“A Covenant Betrayed: Partisanship within ULAA and its Chapters,” is a 5-part series in response to some of the questions posed by one of Liberia’s literary scholars, Professor K-Moses Nagbe about the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), Inc. The title of the book is: My Compatriot Your Compatriot: Surveying Forces and Voices That Inspired the Union of Liberian Association in the Americas. Some of the questions asked are provided below:
1. How did you come to take interest in ULAA?
2. When did ULAA come about?
3. Why did it come about?
4. What was its original vision and mission?
5. Have such vision and mission changed or remained unchanged?
6. If unchanged, to what extent have the vision and mission remained unchanged?
7. If the vision and mission have changed, (a) When did the change occur? (b) Why did the change occur?
8. What has been the impact of the change?
9. How will this change affect the future of ULAA? (pp. 107-108}
Secondly, Professor Nagbe is the first person to take the time and interest to write a book about ULAA in its thirty-six years of existence (36 years at the time the book was written). In addition, he wrote:
Indeed, story after story of ULAA of old has told of more camaraderie, more civil discussion, if not more camaraderie, than the pervasive present day, sordid language sprawling on the Internet. Why? In the early days, reasons for ingrained hatred seemed few. The number of Liberians abroad was small. As well, those Liberians’ goals were few–e.g. to get an education and return to serve the country of origin. Today, after the military coup and after the civil war, the situation has changed. Many more Liberians have entered America with multiple goals, and while some of those goals are decent and promotive of Liberia, many of them are far more sordid (a) to scrape money from whatever source in whatever way and live large at the expense of other Liberians; (b) to careless about what goes on in Liberia as long as America continues to sustain the culture of work, buy, drink/eat and sleep; (c) to don the most flashy of dress forms and spread grinning photos on many Internet sites and thereby strengthen the mythology of Paradise America; (d) to perpetuate the generational thinking that uses someone travels to and lives in developed countries, America being at the top of the list for Liberians, such a person should never count or believe he/she has accomplished anything valuable; (e) to indulge in impressionism by traveling back and forth to Liberia, boasting of accomplishments in America without any concrete work and credentials to show.
It is the foregoing context that has helped define and aggravate the turbulent times in which ULAA operates today. (p. 50)
“A Covenant Betrayed: Partisanship within ULAA and its Chapters,” is written to show how present day ULAA has violated CHAPTER IV – Article 26 of its Constitution. This Article deals with Membership of the Union. It reads:
Member-organization status of the Union shall not be extended or open to groups categorized as Liberian political parties as some of their activities may be in violation of Liberian Elections Law such as operating outside of Liberia.
In addition, Article 25 extended Membership status to Liberian county associations that the founders debated and excluded; the reasons I will explain later in this article including other troubling issues that I considered betrayal and “partisanship” within our once advocacy Union.
This article cannot address the issues at hand in only one part; therefore, it will be divided into five parts. Part I will attempt to answer the first four questions posed by Professor Nagbe; Parts II and III will address how ULAA has moved away from its original covenant, and Parts IV and V will conclude the series by pointing out some of the consequences the so-called “Restructuring” has caused, and recommend how ULAA will regain its relevance once more.
In order to fully comprehend what has happened and continues to happen to ULAA, the reader will have to read the entire series. Furthermore, I encourage you to purchase a copy of Professor K-Moses Nagbe’s book: My Compatriot Your Compatriot: Surveying Forces and Voices That Inspired the Union of Liberian Association in the Americas. It can be obtained from the Pentina Publishers, Inc. or contact: email@example.com.
At this juncture, let me answer the following questions: How did you (meaning, ULAA of yesterday) come to take interest in ULAA? When did ULAA come about? Why did it come about? What was its original vision and mission? Let me begin with the history.
According to an historian, “The people and only the people alone are the motive (force) in the making of history.” The Liberian people, be it at home or abroad, were not exempt from this historical process. For several decades, a small ruling class comprised of Liberians from various ethnic groups, repressed, suppressed, and exploited their fellow countrymen and women. Those who dared to oppose the ruling class were imprisoned, harassed, and killed. Similarly, the ruling class closed all of the doors leading to the chambers of peaceful constitutional change.
