Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Uncertainty, arrests and tension in Liberia

By Ben Mensah

‘None of us is able to assess the damage that can come from constant intimidation and an atmosphere of tension which is so prevalent in Liberia now' Liberia's Church leaders have asked Gen. Doe to ease the tension in the country.
General Samuel Doe still promises that 'no level of disturbance will prevent him from establishing democracy in Liberia'. But until he acknowledges his peculiar position and does not persist in his right as a Liberian citizen to contest the impending elections, suspicions will also persist about his ambitions to retain the mould of his military administration after 1985.

It has been suggested that Gen. Doe's formula of transition from military to civilian rule should be regarded as a test of the African's maturity to vote out an incumbent as the Sierra Leoneans did by rejecting Margai in favour of Siaka Stevens, in India where first Indira Gandhi and then Moraji Desai were voted out of office and as the British and Americans last emphasised by throwing out James Callaghan and Jimmy Carter.

But having staged a coup to end the domination by the Americo-Liberians of Liberian politics and realising that his countrymen are being given a chance for the first time in their history to participate in the democratic process, Gen. Doe's plans to return the country to democratic civilian rule should not be clouded in any complications and suspicions.

Yet these suspicions and doubts seem heightened by recent developments of arrests, protest demonstrations, allegations of a coup plot and the release of a pastoral letter from the church leaders.

The arrests started with Dr Amos Sawyer, Chairman of the Liberian Peoples Party who Gen. Doe alleged had spearheaded a coup plot. According to the Liberian leader, the aim of Dr Sawyer and his supporters was to pressurise him to resign by creating chaos and confusion among the people.

After his resignation and overthrow of the government mass arrests were to follow and then a socialist Republic of Liberia would be installed with the aid of foreign countries, according to Gen. Doe's rendition of the plot.

The question to ask is why would Dr Sawyer call for Gen. Doe's resignation? Again it had been suggested that since Gen. Doe has ordered any government official who wants to do politics to resign his post, it was only proper for Gen. Doe too to be called upon to resign to ensure the fairness of the elections.

Gen. Doe himself must have heard this argument when he proffered this statement: "members of a cabinet can be requested by the Head of State to resign at any time because they are appointed by him and they serve at his pleasure. But the Head of State is either elected, in which case the electoral process can remove him from office, or he assumed office through his own initiative. In this case he can surrender power on his own free will."

Dr Sawyer was arrested together with Mr George Kay Kieh also of Liberian University, Colonel Larry Borteh and Colonel Jerry Friday, both members of the recently inaugurated interim National Assembly.

Mr Issac Nyeplu, a former Justice. Minister who was reported to be on the run later surrendered himself to the authorities and later allegedly made some revelations about the coup plot which led to the arrest of the former Deputy Head of State and currently speaker of the National Assembly, Gen. J. Nicholas Podier.

The arrest of Dr Sawyer led to demonstrations by students of the University of Liberia during which three persons sustained injuries from bullets when soldiers shot into the air to disperse them.

The university has since been closed and the entire administration dismissed by Gen. Doe.

Those dismissed include: Mrs Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman, President of the University, Dr James T. Tarpeh, Vice-President for academic affairs and Dr Patrick Seyon, Vice-President for administration. Also dismissed are all deans and members of the University Senate and Council.

The Head of State said the decision to dismiss the administration is based on the failure of the authorities at the University to instil proper discipline into the students, thereby causing chaos in the community. Gen. Doe said the University has now been transformed into a political centre with little attention given to the academic functions for which the institution was established

In this state of unrest, Gen. Doe has ordered the Ministry of Defence to flog publicly anyone found distributing anonymous leaflets intended to cause chaos in the society.

This development in turn has led to an appeal from the country's church leaders to Gen. Doe to stop the 'arbitrary arrests' and 'mysterious disappearances' to end unrest in the country. The appeal which was read from pulpits throughout the country said: "none of us is able to assess the damage that can come from constant intimidation and an atmosphere of tension which is so prevalent in Liberia now".

The council of Churches asked Gen. Doe to lift the decree providing 10 year jail terms for people convicted of spreading rumours against authorities. They said the decree can easily plungethe country into a reign of terror.

The statement was signed by the Rev. George Browne, president of the Council who is Anglican Primate of West Africa and the Episcopal Bishop of Liberia as well as the Roman Catholic, United Methodist, Baptist and Lutheran leaders.

Whether Gen. Doe will listen to the church leaders or not, there is no doubt now that Liberia is deep in throes of tension, unrest and uncertainty about plans to return to civilian democratic rule.

This uncertainty is underscored by Gen. Doe's own warning that excessive political ambition on the part of any one could reverse the noble goal.

But what constitutes excessive political ambition will have to be proved publicly in the charges that have been levelled against Dr Sawyer and co so that there will be no suspicions that the unrest is being orchestrated to enable Gen. Doe to abandon the plan for return to civilian rule and continue in office.

General Doe announcing his intention to run for President.

talking drums 1984-09-03 arrests and tension in Liberia - WAEC's leakage problems