Thousands of Liberians descended on the capital Monrovia today to protest the corruption that has bedeviled president George Weah’s administration. The government’s response: blocking social media outlets.
The internet monitoring organization NetBlocks said platforms including WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook were blocked to subdue the protests. While the cut-off didn’t impact all providers, restrictions affected mobile internet provider Orange Liberia and internet service provider Lonestar. The social media shutdown was confirmed by assessing user measurements in the Liberian capital and in collaboration with the digital advocacy Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa.
Dubbed “Save The State,” the anti-government protests come just over a year after former soccer star George Weah was inaugurated into office. As an outsider, Weah campaigned to tackle corruption, and improving the provision of crucial services like education, health, and infrastructure.
A few months into office, the government, however, admitted that $104 million of freshly-minted currency had gone missing in a shipping container at the Monrovia port. After an uproar, officials retreated insisting the money was never lost. An additional $25 million, withdrawn from the country’s reserves and meant to be injected into the economy, was also lost.
Besides calling for the return of the missing millions, demonstrators are also demanding for the establishment of a war crimes court to institute legal proceedings against those who bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during Liberia’s civil war.
While the government denies any wrongdoing, the alleged financial mismanagement is worrying many Liberians who feel the country is heading into an ominous future. The Liberian dollar has dropped by a third against the US dollar since Weah took office with inflation soaring as high as 28%. The high-level embezzlement cases and the ensuing protests are vexing for Weah, whose election heralded the first peaceful transfer of power in Liberia in 73 years.
For now, Africa’s oldest republic joins the list of African states like Sudan and Algeria who have blocked the internet during anti-government protests. The move “is an affront to free expression and it stifles the right of Monrovians to assemble and criticize leaders,” says NetBlocks director Alp Toker.
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