Such infringements on peaceful and constitutional change in most developing countries and the African Diaspora, particularly in the United States gave birth to the Black Consciousness revolution in the 1960s. During this period, African Americans looked for answers to their continuing oppression and exclusion from America society. Encouraged by several favorable Supreme Court decisions on education and segregation in the 1950s, African Americans were prompted to demand for their civil and human rights. Due to the slow pace of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, many African Americans took an alternate approach to liberation; notables, such as Malcolm X a.k.a. El-Haji Malik El-Shabazz Omowale (1925–1965) became impatient. Spurred on by a sense of urgency and a new militancy, many young African Americans took to the streets across the United States. Places like Watts, Harlem and Detroit became areas of popular rebellions. This new militancy became known as “Black Power.” The Black Power Movement rejected the old term “Negro,” which was equated with being passive and subservient, and instead called themselves Blacks and African-Americans.
The Black Power Movement influenced other movements in the Black World, specifically, South Africa. Steve Bantu Biko (1946–1977), a Black South African militant, used this ideology to “conscientize” his people about apartheid. Biko and members of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) focused their activities on reviving self-dignity and confidence among Black South Africans, who had been victimized by racist apartheid policies.
TOTAL INVOLVEMENT ERA
The wind of change that was sweeping the rest of the globe slowly made it into Liberia immediately after the death of President William V.S. Tubman in 1971. This period, 1971-1980, became known as the “Total Involvement Era.” Some commentators argued Tolbert’s liberal policies, in contrast to his predecessor were due to the fact that he wanted to distance himself from the policies of the Tubman Administration under which he served as Vice President for 19 years. Others argued that Tolbert had no other choice but to deviate from the old conservative True Whig Party policies because the actors on the scene were different compared to their parents. Moreover, the historical period in which Tolbert found himself demanded a different approach. For example, these new actors were the “baby boomers.” They were not prepared to accept the same treatment that their parents and grandparents tolerated. Secondly, they were better exposed, had studied abroad, were idealistic, and had higher goals in life. Thus, they were not going to accept things as usual and things that did not include their full participation. These were the realities with which Tolbert was faced.
These new expectations and realities led to the formation of organizations like the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), SUSU KUU, the Student Unification Party (SUP), the Liberian Market Women Association, the “progressive” labor organization, the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) and various other organizations. Also, in the United States, Liberian students formed a Task Force of Liberian Students Association (1972), that later became the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas and Canada (1974).
During this period, another organization in the U.S. that played significant role in the struggle was AWINA National Association in the Americas (AWINA), a Klao (Kru) organization. AWINA was the first to lead a mass demonstration against the Liberian government in Washington, D.C. (1974). This move started the tradition of protest; presentation of resolutions to the Liberian government through its embassy in Washington, D.C. and the Liberian Consulate in New York. On numerous occasions, the local community leadership would engage in peaceful dialogue with Liberian authorities visiting the U.S.
Realizing the seriousness of the Liberian people’s plight, the leadership of ULAA took the advice of the Spanish-American philosopher, George Santayana (December 16, 1863 – September 26, 1952, which reads, “He who cannot remember the past will be condemned to repeat it.” In addition, the activities of the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power and Black Consciousness Movements were the engines that propelled the Liberian people’s struggle. These activities influenced and motivated Liberians in the Diaspora to respond to the urgent needs of the Liberian people at home. This clarion call brought together Liberian students in the U.S. and Canada to form an organization, which had as its goal to influence the decisions in our beloved country. The group thought it necessary to challenge the authorities to face the changing realities, and to encourage them to promote freedom of speech, civil and human rights of every Liberian, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, political orientation and station in life.
These meetings produced the Liberian Students Association (LSA) in the United States. From this endeavor, the leadership of LSA appointed a Task Force to study and develop the principal and objectives for association. On April 21, 1974, the Task Force submitted its final report and recommendations at a conference held at Drexel University’s Hopkinson Hall, 34th and Chestnut Streets. It was at this conference, the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas and Canada (ULAA) was born. The organizations represented at this conference were: the Liberian Students Association of New York – consisting of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut; the Liberian Students Association of Pennsylvania – including Delaware, and the Liberian Students Association of Metropolitan Washington, D. C. – including Maryland and Virginia.
