LCA-DC Leadership Crisis and the Destructive Liberian Politics

By Nat Galarea Gbessagee

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

May 31, 2002

I have often told friends and acquaintances that politics is a dirty game that doesn't necessarily have to be criminal. And you know as much as I do that politics is a dirty game because it thrives on manipulations and exaggerations to succeed. Any politician with great skills at manipulating facts and circumstances to suit his whims and caprices is likely to succeed over less cunning and less zealous opponents in any race for political office, be it a race for county commissioner, club president, or national president. But in Liberia, politics has gone from dirty to "muddy" and from sometimes criminal to all-times "suicidal".

And there is much evidence for the suicidal nature of Liberian politics if we begin to reflect on the Samuel David Coleman incident of 1955, the Benjamin Green Freeman nomination of 1951, the 1981 Treason Trial of the Group of Five, the 1989-1997 civil war, and the present political climate in Liberia. But no matter how bad and suicidal Liberian politics has become over the years, many novice and career Liberian politicians are just not willing to forego old habits of trickery and cheatings in favor of fair dealings (a level-playing field), whether the political theater is at home in Liberia or here in the U.S. And this brings us to the leadership crisis that has dogged LCA-DC (Liberian community association in the Washington DC metro area) for a long time.

Back in the early 1990s, it was difficult for those of us who worked at the Liberian Embassy in Washington, DC at time to be wholeheartedly welcomed at community association meetings. Our rights of affiliation with the community association as Liberians were of no consequence, as we were perceived as stooges of the government attempting to infiltrate the community association to glean information on potential enemies of the government. And I have always wondered why a social organization formed to cater to the welfare of Liberians residing in the DC metro area would be concerned with infiltration at all?

Did the association or its leadership have objectives beyond a social or welfare nature? What are the yardsticks for measuring potential infiltrators? Would only the embassy staff qualify as infiltrators, or would any persons who worked for a public agency in Liberia, regardless of the government in power, be qualified as infiltrators? Will persons affiliated with Liberian progressive and political groups such as MOJA, PAL, LINSU, UPP, LAP, UP, LPP, True Whig Party, New Deal, NPP, NDPL, to name a few, qualify as infiltrators as well? Your answers to these questions may be as good as mine, but as a longtime resident of the DC metro area I can tell you that the association has yet to graduate from this kind of approach to new and potential member reception.

And with such attitude, it is no wonder the association has continued to experience one leadership crisis after another. For technically, almost every Liberian in the DC area, and for that matter throughout the U.S., has affiliated at one time or another with the various political and progressive groups of Liberia, and/or worked directly for the Liberian government. Now, which administration of the government of Liberia one works for may not matter much as each administration since independence in 1847 has got a paper trail of unsavory records. So, unless a potential member was convicted of a capital crime or other heinous crimes for which he or she is likely to tint the public image of the association (keep such members in the background), every Liberian resident of the DC metro area should be welcomed to the association with open arms.

Otherwise, the association would continue to deprive itself of quality leadership, and a boost in membership and economic power by former Liberian government officials, Liberian professionals, and scores of ordinary Liberians in the DC metro area who may be put off by the constant infightings, or who may continue to shy away from the association and its activities for fear of being unfairly targeted by some self-righteous persons whose very social and political history leave much to be desired. The association must refrain from prejudging people for their past or present social and political affiliations, and embrace each member or potential member with utmost respect as a way of restoring confidence in community leadership, and promoting peace and understanding among the rank and file membership of the association in order to advance the association’s growth and development. The infightings and class rivalries within the association ought to stop so the association can begin to undertake meaningful programs for the welfare of its members.

For after more than 30 years of existence, LCA-DC has yet to secure a community center. The association has no programs in place to provide resettlement assistance to new Liberian immigrants and students to the DC area, nor have legal and emergency assistance programs to assist members in need. Transparency and accountability are two great issues confronting the administration of the association, and account mostly for the continued rancorous outbursts at association meetings, thereby sidelining discussions of more substantive issues necessary for the growth and development of the association. It is now time to rethink the approach and strategy that have undermined the progress of the association and caused such great divisions and infightings that have nearly reduced the association to a non-entity.

You will recall, however, that a few months ago the leadership crisis within LCA-DC escalated to such high level of verbal assaults and legal ranglings that the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) had to intervene to restore calm. But even before ULAA imposed a solution late May, 2002 by overseeing the election of an interim leadership to supervise new elections for all executive offices of the association, one of the feuding parties had questioned the constitutional authority of ULAA to investigate the LCA-DC dispute, contending that ULAA is a federation of independent Liberian Community Associations (LCA’s) across the U.S. and not the parent body of the LCA’s as the public is led to believe. However, ULAA apparently ignored that argument and appointed a five-member ULAA Eminent Persons Fact-Finding Committee January 2002 to investigate the LCA-DC leadership crisis. And the recent ULAA-initiated election and installation of a five-member interim administration to organize new elections for the LCA-DC point to a resolve by ULAA not to permit one of its key member chapters (LCA-DC) to disintegrate, even though one of the feuding parties is said to be withholding full support to the ULAA initiative.

But what, you may ask, gave rise to the LCA-DC leadership crisis, what steps ULAA took to resolve the crisis, and what are the terms of reference of the ULAA-initiated interim administration? Well, it is now common knowledge that a sitting administration of LCA-DC changed the official name of the association without prior consultation with the association’s national assembly and the rank and file membership. And when the issue surfaced in the aftermath of spirited disagreements during a general assembly meeting over provisions of the draft of a new constitution for the association, a group of aggrieved members re-registered the original name of the association at the courts and anointed themselves the legal community leaders. Hence, two legal community associations vying for the hearts and minds of Liberians residing in the DC metro area.

