The enduring legacy of Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer, former President of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) took the center stage on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, when hundreds of Liberians and foreigners alike from different shades of the society thronged the Ballroom of the Monrovia City Hall, to observe the 77th posthumous birthday celebration of Dr. Sawyer. Organized by his family and associates, the program was marked by speeches and praises highlighting his life and achievements, which according to participants can never be forgotten.
The program which was graced by President George Manneh Weah with an array of government officials, members of the diplomatic corps, academics, associates, politicians including the Political leader and Standard Bearer of the Alternative National Congress (ANC) Alexander B. Cummings, and the National Chairman of the Liberty Party, Mr. Musa Hassan Bility, friends and well-wishers, was reflective of the intellectual background of the late statesman as speakers and panelists were featured on the one day symposium to discuss various topics bordering on areas of his involvement including advocacy, rule of law, governance, public policy, peace building and humanity.
In his welcome statement and overview of the program, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Cllr. Kabineh J’anneh said the day was not simply the natal day, but a historical significance based on the fact that it was Dr. Sawyer’s first posthumous birthday, which is a continuation of the celebration of the life and times of the former Liberian leader.
Cllr. J’anneh described the fallen intellectual as an extraordinary man of honor and humility. He said Sawyer’s contributions to the governance structure of the country remain a masterpiece in the country because his work set up the foundation for some of the best reform programs in the public sector architecture of the country.
While delivering her opening statement at the program, Mrs. Thelma E. Duncan-Sawyer, widow of the late sage, extended thanks and appreciation to President George Manneh Weah for being supportive to the family and upholding the legacy of Dr. Sawyer by renaming the Liberia College at the University of Liberia as the Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer College of Social Sciences and Humanities in honor of her late husband.
“It is a special day to honor my husband who should have been 77 years today, a befitting time to celebrate this illustrious statesman and school teacher. I have known him for 46 years and married to him for 38 years and I called him sweetheart. He was a friend, brother, father figure, husband and my everything”, she eulogized Dr. Sawyer.
Placing his works and involvement in the enthronement of good governance and the struggle for popular democracy in Liberia into context, Madam Sawyer went into memory lane to quote from one of his famous quotations, “If we build a capable state, it can administer to the people sufficiently that they will be happy, and the divisions will be minimized once the state is delivering”.
Dr. Henry Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr, a longtime colleague of the deceased erudite educator, delivered the keynote address on the topic, “The Political Thoughts and Teachings of Prof Amos C. Sawyer” which was done virtually as he said he had other pressing challenges that could not make him to attend physically. Dr. Fahnbulleh extolled the virtue and sense of purpose of Dr. Sawyer which defined his life and time, especially the struggle for the enthronement of popular democracy in the country.
He recounted all the fond memories he had with Dr. Sawyer, describing him as a personality who had that magnetic aura that attracted people from all shades of human existence as was seen from the many condolences sent from governments, individuals and institutions around the world when Sawyer passed on. He further said that in the odd periods of his life such as the “socialist coup” as alleged by the military junta, his arrest, intimidation and prosecution, Dr. Sawyer never neglected his people. Fahnbulleh acknowledged that Dr. Sawyer’s dream of bringing power to the people was outstanding, as the academic detested tyranny, bad governance and exploitation, always passionate to serve humanity.
“Upon my return, I will contribute to the study and teaching of his ideals and like Barclay and Blyden, we must not allow his memory to die”, Dr. Fahnbulleh said amid applause from the audience.
The session then went into presentations where speakers and panelists spoke on various topics and linked them to the activities and engagements of Dr. Sawyer at each material time of his life, which was moderated by Mr. Aaron Weah, a candidate for PhD in Political Science in Ireland.
In the first paper, titled, “ Amos Sawyer and the Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis”, Professor Ruth Stone, Professor Emerita, Indiana University said Sawyer contributed immensely to the institution’s scholastic undertaking, bringing reputation and honor to the teachings and research endeavors in political theory, public policy and understanding of governance. She said for many years, Sawyer exhibited uncommon display of scholarship, brilliance and thoughtfulness, authoring articles in periodicals and publications at the University of Indiana, adding that he will be dearly missed.
Another speaker who also spoke via virtual means, Professor Afeikhena Jerome, Special Advisor at the African Union, described Sawyer as a giant of Africa, a mentor. He said he and Dr. Sawyer co-authored two books and other publications, and saluted Dr. Sawyer’s worthy contributions to humanity and the African continent in the area of providing services for the attainment of good governance.
