By: Rancy S. Teewia
“Our Ma is here, we want justice; our pa still home, our pa is sleeping!” were some of the slogans which the anti-rape protesters jubilantly chanted late Thursday afternoon when former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf met with them outside her Airfield Sinkor Fish Market residence, following President George Weah’s failure to meet with the anti-rape campaigners and accept their petition.
The move by President Sirleaf to meet the protestors followed fruitless attempts by the throng of anti-rape activists to meet with President George Manneh Weah at the front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that hosts the Office of the President for two consecutive days to present a petition against the prevalence of rape in the country. The past two days of peaceful protest had been marred by huge traffic congestion in Central Monrovia.
Guarded by few of her personal security, Madam Sirleaf made her way through the mammoth crowd of activists who had gathered in front of her residence, having been earlier chased around by armed and tear gas-bearing riot police.
Dressed in a beige colored trousers suit, and sporting a tan dyed low-cut hair style that accentuated a colorful cloth sashed around her neck, Madam Sirleaf who walked among the tumultuous crowd suddenly began to fruitlessly shout, “Sit down! Let’s sit down…”
Following the failed effort to calm the crowd, the former Liberian leader walked back into her compound as journalists struggling to enter her compound for an interview with her were screened. Finally, the journalists were permitted on the compound of President Sirleaf, who wasted no time to state: “Let me just say I am going to make a statement. I am not going to take questions. So if you don’t want it that way, you are welcome to leave because I am not going to take questions.”
Continuing, Madam Sirleaf said rape has always been a problem in Liberia, and that it doesn’t happen only in Liberia. “But we know that it hinders our quest to make progress; and it destroys the lives of young women”.
According to the former President, “Rape has always been our problem, it was before my administration; it was in my administration, and it is still with us today.”
She said, “The women, given the kind of cases that have come up where young babies – three month-old, young children, 10 years old been violated sometimes by old men, sometimes by young men – is something that the women heard and they have to act, but to act in a manner as one does a peaceful protest. And so, they’ve been going to the streets, they’ve been making petitions to the embassies to other places, our hearts have been with them. Today, they happened to have gathered outside my premises, outside the place where I live.”
Madam Sirleaf, a one-time political activist, said she could not sit in her house, to see all those women demonstrating for something that is good for the country without showing a sign of solidarity with them. “So my idea was to just go across to show solidarity; sit with them, talk to them, tell them to make sure that they keep the peace, the peace that we fought for all those years and we maintained all those years I was President, tell them that we don’t need violence.”
“My Liberian sisters peacefully protesting against rape, I stand with you. Women and girls have long suffered in the past in silence, and I support your effort to bring this issue into the light. It will take an honest reckoning and a collective effort to end rape in Liberia,” the former President said.
Said the first female President of Africa and Nobel prize winner: “To be able to do it, we will meet with some of those who will do it the legal way, people that will meet with the Legislature, people that will meet with authorities to deal with it.”
She said she opted to sit with the protesters to talk with them, to thank them for their stance against rape and tell them to remain peaceful, but she did not have the chance because the crowd was overwhelming, with everybody having a telephone, including the media personnel who could not allow her to sit with the demonstrators.
“Not only was the media large, but also the crowd was large. Everybody wanted to get my photo. And so I got to a place I said I have to move away to leave the scene because I do not want anybody to be hurt because security were pushing people and if anybody had gotten hurt, it would have been on my conscience, it would be my responsibility,” Madam Sirleaf said.
Madam Sirleaf said she left the place with the hope that she would later talk with the women in a smaller grouping in quietude. She then called on all, especially the men, to show solidarity and stand up for the protesters because of their daughters, sisters and wives, and other female relatives who stand to make contributions to the national economy and the society at large.
President Sirleaf’s move to meet with the anti-rape protestors came in the wake of a wild chase by the police who tear-gassed, flogged and arrested protestors from street corners around Monrovia on the third day of their protest.
The protest was provoked by an increasing number of rape cases in the country, especially one reported to have involved a minor whose private parts were lacerated with blades by her predator.
Meanwhile, President Weah has welcomed the idea of Liberians protesting against the high rate of rape in the country, but frowned on the protestors’ refusal to allow his emissary to receive the petition on his behalf.
“I was busy; I was watching the protest on TV. I saw all kinds of people there. So I sent my protégé,” President Weah informed the nation Thursday via a pre-recorded broadcast.
Meanwhile, former President Sirleaf tweeted last evening, “to my Liberian sisters peacefully protesting against rape, I stand with you. Women and girls have long suffered in silence, and I support your efforts to bring this issue into the light. It will take an honest reckoning and a collective effort to #EndRapeInLiberia.”