State of the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas
Delivered by William G. Nyanue
State of the Association Address
Delivered by William G. Nyanue
President, Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas
Silver Spring, Maryland
May 24, 2003
Bishop Franklin Showell, Keynote Speaker
Mr. Jiayah Jalarue, Chairman of the Board of Directors
Fellow Grand Gedeans
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my honor and privilege once again to welcome all of you to yet another convention of the Grand Gedeh Association. I say a special welcome to today’s speakers, Bishop Franklin Showell, our keynote speaker, and our two guest speakers, Dr. Chris Toe and Mr. David Farhat.
The selection of three distinguished non-Grand Gedeans as our main speakers for this convention is a departure from our normal practice of having only our kinsmen address us at an occasion such as this. Today, we have an opportunity to hear the issues of Liberia and our own efforts to be a force of hope and renewal discussed from a non-Grand Gedeh prospective. I believe interactions like this will help broaden our horizon and contribute to the building of the kind of Liberia that all Liberians dream of - one of tolerance and inclusion.
Let me also thank the president, Mr. Henry Glay, and members of the Mayland/DC Chapter for hosting this year’s convention and for supporting the 2003 Convention Planning Committee. Mr. Arthur Droe, Chairman of the 2003 Convention Planning Committee, and all the other members of the committee, as well as Hon. Bai M. Gbala who served as an advisor to the committee, deserve many thanks and our gratitude for their sacrificial services. I assure you that planning a Grand Gedeh convention is no small task, for reconciling the different competing interests can be challenging, some times outright frustrating. It takes the skills of people like Mr. Droe and the other wonderful people of the 2003 Convention Committee to perform the balancing act required to succeed. We congratulate Mr. Droe and members of his committee for an excellent job.
We are here today, my friends, because the Almighty God, in His infinite wisdom, continues to grant us the gift of life and health. As you know, some of our friends who began this year with us have gone to their eternal rest, but the Almighty continues to bless us with life, health and the means to be here today among friends and families. Let us, therefore, go into this convention with a spirit of thankfulness and gratitude, for the Lord has been good to us.
A whole lot has happened since the last convention and this gathering, like previous conventions, affords us yet another opportunity to take stock and assess progress made toward achieving our common goals. As your Captain, it is my pleasing duty to report on our stewardship of your association and to share with you my thoughts about the challenges confronting us.
State of the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas
I am pleased to report that our Association is in sound health and well on its way to becoming one of the better managed Liberian organizations in the Americas. Gradually we are driving home the principles of good management, the imperative to respect public resources, and the wisdom in directing our energies away from personalities towards real issues and policies. As I said at last year’s convention, this ship called the Grand Gedeh Association has set sailed and there is no turning back.
A) Chapters of the Association
The Grand Gedeh Association ended the year under review with eight-chapters, following the merger of the Delaware and Pennsylvania Chapters. Six of the eight chapters, Illinois, Maryland/DC, Minnesota/Iowa, Missouri/Kansas, New England, and Pennsylvania, ended the year in good standing. The Missouri/Kansas Chapter is a welcome addition to the other five chapters who enjoyed this status last year. We congratulate the President, Mr. Victor Gaye, and members of the Missouri/Kansas chapter for re-energizing their chapter.
The New York and New Jersey Chapters continue to lag behind. For the second year running, the two chapters have been unable to take their places on the Board and to fully participate in the programs of the National Association. We will continue to encourage the leadership of the two chapters to reawaken their respective memberships or consider the possibility of merging.
I am also pleased to report that the Illinois and Pennsylvania Chapters now have new leaders. In Illinois, Mr. Isaac Vowal succeeded Mr. Gaye Sleh, Jr. who ably served that outstanding chapter for the past four years. Mr. Sleh was elected recently president of the Liberian Community Association of Illinois. In Pennsylvania, Mr. Kai-Matthew Whyee succeeded Mrs. Adolphine Kannah. We congratulate Messrs. Vowal and Whyee and challenge them to pickup where their predecessors left off.
On a sad note, I regret to report that six members of our community, Mr. Hamilton Boway (Illinois), Mr. Isaac Dweh, Sr. and Mrs. Annie Gee (Minnesota/Iowa), Old Lady Glayonnoh (New England), Mrs. Sarah Moore (New York), and Mr. Willie Nebo (Pennsylvania) passed this year. May their souls rest in peace.
B) Strengthening the Association
During the past twelve months, we built on the successes of the previous year to move the Association a little closer to our goal of being an efficient and effective institution. We successfully strengthened the constitution and began implementing a number of administrative policies to facilitate the enforcement of the provisions of the constitution.
