The State of Gedeh Association in the Americas


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 6, 2002

Editor's Note: Over the Memorial Day weekend, the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas held its 2002 Convention in Upper Darby, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Below is the full text of the State of Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas speech delivered by William G. Nyanue, President of the association :

Let me again welcome you, my fellow Grand Gedeans and our invited guests, to the 2002 annual convention of the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas. To our delegates from Liberia, we say a special welcome. Your being here today is an answer to many prayers. Many had written you off as dead, but the Almighty God knew that we had lost more than enough of our people. He has been good to us and deserves our praises. I pray that He will guide this convention and give us peace and understanding.

Let me also thank Dr. George Flahn, our keynote speaker, who graciously honored our invitation to be with us today despite the long travel from the UK. His presence warms my heart because I see it as an indication that we are finally beginning to come together. This can only strengthen our bond and advance the cause of our county. Thank you, Dr. Flahn.

My duty today, as required by our constitution, is to report to you on the state of our association and present our administration's vision of where we believe this association should be heading during the next twelve months. In fulfilling this obligation, I will also be sharing my thoughts on the situation back home in Liberia.

State of the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas
The Vice President and I had the opportunity to visit a number of our local chapters during these past twelve months, and we were encouraged to see that the enthusiasm that we saw in Providence last September is still very much alive. Our members are excited and hopeful about the future of the association. This positive attitude provides us a glorious opportunity to move the association forward, and we are determined to seize the moment.

Five of the nine local chapters, namely, Illinois, Maryland/DC, Minnesota/Iowa, New England and Pennsylvania ended the year under review in good standing. These chapters were very active throughout the year and met their financial obligations to the national association. My congratulations to the leadership of these chapters for keeping their members motivated and supporting the efforts of the administration.

Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey and New York, on the other hand, had some difficulties remaining active. The President of the New Jersey Chapter resigned after several unsuccessful efforts to re-energize that chapter. As a result of these difficulties, these chapters were not able to meet their financial obligations to the National Association. The administration is doing all it can to assist these chapters resume their rightful places in the association.

There were also successful leadership changes at three of our local chapters. At the Maryland/DC Chapter, Mr. Henry K. Glay succeeded Mr. Michael Sobah, while Mr. Wilhelm Cooper succeeded Mr. Washington Yonly in Minnesota/Iowa. And Mr. Victor Gaye is now the president of the Missouri/Kansas Chapter, succeeding Mr. Harry Taylay. Congratulations, fellow workers!

I was privileged to attend the inaugural ceremonies of the DC/Maryland and Missouri/Kansas Chapters and do report that the programs were well planned and executed, and that their respective memberships seemed genuinely excited and hopeful. During the DC/Maryland program, six of our local chapters - Illinois, Missouri/Kansas, New England, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania were represented; and Illinois, Minnesota/Iowa, and Pennsylvania were represented at the Missouri/Kansas program. It was heart-warming for me to see our local chapters support each other in this way. This kind of support is crucial to our building a strong national association and should be encouraged. I eagerly look forward to a similar support for the Minnesota/Iowa Chapter when it holds its inauguration in July.

On a sad note, I regret to report that four members of our community passed during the year under review. They were Mrs. Elizabeth Dunbar of New England, Mr. Gabriel Wright of Pennsylvania, Mr. Gavin Tarlue, son of Mr. Aloysius Tarlue, Jr. of New Jersey, and Mr. Isaac Gee Dweh, Jr. of the Minnesota/Iowa Chapter. Also, just about two weeks ago, the Chairlady of the Grand Gedeh Women Committee, Mrs. Anna Barlee, lost her father, Mr. James M. Constence. His funeral is scheduled for June 1st. Please rise and observe a moment of silence in memory of these departed brothers and sister.

During the incidents in Minnesota, New England, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, our community came together to show support to the bereaved families. We raised a total of $3,960.00 which was divided to the families. I have now issued an appeal to the leadership of all of our chapters to also rally around Mrs. Barlee in her bereavement.

Standing together in times of trial is what being a community is all about. This is an excellent tradition of our community that we must all support. Unfortunately, not all of our chapters have caught on to this spirit. Only the Illinois Chapter contributed to all the aforementioned incidents, followed by Pennsylvania who contributed to three. New Jersey, Missouri/Kansas and Delaware did not contribute to any of the incidents. We are looking forward to seeing some improvement in this area.

Financial Report
You should have received a copy of the financial report for fiscal year 2001 when you came in this morning. The report gives details of revenues and expenditures during the period under review. In summary, we raised a total of $12,738.00 in revenue. But this only represents approximately 30% of our total projected revenue. That means we will need to raise the remaining 70%, or $29,000.00 during this convention in order to meet our target, and I have no doubt that we will rise to the challenge.

