The State of the Union Address
(By Mydea Reeves-Karpeh, National President, ULAA: 1999 - 2002)
August 30, 2002
Editor's note: The Union of Liberian Association in the Americas (ULAA), Inc. held its 28th Annual General Conference in Columbus, Ohio, from August 9 - 10, 2002 during which the National President of the organization, Mrs. Mydea Reeves-Karpeh delivered her State of the Union Address. Below is the full text of her address:
Her Excellency Ruth Sando-Perry, Former Liberian Head of State
Our Keynote Speaker, Mr. Siahyonkron J. K. Nyanseor
Representatives of the Ohio Governor and the City of Columbus
Former ULAA Presidents and Chairmen of the Board
Members of the ULAA Board of Directors and National Leadership Council
Delegations of ULAA Member-Organizations
Officers & Members of the Federation of Liberian Associations in Ohio
Friends of Liberia
Ladies and Gentlemen
Our Message of Hope:
Martin Luther King once remarked, “Now as we face the fact of this new emerging world, we must face the responsibilities that come along with it. A new age brings with it new challenges. We are challenged to rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Clearly, the social and political issues of our day cry out for new thinking and practical action. We need to retain our virtue and vigilance. We also need to reflect deeply on our priorities and have a collective vision. As we veer into the future I am alarmed, yet I pray that we can find new paradigms to deal with our national and organizational problems. On this day and beyond, we must resolve to look forward to a vibrant ULAA, and a democratic and developed Liberia. This is essentially our individual and collective challenge and moral responsibility.
Our Campaign to Lead the Union:
On August 22, 1999, in this same City of Columbus, we were elected to serve as the National President of this Union. We thought that this was a glorious opportunity to serve our fellow Liberians by initiating programs to help improve the quality of life for Liberians here, as well as undertake actions to foster democracy and development at home. I had previously served on the ULAA Interim Administrative Council, which laid out strategies for the Restructuring of ULAA. I had great plans to see how we could make this Union an inclusive organization, and how we could advance the mission and activities of ULAA. I thought this was a new day in ULAA and, that with my skills as a public administrator, I would be able to put into place systems and procedures that would improve how our internal and external business was conducted. I had big dreams and I brought to the table the requisite professional skills and leadership experiences to transform this organization, having previously provided leadership in several Liberian regional, alumni, social, church and other special interest organizations.
Unfortunately, my two years in office were characterized by paralysis, frustration and shattered dreams. The constant and unnecessary interventions of the Board of Directors undermined the basic principles of organizational efficiency and leadership professionalism. Nonetheless, our Administration seemed poised to accomplish much, but our transition to national leadership, our call to Liberians for national duty, and our plan of action became an uphill battle against an aggressive and intransigent board of directors chaired by Augustus E. Majors. Fortunately, since December 2001, a new Board Chairman, Ranney B. Jackson, assumed the leadership. I am pleased to inform you that there has been a stark improvement in the relationship between the Administration and Board of Directors.
The Finances Of The Union:
Today, you will receive reports on Union finances and benefit from the questions and answers on Union finances. The National Treasurer, Morris A. Momo, will present the reports and lead discussions on this matter. May I say that Union finances are intact, recorded, and transparent. The Union is in a far better financial shape than ever before.
Our Path To Progress:
In spite of the aforementioned challenges, we made modest strides to accomplish many things in the interest of the Union: Our administration conducted positive public awareness initiatives to enhance the image and role of ULAA; brought in resourceful persons from diverse backgrounds, irrespective of gender, class and ethnic background, to work in our administration; held a National Conference on Liberia’s Past, Present and Future at Baltimore, Maryland in April 2000; held a National Conference on Democracy in Liberia at Newark, New Jersey in April 2001; held a National Rally for Democracy at the United Nations headquarters in New York in April 2001; Co-sponsored the Liberian National Conference on Democracy and Elections at the University of the District of Colombia in June 2002; brought into effect the National Leadership Council; formulated the National Presidential Advisory Council, comprising of former Presidents and Chairmen of the Board, who provided insights and counsel on how best to conduct the affairs of our diverse Union; held a National Immigration Strategy Conference at Philadelphia in November 1999; Co-sponsored a National Immigration Leadership Resources Conference at Providence in February 2001; Opened a ULAA mailing office in Washington DC; and prepared ULAA promotional items such as brochure, pins, and clocks. In addition, developed a ULAA Newsletter (in production) and ULAA website (under construction); secured humanitarian and educational supplies for shipment to Liberia; planned a fact-finding mission to Liberia; and planned a Liberian Higher Education Scholarship Program (scholarships). In addition, we tried to be accessible to our constituents by being their servants and reaching out to everyone across the length and breadth of these United States. More importantly, new women leaders emerged on the scene to serve as strong pillars for our communities, organizations, and institutions.