Cognizant of the conditions Liberian people at home were faced with, ULAA agitated along with Liberian based organizations, especially, the University of Liberia Student Union (LINSU). Supported by other local organizations at home, both ULAA and LINSU pressured the Liberian authorities to make fundamental changes in the Liberian social, political and economic system. But the Liberian authorities misread the handwriting on the wall. Instead of instituting genuine changes in the Liberian society, they decided to make only cosmetic changes and concentrated their efforts in co-opting some members and leaders of the various progressive movements. The government was able to succeed in co-opting few individuals. But the vast majority remained dedicated to the struggle. As the result, on April 21, 1974, a Task Force that had been empowered submitted in the form of a Declaration the Principle and objectives, which also is known as The VISION of the organization known today as the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA). The Declaration included the organizational structures. The Declaration reads:
We, the citizens and descendents of the Republic of Liberia, residing in the Americas, cognizant of the need to promote unity amongst us, provide for our common good, and advocate for political, social, and economic development in our country, do hereby ordain and establish this Constitution for the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas, our umbrella organization.
The Principle and objectives shall be:
a) To establish a system of meaningful communication among all Liberians;
b) To stimulate and encourage exemplary scholarship among Liberians at home and abroad;
c) To create a framework for the consideration of problems related to the welfare of Liberian people at home and the articulation of responsible collective viewpoints among Liberians abroad, and
d) To Provide and/or coordinate various services to Liberians and their local organizations abroad.
Whereas the July 4-5, 1975 Constitution from which ALL other ULAA Constitutions were derived, Preamble reads:
In recognition of the repeated manifest need
TO ESTABLISH a system of meaningful communication among Liberians in the Americas through unification and integration;
TO STIMULATE and encourage scholarly endeavors among Liberians in both the Americas and Liberia;
TO CREATE a frame work for the intelligent examination and discussion of issues relating to the welfare of our people as well as the presentation of responsible collective views and opinions;
TO PARTICIPATE actively in Pan-African and related movements aimed at promoting the welfare of Africa and its peoples; and
TO PROVIDE and/or coordinate services to Liberians and their local organizations in the Americas as may be determined by a common organization,
WE the Liberians organizations and citizens from the Republic of Liberia temporarily resident in the Americas have organized into an overall, common organization in pursuit of these objectives and the other benefits traditionally derived from unity and solidarity, and hereby ordain the present Constitution:
ARTICLE IV– INSTITUTIONS OF THE UNION
Section 1: The principal institutions of the central apparatus of the Union shall be: (a) General Conference of the Union, (b) Council of the Union (later became the Board of Directors), (c) Executive Establishment–consisting of President of the Union, Executive President, Administrative Vice President, Regional Vice Presidents, Executive Secretary, Treasures, and other appointive officials, (d) Judicial Commission, and (e) Caucus of Presidents.
Section 2: GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE UNION. The General Conference of the Union shall be a forum for communication and dialogue among all members and between them and their organizational leaders. It may take up any matter involving or relating to the external as well as internal interest of the Union for review and discussion or debate, and issue policy guidelines or recommendations to any of the other principal institutions of the Union through resolutions.
a) The General Conference shall be composed of all members of the Union who are willing and able to attend the meeting, irrespective of local organization affiliation (b, c, and d are contained in the constitution).
Section 3: COUNCIL OF THE UNION (Now Board of Directors). The Council of the Union shall be vested with the legislative power in all matters within the purview of the Union.
a) The Council shall be composed of one or more through not exceeding five representative of each of the local Liberian organizations recognized and admitted as constituent Chapter of the Union (b, c, d, e, f, g, h and i are contained in the constitution).
