amos sawyerTributes 

1945-2022: Amos Claudius Sawyer, the political icon and progressive academic



By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh

Amos C. Sawyer is the professor whose class you always wanted to take – that political science class – that government class that you dreaded so much but you took it anyway because your professor’s name happens to be “Moos,” Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer. The glowing sentiments from his former students which seemed to be unanimous, speaks of the clear-minded, gutsy intellectual lens he brings to his classroom, his lectures, and political engagements.

I was never his student and I never sat in his classroom. I did not even attend the University of Liberia.

The closest I have ever been on the campus of the University of Liberia (like it was on many other occasions) was to attend political rallies, i.e., the Edward Gberi rally of the 1970s, and other political rallies of the time that became the driver of the consciousness movement.

Young Edward Gberi was the Liberian student and ‘store boy’ who was choked to death by his Lebanese employer for eating candy from the store. The case was supposedly tried in a ‘court of law’ but his Lebanese employer was found not guilty, which sparked a national outcry and a rally at the University of Liberia. I wasn’t a frontline leader but a politically conscious high school student who knew and saw what was happening in our country at the time and was willing to support a cause and other causes that affected my community and my country.

I did not get arrested and I did not go to jail in Liberia, either.

My political activities were all done in the United States.

In the United States, however, I was able to sit with Dr. Sawyer in Atlanta and other American cities at political events and rallies in my previous life as a member of the Liberian People’s Party, and as a delegate to the 1990s DC convention of the misnamed Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL), to discuss the way forward for the country that is dear to our collective hearts and minds. My involvement with the Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL), and how Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, and the late Jucontee T. Woewiyu, were able to encourage and convince me to get others from my city to attend that convention is another article for another time and day.

However, the social and political visions that Amos Sawyer and others expressed in Liberia at the time when I  and others were growing up and trying to find ourselves and our way forward in a country of enormous neglect – a place where many were and are marginalized and equated to a zero-sum, inspired me and resonated with my firm beliefs of believing in me to be somebody, one day. Sawyer’s activism and scholarly bona fide was assuringly awakening at a time of national outrage as it teaches us to humbly aspire to greater things, even as those emotions and desires clashed to balance our profound sentiments.

As a pragmatic progressive who believes in practicality, accountability, and self-determination, I’ve learned to believe to be myself and do what is right in this age of a self-flagellating political decline when sycophants and enablers are leading the way to corruptly twist history and enrich themselves at the expense of the majority,

Amos Claudius Sawyer, the political icon and academic who previously survived two brain surgeries passed away on February 16, age 76, in Baltimore, Maryland of cardiac arrest at the John Hopkins Hospital, a day after he visited the same hospital for treatment. Amos Claudius Sawyer was a Liberian icon, and Liberians love their icons and heroes so much that they see them as doing no wrong, even when the individual is accused of alleged wrongdoings.

The former activist and dissident professor lived an honorable life, at least in the eyes of his countless supporters and admirers. To some observers, however, he was just as cunning, manipulative, and corrupt as the rest of the Liberian politicians and intellectual class.

The 19th-century Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson noted: “like a bird singing in the rain, let grateful memories survive in time of sorrow.” I am grateful for the memories that Amos Sawyer left behind in both his personal, academic, and political lives, which I hope will survive in these mournful times.

From his symbolic and historic run for Mayor of Monrovia as an independent candidate to co-founding the Movement of Justice in Africa (MOJA), the Liberian People’s Party (LPP), the Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE), a political science professor at the University of Liberia, Chairman of the Governance Reform Commission, Chairman, National Constitution Drafting Commission, and later President of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), 1990-1994, Sawyer served his people and country.

While it is true that all men and women should respect his death, as it is in all deaths, it is equally true because of the space he takes up in these public arenas to also discuss his shortcomings, for the public records. I am not blind to not knowing his perceived shortcomings in a country where people in high places are worshipped and left untouched when they are accused of wrongdoings because of who they are in the Liberian society.

Don’t we all know about the culture of impunity in Liberia?

And when you are Prince Y. Johnson, a discredited former rebel leader and killer whose name is associated with the heinous Liberian civil war, whatever you say gets no mileage because of your blood-drenched name. Does it mean that whatever Prince Johnson says about Amos C. Sawyer or anyone shouldn’t be looked into because he is Prince Johnson?

The notoriously ruthless Prince Johnson once accused the former interim leader Dr. Sawyer of misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars during the heyday of the Liberian civil war. Prince Johnson also alleges that Dr. Amos Sawyer and former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf initiated and directed the war in Liberia between 1990-1997 when he (Prince Johnson) served as Commanding General of the AFL and then rebel leader of the defunct Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia-INPFL.

Amos Sawyer, Former President Liberia

Citing “corruption and betrayal of trust” Prince Johnson would later sever ties with Amos Sawyer’s Interim government. Dr. Sawyer supported Ellen Johnson Sirleaf through the Association of Constitutional Democracy in Liberia, which he co-founded in the 1990s, to raise public awareness and raise funds. There is also a belief that he quietly supported Charles Taylor’s rise to power.

What would Dr. Sawyer say or do when he hears that the democracy that he fought so hard to bring to Liberia is being undermined because of corruption and official malfeasance? What would Dr. Sawyer say if those leaders that he respects in society who engages in criminal acts were left to roam the streets of Liberia and not prosecuted because of who they are?

As the nation’s foremost public intellectual, a respected one for that matter, Dr. Sawyer would have willingly delved into this issue had it involved the nation’s credibility or another person’s attempt to undermine the democratic process he helped to usher in, any way possible. Amos Claudius Sawyer’s legacy was being a part of the (democracy) change movement that he fought so hard to uphold in his beloved Liberia.

Let’s keep his dreams alive.

Let’s do the right thing.

RIP, my friend!

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