Our Mission to Expand the Union Membership:
Our first initiative was to attempt to visit, revitalize and re-link former member-organizations of the Union as active members of the organization. We succeeded in receiving a commitment from the Liberian Community Association of Minnesota, but board action to halt new membership prevented Minnesota from re-joining us today. The other former chapters of the Union remain disengaged with the Union or no longer in existence. They are as follows: Liberian Community Association Tennessee; Liberian Community Association of Connecticut; Liberian Community Association of Syracuse NY; Liberian Community Association of Oklahoma City; Liberian Community Association of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Liberian Community Association of Illinois; Liberian Community Association of North Carolina- Charlotte; and the Liberian Community Association of Delaware Valley.
Our second initiative was to interest Liberian regional, county, ethnic, alumni, and community based organizations. We reached out to groups such as: United Nimba Citizenship Council, United Bassa Organization, National Krao Association, Grand Gedeh Association, United Bong County Association, BWI Alumni Association, Conference of Liberian Organizations in Southwestern United States (COLOSSUS), Liberian Community Association of Wisconsin, Liberian Association of Kansas/Missouri, and the Liberian Community Association of Dallas/Fort Worth.
Relations with the Liberian Government:
Our administration followed the 1999 decision of this General Assembly to engage the Liberian government in a national dialogue to promote peace and prosperity in Liberia. We reported to you at the 2000 Annual Conference that the Liberian government was not serious about talks aimed at improving the lot of Liberians by tackling the issues of our times. This General Assembly then proceeded to abrogate the Constructive Engagement Policy in August 2000 at Atlanta, Georgia. I am pleased to report, that as a result of the General Assembly’s mandate to carry out a democracy and human rights agenda, the Government is being pushed to the point of either resolving our national crisis truthfully and faithfully or that government to be immediately removed by constitutional means. With your support, my administration survived the constant onslaught of the board to reinstitute a failed constructive engagement policy.
Relations with the People of Liberia:
We developed strong bonds of cooperation with all sectors of Liberian civil society, which includes Liberian political parties, faith-based groups, human rights and democracy groups, and professional associations. Note is taken of the special interactions with the Liberian Women Initiative, Movement for Democracy and Elections in Liberia, and the Center for Human Rights and Law, among others. Beyond institutional relationships, ordinary citizens here, at home, and in refugee camps also exchanged substantive views with the Union on pressing national issues.
Relations with the International Community:
Our administration expanded the horizons of Union relations with the International Community. We had meetings, briefings, and consultations with the Government of the United States of America, the Secretariat and specialized agencies of the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). We further engaged and strengthened our working relations with international non-governmental organizations and multilateral institutions. These included, among others, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Crisis Group, Carter Center, International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and Friends of Liberia.
Relations with Member-Organizations of the Union:
We expanded our membership of the Union, with the addition of the Liberian Community Association of Greater Pittsburg (Pennsylvania). In addition, we helped resolved conflicts to keep Union chapters alive and well in South Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Today, we have a 14-member organizations of the Union: Federation of Liberian Associations in Ohio, Liberian Association of Maryland, Liberian Community Association of the Bronx & Westchester-New York, Liberian Community Association of Greater Pittsburgh-Pennsylvania, Liberian Community Association of Massachusetts, Liberian Community Association of Metropolitan Atlanta-Georgia, Liberian Community Association of New York County, Liberian Community Association of North Jersey-New Jersey, Liberian Community Association of Pennsylvania, Liberian Community Association of Southern New Jersey and the Delaware Valley Area, Liberian Community Association of Rhode Island, Liberian Community Association of Staten Island-New York, Liberian Community Association of Washington Metropolitan Area-District of Columbia, and the Liberians of the Piedmont-North Carolina.
Relations with the National Leadership Council:
Pursuant to Chapter VII, Articles 49 53, my Administration is pleased to report that it brought in force or action, the provisions creating the ULAA National Leadership Council (NLC). The Council comprises of national elected administrative officers and duly elected heads of all member-organizations, who are commonly referred to as Chapter presidents. The Council assists the Union, and particularly the National Administration, in the formulation, planning, design and implementation of all Union projects, programs, activities, and services. It coordinates the fulfillment of the Union’s mission goals within the member-organizations of the Union.
