The Liberian student movement pulling the strings in national politics

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It was just a lie. A lie the President pardoned when one of his appointees turned out not to be a citizen.

But when the President insisted on keeping him in office, the students screamed, “Over our dead bodies!”

The appointee resigned after several days of consistent protests by the student group.

All that happened because of a powerful group of students in the University of Liberia – The Student Unification Party.

This party has been united for 52 years since October 1970.

The Student Unification Party has never presented any candidates for any elections since 1970. That has been the job of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), the Unity Party (UP) and a dozen others. And yet at every election, it is SUP that pulls the strings.

SUP3

There have been several aspirants contesting for different government positions that have solicited the support of the party in general elections, but they have clearly indicated that as per the party’s mandate, they cannot take sides but rather advocate in making the system work for ordinary Liberians.

Some veterans of the party have suffered this fate. They include former presidential candidate, Dr. Mills Jones, former representative aspirant, Martin Kollah, and others.

Some past and present government officials have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the privilege of affiliating and being ‘veterans’ of the Student Unification Party despite their political differences. A good number of them are from the two main political parties while a few others are neutral.

The student’s party has not just produced politicians, but it has also built the minds of thousands of Liberian statesmen, business tycoons, lawyers, diplomats and other professionals who are today contributing meaningfully to global development.

Ministers and other government officials who have served the party include Janga Kowo, comptroller General; Eddie Trawally, Assistant Minister for Corrections and Rehabilitation at the Ministry of Justice; Roseline Kowo, head of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission; and many others.

The funerals of former Lofa county lawmaker Eugene Fallahkpakar and former statesman and professor at the University of Liberia Alhaji GV Kromah have seen the flag of SUP being laid on their caskets on top of the Liberian flag as a way of paying their last respect to the veterans of the party.

Why is SUP so influential

SUP has broken down political barriers, especially from state actors by defending the rights of students and the masses for academic freedom, unity, freedom of speech, socio-economic justice and peace. The party has firmly opposed anti-democratic elements in Liberia.

The party was very active in fighting alongside the Movement for Justice in Africa, Progressive Alliance of Liberia and other progressive groups for the pluralistic democracy Liberia now enjoys.

It is also accredited for the active role it played in helping to mobilize the warring factions during the Accra Peace Accord, which was the final peace agreement in the second Liberian Civil War.

On the other hand, the student movement strongly participates in the national decision-making process in Liberia, ranging from staging several protests to reaching common ground with different governments.

Through its constant agitation, the state-run University of Liberia has experienced many changes in its infrastructure and technological transformations that brought about the digitalization of its entire system.

Aside from this, SUP has provided opportunities for thousands of students through scholarship, mentorship, entrepreneurship, and leadership. The Union Building, Palava Huts, Student Center, etc. are all projects implemented by SUP on the campuses of the University of Liberia.

Why SUP

The launch of SUP came in apparent reaction to the reported maltreatment meted out to Liberian citizens, including students, by a small empire of what was known as the autocrats. For decades, the University of Liberia appeared to be one of the most intimidating environments where harsh treatment was given to native students and those who were not members of the old order.

There were rifts between children of upper and lower classes. The gap of academic inequality was as though education was a privilege and not a right. At the state-run university, academic freedom was never guaranteed because oligarchs felt insecure and unsafe about competition in the future. Students seeking higher education were denied access to learning facilities through the institution of unjust and divisive policies contrary to best practices worldwide.

In pursuit of higher education and other public benefits, some indigenous Liberians had no choice but to change their original identities in order to fit in.

But the year 1970 saw a complete turning point in the country as some of the university students realized that they were being treated unfairly. They started a movement that had the courage to challenge the political power to ensure change.

SUP1

SUP stands against Bad Governance

From that time till now, the Student Unification Party has been widely known for the national cause despite its limited scope as a campus-based political party.

There have been three critical stages in SUP’s history. The first was between 1970 and 1979. SUP stood up against and defeated oligarchy and oligarchs under the True Whig Party, which at the time was suppressing citizens. Between 1980-1990, the party confronted and conquered military dictatorship and despotism under former president Samuel K. Doe. Between 1997 and 2003, SUP greatly fought the Charles Taylor administration for its level of gangsterism against innocent citizens.

During the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, there were several protests organized by the party as a result of alleged bad governance and the mass looting of public resources. A majority of SUP’s protests yielded fruitful results as they were mostly called and asked to make suggestions on different issues they highlighted.

Some Liberians often brand the party as an opposition political party while others see them as a group of disgruntled body with no interest in peace because of its militant posture.

Despite the many criticisms against them (SUP), they have in no way stopped their advocacy for a better Liberia for Liberians.

The Chairman of SUP, Mustapha Kanneh, believes SUP’s advocacy is in the interest of Liberians, and the party does not support a particular political party or government.

SUP’s fallen heroes and heroines

With the continuous advocacy for freedom and civil liberty, the Student Unification Party has paid high prices in Liberia.

Some of its founding members either lost their lives or got seriously beaten and injured as a result of brutalities by state security.

Ezekiel Pajibo, for example, as a student leader of SUP in the 1980s, got into problems with the military government of former President Samuel K. Doe. He and a few other SUP members were

pajibo

sentenced to death by firing a squad. Pajibo later fled into exile where he spent 18 years before returning home.

Urias Teh Pour, a former chairman of the party, was one of those whose tenures were perilous, and as a result, he was banished along with other members of the party to the infamous “Belle Yalleh” prison deep in the Belle Forest of lower Lofa County, now Gbarpolu County.

The Belle Yalleh prison was where notorious and hardcore criminals were taken when found guilty by the court.

Some members of the party were also imprisoned at the post stockade along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was once a political prisoner before becoming president in 2005.

Other instances of brutal violence perpetrated against members of SUP include the alleged murder of Momulu Lavala, who was reportedly beheaded by then President Samuel Kanyon Doe. Irene Nimpson, the women presidium chair at the time was shot on Broad Street in Monrovia during the 1979 rice riot.

The Student Unification Party organized a protest that was meant to call on the administration of the University of Liberia to reintroduce the face-to-face classes after the e-learning platform became dysfunctional during the heat of covid-19 which led to the closure of schools.

The protest, which took place in August 2021, turned brutal after the Liberia National Police engaged the unarmed students with severe force leading to the firing of live ammunition and tear gas. That protest saw the brutalization of many students and members of SUP.

The July 26 Independence Day celebration in 2022 saw one of the worst brutalities meted out against members of the party. Many of its members were brutalized as a result of a counter-protest by a group called the CDC Council of Patriots.

Liberian student movement
Liberian student movement

In July 2022, SUP staged a massive protest tagged Fix the Country” during which they went to petition the US Embassy in Liberia to intervene in what they termed as despotism over economic failure, massive corruption, bad governance, and state collapse amongst other things allegedly being committed by the CDC government.

The chairman of the party, Mustapha Kanneh, has argued that SUP militants have and will continue to protect the institution by enduring every external threat of destruction from past and the current governments.

“A government that has betrayed the interest of the Liberian people, damaged the international reputation of our country and is now slowly dying. The student movement discloses that, today, corruption and opportunism have become a lucrative career for some political institutions and actors” a 2020 statement by SUP said.

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The writer of this report, Forgbe Emma Kloh, is a Fellow of the Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellowship at the Media Foundation for West Africa.

1 COMMENT

  1. Long live the great and undying legacy and struggle of the Vanguard Students Unification Party.
    Viva Vanguard Party!!
    Long live Chairman Kanneh!!

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