Total expenditure, including the cost of this convention, on the other hand, was $6,226.55. Only about 1.5 percent of this amount, or $96.40, was for operation. This very low level of operating cost was possible because members of the administration, including committee chairs, and the Board performed their duties from their personal resources, and I want to thank them for the sacrifice.

We are also happy to report that for the first time in a very long time, expenditures during the period under review were made based on an approved budget. A detailed budget of approximately $42,000.00 was presented to and subsequently approved by the Board during its December 2001 meeting. Copies of the budget were made available to all chapter presidents and committee chairs as a means of empowering them to check our performance. The budget for fiscal year 2002, totaling about $60,000.00 has now been submitted to the Board and will be discussed when the Board meets tomorrow.

Other Achievements of the Administration
During our inauguration in Providence last September, we endeavored to impress upon you that in order for this association to become the engine of positive change for Grand Gedeh County that we desire, we would need to improve the way it is managed. We then laid before you an agenda that included providing training opportunities for our leaders, strengthening our constitution, and providing transparency in the management of our finances as means of moving in this direction. We also impressed upon you the need to help bring relief to our people. During these past twelve months, we have been working that agenda, and I am pleased to report that we have made significant gains.

To facilitate the implementation of our agenda, it was first necessary to ensure that all members of the association have a common understanding of the operation of the association. And so, our first order of business was to develop written policies covering many of the issues that have been the source of much confusion in the past. With your support and contribution, detailed policies covering the identification of our members, fund raising, and the practice of honoring were developed. The policies were first sent to each of our local chapters and the Board for review and endorsement before being adopted.

The policy on membership was developed to facilitate the implementation of Article X Section 1 of the constitution which requires every member of the Grand Gedeh Association to carry an Identification Card of the association. The policy lays out a detailed procedure and requirements for the issuance of the card.

Identification of members of the association is crucial to its smooth operation. For example, it provides us a means of ensuring that only those who invest in the association get to decide its fate and choose its leaders. The framers of our constitution knew that being a member of an organization, like being a citizen of a country, carries both privileges and responsibilities, and it is the duty of every good organization to ensure that these are satisfied.

The Fundraising Policy was developed to deal with such issues as funding and sharing of revenues from events jointly sponsored by the national administration and local chapters, and the use of the association's logo and name for fundraising purposes by individuals.

And finally, a policy was developed to govern the practice of honoring our benefactors. The policy provides answers to such questions as, criteria for selecting honoree, categories of honors, and frequency of honoring, among others. These are questions that invite accusations of partiality and inconsistency if not clearly answered, and the answers adhered to consistently.

With this policy, we now know, for example, that we will systematically seek out five individuals/groups on an annual basis for recognition in five separate categories. Our highest award, the Grand Gedean Award, will be conferred upon an individual or group who has made significant contributions to the welfare of the people of Grand Gedeh. The policy spells out in details what constitutes "significant contribution." We will also recognize the work of our local chapters by presenting our Chapter of the Year Award to the most exemplary chapter; and we will spur our young people to academic excellence and good moral character by our Youth of the Year Award, which carries a $500.00 cash award. The Award policy clearly states how the honoree would be selected and what the awards would consist of. All three policies now constitute the "Administrative Policy" of the Grand Gedeh Association, copies of which were provided to you this morning.

Constitution Review
A considerable amount of time was also spent during these past 12 months reviewing the constitution in order to clarify certain crucial issues that have been the source of much confusion in the past, and expand the scope of the constitution to make it more relevant to current realities. During the review process, the Constitution Review Committee sought, for example, to more clearly lay out the powers of the various institutions of the association, cover in more details issues relating to Grand Gedeans who live in states where there are no local chapters, and add provisions to cover the process of transition from one administration to the next. The committee's recommendations were submitted to the Board and each of the local chapters, as we promised during our inauguration, for review and comments. This afternoon, the committee will present the final draft, which reflects your comments, for adoption.

The real challenge is not developing these administrative policies and revising the constitution. The real challenge is enforcing and adhering to the provisions of these documents. Here is where we often fail, tossing aside work of several man-hours in favor of so-called common sense. We must not succumb to this disease. I am looking forward to working with the Education and Training Committee to organize training workshops that would help us better understand these documents.

Education and Training
One of our election promises was to invest in the education and training of young Grand Gedeans. To help us achieve this goal, we established the Education and Training committee and mandated it to work out a policy. This was necessary because our goal is not just to pay the fees of a few Grand Gedeans at some higher institution of learning for a few semesters, but to develop a program that would address both the short and long-term educational needs of the county in a serious way. The committee has now completed the first phase of its work, which was to develop guidelines for the scholarship program.