Its current leadership includes your humble servant as Chairman, the Honorable Emmanuel S. Wettee, Secretary General of the Federation of Liberian Associations in Ohio (FOLAO) as Doyen, and the Honorable Roberta Davies-Rashid, President of the Liberian Community Association of Greater Pittsburgh as Secretary.
Relations with the National Board of Directors:
The Constitution of ULAA designates the National Board of Directors as the second highest governing body of the Union, which shall function as the legislative arm of the Union. Our board comprises of two elected representatives of each registered and chartered member-organization of the Union. To date, 28 members sit on the board representing the current active 14 member-organizations of the Union.
When the Constitution of the Union was drafted in September 1996 in Newark, New Jersey, I was one of the seven members of the ULAA Interim Administrative Council, which included the author of our Constitution, former president Toe Blamo Gbi. When the draft Constitution was presented by Interim President Edward McCauley to the board of directors in October 1996 at Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I was present when the ULAA board of directors reviewed the draft Constitution in 1997 at Atlanta, Georgia. I was also present as a technical resource person to the Board when the draft Constitution was ratified by member-organizations of the Union on July 4, 1997 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Although I did not draft the Constitution or cast a vote for its passage, I informally contributed my thoughts and listen to all the arguments and counter-arguments on a myriad of articles and sections in the Constitution during the deliberative process at the level of board meetings and the annual conference. A prevailing and overwhelming thought was to ensure that a strong board of directors would emerge out of the process, which would have adequate legislative and administrative oversight powers, be comprised of competent and resourceful persons, and be a care-taker of the Union’s image, growth, and development.
In addition, I was the Interim Administrative Council’s principal member assigned to formulating and drafting the ULAA Restructuring Plan, which was adopted in July1996 at Newark, New Jersey and upon which basis the current ULAA Constitution was drafted and ratified. What is relevant here is that by 1995, the Union had hit its lowest ebb, both in membership and morale. In formulating a plan of action to revitalize and create an inclusive and vibrant umbrella organization for all Liberians and their organizations, representatives of Liberian organizations met at a National Consultative Meeting to review the ULAA Restructuring Plan, a forum I chaired in Detroit, Michigan in August 1996. That body recommended an evolutionary process in the making of a new ULAA constitution that would allow new member-organizations to help shape the laws of a new ULAA. From this consultative process, the powers and authority of the board of directors was strengthened such that representatives of new member-organizations would have a major say in making laws, rules and regulations that would cover every aspect of operating our Union and thereof form part of a body of laws that would effectively and efficiently govern the Union.
It was precisely against this background, that the author of our Constitution made provisions throughout the Constitution for the board of directors to enact any and all such laws. It is unfortunate and very regrettable that since our Constitution came to force in July1997, the ULAA National Board of Directors has failed to enact many of such laws During the nearly 5-year regime of Board Chairman Majors, July 1997 to December 2002, the board enacted only one set of laws: It determined its own rules and regulations for the proper conduct of the business of the board, including rules for the election of its own officers, as required by Article 47. Under the current 7-month chairmanship of Ranney Jackson, I am pleased to report that the board finally determined the numerical strength of accredited delegations at the annual conference and ratified the National Elections Law, which was drafted by the current Elections Commission my Administration nominated and the board confirmed on January19, 2002. Over the course of my two and half years tenure, the board of directors, particularly through its former chairman Majors, has inhibited my performance as chief executive officer and spokesperson of the Union, which are constitutional functions assigned to the presidency of the Union. Permit me to cite a few instances:
1. A few board members constantly defame my name and character on frivolous mismanagement charges, without any proven evidence or judgment of wrongdoing. Not a single independently investigated report is available anywhere to substantiate the many politically-motivated insinuations and character assassinations by a few vocal board members bent on the path of personal destruction to tarnish my name, service and association for their own selfish political aggrandizement. I trust that the Law will take its course theses against assassins of good characters acting in the name of our board.
2. A few board members, in cohort with former chairman Augustus Majors, attempted on numerous occasions to force my resignation, demand my resignation, bring impeachment proceedings against me, and carried out an unlawful ouster of my administration in September 2001. These political maneuverings, carried on outside the laws of the Union, failed to materialize simply because of the will and pleasure of our member-organizations, ably represented by their presidents sitting on the ULAA National Leadership Council. These unlawful acts of the board were done without the vote, advice, or consent of board members representing our various chapters.
