Interview With The New President Of The University Of Liberia
By Josephus Moses Gray
November 9, 2004
In the aftermath of the development at the University, Josephus Moses Gray of The Perspective visited Dr. Conteh at his Mamba Point residence on 11 September for an exclusive interview, which focused on a wide range of issues, especially the University of Liberia. See below the full text of the interview.
UL President: I thank God to be home at this time and to know that our country is recovering after two decades of suffering, deaths and destruction. I am also grateful for the efforts the international community, especially the United Nations, the United States Government, the European Union, and the International Contact Group on Liberia, among others, in ensuring that normalcy is restored fully and to a point where Liberians can once again redeem their dignity and freedom.
The Perspective: You recently co-authored a paper on the Liberian crisis. Can you give us an insight into what it was about?
UL President: The article appeared in an edited book by a Professor Adebayo Adedeji titled: Comprehending and Mastering African Conflicts. Prof. Adedeji is a former Secretary General of the Economic Commission on Africa (ECA). When he retired from the ECA, he set up a think tank near Lagos, Nigeria called ACDESS. And one of the first things he sought to do was to bring African scholars together, under the sponsorship of UNDP, to study the causes and resolution of African conflicts. So we collaborated with scholars from African universities, especially those in states with a recent history of prolonged conflicts, including Sierra Leone, Somalia, Angola, Burundi and Rwanda. Our goal was to understand the root and proximate causes of African conflicts, so as to comprehend and master conflicts. One of our salient findings about the causes of conflicts at the state level in Africa included bad governance. In other words, conflict countries inherited and sustained political systems in which the legitimate needs of majority of their people were unmet. Proffered solutions for transforming said conflicts include rebuilding state and governance institutions based on principles of good governance, equity, and the rule of law, reconciliation and equal access to resources at all levels: community, province, state and region.
The Perspective: While you were away, you might have missed certain things in Liberia. What are those things you missed; can you identify them?
UL President: I just saw my mother today for the first time since 1999. She had been living at her home, Botunwea, Nimba County, before the 2003 round of fighting in the country. Upon seeing me, she started to dance. That brought me tremendous happiness. I have also been missing my extended family. I missed being home, and was happy to see many of my childhood friends. Generally, I am happy to be home, and to see how I can contribute my skills and education to the ongoing efforts in bringing back Liberia’s lost glory. It is a tremendous challenge, although it is a sacrifice that I am making because I have to be away from my wife and children.
The Perspective: Can you tell us about the
process that brought you to the presidency of the
The Perspective: What do you think are the fears of some of the faculty members opposing your appointment?
UL President: Some people are afraid of change, because they’re accustomed to business as usual. As I understand them, their basic position is they prefer the incumbent because he remained “on the ground” despite the fact that I too was here, at the University until I left only in 2000 for sabbatical leave to undertake research at the University of Pennsylvania. This is surprising because I have worked with all these people for years and went to school with some of them, right here, at the university! I have heard that their apprehension is that I will not be amenable to ensuring that their current interests are protected. Since my arrival I’ve reached out to all faculty, staff and students. In the current context, the true mark of leadership is to respect and work with all in the spirit of teamwork and reconciliation. It’s unfortunate that these unjustified fears have been buttressed by a lot of parochialism and malicious propaganda and lies. To remove these unfounded fears and insecurities, I’ve assured all faculty and students and concerned members of the Liberian public that those who I’ve met that [there] will be no witch hunt, despite all the malicious campaign that some have waged against me. Pursuing the mission of the University in a post-conflict era, I’m going to contribute and ensure that the university takes the lead in reconciliation and removing the myths and prejudices that destroyed our nation-state in the recent past.
The Perspective: What is your vision for the University?
UL President: There are issues questions. One is how to make the University relevant to the ongoing transitional process, and how to bridge the gap between the University, which is affected by two decades of civil war and universities in the rest of the world. I would like to see the University as a place of academic excellence that would take the lead in societal regeneration and reconciliation after a fratricidal civil war. In this context, I will work to raise endowment and reconstruction funds to rebuild the University, not only to its pre-war status, but also beyond. We will also endeavor to make the University take the lead in researching and delivering the fruits of Liberia’s current development plan: the “Results-focused Transitional Framework (RFTF). If we can achieve these things, the University will be a place where our youths could adequately prepare to take on the mantle of continuing the reconstruction efforts into the future.
The Perspective: The University is suffering from the lack of qualified and competent staff. Any plan to encourage qualified professors to work at the University?
UL President: We’ve been compiling a database of Liberians and Liberianists for sometime now. Early next year, we will be holding a conference on the reconstruction of the University at the University of Pennsylvania. Scholars in the database, who have expressed interest in serving at the University, will be invited to that conference. And the goal of the conference is to raise $25 million in kind and cash for the University’s reconstruction. We’ve contacted organizations that sponsor scholars to serve in their home countries. For example, both the UNDP and the International Organization for Migration have excellent programs in this regard. I’ve also initiated contacts with two foundations in the USA, the Rockefeller Foundation for assistance to the Medical School and School of Agriculture; and the Ford Foundation, which sponsored the design of the UL library system in 1951, and the Rockefeller Foundation to rebuild our schools of medicine and agriculture. I will also be contacting USAID for assistance for UL. As you are aware, USAID is currently sponsoring many projects at the community level. I will be approaching it and other organizations to set up a Center for Community Partnerships where our students can get credit for working with NGOs and receive credits and future employment. We don’t want to see another war in this country. We will set up Internet and distance education facilities so that professors who do not have the time to come to Liberia can teach through video conferencing.
The Perspective: Anything untouched during this… interview?
UL President: I am just happy to
see you, Mr. Gray. I understand you are doing your
graduate studies at the University. It is a great
opportunity for me to come home and contribute towards
the reconstruction of our country. I’m happy
to be home at this critical time when we are preparing
for the next Republic. Thank you. The Perspective
is doing well for those who resided abroad and within
Liberia. Keep up the great job!