By C. Winnie Saywah-Jimmy
Misunderstanding between some Christians and Muslims at the ongoing Constitution conference in Gbarnga, Bong County is said to have stalled the ongoing conference.
One of the proposals at the conference is to make Liberian a Christians State, a view gathered during the nationwide consultations held by the Constitution Review Committee (CRC).
Our reporter covering the event said there were Christians group in support of Liberia being declared as Christian State, while Muslim groups protested against this preposition.
As a result of the situation, delegates took almost the whole of yesterday to entertain themselves to traditional and oldies but goodie music as heads of delegates convened in another meeting with organizers which apparently gave a clear signal that the conference which is intended to impart generations would certainly be another fiasco and open corridor for international derision.
Since deliberations on the recurring views from the 73 electoral districts got underway for vote counts on Tuesday, a decision that included the political parties in the protest action, much has not been achieved as the organizers have been distracted from their prepared agenda for the rest of the discussion.
Yesterday, the conference was expected to conclude the 25 recurring views vote count and proceed with other thematic procedures that would set the pace for the drafting of a communiqué to the legislature today but efforts seem far from being achieved and if the conference is to resume, it is either the days are extended or there will be a miscarriage of its achievement.
There is absolutely no communication from any of the organizers; that is the Law Reform Commission, the Constitutional Review Commission and their partners the UNDP, UN Women and the UN Peace building Fund or the public affairs office of any of the line commissions; everybody is tightlipped.
The distraction comes against the backdrop that issues were raised by several groups including the women, religious delegates and the youths, specifically the student unions on issues that concern them and their protest were carried out in different forms that apparently redirected the conference focus into being a movie theatre or a dance hall for the rest of the delegates.
Everyday, since the start of the conference, there have been side attractions and distractions for every side, thereby impeding the process. As it stands, the conference might resume but the interest of the exercise is gradually being defeated.
The Muslim groups which converged as early as break of day to convene at the Administrative building had decided to lock up all their mini shops and store in the city in protest of Liberia being referred to as a Christian State.
The Christian group was singing songs of praises when a group of forceful Muslim men and women carrying babies on their backs marched to the conference hall with placards and chanted their religious recitations; a gathering that prompted the police appearance, but they remained in their vehicles and later vacated the premises apparently seeing that the protests were all peaceful.
Liberia becoming a Christian nation is the 24th item on the summary of the recurring views to be voted upon and the tension from that view created a call for dialogue which ended in stalemate as the organizers, especially the international sponsors expressed disapproval.
On Tuesday, hell broke loose when several participants of the nation-wide constitutional process disagreed with the manner in which the process was being carried out at day-two of the ongoing National Constitution Review Conference.
The process which kicked off Monday in Gbarnga, Bong County, met stiff resistance yesterday when a document said to be derived by the Law Reform Commission was attempted to be shoved down the throats of the participants who had gone to the conference understanding that there were initially 25 recurring views that needed to be discussed.
The groups noticed on Monday night that a document referred to as ‘Proposals for Amendments’ contained only nine counts instead of the 25 anticipated, and had sidelined most of the views the delegates had come prepared to deliberate upon.
The first group to begin the protest was the women who noticed that all of their five-lined agenda items were squashed from the so-called proposal but decided to do theirs by sitting outside the hall until their proposals are included.
Unlike the women’s group who took a rather diplomatic posture, the student groups comprising of FLY, LINSU and MRU basin students seized the entire administrative compound chanting their usual protest slogans and at some point disrupted the opening of the conference.
They argued that they were invited to the conference as observers and not delegates and issues like a candidate for a legislative position should be 40 years is unrealistic and intended to quench the desire of the youths from venturing therein.
The groups are agitating against exclusion and non-inclusion of certain provisions which were proposed during the nationwide and Diaspora consultations led by the Constitution Review Committee.
The Young people said they were not part of the national consultation on a critical issue like the constitution that binds every citizen, especially the future leaders.
“This is very unfair, unfortunate and troubling,” said Augustine Tamba, President of the Federation of Liberia, swarmed by hundreds of young people chanting battle cries “amaaaanda—awaaytu” inside the Gbarnga Administrative Building.
“This time is the only opportunity we have as young people of this generation to participate in a constitutional reform and make the right decision—a decision that will affect our children’s children,” Tamba continued. “We might never have another opportunity and posterity will judge us for the decision we make here. Therefore we want the young people to have a voice in this constitutional review process.”
Tamba, including leaders of the Liberia Students Union and the Mano River Youth Parliament, said they have for the past four months engaged the CRC to ensure that the views of young people are expressed in the national document, but to no avail. “We have been engaging the commission for months; we have applied all the diplomacy and dialogue methodologies, but they have not worked. Now, we must take the necessary action to create immediate attention.
On the religious front, some Christian representatives said they could not see issues of religious heritage in the recommendations derived from the nationwide consultation and argued that Liberia has suffered war and other epidemic like the recent Ebola outbreak because of continuous disobedience of its leaders and that their views to restore Liberia to Christianity were not inclusive of the amended proposals.
They think that the conference, without the views of the majority (Christians) is another form of deception and waste of their time and resources and classified the nine selected portions of the amendments to be in the interest of the CRC, not the masses.
Muslims youth on Monday held placards against making Liberia a Christian state as there are provisions in the recommendations calling for Liberia to be transformed from secular to Christian state, while another provision pushes for a national Muslim holiday in Liberia.
The process got underway later on following an open apology from the CRC head, Gloria Musu Scott who promised that each of the 25 points would be discussed as the delegation has expected.
Political parties representatives were the latest group of protestors who walked out of the hall protesting that the voting process should not be done by head count instead it should be secret ballot for the sake of democracy.
The process which dragged on into the late evening, got well on course having established rules to guide the procedure and allowed for several participants to publicly stand or raise their hands to vote either in favor or against a line proposal. Some of the proposals like that of dual citizenship, election of chief justice and that the vice president should serve only the Executive and not the senate were overwhelmingly rejected.
The National Conference is providing an opportunity for delegates to debate (reject or accept) recommendations for a constitutional change and the process may continue today with the rest of the items which would dwell on presidential and legislative tenures, Christian heritage among others if rumors of writs of injunction do not stall the entire process today.