Speaking on the topic, “Advancing democratic governance in Africa: Amos Sawyer and the African Peer Review Mechanism”, Professor Jerome said he first met Dr. Sawyer during some of the African Peer Review Mechanism engagements under the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and from all indications the former Liberian leader was an outstanding scholar and a mentor whose legacy will remain an imprint on the continent.
On the home front, three Liberians who closely worked with Dr. Sawyer in various undertakings brought to bear the kind of the person he was and the dedication he attached to anything he subscribed to. Siapha Kamara who spoke via zoom from Accra, Ghana where he works with a civil society group, said he had known Dr. Sawyer for years dating back as far as 40 years and their relationship led to fruitful results.
Speaking on the topic, “Amos Sawyer, Susukuu and Local development”, Kamara said that Dr. Sawyer and his other colleagues, Dr. Togba Nah Tippoteh and Dew Mayson conceived the Susuukuu initiative as a way of getting local citizens involved in planning and taking ownership of their own projects that assisted them empower their communities and alleviate their sufferings. He said among other things, it was a model of people solving their peculiar problems, empowering themselves, creating local leadership and institutions that inspired and encouraged sustainable projects for the people.
Senator Conmany Wesseh of River Gee, as a very close confidante of Dr. Sawyer, especially during the turbulent years of the civil war when Sawyer served as the first Interim President and had used him as an emissary on crucial assignments, spoke of the long relationship he had with Sawyer from his student days at the University of Liberia and how the interaction grew up to a strategic companionship in the many struggles they waged against totalitarianism, abuse of power and the fight for democracy.
Memorializing him on the topic, “Negotiating Peace in Liberia: Amos Sawyer and the Interim Government of National Unity”, Senator Wesseh said Dr. Sawyer’s uncommon acumen to think through difficult situations and bring out the best for the betterment of Liberia had no rival, stressing that contrary to the insinuation that he was a weak leader, Sawyer was indeed a well calculative and brave leader, qualities he displayed when it was difficult to make the peace process work as the interim government was seated in Monrovia.
“During the war we all knew that Libya was supporting Charles Taylor and Sawyer wanted a way to talk to Khadafi to see reasons to stop supplying arms and ammunition to Charles Taylor and so he told me: Conmany you are one of the persons that know the man. Can you go to him and take our message to him? I said okay.
“And so, the letter was written and Dr. Guanue and myself went there. When we got there, Khadafi said, look I heard this Sawyer man is working for the Americans, he will only do things the Americans say he should do; so, the only thing I want is if he can come to Libya, then I will stop the arms supply. So, I took the phone and you know whatever we were doing in the hotel, all phone calls were recorded in Virginia and whatever. So, the conversation was followed by people. So, I called President Sawyer and he said you mean that is all we can get if I pay the visit and I said that is what the man said. And he said alright, I am coming, let him send the plane. The next morning, our friends from Mamba Point, it was that same evening they got the message and they said to Sawyer, “you, we heard you want to go to Libya and you dare try it. He sat down and said this message needs to go to Washington. We are fighting in Liberia to bring peace, this is one way to end the way in Liberia, for that reason, I will go to Libya.
“The plane came to Accra and we told him to fly to Accra and come to meet us in Tripoli. I tell you, that was a brave move by Dr. Sawyer and because of that reason the supply of arms to Mr. Taylor was stopped”, Wesseh said amid thunderous cheers.
He spoke highly of Sawyer’s bravery and his insistence that the mandate from the Ecowas leaders and other members of the international community that peace must be returned to Liberia was followed to the hilt.
Another powerful presentation on the legacy on Dr. Sawyer also came from Dr. Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae, who for almost 10 years worked at the Governance Commission with him and spoke on the topic “Sawyer and postwar governance reform in Liberia: Reflections on his role at the Governance Commission”. While extolling the immense contributions of the former Chairman of GC that have positively impacted on governance in Liberia, citing various integrity institutions created, the reforms made and further recommendations to strengthen the democratic space, Dr. Dorliae challenged the government not to allow GC to go down the drain when it should be a strong arm of government that should be formulating and advising the government on policies that will bring meaningful development.