In the meantime, two political groupings were formed to contest for community leadership under the umbrella of the sitting administration that had changed the association’s name but soon the process was marked by such trickery that one group was declared winner in a staged election that ran afoul of the prescribed electoral guidelines, while the other group ran for shelter to the rival community leadership by forming a political alliance with a third group that was the very mastermind of the newly-registered association with the original name. Intriguing? You bet! And it was in the midst of this fiasco and unending power struggle between the two contesting community associations that ULAA intervened and supervised the election of an interim administration led by Joseph Tehmeh (interview pending) with the mandate to organize fresh community elections by August 3, 2002.

In its final report on the LCA-DC Leadership Crisis, ULAA said after a series of investigations (and mediation efforts by third parties), it found that the sitting LCA-DC administration "deliberately failed to publish qualified voters (registration) list” and that “some candidates and voters (who) were not in good financial standing with the organization (as required by the association's constitution) were allowed to participate in the elections," adding “Because of the unfairness of the electoral rules, such as protests being ignored and etc., many participants pulled out or boycotted the elections.” ULAA also identified “the unauthorized amendments made to a proposed revised constitution” as part of the root causes of the leadership crisis.

"To resolve the Chapter's leadership crisis and ensure fairness and transparency of the electoral process, we recommended that new elections be held for all Executive officers and the Board of Directors of the organization. The facts presented proved that the conduct of recent elections led to protests and boycotts by aspiring candidates and the possible disenfranchisement of potential voters (dues paying LCAWMA members)," ULAA said.

"... ULAA continues to recognize the legality of the chartered membership of the Liberian Community Association of the Washington Metropolitan Area (LCAWMA) under whose leadership ULAA has dealt in the past…. That the entity known and styled as the Liberian Community Association Inc. be dissolved immediately as no two entities with similar laws, same purposes and same members can coexist in the community and within ULAA," the ULAA report said.

The ULAA report dealt with other pertinent issues confronting LCA-DC, but for the purpose of this article, I will now jump to the terms of reference of the interim administration that will organize and supervise elections for community leaders involving the two rival community associations. "We recommended that the General Assembly or those present at the community meeting elect a five-person Transitional Administration to conduct the affairs of the organization until such time new elections are held. The work of this Administration will be supervised and monitored by a 3 person Elections Monitoring Task Force comprising ULAA Board Chairman, the ULAA National President and the Doyen of the National Leadership Council," the report said.

“We recommended that the Transitional Administration be charged with the following responsibilities: A. Conduct new free and fair elections for all Executive officers and members of the Board of Directors of the organization. That any member of the Transitional Administration who is later interested in running for office must resign his post and be replaced prior to the elections. B. Supervise installation of newly elected officers of the organization by not later than August 3, 2002” the ULAA report concluded:

Now, if you are familiar with Liberian politics, you will not be surprised at all by the scenarios documented in the ULAA report. These scenarios are a direct replica of the destructive Liberian national politics and infightings that have dragged the Liberian nation to its present pathetic state. We see in the LCA-DC leadership crisis two groups of people who went to great lengths to manipulate loopholes in the association’s constitution and exploit miscalculations by either side, to buttress their own political standing in the community at the expense of the general membership. Isn’t this the same situation prevailing in Liberia today?

Another example of the LCA-DC leadership crisis which is reminiscent of the destructive national politics in Liberia boils down to the willingness of the opposing parties to implore extra judicial means to accomplish their goals first, and then reconcile later if possible and if necessary. For instance, instead of re-registering the original association after finding out the illegal and secret registration of a new organization by the sitting administration of LCA-DC, the aggrieved parties could have sought the resignation or impeachment of the president under whose leadership such unconstitutional act occurred. Conversely, the president involved in the illegal name change could have summoned a national assembly meeting, then a general meeting, and explain the reasons for the name change and apologize for his mishandling of the matter. In either case, the association would have remained intact and the need for two separate associations or ULAA involvement would have been unnecessary. Look at events before and after the seven-year civil in Liberia and tell me if you did not see the same scenarios playing out as in the LCA-DC case!

But, unlike the Liberian national political scene where the courts have failed to play the role of impartial referees, LCA-DC is lucky enough to have an independent referee in the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA). So, while the ULAA intervention in the LCA-DC leadership crisis has not been fully welcomed by all parties to the conflict, it is inconceivable that the disgruntled party will risk public rebuke by attempting to undermine the ULAA peace initiative to continue the dispute. And, whether or not the ULAA initiative succeeds will largely depend first on the effectiveness of the Transitional Administration in building bridges and setting up the necessary mechanisms for free and fair elections; and second, on the willingness of Liberians in the DC metro area to build a new kind of association that will blossom and meet their emergency needs at the same time.

As for the political climate in Liberia, uncertainty still rules the day. But it may be that the ULAA intervention in the LCA-DC leadership crisis could be just the spark that enlightens our politicians to begin to put national interest above their selfish interests and reconcile their differences for the good of the country and its people. The ULAA intervention could also provide an impetus for strong Liberian judicial and international organs with the requisite clouts to referee the feuding Liberian politicians and set the nation back on course!

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