3. A few board members have been heavily involved in a massive political propaganda to undermine my presidency and tarnish the image of the Union in a desperate effort to create conditions for the election of national officers of their own choosing who will carry out their narrow political agenda. You know them when you see them or you can witness their constant political posturing on the Internet, where internal matters of the Union do not belong.
4. The board must reverse its quest for total control of the Union, stop seeing problems where none exists, stop magnifying problems that require only clarifications from those handling such matters, and stop attempting to micro-manage the organization rather than set policy.
5. The board must understand that its legal obligation is to ensure that the organization is managed well, not for it to manage the organization. A case in point is the failure of the board to approve annual budgets, while it wants to dictate budget line item spending appropriations. Many times, the board insisted on choosing vending services for programs, which we out rightly rejected.
6. The board, under the leadership of Chairman Majors, held hostage important nominations for chairmanship of national commissions required for the efficient operation of the Union, such as the National Immigration Commission and the National Democracy Commission. This president ensured that the work of the people continue by and through the executive exercise of recess appointments.
7. The board has waged an intensive warfare to control, manage and carry out the policy of the Union on national affairs, and relations with the Government of Liberia. The board has insisted on either writing or editing statements on Liberia issued by the Administration; or deciding and arranging meetings with Liberian government officials; going out on their own to meet with government officials; making statements on the Union’s behalf and holding meetings with Liberian government officials whenever they travel to Monrovia on private visits; and the list goes on and on. This administration has consistently ignored board desires to represent the Union in national matters, as well as disassociated the Union from the private and unofficial pronouncements of board members on Liberian issues. This happens to be a key reason for the constant attacks upon my presidency, as I have consistently resisted carrying out a board approved ill-conceived policy of Constructive Engagement with the Liberian government after the National Assembly resolved to have the Union abrogate such policy as a result of the Taylor regime’s failure to respect human rights, adhere to rule of law, and improve quality of life for Liberians.
Our Main Recommendations to the National Assembly on Internal Matters of the Union are as follows:
1. Amendment of the Constitution of the Union by the National General Assembly.
2. Enactment or Adoption of the By-Laws of the Union by the National General Assembly.
3. Enactment or Adoption of the Code of Conduct, Ethics and Grievance of the Union by the National General Assembly.
4. Enactment or Adoption of the Financial Management System of the Union by the National General Assembly.
5. Establishment of the Liberian National Democracy Fund by the National Administration, as a semi-autonomous institution of the Union.
6. Establishment of the Liberian Health, Education and Welfare Initiative by the National Administration, as a semi-autonomous institution of the Union.
The Struggle for a Democratic and Developed Liberia:
Our administration helped advanced the cause of our Liberian people with appearances before the international community, including the U.S. Congress, at the Abuja Reconciliation Conference, and through public statements and other written and verbal pronouncements forwarded to our Liberian people everywhere, to the international media, and other international and national avenues of opinions and action.
Our Main Recommendations to the General Assembly on National Affairs are as follows:
1. That ULAA reiterates its unwavering support for the United Nations Arms Embargo against Liberia, and to have Liberia declared an arms free zone by the international community;
2. That ULAA restates its unconditional support for the continued imposition and strict enforcement of the United Nations sanctions against Liberia for the export and sale of diamonds, as well as appeal to the international community for sanctions on Liberian timbers;
3. That ULAA reemphasizes its urgent plea to the international community, particularly the United Nations and its specialized agencies, to increase its humanitarian and relief assistance to Liberians internally displaced and in refugee camps through Liberian and international non-governmental organizations;
4. That ULAA engages the Liberian Government and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) towards serious negotiations aimed at immediate cease-fire between warring forces, a negotiated political settlement of all disputes and conditionalities, disarming and demobilization of fighting forces, and the acceptance of an international security stabilization force (ISSF) to secure and maintain genuine peace and verifiable security blanket throughout the country. The ISSF’s mission shall be to end the current war in Liberia, and stop cross-border armed incursions.