Section 4: PRESIDENT OF THE UNION. The President of the Union shall be vested with the supreme executive power in all matters within the purview of the Union as well as be regarded as head of the entire organizational system.
a) The President shall have the power to supervise, coordinate and direct the activities of the other executive and administrative officers of the Union; and, in so doing, may require oral or periodic written reports on the responsibilities entrusted to them Union (b, c, d, e, f, g, h, j, k, l and m are contained in the constitution).
Section 12: JUDICIAL COMMISSION OF THE UNION. There shall be a Judicial Commission of the Union in which shall be vested the Judicial powers under the constitution.
a) The Judicial Commission shall be composed of one Presiding Commissioner and four Commissioners, who shall be appointed by the President of the Union, with the advice and consent of the Council of the Union. Each commissioner shall have an indefinite tenure of office during good behavior; but may be removed by impeachment and conviction by two-thirds majority vote of the Council of the Union for reasons incompetence, negligence of duties, bribery, and other irregularities (b, c, d, e, and f) are contained in the constitution).
Section 13: CAUCUS OF PRESIDENTS. The Caucus of the Presidents shall be composed of the Presidents of all constituent Chapters and the President of the Union who shall be the presiding officer. Observer privileges on the Caucus shall be accorded to all the Vice Presidents of the Union and the Chapters.
a) The Caucus of Presidents shall function as a mechanism and forum for: (1) consultation and advice in the conduct of Union business; (2) the exchange of information of solutions to similar problems; and (3) the harmonization of policy among the Chapters as well as between the Chapters and the Union as a whole (b is contained in the constitution, etc.).
Electronic copy of the July 4-5, 1975 Constitution can be obtained from me upon request.
“Together We Struggle For A Better Liberia”
The logo of the Union has the following symbols:
The RISING SUN – represents the dawn of a new day; it also indicates a new beginning for new ideas and progress
The THREE HUTS – depict our African Heritage/Culture. They also represent the coming together of the Settlers, Indigenous and later, the Emigrants with the focus on Community and Unity
The PALM TREES – represent Diversity and Wealth
The TWO CUTLASSES – signified Bravery and Strength in defense of our Country and Beliefs
The letters ULAA – is the acronym for the UNION OF LIBERIAN ASSOCIATIONS IN THE AMERICAS
ULAA AND THE PRC ERA
Starting from April 14, 1980, ULAA was faced with a new reality. The People’s Redemption Council (PRC) led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe overthrew the True Whig Party (TWP) government. With this change came a new set of realities and problems. For the first time in the history of the organization, there was a serious disagreement among its leaders and members regarding how to approach or deal with the PRC government. The disagreement was based on ethnicity. The majority of those who advocated for the “Laissez-faire Approach” (give them, meaning the PRC a chance) were of indigenous background. This group interpreted the change that took place in Liberia to mean that the “Country People” had finally come to power; therefore, they should be given a chance since they were new at it. This approach ruined the credibility of the organization to a certain extent. Rightly so, critics of ULAA accused the organization of being tribalistic in its approach in addressing national issues (at the time).
The progressive element on the other hand (consisting both of mixed backgrounds, indigenous as well as Settlers); viewed injustice as injustice, no matter who committed it; an approach that served as the catalyst of ULAA’s principle and objectives. Therefore, the progressive element felt that the same rules should be applied in addressing the present contradictions of the PRC regime. They could not understand why the PRC should be an exception. To make matters worse, former officials of ULAA who had taken up assignments as advisors, ministers and junior ministers in the government began to engage in practices that they spoke and demonstrated against when they were in the United States.
The laissez-faire approach adopted by the members and leadership of ULAA in the U.S. coupled with the behavior of its former members in Liberia led to the formation of various “self-help” organizations. These organizations included county, alumni, and humanitarian, civil and social organizations. For the first time in the history of the organization ULAA had to compete with these organizations for membership as well as leadership. However, the limited agenda and the pool from which these organizations recruited prevented them from having broad appeal and lack of broad appeal enabled ULAA to survive throughout the Doe and Taylor presidencies.