In summary, the committee recommended that, as a starter, the scholarship program should focus on two areas, namely, teacher and nursing training. They argued that our long-term educational needs will only be met with trained teachers in our schools; and that the realization of our development dreams requires a healthy citizenry. We could not agree more. The proposed program has been submitted to the Board, as part of our 2002 budget submission, for its endorsement.

Quality education is indispensable to the development of our county, for it is the foundation upon which every thing else rests. One of our speakers will talk more about this subject later this afternoon.

Gedeh relief
I indicated, during my inaugural address last September, that I believe that rebuilding Grand Gedeh County was crucial to restoring the pride and dignity of our people, and that this association could be a major partner in the reconstruction effort. I then proposed the establishment of the Grand Gedeh Reconstruction Fund as a means of mobilizing resources for our involvement.

I am pleased to inform you that, that proposal was approved by Board and the Fund launched last December. In support of the Fund, each Grand Gedean, including our brothers and sisters in Europe, was asked to make a monthly contribution of $10.00 for an initial two-year period.

To date, the Fund has generated $2,080.00. This amount was contributed by members of the Illinois ($1,980.00) and Minnesota ($100.00) Chapters. The list of contributors is included as Appendix B in the financial report you received this morning. I want to thank the Presidents and members of the Illinois and Minnesota Chapters for taking the lead. I am sure the rest of us have come prepared to add our names to the list of contributors.

Let me also inform you that the Zwedru Hospital Medical Relief Project was also launched. The project is being supervised by the Medical Relief Committee headed by Mrs. Annie Yonly. She is being assisted by Dr. George Flahn, Dr. Albert White, Jr., Dr. Eugene Merchant, Mrs. Rebecca Deah, and Mrs. Louise Diggs-Gaye.

Based on a list prepared by the committee, which we posted to our web site with an appeal, we received a donation of fourteen boxes of assorted medical supplies from a group in Lynn, Massachusetts. We have also received a donation of bed sheets from Mrs. Yonly. The donated items are now being stored in Minnesota from where they will be shipped to Liberia.

We are now working with other groups and members of our own community who have expressed interest to help, to get more donations. I am appealing to you to be a part of this important project by contributing to the Gedeh Reconstruction Fund, and you will have the opportunity to do so tonight.

It is also my pleasure, Ladies and Gentlemen, to report that we continued to play our traditional role of advocacy in the interest of the people of Grand Gedeh County in particular, and Liberia in general. One of the issues we have had to deal with during the period under review was the continued detention of our people by the Taylor Government. We issued several press releases and wrote Mr. Taylor requesting the unconditional release of all Grand Gedeans and all other political prisoners. The Grand Gedeh Association web site became an effective medium in getting this message to a world-wide audience, thanks to our young, energetic, and innovative webmaster, Mr. Leo Tarr. Today, we are pleased to officially inform you that all Grand Gedeans who were imprisoned following the Camp Johnson Road massacred have been released. Three of them are present with us today, and we look forward to hearing from them later this afternoon.

We believe that the advocacy efforts of this and previous administrations of our association, coupled with the unrelenting pressure from the international community and many other Liberian groups contributed to this outcome. We want to thank these groups for their assistance and support.

But fellow Grand Gedeans, the battle is far from over. Grand Gedeans still constitute the single largest group of Liberians in exile. We must continue our advocacy until they and all other Liberians can return home and live in peace. I will speak more on this subject later.

The effectiveness of our advocacy efforts depends on how united we are. That is why we make genuine reconciliation one of our top priorities. But we must be reminded that true unity cannot be achieved where there are unresolved grievances and festering wounds. So we must muster the courage to face up to our difficulties. We must ask the tough questions and humbly accept corrections where necessary. It is only this kind of process that will bring real healing and unity. But must be careful so that we do not self-destruct in the process. We must remember that the whole purpose of this exercise is to heal and unite, not to humiliate and destroy.

Later this afternoon, one of our speakers will be discussing this important subject, and I believe he will be doing so not as an academic or even personal matter, but as a means of provoking a discussion of the crucial issues that may be impediments to our unity. I eagerly look forward to Mr. Boley's presentation and the discussion that will follow. I pray that at the end of this convention we would leave this hall more united than when we came in this morning.

Let me now turn your attention to the sad state of our beloved Liberia. As you are no doubt aware, news coming from the country is depressing at best. Conditions in the country are no better than they were when the international community declared the civil war over more than six years ago. Mr. Taylor and his government show no sign of turning from the path which has brought us nothing but anguish and destruction for almost thirteen years now. The government security forces are still arresting and torturing innocent Liberians, the latest victim being the noted human rights lawyer Tiawan Gongloe.

