Professor Amos Claudius Sawyer has had an immensely burly professional career in his native Liberia and at the twilight of his career, he must sense vindication that he is getting recognition for his efforts both at home and abroad. A 2011 Gausi recipient, Sawyer was recognized by the peace foundation last year because of “his work in promotion of democratic governance and socio-economic development through regional integration.”
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.” Gausi 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 Center for Development, the founder of the Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE), and Chair of the African Union’s Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). His appointment to the all important AU post came also last year.
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. Last year, the erudite former interim president shared the stage with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
It is no secret that through out the 1990s when Mr. Sawyer served as Liberia’s transition president under his then titled Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), he engaged in a marathon and exhausted process of luring Charles Taylor to peace table in an effort to find lasting solutions to the Liberian cause, but in every step and effort, he was rebuffed; Taylor had the biggest gun and territoriality! Taylor mind was made up, unless he was the president of Liberia, everybody else was wasting their time. Sawyer finally gave up the quest of convincing Ghankay Taylor after four years of trying. His Gausi Peace nod also coincided with his long time political partner and friend, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf winning reelection, and the celebrated Nobel Peace Prize. Observers believe, Mr. Sawyer was instrumental to Sirleaf’s election and reelection bids by providing profound political strategy and critical advice on her way to the Executive Mansion. Sirleaf is thankful to Sawyer and she let it be known. Sawyer, some has said knows the backdoors of Liberian politics, perhaps like no other in his time. He has authored two scholarly works on Liberia: THE RISE OF AUTOCRACY IN LIBERIA [August 1992] and BEYOND PLUNDER [July 2005].
Barely a week when the National Elections Commission certificated President Sirleaf the winner of the runoff election, The president first public act was to adorn Mr. Sawyer. Using her executive powers, she summoned and admitted him at an investiture in the Charles Cecil Dennis Jr. Auditorium at the foreign ministry building on Capitol Hill. Sawyer was decorated 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, [they are busy increasing their perks than providing leadership], it was the Sawyer’s 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 Act, Corrupt offenses Act, Etc, were all executed under his supervision.
The commission which came full circle under Sawyer’s guidance has also been busy crafting strategies to also decentralized political power to the counties and principal municipalities by shrinking the powers of Liberia’s age old imperial presidency. In his life long career both as public servant, political activist and now eminent statesman, professor Sawyer, will be remember most profoundly for heading the 1986 draft constitution commission. He headed, the most important civic organ in the country, perhaps since independence, which produce finally the Liberian constitution. “He is” said a friend “the Simon Greenleaf of our times.” Greenleaf, a Harvard Law professor is credited with writing the 1847 Liberian Constitution, which the Sawyer’s commissioned constitution body eclipsed.
Sawyer in truth was also a major opponent of the Samuel Doe regime. His Liberian People’s party which he founded and headed was banned during the 1985 presidential elections, Samuel Doe also fearing that Liberians had come know his tricks and were casting their nets wider also banned other like minded parties including the United Peoples Party [UPP]. Not satisfied, Doe chased him out of the country; still, he found refuge like many other Liberians in the United States where he joined forces with others like minded Liberians to lobby for the removal of Samuel Doe from power. Critical of the Doe’s administration he gave a 1989 interview to the Africa Report, in which he called the Doe’s administration “a gangster regime, a plundering regime.” He said further, “It is not, in spite of Doe’s own rhetoric, a pro-capitalist or a pro-free enterprise regime. It plunders both the labor unions and the companies. We do not have a constitutional civilian government. We have a continuation of military rule, with some modifications here and there.” His voice was critical to policy makers in the United States, especially since the Americans under republican administrations of Reagan-Bush supported Pres. Doe because of the cold war. But then again, analysts say by 1989 the cold war war had climaxed and communism humbled and the Americans no longer interested in Liberia, the so-called “traditional ally,” that Liberians politicians like to called the Americans every opportunity they have.
Also prominent amongst those who opposed Doe was Liberia’s current president Madame Sirleaf. Sawyer and Sirleaf days date back according to their friends in the trenches of advocacy when Liberian politicians had had enough of Samuel Doe and were now ready to give him the taste of his own medicine. Having chased most of them out of the country and into exile, Liberian politicians and the larger community back home felt Doe had lost his mandate and legitimacy; the causes for which he first came to power in the first place in 1980 were repeatedly betrayed and abused; they now decided they would oppose him and bring his government down.
Even ordinary Liberians of all stripes were fed up with Doe and his excesses! He was leading arbitrarily by degrees, “The Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberian (ACDL), which was actually based in the United States, was one of such platforms used to oppose Doe, lobbying the United States Congress and policy makers in the Washinton, while finding other means to fight Doe.
In 2005 when Sirleaf launched her bid for the Liberian presidency, it was the former IGNU president to whom she first ran according a highly placed source. As the founding chairman of the Liberian People’s Party (LPP), many observers thought he would support his long time friend in academia and advocacy, Togbah Na Tipoteh. Tipoteh and Sawyer have a close kinship from their days at the University of Liberia (UL), and the now frail grass root Movement for Justice in Africa or MOJA. Sawyer went the other way, casting his net with Johnson Sirleaf, breaking away to the surprise of many. He formed the flagship Liberian First Group, taking with him critical components of his loyal cadets, amongst them: Tiawon Gongloe, Brownie Samukai, Philip Banks, Chris Massaquoi, Cummany Wesseh, Sando Wayne and a host of others, leaving the LPP an empty shell. Tipoteh was astonished; say sources close to both of them.
He was chased out of the country twice both by both Doe and Taylor, and his house burnt down. His political activism during the Tolbert years cannot also be denied. Of his generation, Sawyer is appreciated, as more Liberians now come to appreciate the sacrifices he has made to his country.
In an interview with FrontPage Africa a year ago, he told journalist 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: His critics say he was a weak interim president who dished out state owned properties, and give out luxury vehicles and other state booty as honorarium to former IGNU officials at the dying embers of his administration. And that he purchased his house in the U.S. only while in office.
Other charges include halting Nigerian General Joshua Dogonyaro onslaught on Taylor’s ‘greater Liberia,’ when Gen. Dogonyaro had the upper hand to have finished Charles Ghankay MacArthur Taylor once and for all. “I was behind ‘the lines’ at the time, so those of us who resided in Monrovia at the time would say about ‘Taylor’s country’,’ says Eric Johnson who lends credence to the fact, that Taylor at the time was handicapped.
Sawyer thinks those criticisms are harsh and have resisted. But what is not in doubt is that, he is a progressive icon and mentor. It was him who challenged the True Whig Party (TWP) oligarchy in 1979 for the mayor ship of Monrovia, a significant milestone in Liberia’s march to rid the country of one party state. President William Tolbert canceled the polls fearing a Sawyer victory.
That event can be said to be an important moment and sojourn in the progressive struggle for multiparty democracy in Liberia, because for the first time in long while, the TWP hegemony knew times would never be the same again. Sawyer, the Gausi laureate, chair of the APRM, is also busy, finding solutions to Africa’s most delicate and immensely troubling problems, steering a peer review mechanism meant to solidified the processes of governance on the continent as Africa enters a new era. He is married to Madame Comfort Sawyer.
Pic: AMOS SAWYER IS DECORATED BY PRES. SIRLEAF IN MONROVIA.