Liberian authorities blocked social media sites on Friday as thousands protested on the streets of the country’s capital, Monrovia, over rising prices and corruption. WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Google’s Gmail service and the website of The Associated Press were among the sites affected, according to NetBlocks.
Liberia’s Minister of Information Eugene Nagbe said that social media platforms were shut down temporarily due to “security concerns.”
“We have restored some of them,” he said. “We are not saying that the protesters were carrying out things detrimental to the nation, but the national security apparatus said there were threats to the country and the services were temporarily disrupted and have been restored.”
The protests were organized by a group called the Council of Patriots, made up of citizens, major political parties, civil society workers, youth workers, among others, reports the CNN.
About 10,000 people took part in the protests, though officials put the figure at around 4,000. Figures are expected to rise as organisers are poised to continue the protests on Monday. At Friday’s protests, some held placards reading: “We are tired of suffering” and “We want better living conditions,” Aljazeera reports.
A petition presented by the protesters to delegates from the government of President George Weah stated that Liberians are suffering “harsh economic conditions being caused … and encouraged by bad governance, deliberate and wanton collapse of integrity systems…” CNN quoted.
“We have come to say no to bad governance, abuse of power, corruption and creeping dictatorship,” Henry Costa, one of the leaders of the protesters told CNN.
When Weah assumed power in Liberia last year, he promised to reform the economy that has been struggling to recover following the 2014-15 Ebola crisis, to fight corruption and nepotism and bring in a new era for the West African country. Critics say these are yet to materialize, adding that the president should think of practical ways of tackling the problems.
Last week, Weah, a former football star and 1995 FIFA player of the year, issued a warning against the protest organisers, attributing the country’s woes to past governments.
“You can say whatever you want to, but be warned that cusses, insults and incitement of violence will never again be permitted under my administration,” he said.
Last October, scores of protestors hit the streets of Monrovia following rumours of disappearanceof $100 million (about $15 billion Liberian dollars) worth of newly printed banknotes destined for the central bank.
The cash was said to have been shipped from Sweden late 2017, in the midst of Liberia’s elections to choose a successor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The incident sparked off blame games and travel bans, as well as, public outrage in one of the poorest countries in the world. Critics of the government pointed accusing fingers at President Weah for the missing money while others blamed the former leader, Sirleaf.
Since assuming office, corruption has also been a hard nut to crack for President Weah. Following protests about the alleged missing cash, U.S. then intervened at the request of the Liberian government and civil society groups, and sponsored an inquiry by Kroll Associates, an investigative auditing firm.
Kroll said contrary to local reports that a container of banknotes went missing, its investigations “found no information to support allegations.”
It said that it rather found that Liberia’s Central Bank had acted unilaterally and unlawfully by printing and importing into the country three times the amount of banknotes it had been authorised to do, said the BBC.
Kroll added that the new banknotes all arrived from a Swedish company but the central bank failed to properly track what was done with them. Most of the bank notes are believed to have been put into circulation without authorities removing and destroying the old bills they were designed to replace, the Kroll report cited by AP noted.
Media reports state that officials at the central bank have also not been forthcoming in explaining who authorized the injection of new banknotes without removing the old ones.
Anderson Miamen, executive director of CENTAL in Liberia believes that the money went into the pockets of individuals.
“…If the money isn’t available and there is no record of the money being infused into the economy, it means it has to be somewhere.
“And that somewhere would be in it private accounts of individuals connected to the process,” he was quoted by DW.
Meanwhile, Charles Sirleaf, the son of former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was arrested in March with three others following a probe into reports of missing banknotes and alleged malpractices at the central bank.
Sirleaf, who was deputy governor of the central bank, is suspected of pocketing some of the proceeds in 2016 to 2018.
Sirleaf and three other bank officials were charged with economic sabotage, the misuse of public money and criminal conspiracy.