Many of us are now pinning our hopes of reversing the situation on the next elections. Unfortunately, while the rest of Liberia wants to talk about how to stop the security abuses to ensure free democratic elections in 2003, Mr. Taylor is planning a conference on "Ethnic Reconciliation."

How does one take this except to conclude that Mr. Taylor probably does not have an appreciation of the deep wounds that he has inflicted upon the Liberian people, first as a warlord and now as president. And how do we get this message to him, and also let him know in clear terms that we want our country back? This is the question, I believe, that all peace loving Liberians have been grappling with now for almost five years.

I believe one effective way of getting our message over to Mr. Taylor is to withhold support for any of his programs that have the clear intent of diverting attention away from issues that are dear to us. That would mean, for example, staying away from the July "Ethnic Reconciliation Conference," unless the agenda of that conference is changed to address issues related to the abuses of government security, and practical steps that would need to be taken so that all exile Liberians can return home. Attending the July conference, as it is currently being planned, I believe, would be a vote of confidence for Mr. Taylor's policies, many of which are responsible for our people being in the refugee camps for almost fourteen years now, and many Liberians to going to their early graves.

There is no denying that ethnic reconciliation is essential to the healing of our country, and I believe that many of our people are prepared to let by-gones be by-gones. When the time is right, the people of Grand Gedeh and Nimba will sit down together and resolve their differences, the Gios and Mandingoes will shake hands and once again live as neighbors in the towns and villages of Nimba County, and the Grebos and the Krahns will work together once again to develop our part of the country. But this sort of reconciliation cannot even begin to take place as long as the majority of our people cannot return to their towns and villages. And they are not returning home not because of ethnic tensions, but because of the policies of the Liberian government. How can all of our people return to Grand Gedeh when three hundred of their sons and daughters were massacred in cold blood on Camp Johnson Road and their killers hailed as heroes. How can any serious opposition politician think of returning home when counselor Tiawan Gongloe was just arrested and tortured by government security, his only crime being that he said something that the government did not like? These are the issues that deserve a conference, and Mr. Taylor must be told so by our actions.

Let me remind all Liberians, especially the politicians, that as good as all of our brilliantly written statements condemning the excesses of the Taylor government are, they by themselves will accomplish very little. We must accompany these statements with peaceful but effective actions, otherwise this nightmare may continue for many more years. We must act now so that the year 2003 would be a new beginning for our country.

Fellow Grand Gedeans, Ladies and Gentlemen. We must keep hope alive and continue to believe that peaceful political change is still possible in Liberia. But let us be mindful that if that change is to last, it would ultimately have to come through free and democratic elections. Let us prepare to influence the outcome of those elections when they do take place. We are committed to ensuring that our community give this issue the serious attention it deserves. As a first step, we will be calling a consultative meeting of Grand Gedeans living in these United States within two months of this convention to consider our options. I encourage you to attend.

My friends, I believe we are on the way to transforming the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas. Our challenge now is to keep the focus and momentum, and every Grand Gedean is vitally important in this effort, for our strength lies in unity.

But my friends, our real work is in Grand Gedeh County. Regrettably we cannot get there as long as the government of Liberia is the enemy of the people rather than their protector. We must, therefore, continue to play our part, as an integral part of the larger Liberian community, to help give our country a new beginning.

I wish to thank all of you who have been the wind beneath our wings during these past twelve months. None of what we were able to accomplish would have been possible without your sacrificial services. I want to especially thank my beautiful wife and children, and my six wonderful sisters and hard-working sister in-law for their unqualified support. Many of you have also shown me what true friendship is, and I want to thank you.

Let me also profusely thank all committee chairs and their members, as well as the leaders of all of our local chapters, for their support. The President of the Pennsylvania Chapter, Mrs. Adolphine Kannah, Mr. Tiah J.D. Slanger, Chairman of the Convention 2002 Committee, and all those who helped plan this convention also deserve our gratitude. The Illinois Chapter, of which I am a proud member, has been unwavering in its supports of our efforts. My heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Mr. Gaye Sleh, Jr., our president, and all my fellow members of what is now being known as the Model Chapter, for your support.

Members of the Executive Committee, particularly the National Treasurer, Mrs. Annie Yonly, and the National Secretary, Mr. Jackson Wonde, deserve public commendation for their efficient and sacrificial services. I believe they have proven that this association can be managed in a business-like matter.

Finally, I want to thank all of you who have afforded our team the opportunity to steer the ship of our community at this crucial time. This ship has now set sail, my friends, and I assure you there is no turning back. Our vision is clear and commitment unwavering. We realize that the challenges are daunting, but they are no match for our determination.

Thank you, and may the Lord Almighty bless our association and save our country.

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