Liberians protest at VP dinner in USA

Some protesters at the VP's dinner in Fridley, Minn. Picture:  James Fasuekoi

Some protesters at the VP’s dinner in Fridley, Minn.
Picture: James Fasuekoi

A dinner tendered here late last October, in honor of Liberia’s vice president Joseph N. Boikai didn’t pass without a drama as a small group of Liberian immigrant protesters showed up at the Passion Event Center in Fridley, Minnesota, the site of the event, to protest against bad governance in their country, Liberia; James Kokulo Fasuekoi writes.

Protest 

Protesters who came from two Liberian community activist groups known as MOLAC and CLACI, denounced the present “Ellen-Boikai” regime for what they said is the regime’s bad governance system in the war-ravaged country. They accused “Ellen-Boikai” government of cuddling corruption, nepotism and abuses of human rights in all forms.

Protesters further called on the regime to support the international community and the establishment a war crime court in Liberia in order to try warlords and rebel commanders suspected of having carried out civilian genocides during more than a decade of brutal war that killed an estimated 300,000 people.

War Crimes

“We need war crime court in Liberia for accountability,” screamed one poster. And another said, “Ebola exposed the failed and corrupt leadership of Ellen-Boikai’s administration.” The demonstrators were led by community activist, Seyon Nyanwleh. Protesters didn’t seem deterred by the cold Minnesota weather either. They stayed outdoors and protested through the night.

Liberians at home and abroad appear divided over establishing a war crimes court in the country to try war criminals. Similarly, they’ve remained divided on the implementation of recommendations presented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ((TRC) which suggested people bearing the greatest burdens for genocides in the wars should face trial.

However, it has become apparent that those in favor of the establishment of war crimes and implementation of TRC’s recommendations, far outnumbered people not in favor of both.

Who’s Seyon Nyanwleh? 

Nyanwleh, a University of Minnesota, Political Science grad, has become known in the African immigrant community here for rallying communities together in terms of tragedy. Earlier this year, he helped organized search efforts that led to finding then missing Liberian 10 year-old Barway Collins whose father confessed to killing him.

Recently, he also helped organized searches for missing Mounds View Liberian resident, Henry McCabe, whose body was found Nov. 2.

Hours before he led protesters, Nyanwleh, along with Rev. Harding Smith, a Liberian immigrant community pastor who once comforted the “Collins” during the Barway tragedy, participated in a church opening ceremony at Brooklyn Center where both called on Liberians to stand together.

Dinner 

The dinner for VP Boikai was organized by “Patriots for Liberia’s Transformation,” a new organization, which according to a spokesperson, helped secured sister-city relations between Brooklyn Center-Voinjama, and Brooklyn Park-Kakata, in both Lofa and Margibi counties, Liberia.

Mounds View pastor, Rev. Alex Collins, in an interview with correspondent said, two fire trucks plus one ambulance were donated to the people of Liberia as a result of the sister-city friendships.

During the event, a scrabble among members of Unity Party (UP)-Minnesota branch, and Patriots for Liberia’s Transformation, came to light. Erasmus Williams, identified as head of UP MN was denied entry to the banquet hall. He told our correspondent that he had personally bought a ticket at $100.00 for the dinner.

Mute 

For a while, Williams was seen roaming in the waiting area near the banquet hall visibly annoyed over the incident but none of the organizers seemed to pay attention to him till this writer reached out to him and requested an interview.

Williams, who had been pleading with the ticketing group for refund of his money so he could leave instead, was quickly lured away by members of the “Patriots” and some UP supporters. He was never seen again till our reporter left the hall moments before the VP enter the dinner hall.

Williams did not make contact our reporter via phone as he had promised.

However, when this writer contacted him two weeks ago for a comment on the incident, Williams said “the matter has been resolved” and refused to speak further. He went mute.

Earlier, an unidentified woman who stood next to the ticketing desk near the main entrance welcoming guests, briefly caused stir when she impolitely halted this writer, using her hands to block me from entering a barricaded waiting area just yards away from the entrance to the dinner hall where attendees had to turn in tickets before entering.

Contribution 

However, when I identified myself as a journalist, the aggressive lady remarked: “But journalists too can make contribution.” I responded, saying, “I am not interested in the dinner itself but came here only as an observer. I’m an independent journalist and not a partisan and for that matter, can’t contribute to political events.” 

As the argument continued,  I turned to another journalist, Joe Mason, a participant in the event who stood nearby, and greeted him with a handshake. At this point, the woman turned to the former newscaster and asked: “Is he a journalist?” “Oh yes!” answered Joe Mason.

It can be recalled that The AfricaPaper, (TAP), a leading African immigrant medium based in Brooklyn Center and run mainly by African immigrants and American writers, journalists, (some, former war correspondents), broke news last October 22nd of VP Boikai’s arrival to the Twin Cities. Since then, the paper’s editors have published several other stories on the VP’s visit.

However, it is unclear why the paper’s editors, prior to the latest incident, were left out of meetings between VP Boikai and Governor Mike Dayton, along with both Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park cities mayors.

When the matter was put before Rev. Alex Collins as to why his organization (The Patriots) barred The AfricaPaper staff from covering activities of the VP, he denied, saying, “we didn’t stop The AfricaPaper from covering the VP’s meetings.”

Mining 
Joseph Boikai hails from northwest Liberia’s Lofa County, a mountainous region where mineral deposits were discovered in the Wologizi Mountain few years ago. Boikai came under severe criticism in 2013 when he lobbied Liberian legislators in attempts to pave way for an Indian mining company, O.P. Jindal Group, to win mining contracts for Mt. Wologizi.

He had earlier expressed interest in the same company after he returned to Liberia following a visit to India. Boikai’s lobbying was strongly rejected by Liberians, particularly Lofans, given the level of corruption that exists in the current administration.

Meanwhile, while Boikai’s government has aggressively fought in past years to purge the country’s rich and enviable culture, including the performing arts, his supporters in the US, on the other hand have ironically continued to rally local artists to provide entertainment for the aging vice president each time he comes to the US.

At the Fridley dinner, a group of local freelance Liberian cultural artists opened the event with a wave of rhymes from traditional African drumming that added color to the occasion just as VP Boikai was being ushered into the banquet hall.

James Kokulo Fasuekoi is Associate Editor for The AfricaPaper based in Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis, Minn. He can be reached at:boiyeadu1@hotmail.com 

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