He made specific reference to the proposed local government act which he noted will decentralize governance and bring it to the people to enrich popular democracy and that of the gender equity and called on the government to fast track signing them into law, jokingly telling President Weah, “If you can sign those two Acts, I am ready and willing to campaign for you in 2023.”
The presentation of civic books for primary students whose authorship was inspired by Dr. Sawyer through the Wahala Project, an initiative with other educators and the Ministry of Education was performed by Nyekeh Forkpa who lamented that the demised former university teacher could not live to see the outcome of the works. He said the books included civic literacy that touched on citizenship, rights and obligations of the citizens and their participation in governance.
Speaking on behalf of the Diplomatic Corps, the Cameroonian Ambassador to Liberia, Ben’Yela Augustine Gang, said he was excited being part of the program to commemorate the posthumous birthday of Dr. Sawyer which was aimed at remembering his deeds and action and took particular interest in the scholarly life of Dr. Sawyer, making reference to one of the books written by him, “Beyond The Plunder, which according to the diplomat, did not talk only about Liberia but also discussed the greater African problems facing the continent.
The program also featured the Sawyer’s family presentation to the University of Liberia as their response to the gesture from the government of Liberia to rename the Liberia College in honor of their patriarch, The Amos Claudius Sawyer College of Social Sciences and Humanities. Mrs. Sawyer re-emphasized the family’s gratitude for the honor and told the audience that during the period under review, the family was able to print letter headed papers and other stationeries for the various departments, signboards for the departments and a billboard of the college bearing the portrait of Dr. Sawyer, three photos to be presented to the university on its request and in the future, to construct a befitting edifice of the college.
President George Manneh Weah who spoke last at the program described Dr. Sawyer as a political scientist, a teacher, patriot, statesman, mentor and father of Liberia’s multiparty democracy. He said on a personal note, Sawyer was a mentor, role model and inspiration to him whom he had good virtue to work with. President Weah said Dr. Sawyer believed in dialogue and peace, who, according to him, assigned him a critical task to work for peace among young Liberians during the turbulent war years in Liberia.
He said he had the opportunity to have recommended Dr. Sawyer to the leadership of ECOWAS to serve as member of the Council of Elders which Sawyer accepted in principle but said because of his health challenges that was taking him to the United States, he would prefer returning home to consider taking on the task. “Little did I know it was the last time we will ever see and talk again until in February when I heard about his death”, President Weah said soberly.
As an acknowledgment of the important role Sawyer played at the Governance Commission and the need to attach greater recognition to it, President Weah said he proposed to Mrs. Sawyer to take over the affairs at GC and continue where her husband had stopped because according to him, she has spent a better part of her life being with Sawyer, but she did not accept to take the role because of the pain associated with being in the environment where her late husband had worked for many years, a situation that also provided an opportunity for Dr. Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae to be appointed to the position at the occasion.
“And Madam, that was why I called you and to know whether it was possible to keep the commission, because you have been with Dr. Sawyer for 30 something years but you did not accept it and I understand that it was painful. You never wanted to be in your husband’s shoes. And I understand that and that is why today we have to look for the best one that will get in the shoes of Dr. Sawyer. In life, you have some people that volunteer and some will send their CVs but since Dr. Yarsuo Weh Dorliea volunteered that we make sure the commission works well, following Sawyer’s path, I think he deserves to be in the position so that he will continue to work in the path of his mentor and leader. I can see that you are brave like Dr. Sawyer, that is why you stood up here and claimed that you will run a campaign for me and I am sure Honorable Cummings will not like that but you see this is the environment Dr. Sawyer created for us, a democratic society with our rights and we have our choice”, President said.
President Weah also stated that he had followed the progressives in the 1970’s, which included Dr. Togba Nah Tippoteh whom he referred to as his uncle, Professor Dew Tuan Wleh Mayson and the rest of the others who used to congregate around the Capitol Bye pass to speak to the people. While describing himself as a son of a MOJA activist, he said he has had time to visit the homes of some of them, likewise visiting his family house, making reference to Senator Wesseh that he should be able to know him.
Towards the end of his short speech which he read with both sober reflection and humor, he challenged two of the remaining close friends of Dr. Sawyer, Dr. Tippoteh and Professor Mayson, to emulate the life and time of the late former leader because according to him “Sawyer wanted to leave a legacy so that we will live in a free democratic society.
“I pray that all of you will chart the same path, to teach our young people how to dialogue so that we can create harmony and live peacefully in our country”, President Weah enjoined.