Christian State Conundrum: Is Liberia flirting with conflict?

ChristianizationThree mangled bodies laid close by on an isolated street corner beside a makeshift market stall in Paynesville, Black Genie community. They had met their untimely fate in the melee of confusion and panic that followed the overnight and day time violence, triggered by religious intolerance. There was conflicting death tolls but media reports claimed five deaths were recorded and that there were several injuries.

United Nations Peacekeepers would be called in to deal with the marauding band of machete-wielding young men rampaging through the streets of the Capital. They made over 168 arrests. Sporadic volleys of gun fire and barrage of teargas had to be deployed to restore sanity amid rampant looting and burning of religious edifices. The actual cause of the riots is still unknown today, but the carnage of October 30, 2014 still remains fresh in memory.

That riot was by far the greatest test to Liberia’s stability in the immediate aftermath of a fragile disarmament and demobilization program. But fast forward to February 26, 2010 when rumor and misinformation triggered several days of bloody religious clashes In Lofa County. The violence began when 14-year-old Korpo Kamara of the Lorma ethnic group was found dead near a mosque in Kornia, a town 55 miles from Voinjama, the capital of Lofa.

Eyewitnesses told local media she was a student at the Lutheran school in Kornia and had gone to a local cassava patch to dig cassava but never returned. Her death and the subsequent discovery of the body close to a mosque fueled local suspicion that she might have been killed by the Imam. When the news broke, the mosque in Konia was allegedly burnt down.

It is certainly disheartening that such kinds of incidents keep happening. Proper investigation needs to be conducted and official statement needs to be filed to take strict actions against these harsh people. It has to be severe and threatening that no one else would ever dare to think of doing such things.

It then sparked series of reprisal attacks across the county. According to Liberia’s 2008 National Census, Christians constitute 85.5% of Liberia’s population while 12.2% of the population is made up of the Mandingo and Vai ethnic groups that practice Islam. Though predominately Christian, Liberia has seen an enviable degree of political tolerance and stability for a long period in its history but with the rise of firebrand evangelical and Pentecostal movements, the debate over Liberia’s religious identity has heightened in recent times.

The two most recent deadly religious confrontations seem to highlight the fault lines of a rather contentious subject that has been suppressed in Liberian public discourse for a long time. Up until recently, many iberian Christian prelates had touted with the general appealing ideological mantra that “Liberia was founded on Christian Principles” and as such the country was and should be deemed a Christian state.

But as our Staff Writer reports, count 10 of the CRC propositions to “Return Liberia to a Christian State” seems to be gathering interest across all spectrum of the society, with leading Christian clerics and national political leaders, slamming the move as insensitive and intolerant. In this wise, an in-depth look at the recent Constitutional Review Committee conference and the ensuing debates over the implication for peace, tranquility and coexistence, is imperative.

 

Was Liberia Ever A Christian State?

 

Atty. Philip Wesseh, Managing Editor of the Inquirer Newspaper wrote recently: “[Liberia’s] founding fathers, who predominantly were Christians, never inscribed or incorporated in the first constitution that Liberia is a Christian nation or country. This suggests they preferred a secular state to a state religion.

 

This is why in the Constitution of 1847 they said, ‘ All men have a natural and inalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, without obstruction or molestation from others: all persons demeaning themselves peaceably, and not obstructing others in their religious worship, are entitled to the protection of law, in the free exercise of their own religion; and no sect of Christians shall have exclusive privileges or preference, over any other sect; but all shall be alike tolerated: and no religious test whatever shall be required as a qualification for civil office, or the exercise of any civil right’.”

 

Wesseh said the fact that the same provisions would be retained with even much clarity in the new Constitution of 1986 and the amendment to Article 14 only serves to show the sensitivity of the nation to the subject matter.

 

“All persons shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment thereof except as may be required by law to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

 

It went on: “All persons who, in the practice of their religion, conduct themselves peaceably, not obstructing others and conforming to the standards set out herein, shall be entitled to the protection of the law.

 

No religious denomination or sect shall have any exclusive privilege or preference over any other, but all shall be treated alike; and no religious tests shall be required for any civil or military office or for the exercise of any civil right. Consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state, the Republic shall establish no state religion.”

 

When making their case for “returning Liberia to a Christian state”, the proponents, notably a handful of politicians led by Bong County Senator Jewel Howard Taylor and a huge following of Christian evangelical and Pentecostal members, cited the fact that Liberia generally uses Christianity as the state religion of practice.

