AJLA Sponsors Conference on Peace and Reconciliation

The Perspective

February 5, 2002

An international conference on the role of the media in bringing about peace, democracy and the rule of law in Liberia, is scheduled to be held May 24-25, 2002, at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C.

The conference, which is being sponsored by the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA), will be held under the theme: "THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA IN THE PEACE AND RECONCILIATION PROCESS AND THE 2003 ELECTIONS IN LIBERIA."

All Liberian journalists, including those who are not ALJA members, as well as Liberians of different background and members of the international community, are invited. The conference would be a forum for those who support the process of peace and democracy in Liberia to deliberate.

ALJA would also like to invite the Liberian government, including the Liberian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the Liberian Mission to the United Nations in New York, to participate in the conference. The government would be welcome to share information on its policies and programs. We believe that dialogue and better understanding are essential for the development of a wholesome functioning Liberian society. Even though ALJA has been seen to be critical of the government over the manner in which the affairs of Liberia are being administered, we are not opposition politicians contesting for power. As journalists, we are professionally and morally obligated to keep the public abreast of developments.

The conference begins on Friday, May 24th, with a special ceremony specifically intended for members of the international community concerned with Liberia. During that event, ALJA will unveil a plan of actions, centered around creating a safe and peaceful environment for the holding of the 2003 presidential and general elections in Liberia, as well as beginning the process for genuine reconciliation and the reconstruction of the war-ravished country.

Other highlights of the occasion will be the honoring of several of the international organizations and individuals, for their support for press freedom, democracy, and the rule of law in Liberia.

The Plenary Sessions begin on the morning of Saturday, May 25, with a formal ceremony highlighting the keynote speaker and other distinguished personalities, who will be making presentation on various topics.

The conference is also expected to examine topics such as ways to make African issues more visible to an American audience, exploring possibilities for mass information dissemination, and building an African journalists community. The Information Age, including the Internet, provides boundless opportunities for Africans to build their own infrastructure for mass information dissemination. We note with satisfaction the growing efficiency and popularity of Liberian Internet services or web sites, for example, The Liberian Connection and The Perspective Magazine. We also note the All Africa Global Media and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for their impressive online coverage of the African Continent. The Friends of Liberia provides another great example of how the Internet can serve as an effective medium of information and empowerment. FOL distributes free of charge daily reports compiled on Liberia, from Liberian and international news organs, to its members and other subscribers.

Details regarding the names of the keynote speaker, presenters, panelists, and others, will be announced in due course. Meanwhile, ALJA members and others are encouraged to send their suggestions and ideas on topics and speakers to the interim leadership.

Besides the Plenary Sessions, members of ALJA will also deliberate and adopt the organization's draft bylaws and constitution and consider the matter of election for a new corps of officers.

As the conference gets underway, one of the primary challenges facing the ALJA membership is how to make the organization more functional. While the organization is seen to be making strides in drawing international attention to the state of affairs in Liberia, other functions of ALJA have been snail-paced. The interim leadership has faced criticisms from some of the members for its inability to keep the general membership fully involved in decisions and policies of the organization.

ALJA was established in 1998 at an international conference for the Liberian media at the National Endowment for Democracy, through initiatives of some of the individuals comprising the interim leadership. The conference was intended to organize the increasingly large number of Liberian journalists, who had fled from Liberia during the civil war, while there was also a mass exodus due to the Taylor regime's brutal suppression of press freedom. There was a groundswell of optimism amongst the exiled journalists regarding the noble ideals of the organization, principally aimed at seeking the collective interests and enabling the journalists to continue the struggle for press freedom and democracy in Liberia.

The statement at the end of the 1998 conference states part of the purpose of ALJA as follows: "Realizing that an honest and transparent government is the ultimate guarantor of political and economic stability, the conference pledged to work for the enhancement and defense of press freedom in Liberia; to help improve the professional performance of Liberian journalists; to contribute to the strengthening and consolidation of Liberia's fragile democracy and to encourage the attainment of good governance.

"ALJA will seek to promote the rule of law and civil liberties, the integrity of the three independent branches of government, and to collaborate with the Press Union of Liberia and other well-meaning civic and religious organizations in protecting democracy and promoting national reconciliation and healing.

"ALJA believes that a free press and an independent and transparent judicial system are the hallmark of any democratic society. As such, the conference agreed to set up a legal defense fund to support Liberian journalists, especially those at home who are faced with legal problems in the performance of their duties.

"At the same time, the organization will endeavor to assist in the professional development and growth of Liberian journalists and media training institutions."

However noble the ALJA vision was, the membership never fully understood the cost that would entail in operating a functional organization and fully keep abreast all of the members, who are mostly spread across the United States. There was no provision from the last conference regarding membership fees, which, among other things, were deferred to be addressed in the bylaws and constitution, expected to be adopted at the pending conference. To the extent that the organization has been sustained has been largely at the expense of the interim leaders.

Accordingly, the lack of adequate resources has seriously hindered the effective implementation of ALJA's plans and programs. Violently uprooted and forced to flee with nothing but their lives, most of the journalists are going through the painful process of readjustment, basically struggling to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, as a way of ensuring a more active involvement in the activities of the organization, the interim leadership has embarked upon the establishment of chapters in various parts of the United States.

Each chapter will have a corps of officers who will serve as a liaison between the national leadership and the members in their jurisdiction.

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Alex Redd and others, a chapter of ALJA has been organized in the Minnesota area or the Midwest, while initiatives are underway in other parts of the U.S. for similar chapters.

Efforts are also underway to launch a listserve and a web site to ensure better information dissemination.

In spite of the problems reflected, ALJA's international profile is growing as a credible advocacy group regarding Liberia. The organization has established contacts with various international organizations including the United Nations, and the government of some major countries.

As ALJA strives along, assistance from all those who share the organization's vision and activities would be welcome.

More details regarding the conference would be released in due course. If there are further questions, please do not hesitate to contact the signatories below.

Meanwhile, we wish to acknowledge the tremendous contributions of the National Endowment for Democracy for the support it continues to give the Liberian press and other human rights groups in Liberia.

In another development, ALJA joins in the international appeals for the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped January 23 and is being held captive in Pakistan. We appeal to Pearl's abductors to spare his life and set him free, so as to enable him to inform the world about whatever grievances they may have.

Dated February 4, 2002.


Gabriel I.H. Williams

Secretary General - (916) 362-9551, email: yarvoh@pacbell.net

Approved: Isaac D.E. Bantu

Acting President - Phone (781) 581-8018, fax (781) 581-0501, email: ikebantu@aol.com

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