Day celebrations. Pro Amara supporters have announced they too would stage a counter-protest (aimed to defuse the situation) at the venue where Min. Konneh is expected to deliver his July 26th keynote address.
However, the opposition side led by known U.S. based Liberian political activist, Mr. Kirkpatrick Weah, assisted by an array of solo social-political activists that include the likes of Seyon Nyanwleh and Sayku Kromah, a former Liberian diplomat, has refused to take part in the ongoing “mud-slinging” at least for now. Instead, the group appears to be working assiduously behind the curtains to mobilize more supporters as well as legitimize its planned protest by seeking “protest permit” from the U.S. authorities.
Mr. Kirkpatrick Weah who is said to be a 1985 former “prison-mate” to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a one-time “iron lady” who now presides over a corrupt regime in Liberia. He is coincidentally, the head of “MOLAC,” acronym for the “Movement of Liberians Against Corruption.” Widely respected for his political activism which began under the military dictatorship of Samuel Doe in the early 80s, Mr. Weah is viewed by many as the “mastermind” behind the arrest and subsequent deportation of Dr. George S. Boley, the leader of the erstwhile LPC rebel faction who hails from southeast Liberia as Mr. Weah. RELATED STORY
What are the arguments? The core argument being pushed by the would-be protesters is that it is unbefitting for the OLM or any group of Liberians abroad for that matter to give Finance Minister Konneh a platform to speak let alone, a red-carpet welcome amidst persistent allegations of the “missing” 13 million EU funding given the GOL to help revamp local hospitals and clinics. To them, the minister’s expected trip to the U.S. which “presumably” includes an array of entourage just to further shed light on the reported missing EU monies could lead to further “abuse of taxpayers’ money.” According to one Amara opponent, it is such “abuse” they are trying to prevent so funds can be used to “otherwise help feed the poor.”
On the other hand, pro Amara supporters are asking rivals to exercise “restraint” while at the same time calling on the opposition side to stop “indicting” Minister Konneh who, according to one supporter, “is certainly working in the best interest of our country.” He adds that since no auditing team has yet found him Konneh guilty of any crime, it was proper that protest-planners halt all pending protest activities so that Min. Konneh can address their concerns.
Serious as this may appear, one Amara supporter went as far to quote from the 1986 constitution of Liberia under “Fundamental Rights” and cited Article 15: a, b, & c, all of which he maintained, entitles Min. Konneh the rights to travel freely and speaks as a citizen. Another of Pro Amara “activist” didn’t view the “opposition” against the pending visit of Min. Konneh, a Mandingo, as lightly as others. He wrote in part, “…they [rival protesters] are harding under the canopy of fighting financial transgression to achieve their insatiable hatred for Amara and the Mandingoes collectively.”
For this commentator, the decision by some protesters to demonstrate against Amara’s visit re-echoes the negative past where most Mandingos became victims of racial profiling by immigration officers who in most cases, extorted monies from Mandingo travelers under the guise that they were “foreigners.” However, there isn’t any solid evidence so far to prove that the pending “activism” is straddled in ethnic hatred against Minister Konneh. And besides, there is well-documented proof that some of those involved in the planned protest such Mr. Kirkpatrick Weah, have in the past led similar rallies here even against some of their own kinsmen.
Beyond the continuing war of words on various listservs among rival and pro Amara supporters, there is also a fallout between two major Liberian-Minnesota based online prints and broadcast outlets which became apparent at the weekend with one backed by the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota (OLM) calling its counterpart, “ISSUES IN THE PRESS RELOADED” run by aggressive Liberian journalist Al Jerome Chede, a “struggling online program.”
In a counter-reaction, the TMZ Management and producer of ISSUE IN THE PRESS RELOADED, described as “irresponsibly unfounded,” rumors that its “officials are the instigators behind the planned demonstration against the Key Note Speaker of the July 26th Independence Day Celebration, Liberia’s Finance Minister, Amara Konneh.”
As a string of attacks and counter-attacks went on during the week by all fronts, a poster wrote to asked all Liberian pastors to join him for a ten-day intensive fast and prayers in order that the Almighty God may cleanse the land, (Liberia) of mankind’s perpetual sins and evoke peace upon Liberia. Days later, a voice of wisdom descended from Fr. JN Wilson.
In any case, what remains at stake isn’t just the 13 million which is yet to be accounted for by the Ministry of Health & Social Welfare and its subsidiaries (that received the funding), but also, that fine reputation Minister Konneh has painstakingly carved for himself for himself as “one of the few trusted men” in a land where citizens and foreigners alike have lost total confidence in the governing system as a result of gross mismanagement.
For almost a century, the Mandingos in the country focused on trade and showed little interest in politics. As a result, their community has been trolling at the bottom end of the country’s political ladder leading to the civil war era. However, some of the most educated ones among them possessing leadership qualities poised to lead the political life of this ethnic group soon lost public respect due to their groups and individuals’ questionable roles during the country’s past wars with respect to extra-judicial killings of civilians. Against this backdrop, innocent and youthful Amara Konneh emerged almost from nowhere to be not only a shining star but an inspiration and symbol of hope a new generation of youthful Liberians.
Meanwhile, as we went to press, a spokesperson for MOLAC wrote listservs audiences to announce that its officials have been granted “permission to carry on our planned protest” after they met both Brooklyn Park Police and the Brooklyn City Council and “educated the police on the purpose of the protest.” The group stated: “The police were told that the protest is not targeting only the Finance Minister but all other corrupt government officials including the Vice President and President Sirleaf that will come to Minnesota.”
By all accounts, the latest development is being seen by some as a breakthrough and serves as a milestone for the opposition protesters which signifies how democracy in these United States works well for everyone and not the “government alone” or a particular group unlike Liberia, irrespective of one’s national origin, cultural or political affiliation.
The fact that listservs discussions, comments and postings can easily fizzle away as days, weeks and months go by, it’s prudent to follow these exchanges and have them documented for future references since many Liberians barely care to preserve records of this nature. With less than a week before the event, we sample here, some of the views expressed by independent observers, opposition actors, as well as pro Amara supporters.