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Liberians Celebrate Amid Protests

Minnesota: Liberia’s 166th Independence Celebrated Amid Protests
By James Kokulo Fasuekoi

Minneapolis, MN [7/29/13]-One side jeered while the other equally responded with boos. One carried placards with anti-corruption slogans; the other, none. As a group of anti-corruption campaigners gleefully danced to the beat of African drums and hand-held sasas they had carried along, their opponents, Amara supporters, with no musical instruments, turned to anything including a garbage container that could produce sound.

A group of opposition anti-corruption campaigners hold a poster during the demonstration

This was exactly the scene at the Brooklyn Park Community Activity Center here in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota during the weekend when a group of Liberians under the banner, MOLAC, along with those supporting Liberia’s Finance Minister Amara Konneh met face to face to protest in the name of free speech and democracy.  

The anti-corruption campaign group, MOLAC (Movement of Liberians Against Corruption) was led by political-social activist, Kirkpatrick Weah plus other local activists. They were later joined by a high profiled Liberian, professional nurse and community activist, Tarlor Quiwonkpa. MOLAC was following through its publicized promise that it would denounce and protest against widespread corrupt practices taking place in government circle when Minister Konneh arrives in Minnesota to participate in this year’s July 26th 166th Independence Anniversary.

Their opponents, pro-Amara supporters, clad in t-shirts with the following inscription: “Liberians United for Progress & Development Welcomes Amara M. Konneh,” had come to stage a counter-protest in Amara’s behalf for what they described as the minister’s “hard work and sincerity” in fighting the epidemic of corruption in the country. This group was headed by Mr. Mohamed Enzah Dorley, president of the Minnesota Mandingo Association (MMA).

Min. Konneh's supporters clad in pro-Konneh t-shirts cheer Min. Konneh

For hours prior to the arrival of Minister Konneh the two groups stood face to face and neck to neck at the entrance of Brooklyn Park Community Activity Hall with only several yards separating them under the vigilant eyes of a team of Brooklyn Park Police Force. The police stood guard between both groups, and for each time members of either group crossed the police demarcation line while singing and dancing, police warned them to move back.
During the protest, members of the anti-corruption group carried posters that read: “We Are Tired With Corruption, Ellen Must Resign,” “Babies Are Dying, Amara Where Is The 13M?” and “95% of All Concession Agreements Are Not Transparent.” Others read: “Ellen Is A Disgrace To Our Nation-Liberia,” “Amara Go Home! We Are Tired With Corruption,” “Ellen’s Criminal Empire Must Leave To Save Liberia,” and “Liberia First, Corruption Last.”

Bystanders, almost all of them Americans who had come to celebrate the occasion with Liberians marveled helplessly as the demonstrations went on for hours. One memorable moment for the two sides was when U.S. Government officials that included Mayors of Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn City Center arrived with Minister Amara Konneh and his entourage. The both groups that had been engaged in awkward exchanges against one another temporarily halted their “fight” and joined Liberians and Americans instead to sing the Liberian National Anthem, “All Hail Liberia Hail! 

Barely the National Anthem had ended when anti-corruption campaigners resumed their singing and dancing as U.S. officials led Minister Konneh to a guided tour so he could inspect a new fire truck donated by the Brooklyn Park City for use by the Liberia Fire Service in Monrovia. By this time, Mr. Kirkpatrick Weah and his group managed to raise their voices and began to shout: “Rouge! Rouge! Amara Konneh! Rouge! Rouge!” Min. Konneh’s supporters who twice outnumbered Weah’s group soon interrupted and tried to defuse the situation: “Kirkpatrick Weah! DED! Kirkpatrick Weah! DED!”

Through it all, Minister Konneh tried to maintain his demeanor and kept a smile on his face as he briefly conferred with American officials who surrounded him in an apparently attempt to shield him off from Mr. Weah’s group. Min. Konneh climbed the huge fire truck, parked closed to the hall’s main entrance and briefly posed for pictures. And after that, Min. Konneh then quickly entered the hall in a presidential style, flanked by an array of officials, including Liberian Government officials who had traveled with him from Liberia.

“Thirteen government officials were executed in 1980 for corruption and yet the government allows corruption to flourish in Liberia without taking action,” remarked Mrs. Tarlor Quiwonkpa in between breaths amid singing and dancing as she stepped away from the group to make her point to our correspondent.

“The money [referring to the 13 million] was sent to Sirleaf for hospitals but they used the money,” said Mrs. Quiwonkpa who vehemently denounced rampant corruption in the Sirleaf’s Government.