 

Oath in public offices is administered by the Bible and prayers in many public gatherings are offered through Christian faith. By function, they insist, the country already has a Christian identity and it is now left for the will of the people to be tested at a referendum. “We believe that the will of the majority of our people must be tested at the ballot box. To attempt to prevent that from happening only shows even greater insensitivity to the rights of the vast majority of people. If we don’t agree with the proposition, let’s vote against it.

 

We shouldn’t shoot it down”, said Stephen Miller, a resident of Barnesville. But opponents of the proposition are citing the religion-driven violence that rattled the country in the last 10 years as strong reason to jettison the idea of a Christian state. And with the rise of extremist groups in Nigeria and other places, even diehard religious followers are weary of the proposition.

 

“I am an ardent churchgoer and a devote Christian, but I don’t support this proposal. I believe this is a time bomb and we must be very careful the way we approach this subject matter, opined Elvis Collins, former student, Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

Diplomatic Tightrope

 

So far, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has walked the diplomatic tightrope, seeking to maintain her constituents in the Muslim community while at the same time pacifying her strong Christian support base at home and abroad.

 

She has made no public utterance in support or against the proposal. But other members of the government have. “We cannot and will not get all we are asking for in every instance. We must learn to give and take,” said Speaker Tyler.

 

He said Liberia has never been a Christian nation and questioned the rationale for canvassing for the declaration of a religious specific state, which contradicts the idea of a multicultural and diverse nation. Also speaking recently, Montserrado County Senator and Congress for Democratic Change political leader, George Weah, said the proposal was problematic and would therefore not support the move.

 

Analysts believe the proposition is illtimed and would struggle to see the light of day. “To be calling on a population of 85% Christians to vote on this proposition is simply saying the obvious. I think this will die naturally. With the outpouring of solidarity from reputed Church leaders and the Liberian Council of Churches role in handling this so far, we are confident it will be defeated,” said one of them.

 

Opposition from Within The Catholic Church which has a huge population has already thrown a monkey wrench into the Christian state campaign, with its Archbishop, Lewis Zeigler, expressing opposition to the proposal. He told a local radio station the proposal was a recipe for confusion. Archbishop Zeigler added that the country and its citizens have come a long way and as such, the decision will not be well for the democratic development of the country.

 

Following in his stead, the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention (LBMEC) issued a strong worded condemnation of the proposition, insisting the convention “does not support a proposal to make Liberia a ‘Christian Nation’.”

 

As the oldest Christian denomination in the country, LBMEC said it is cognizant of its baptistic history and core commitment as a Christian denomination, which does not discriminate.”There is no blemish on our escutcheon for the practice of religious persecution, since the act is the unfair treatment of a person or group of people because of religious beliefs and practice.

 

Religious persecution can take the form of physical punishment or forms of discrimination,” a statement issued by Dr. Olu Menjay, Chairperson of the Convention, stated. But no Evangelical or Pentecostal prelate has on record spoken against the proposal, but sermons have been largely charged with pro-Christian state passages, making the subject even more divisive than ever. Recently over 700 delegates at the Gbarnga Constitutional Review Conference overwhelmingly voted on count 10, seeking to return Liberia to a Christian Nation. The votes were boycotted by most of the Muslim delegates attending the conference. Though the outcome of the Gbarnga Constitution Review process is subject to legislative and executive reviews, the hype it has generated is already creating panic across the country. Concerned citizens are therefore renewing calls for caution. “We need to thread with this proposal very carefully. This could define our stability in years to come.

 

The rise of extremism in neighboring countries and across Africa should send a message that people with evil agenda are seeking to exploit the least opportunities to effect their agenda”, Carolyn Peal, Center For the Advancement of Women, told The Capitol Insider. Both protagonists and antagonists are now looking forward to what would be the decision of the country’s legislature over an issue that could have significant implication for the fragile stability the country has enjoyed over the last decade.

 

Culled from The Capitol Insider Magazine

 

Orange launches its brand in Liberia and continues to build on its strong presence in West Africa

OrangeWith over 1.6 million customers at the end of February 2017, Orange Liberia is the leading mobile operator in Liberia in terms of customers

Monrovia, Liberia, May 18, 2017/ — Orange (www.Orange.com), one of the world’s leading telecommunications operators, announces today the launch of its brand in Liberia. As from today, Cellcom Liberia becomes Orange Liberia. The acquisition of the Liberian operator Cellcom (http://APO.af/jSRR9G) was finalized by Orange, through its subsidiary Orange Côte d’Ivoire, on 6 April 2016, allowing the Group to reinforce its presence in West Africa.

