Contrary to claims from official quarters that former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was booed and taunted by anti-rape protestors on Thursday March 27, 2020 when she briefly appeared across her residence to speak with the protestors, video and tape recordings by this paper and other media institutions clearly revealed that President Sirleaf was actually compelled to move back to her residence for the fear of someone getting hurt. A huge number of the protestors had surrounded her, pleading to take photographs with the former president, while others in an uncontrollably joyous mood chanted, “Our Ma is here, we want justice”.
“At no time did anyone of the protestors insult the President Sirleaf when she appeared among the anti-rape protestors to speak with them,” James C. Kyne, a resident of Sinkor, later said.
“No protestor insulted or booed President Sirleaf when she appeared among us at the Fish Market. President Sirleaf was actually making her way towards us when the security made her turn back to her compound,” March for Justice Executive Director Titus B. Pakalah told the press. March for Justice is a conglomeration of 60 youth organizations that advocates for victims of sexual abuse and other forms of human rights issues.
According to video recording of our reporter, as soon as Madam Sirleaf met the mammoth crowd of anti-rape protestors who had gathered at the open space opposite her residence, she was greeted joyously with cries and chants, as a forlorn child would greet its long lost mother.
“Our Ma is here, we want justice; “Our Ma is here, 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 residence.
According to a video recording of our reporter, Madam Sirleaf, guarded by her personal security, made her way through the mammoth crowd of activists who had gathered in front of her residence, having at another venue been earlier chased around by armed and tear gas-bearing riot police.
Our reporter’s video recording showed former President Sirleaf as being 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 urge, “Sit down! Let’s sit down…” as the protestors swarmed around her, jostling for opportunities to take selfies with her.
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.
“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 people were pushing the protestors 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 a quiet setting. 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 for the predator to have easy entry.
“She deserves to be respected and given a civil platform. She did a good thing by walking to the protesters. People should learn to respect their leaders and other dignitaries,” said President Weah when he delivered a prerecorded message on the national broadcaster.
The Liberian Chief Executive also commended former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for joining the protest, saying: “She is a citizen and former president of the country. She did a good thing.”
President Weah said he 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.
This follows the protesters fruitless attempts to present a petition against the prevalence of rape in the country.