VISION: PAST AND PRESENT
No Liberian or any Liberian organization can afford the luxury of being a passive onlooker on existing problems in Liberia. Given ULAA’s longstanding role as one of the major players who helped shape political developments in Liberia for the last two and half decades, ULAA was expected to provide sound leadership in helping to influence the NPP government to promote genuine democracy, civil and human rights in the country. ULAA’s policy of “Positive Neutralism” in the political activities in Liberia puts her in the position of pointing the political way forward to engage the government to treat the Liberian people with respect and dignity.
It was a known fact that during the periods under discussion, there was no other organization in the U.S. with such broad-based and inclusive appeal, in which Liberians could relate and feel an integral part of, than the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas. Today, that appeal is lacking. There is the need for the existence of such an organization. However, if ULAA is to play that role, it must remain:
2. Address national issues like it did prior to 1980 — based on objectivity
3. The membership’s desire for unity must be greater than their differences of opinion and,
4. Moreover, the leadership must have the courage and strength to speak truth to power, no matter the consequence
It was based on these salient points that ULAA entered into the original covenant with the Liberian people at home, with the purpose of serving as their voice abroad. In this covenant, ULAA promised the Liberian people that whenever the opportunity was made available to any of them who espoused these views, they would promote and safeguard the Liberian people’s rights to free speech, choice, press, civil and human rights.
In life, one should never advocate for something he/she is not willing to live up to. And as fate would have it, some individuals from ULAA’s rank that worked in the Doe and Taylor administrations, betrayed ULAA’s original covenant. After those many years of advocating for genuine change to come to our people, many of our former compatriots failed, but that did not stop those of us who remained true to the April 21, 1974 Covenant that reads:
To create a framework for the intelligent examination and discussion of issues, relating to the welfare of our people as well as the presentation of responsible collective views and opinions.
These words are still our bond today! The majority of ULAA’s leadership in the past adhered to these basic principles and objectives. They refused to compromise because they felt it were these brilliant and noble ideas that enabled the organization to make a crystal clear distinction as to how to address the effects government policies had on the Liberia people. This tradition was upheld during the Tolbert, Doe, Sawyer, Kpormakpor, Sankanwulo and Perry administrations and the organization did not change.
It has been ULAA’s unequivocal constitutional obligation to inform the public about its government and how the Liberian people should expect it to function. The Liberian Constitution makes it clear that by no means should their rights be limited. And ULAA of yesteryear held the government responsible for violating any of the Liberian people’s rights.
However, in this new millennium, ULAA lost its GROOVE. Our institution’s viability is at stake! If it is to regain its leadership role in the Diaspora, it will have to shake off the excess baggage and become the dynamic organization, which was rooted in the people once again. ULAA must place national interests first and individual interests last. ULAA has no choice but to return to the vision lay down by the Founding fathers and mothers when they met in Philadelphia in 1974 to organize what would become one of Liberia’s oldest civic and democratic organizations in its contemporary history. This is the ONLY way forward!
Stay tuned for Part II! Part II will attempt to answer the following questions: Have such vision and mission changed or remained unchanged? If unchanged, to what extent have the vision and mission remained unchanged? If the vision and mission have changed, (a) When did the change occur? (b) Why did the change occur?
About the Author: Mr. Siahyonkron Nyanseor is a poet, journalist, cultural and political activist. He is a retired Mental Health/Developmental Disability Specialist and a recently ordained Minister of the Gospel. He is a founding member of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), Inc. as well as the organization’s eleventh President and its historian. He is a founding member of ULAA’s Eminent Persons, and its current Secretary/Vice Chair. Also, Mr. Nyanseor is co-founder and treasurer of the Liberian History, Education, and Development (LIHEDE), Inc., an organization dedicated to promoting indigenous Liberian history and the advancement of human and civil rights of Liberians. He has thirty-one years of professional experience in the public and private sector providing administrative/management services in the areas of healthcare, human service delivery, and staff development.
Mr. Nyanseor is publisher of both ThePerspective.org, and ThePanAfricanAgenda.org Internet web magazines. His research and writing interests fall largely within Africa, with particular emphasis in the history, economics, politics, sociology, ethics, and theology of people of African-origin living in Africa and its Diaspora. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.