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The Marriage: Ellen Sirleaf & Amos Sawyer

This week, Professor Amos C. Sawyer was in Manila, the Philippines to collect the prestigious Gusi Peace Prize. When you consider that the prize received 1,490 nominations annually, from which 10 to 15 recipients are called, you have a sense of appreciation that it is a laudable honor. This year, the erudite former interim president shared the stage with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. 

Amos Sawyer & Ellen

The Manila-based foundation also said: Sawyer “has led numerous missions on peace building and elections observation and has been deeply involved in the strengthening of civil society and the building of African capacity to sustain institutions and processes of democratic governance.” Gusi Peace also paid tribute to him “as a Member of the Panel of Eminent Persons of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), an affiliate of NEPAD. The Panel of Eminent Persons, at full strength, consists of seven distinguished Africans.” Amos Claudius Sawyer, 66, is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the African Centre for Development, and Chair of the Liberian Governance Commission. 

 

It is no secret that throughout the 1990s, when Mr. Sawyer served as Liberia’s interim leader, he engaged in a marathon and exhausted process of luring Charles Taylor to the peace table in an effort to find lasting solutions to the Liberian crisis. He was rebuffed by Mr. Taylor, who had the biggest gun, and also held a larger portion of the country and people hostage. Sawyer finally gave up the quest of convincing Mr. Taylor after four years of trying.

However, barely a week after the National Elections Commission certificated her as the winner of the runoff election, President Sirleaf’s first public act was to adorn Mr. Sawyer Grand Master of the Order of Distinction in the Most Venerable Order of the Knighthood of the Pioneers, with the grade of Grand Cordon. Besides their political partnership, most of the reforms initiated by the Sirleaf administration came out of the Sawyer’s Governance Commission (GC). Where the Liberian Legislature could not made an impact, it was the Sawyer GC that has been the force drafting laws that the president has forwarded to the Liberian Assembly. The acts that established the Anti Corruption Commission, Law and Land Reform Commissions, Whistle Blower’s Act, Corrupt Offenses Act (proposed) etc, were all executed under his supervision.

The commission has also been busy crafting strategies to decentralized political power to the counties, and also to shrink the powers of Liberia’s age-old imperial presidency. But more than that, both Sawyer and Sirleaf have been stuck in a political marriage for well over 20 years now.

Sawyers have always been good to, and have stood by Sirleaf even when major political players in the country deserted her. Their days date back, according to their friends in the trenches of advocacy when Liberian politicians have had enough of Samuel Doe, and were now ready to give him the taste of his own ‘kanyah pepper’. Having chased many out of the country and into exile, Liberian politicians and the larger community back home felt Mr. Doe had lost his mandate and legitimacy, and decided they would oppose him and bring his government down. 

Even ordinary Liberians of all stripes were fed up with Mr. Doe’s excesses. He governed arbitrarily by decrees, and poked his fingers in everybody’s eyes! The Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL), which was actually based in the United States, was one of such platforms. Together with Dr. Patrick Sayon, they dug their heels lobbying the congress of the United States, while finding other means to fight Doe,” says a former Liberian Ambassador accredited to Washington DC. “Matter of fact, it was Sirleaf’s influence that landed Sawyer at the ACDL, because Sawyer was neither a founding member of the organization, but he brought leadership and insight to its advocacy,” says another Liberian who is familiar with the formation of ACDL.

In 2005 when then-candidate Sirleaf launched her bid for the Liberian presidency, Sawyer, the political wizard was right there by her side. As a co-founder of the Liberian People’s Party (LPP), many observers thought he would support his long time friend in academia and advocacy, Togbah Na Tipoteh. Sawyer went the other way, casting his net with Johnson Sirleaf and took with him many of his young supporters. To a large degree says an observer, Sawyer feels unappreciated at home considering his lifelong struggle for multiparty democracy and human rights in Liberia.

In an interview with FrontPage Africa a year ago, he told reporter Rodney Sieh, that most of the criticisms against him were unfair and untrue. He took pains to explain that he has always been in the vanguard for Liberia’s interest, and that the house he bought in the United States during his IGNU days was purchased with his own money. Some analysts lend credence to Sawyer’s assertion, while others disagree. 

Sawyer’s critics say he was a weak interim president who dished out state own vehicles as honorarium to former IGNU officials at the dying embers of his administration. Other charges include halting Nigerian General Joshua Dogonyaro’s onslaught on Taylor’s ‘greater Liberia,’ when Gen. Dogonyaro had the upper hand to have finished Charles Ghankay MacArthur Taylor once and for all.

Whatever the case, Amos Claudius Sawyer is in a position to better articulate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s vision in the president’s second term.   

Ralph Geeplay can be reached at akklamm@gmail.com

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