The Board of Directors also took steps to bring order to how it does business. For the first time, the Board adopted a set of rules for its operation, thereby solving the problems of destructive power struggles and arbitrary behavior. We congratulate the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Mr. Jiayah Massaquoi Jalarue, and the entire membership of the Board for this important achievement. The challenge now is to ensure that the rules are enforced.
C) Financial Accountability
The issue of financial accountability and transparency continues to rank high on our list of priorities. This year, like the year before, the National Treasurer diligently prepared and sent out to each chapter and the chairman of the Board of Directors quarterly financial reports, with detailed information on revenues and expenditures, as well as an analysis of the budget. Each report was accompanied by a statement from our bank for the last month of that quarter. This morning as you came in you should have received a copy of the annual financial report which summarizes the Association’s financial performance during the year. You will note that every penny we received during the year has been fully accounted for.
Our hope is that this information system would be standard operating procedure for the Association, no matter who our leaders are. We must never go back to the days when we are kept in the dark about the finances of the Association until there is a problem.
D) Awards Program and Training
I am also pleased to report that the Association’s Awards Program was inaugurated during the year under review. As you may recall, the Awards program was established as a means of showing gratitude and appreciation to those who contribute to the well-being of the people of Grand Gedeh County and our Association. Our honorees for this inaugural program included the Honorable Cyrus S. Cooper. Honorable Cooper received the Grand Gedean Award, the Association’s highest honor, for his more than thirty years of sacrificial services to the people of Grand Gedeh County in the area of Education. The other honorees were Mrs. Adolphine Kannah (Leadership), the Illinois Chapter (Chapter of the Year), Ms. Joanna Dennis (Outstanding Youth of the Year) and Mr. Leo Tarr (the President’s Award).
It is often said that all we give those who serve us are criticisms. It is about time we change that and find time to say “Thank-you” to those who labor sacrificially to make our lives and those of our loved ones a little better. The annual Awards Program will afford us the opportunity to do so in a manner that is both equitable and orderly.
Another major program that was inaugurated during the year was our Annual Training Program. For the first time, we successfully organized two training workshops to help our local and national leaders improve their leadership skills and become more familiar with the policies of the Association. One workshop was held in Philadelphia for our leaders here on the East Coast, and the other was held in Chicago for those in the Midwest. Both workshops were well attended and, based on results of the evaluations, well received. Our goal is to provide training opportunities annually for all of our leaders as a way of improving the management of the Association. In the future, the Board and this assembly may want to make attending these workshops a requirement for leadership in the Association.
I want to thank the chairmen and members of the Awards and Education and Training Committees for planning and supervising the two programs. Their performance should be a challenge to the other committees.
C. Assistance to Grand Gedeh
Providing relief assistance to our people in Liberia and assisting to rebuild Grand Gedeh County are central to our programs. For this past year, this program item accounted for more than 35% of our total expenditures.
The assistance to the county this year included medical and educational supplies. In February we shipped to Liberia a 20-foot container with several barrels and boxes of medicine and medical supplies, eighteen hospital beds and mattresses, over forty boxes of clothing, seven wheelchairs, crutches, over one thousand notebooks and pencils, and several boxes of textbooks. The container was received by our sister organization, the Grand Gedeh Development Association (GGDA) who will supervise the distribution of the supplies.
Unfortunately, because Grand Gedeh is inaccessible from Monrovia because of fighting in the region, the leadership of the GGDA arranged to have the supplies stored in Monrovia. I have been informed that the medical supplies are being stored by the National Drug Service while the other supplies are being stored by the Association of Independent Churches of Africa (AICA). We are pleased with the arrangements and wish to thank the two organizations for their assistance.
The names of those who contributed to the relief consignment are listed in the annual financial report that you received this morning. I want to thank all of you who made the donations for your generosity. You demonstrated, in my opinion, not only a genuine concern for our people but a commitment to take personal responsibility for their well-being.
I also want to thank the women of Grand Gedeh who contributed to the Women’s Fund, and all of you who contributed to the Gedeh Fund. The shipment to Liberia could not have been possible without your contributions.
I am also pleased to report that during the reporting period, we were able to pay the fees of more than forty students from Grand Gedeh who are studying at the University of Liberia. The payment will enable the students attend the University for one semester. With your support, the Association’s scholarship program will commence in earnest in 2004.
Upon assuming the leadership of our Association in 2001, we presented a detailed program of assistance for our county and people. The key elements of that program, as you may recall, included investments in education and health. The education component included providing educational supplies to schools in the county and a scholarship program which will primarily focus on the training of teachers and nurses. To fund these programs, we proposed the establishment of the Gedeh Fund, to be supported by $10.00-a-month donations by members of the Association for a two-year period. This proposal was presented to the Board as part of our 2001 budget submission and subsequently approved. As you will recall, the Fund was launched in December 2001.