5. That ULAA engages the Government of Liberia in a limited national dialogue aimed at having the Government cease hostilities with LURD; establish law and order throughout the country; abide by the letter and intent of the Liberian Constitution, including rule of law and respect for human rights and civil liberties and the administration of justice; implement and abide by the Abuja Accords on peace and security, including the re-establishment and professional training of the national army, police, and other security forces; restructure and reform government to curb waste, corruption, monopolistic business practices, extra-budgetary spending, political patronage and opportunism, and improve the destitute conditions of Liberians through the provision of basic services such as education, health and welfare, as well as essential public infrastructures and utilities, including potable water, electricity, telephone, and mailing services.
6. That ULAA enters into an expanded national salvation partnership with Liberian civil society, notably religious, political, human rights, professional and women organizations with national followings in Liberia to protect, defend and uphold the Liberian Constitution, and advance any and all national causes for the building and sustenance of constitutional democracy and socio-economic development, including the advocacy of a human rights, democracy and good governance agenda. Special efforts will be made to building the capacity of civil society to maintain a free and independent press, strengthen working relationships among opposition political parties, and help build democratic institutions and democratic-minded organizations
7. That ULAA enters into an expanded national dialogue on elections-related issues with the National Elections Commission of the Republic of Liberia on issues ranging from the reconstitution and expansion of the Commission, relevant amendments to the Elections Law of Liberia, and national population census to the demarcation of electoral constituencies, absentee balloting by Liberians exiles, refugees, and other citizens outside our country, and facilitating civic education, voters education, voters registration, and sustainable civic participation.
8. That ULAA enters into an expanded international dialogue on peace, security and democracy matters with the United Nations system, the European Union, the African Union, ECOWAS, and the Government and people of the United States of America. Talks will be aimed at seeking international diplomatic, political, military, financial, and technical assistance for bringing pressure to bear on the renegade and undemocratic Taylor regime to reform government or immediately resign from national leadership; to mediate and bring closure to the war between government and LURD fighting forces; to establish an international security stabilization force to secure Liberia, sustain security, and build peace; to increase humanitarian and relief assistance to needy Liberian refugees and internally-displaced persons; to help organize, fund, supervise and monitor the upcoming Liberian elections; and to help Liberians help themselves in all aspects of national recovery and reconstruction, including repatriation, resettlement and rehabilitation of Liberians affected the civil-war and current conflicts.
Our Unfulfilled Public Dreams that Remain Alive:
As a little girl growing up in Fortsville and No. 1 Compound in Grand Bassa County, my father who dedicated his life to public service assured me that a girl could do anything a boy could do. This dream was fulfilled when, after 25 years of ULAA’s existence, you elected me the first female president of this Union. My years in office were quite challenging and men in this Union continue to prolong the stereotype of the vulnerable, hapless woman while crucially underplaying our leadership skills. Some men in higher echelons tried to sideline and overlook our gender, but women in ULAA will continue to be a force to reckon with. In spite of our strides to be a beacon of light, female leaders have not been well integrated into leadership of ULAA and the political affairs of our nation. We have been accepted and loved as a wife, respected as a sister, honored as a mother, but we have not been accepted and respected as equals in leadership. The men in this Union must face us as equals, embrace us as responsible and accountable persons. We must recognize that women’s work and concerns sustain men’s power. We are connected in history and spirit. We are a rainbow of customs and colors that enrich our collective lives, joining us to one another in heritage and heart. We need to create a new paradigm a model of inclusively.
Statement of Thanks and Appreciation:
As I bid you farewell to this lofty office and national union, I hope I have made a difference in the life of someone and that my footprint will remain on the sand of time. But I could not do this without your help. I thank all member -organizations, members of the National Leadership Council, members of the Board of Directors, members of the Presidential Advisory Council, and you the National Assembly. I thank each and every Liberian and friend of Liberia for your support. The Elections Commission has done a remarkable job and we commend them. Your unwavering commitment to get actively involved in the Union and Liberia will remain in my mind. I thank my Campaign and Transition Teams, friends, mentors and advisors for their generous giving of financial, material and human resources. Thank you for helping me to provide the road map in addressing issues and aspirations of national significance, as ULAA truly became the umbrella organization.
Fellow Liberians, leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character, which inspire confidence. Let’s be open, flexible, and tolerant as much as possible. Remember that our goal is balance-always gentle, thoughtful, teachable and considerate. Let’s go forth to practice the true virtues of leadership, building a strong community unselfishly, without announcement, reservations or hypocrisy. Let us go forth to meet the collective challenge with moral responsibility.
“IN UNION STRONG SUCCESS IS SURE”
I thank you!