Mr. Kirkpatrick Weah (left wearing blue shirt) leads protesters 3. A group of opposition anti-corruption campaigners hold a poster during the demonstration

Mrs. Quiwonkpa, years ago, had a longstanding quarrel with current Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf which still carries deep emotional scars, dating as far back as 1985. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the woman who would later become president, is rumored to have lured late Gen. Thomas G. Quiwonkpa, (Tarlor’s husband) into leading a failed military coup against Doe’s Government, a move that turned suicidal and left Gen. Quiwonkpa dead in Monrovia.
Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa hailed from Liberia’s iron ore mining region of Nimba. He was the number two man among a group of young indigenous soldiers that executed 13 former government officials on firing squad in 1980 after they toppled a century-led settlers’ regime whose officials were accused of rampant corruption. Mrs. Quiwonkpa, few years ago, managed to settled differences with Pres. Sirleaf and the two joined former First Lady Nance Doe for a “politically motivated” photo-shoot at Sirleaf’s Presidential Mansion in Monrovia.

This is the second protest carried out in the US this year by Liberians against the corrupt regime of Pres. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. As recently as late June, a group of Liberians in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania staged similar protest against uncontrolled corruption in Liberia during a visit by the country’s Vice President, Joseph N. Boakai.

In the hall, this years’ 26th keynote speaker Minister Konneh, to the amazement of many attending the dinner ball, began his speech by thanking the opposition protesters for raising their voices against the corruption which has become epidemic in Liberia. 

“It would be unfair if I didn’t extend special thanks to our fellow Liberians who have taken up their time to assemble outside of this building to raise their voices against corruption in Liberia,” Min. Konneh observed.

In an hour-long speech, Min. Konneh spoke about his humble beginning, plus the resiliency of his “not-well-to-do” family to overcome hardship, thereby making sure young Konneh, together with his siblings stayed in school till they graduate. He said, he had passed school going age and was moved from one parent to another till the People Redemption Council (PRC) which overthrew the Tolbert Government, decreed compulsory education for all Liberians. 

He gave a historical highlight of the coming of the settlers to the land now called Liberia; errors made by the settlers during the initial stages of their re-settlement which eventually resulted to war between them and the indigenous people. He suggested the government and people of Liberia erect monuments in honor of “our heroes.”

Min. Konneh however went on to point out the “dangers” posed by tribal bigotry in today’s Liberia and tried to define some of the country’s ethnic groupings, their respective origins, in an attempt to dismiss widely held “stereotypical” believes that Mandingos are “foreigners” in Liberia.

Citing as examples, he named the Bassa and noted, they “can be found in the Congo as well as in Cameroon.” The “Lormas and Kpelles,” he explained, “can also be found in Kenya and other parts of East Africa, where they are called the Kissimus, and speak the same language as our uncles do today in Liberia.”

Both Lormas and Kpellehs, according to Min. Konneh, still “maintain the tradition of filing their teeth in a V shape, just as their brothers do in Lofa County, as one of many distinguishing factors that set a leader apart from the rest of the community.” He said, for Mandingos and Fulanis, their “populations are spread across West Africa.”

“Our [Mandingo and Fula] population is denser in other countries such as Guinea, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Mali – that’s why we are not considered Liberians. But equally so, [he maintained,] the Lormas and the Kpelles, Krus and Krahns are regional groups. In fact, there is a much stronger Lorma presence in Guinea than there is in Liberia.” He added metaphorically: “And yet we are proud of our tuborgee and we can’t get enough of it.” 

A police officer stands guard during the protests 8. Min. Konneh inspects a fire truck presented to the Liberia Fire Service by Brooklyn Park City

The interpretation of the line in italics in other words means, despite the above strong historical backgrounds of the various Liberian ethnic groupings Minister Konneh unearthed, many Liberians still discriminate against Mandingos at times calling them “foreigners” which in Konneh’s view isn’t fair to Mandingos.

As for the label, “Congo,” Min. Konneh said “the term is no longer used only to describe African American settlers; it is now used as a blanket label for all those who have risen to a certain income bracket. It is especially used, now, on those of us who have lived abroad for a certain length of time.”

Meanwhile, the leader of the anti-corruption group called MOLAC, Mr. Kirkpatrick Weah told our correspondent Saturday at the United Methodist Church on Brooklyn Boulevard moments before the start of a town hall that his group would continue to stage protest against key Liberian Government officials visiting the U.S. found to be involved in “corruption” directly or indirectly. His group didn’t protest at the town hall meeting between Min. Konneh and Liberians living in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.