Unfortunately, support for the Gedeh Fund has been less than expected. To date, only 30 members of the Association participated. Let me share with an email I received from the Chairman of the Grand Gedeh Development Association, Mr. Bestman Charpy, a few weeks before we shipped the relief supplies to Liberia. Mr. Charpy wrote:
Dear Mr. Nyanue:
I have just returned from Grand Gedeh to. . . conduct an assessment of current developments in the county. I left Monrovia on Monday, February 5 and returned on Tuesday, February 11, 2003. . . While in Zwedru, I visited the Martha Tubman Memorial Hospital and held talks with the medical authorities. The hospital is in a deplorable condition. Of the 15 beds I saw only 3 had mattresses. I saw patients sleeping on bare wire. Some of them told me that it was better to die than to be in such a hospital.
One cannot read a message such as Mr. Charpy’s and not weep for our people, innocent victims of a brutal and senseless war. But a message like this should also strengthen our resolve to do a little more for our people, to take more seriously our moral obligation to ease their suffering. We thought the Gedeh Fund provided an excellent opportunity to do this but, disappointingly, many of us have not taken advantage of the opportunity.
I am still convinced that the Gedeh Fund is an excellent idea, and I am sure many of you also do. This is why I am asking for the endorsement of this convention to extend the life of the Fund for another two years, beginning this May. This would give those of us who have not participated an opportunity to do so. I am proposing that those who have already made their full two-year donations of $240.00 be exempt from the extension, and those who have made partial donations be required only to make up the difference.
As you may know, all humanitarian assistance to Grand Gedeh County was cutoff recently because of fighting in the region. I believe it is our moral obligation to go to the aid of our people at this very crucial moment. A shipment of emergency supplies is what they need now and your contributions to the Gedeh Fund will enable us to meet this need.
Cooperation with other Associations
We continue to reach out to other Liberian communities in an effort to facilitate healing and reconciliation. During the period under review, we engaged our friends from Nimba County in a dialogue about how we might bring our two communities together. The dialogue is on-going and we are committed to doing all we can to see it through. However, already our interaction has begun to yield some fruitful results. In April, our two groups issued a joint press release, along with our Mandingo brothers, expressing our commitment to stand together as one family to resist those who would have our people continue to kill each other. These are the people who have exploited our differences to obtain and maintain state power. We must resist, at all cost, their divide and rule strategy. I am calling on Grand Gedeans and Nimbains of goodwill to support our efforts and help restore the once harmonious relationship that existed between our two communities.
Challenges and Opportunities
Let me now share with you my thoughts about some of the challenges we face as we strive to build this organization. Serving as your president during these past two years has been a very rewarding personal experience. As we tried to reconcile the various competing interests in our community, experience Grand Gedeh politics first hand, and interact with other Liberian community leaders, I have gained a greater appreciation of the obstacles that stubbornly stand in the way of real progress. Many of these obstacles are legacies of the system of which we are all products - a system that rewards sycophancy and hypocrisy, encourages a dependency mentality, and thrives in confusion and disorder. They call this system the “Liberian way of doing business.”
Since assuming the leadership of this Association, we have made every effort to highlight the plight of our people and the need for us to take personal responsibility for the rebuilding of our county. Fortunately, we are in agreement on many of the major issues. We are in agreement, for example, that we need to invest in education as a matter of priority. At the 2002 convention, Mrs. Nyanue, in her presentation on Education, gave alarming statistics that show how poorly Grand Gedeh County is faring in this area. She made the compelling case that quality education was the only real way to the opportunities that our country has to offer. We are also in agreement on the need to invest in the health of our people. But it seems like that is all we are prepared to do - agree on problems and possible solutions. Not many of us are willing to back this apparent interest in our people and our own development with commitment of personal resources.
Some will attribute this failure to invest in our own programs to the chronic problem of accountability. Often funds entrusted to our leaders are mismanaged, or diverted to other purposes. Understandably, no sane person would invest in an organization that shows very little regards for its members’ investments. This was why we made financial accountability a top priority of this administration.
As a means of addressing the problem of accountability, we have put in place a transparent financial management system that enables you to assess our stewardship of resources entrusted to us. During the past two years not only have we utilized every penny you contributed for the intended purpose, but we have also given accurate and timely account of all funds entrusted to us. As a result of these measures there was never a hint of mismanagement, or complaint about the lack of information during these past two years. We believe this issue has been put to rest.
Unfortunately, the resolution of this problem has not had the desired impact, at least not yet. Many of us are still reluctant to support our programs, as the performance of the Gedeh Fund clearly illustrates. I am beginning to wonder if the complaint about the lack of accountability may not just be a convenient excuse for some of us. Could it be that we are building our hope of helping our people and rebuilding our county on other people’s resources?