. This development came after significant research and several discussions and negotiations. Hence, it is well equipped and obliged to deliver the best. The company’s website link speaks how well pronounced and knowledgeable in their field. Orange will make a strong foundation for network services and establish their stand with no difficulties.

In line with its Essentials2020 strategic plan, Orange has built up a considerable presence in this region, which offers strong growth potential and is a strategic priority for the Group’s development.

Following this rebranding, Orange Liberia will join one of the world’s most powerful brands and stands to benefit from being part of a large international group. Orange will provide its marketing expertise and world-class technical capability to further strengthen the operator’s established network and enhance customer service in Liberia.

With over 1.6 million customers at the end of February 2017, Orange Liberia is the leading mobile operator in Liberia in terms of customers. Founded in 2004, the mobile operator has been a driving force in democratizing access to telecommunication services across the country, despite difficult market conditions. It has always been a precursor in terms of network deployment and in 2012 was the first operator in Liberia to launch 3G (HSPA+) services following by 4G-LTE services in 2016. Orange will pursue this strategy and will continue to invest in the development of its network where the company is already a market leader.

With a population of 4.6 million people and relatively low mobile penetration rate (70% of the population) the country has a high growth potential for Orange. To support this development, the Group will work to reinforce the quality of access in several areas:

  • Investing in network expansion. For example, the construction of 39 sites in 2016 and 65 additional sites planned for 2017. Part of the plan is to accelerate broadband deployment and to expand 4G penetration across the country.
  • Strongly enhancing Internet quality by providing access to the Group’s submarine and international cable networks. Orange Liberia will benefit from two additional secure connection points in Abidjan and Paris that will multiply network capacity by four.

 

Bruno Mettling, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Orange Group and Chairman and CEO of Orange Middle East and Africa, commented: “With this new presence in Liberia, Orange extends its footprint in West Africa. The launch of the Orange brand confirms our confidence in the country’s ongoing economic recovery and our commitment to bring all the benefits of new digital services to Liberians”.

 

Mamadou Coulibaly, CEO of Orange Liberia, added: “Even in 2017, an important part of the Liberian population is still waiting for basic telecom services. We will invest significantly in network roll-out across the entire country, develop e-recharge in order to ease the constraints of scratch-cards loading, launch Orange Money, a new robust platform to boost mobile banking services in the country. We will as well introduce new highly competitive offers and low cost Smartphones in order to boost digital inclusion. We intend to position Orange Liberia by 2020 as a true catalyst for the digitization of Liberian society”.

 

Orange is present in 21 countries in Africa and the Middle East, where it has more than 120 million customers. With 5.2 billion euros in revenues in 2016 (12% of the total), this region is a strategic priority for the Group. Orange Money, its flagship offer for money transfers and mobile financial services, is currently available in 17 countries and has more than 31 million customers. The Group’s strategy in Africa and the Middle East is to position itself as a leader of the digital transformation and to bring its international expertise to support the development of new digital services.

Distributed by APO on behalf of Orange.

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Press contacts:

Orange Liberia

+231 777 777 007

  1. Tal Hendler

Tal.Hendler@Orange.com

Orange Group

+33 1 44 44 93 93

Tom Wright

Tom.Wright@Orange.com

Nathalie Chevrier

Nathalie.Chevrier@Orange.com

About Orange:

Orange is one of the world’s leading telecommunications operators with sales of 40,9 billion euros in 2016 and 154,000 employees worldwide at 31 March 2017, including 95,000 employees in France. Present in 29 countries, the Group has a total customer base of 265 million customers worldwide at 31 March 2017, including 203 million mobile customers and 19 million fixed broadband customers. Orange is also a leading provider of global IT and telecommunication services to multinational companies, under the brand Orange Business Services. In March 2015, the Group presented its new strategic plan “Essentials2020” which places customer experience at the heart of its strategy with the aim of allowing them to benefit fully from the digital universe and the power of its new generation networks.

 

Orange is listed on Euronext Paris (symbol ORA) and on the New York Stock Exchange (symbol ORAN).

For more information on the internet and on your mobile: www.Orange.com, www.Orange-Business.com or to follow us on Twitter: @orangegrouppr.

 

Orange and any other Orange product or service names included in this material are trademarks of Orange or Orange Brand Services Limited.