I would like to hear your views on this subject during the discussion session this afternoon, and suggestions on how we might solve the problem. For I often wonder why others should give us their hard earned money in support of our programs when we are not willing to invest our own resources.
Another issue that I would like to bring to your attention and which I would like to hear discussed this afternoon is the difficulties we are having in following a structured program. Many of us seem to value expediency and convenience over the order and consistency that come from the rule of law. While we spend enormous resources in time and energy to develop laws and policies to govern how we do business, we demonstrate very little interest in following these policies. As a result, all we do is manage crises, with little or no continuity in our programs.
We came to the leadership of this Association convinced that it could be a different kind of a Liberian organization, one worth emulating. But I am more convinced now than I was when we started that nothing short of a new mindset, a new way of doing business, will bring us this honor. I submit to you, my friends, that in order to gain any measure of success in dealing with the many issues that confront us, whether now through this Association or later through our county leadership, we will need to be unshackled to the so-called Liberian way of doing business. For unless we are willing to sacrifice our own resources, build a system that enables us to focus our energies on real problems, and build each year on the successes of the previous year, we will go no where. Real and sustainable development, whether on the individual or corporate level, comes only when the beneficiaries have a stake in the investment, for as the Bible says, “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” This is not to say that one cannot seek assistance, but serious people will seek assistance only after they have first done all they can, within the limit of their resources, to help themselves.
Ending the Liberian Nightmare
Let me now make a few comments on the search for peace in our homeland, Liberia. We have been consistent in our position that the Taylor Government just does not have what it requires to bring real healing and reconciliation to our country. His very name reminds may Liberians, particularly those of us from Grand Gedeh, of the atrocities of the civil war.
Not only that President Taylor does not have the moral authority to deal with the subject of healing and reconciliation, but he has demonstrated beyond any doubt that what matters most to him is not the welfare of the state but state power. Liberians still vividly remember his resolve at one time during the civil war to reduce Monrovia to rubbles if that was what it would take for him to become president. And since becoming president in 1997, he has only paid lip service to the real problems of the country. Today, for example, his government has several innocent Liberians in prison while he is calling for reconciliation.
Now, as his government is about to lose legitimacy when its term expires in October, as it is clear now that national elections will not be held as required by the constitution, Mr. Taylor and his praise singers are doing everything to hold on. Sadly, there are some well-meaning Liberians who have not seen through the man’s scheme of manipulation and who may aid him in his attempt to hold on to state power. Some of these people are now suggesting, for example, that the term of Taylor Government be extended beyond October as a means of avoiding a constitutional crisis, the constitution that Mr. Taylor and his officials trampled under foot for his entire presidency. We must assume that those who make this suggestion believe that the Taylor Government is capable of supervising an election in which Mr. Taylor could be a looser. Most Liberians and the international community are convinced that this is wishful thinking, a big, grand illusion. We believe that any attempt to extending the term of the Taylor government, no matter the legal instruments that would make that happen, will be a vote to prolong the suffering of the Liberian people.
No, the term of the Taylor government must not be extended one day beyond October 14, 2003, enough is enough! This Association and the people of Grand Gedeh County must support the arrangement whereby the Taylor government is replaced with an interim government. But we must not support a repeat of the Banjul experience whereby a small group of Liberians decided who the leaders of the interim government were.
This time around, we must insist that leaders of any interim government be elected by a national conference of delegates from all the political subdivisions of the country. And the new government must be given no more than twelve months to disarm all the warring factions and prepare the country for elections. A twelve-month mandate would bring the country in compliance with the constitution, especially as it relates to the date of elections and term of the president. We must also insist that members of any interim government be barred from contesting the elections, whether or not they resign before the elections.
We believe the idea of an interim government represents our best option to end the Liberian tragedy and restore peace and security to our country. We are, therefore, calling on all other Liberian organizations, both in these United States and back home in Liberia, the civil society, and our political leaders to back this plan and to accordingly inform the International Contact Group on Liberia, the sponsor of the forthcoming peace talks in Ghana. We must not be quiet at this crucial juncture.
Let me conclude this report by thanking you, my fellow Grand Gedeans, for the opportunity you’ve given us to serve you during these past two years. During this period, we tried to drive home the message that the Grand Gedeh Association is not about any one individual, but about the collective aspirations and determination of the Grand Gedeh Community in the Americas to build a respectable, progressive organization that caters to the needy, particularly Grand Gedeans. Administrations will come and go, but I believe this Association is here to stay. Our challenge is to make it more relevant to the needs of our community. For unless we do so, our existence would mean very little. I also challenge you to see the enormous potential and opportunities we have to develop quality leaders for our community and country, transform our county, and prove our detractors wrong. Let us seize the moment, for we may never have these opportunities again.
May God bless our association and rescue our country.