Book: Beyond Plunder – Toward Democratic Governance in Liberia

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Author: Dr. Amos Sawyer
Publisher: Wahala Publishing House www.wahalapublishinghouse.com
Tel: 0777 956 802 & 0888 956 802
Pages: 243
Reviewed by: Jerry S. Kai-Lewis

The unitary system of governance set up in pre and postcolonial Africa in general and Liberia in particular presents probably the most significant reason for most of the bloody conflicts on the continent. But how do we reconstitute democratic order after state collapse? The answer to this question has eluded countless governments across Africa.
In his book, Beyond Plunder – Toward Democratic Governance in Liberia, the astute and erudite Liberian scholar and former interim president (1990-94) Dr. Amos Sawyer laid the groundwork for what could be Africa’s and indeed Liberia’s road to setting up governance structures reflective of and suitable to our context.

The book opens with a look at Liberia’s path to the present, the foundations of oligarchic rule in Liberia which led to its emergence as an over-centralized state where too much power is bestowed upon a president who uses it as a means to control and dominate every aspect of life in Liberia. From presidents Tubman to Taylor, it shows how a system of patronage was established by these presidents to track and diffuse any tendency that would challenge or usurp their hold on power, which ironically led to their ultimate undoing.

The book then delves into the key local and international players of the quarter-century of violence that destroyed the lives, property and progress of Liberia and some of her neighbors, namely Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast, and the severity of the violence.

Despite the violence, Liberians bounced back by displaying the true characteristics by which a new order and governance structure can be rebuilt – they instituted self-organizing systems in the forms of conflict resolutions, rebuilding schools, hospitals, towns and ways of life, coordinated neighborhood watches and established systems of credit that sustained them through trying and difficult times.

Failing to capitalize on those grassroots efforts, evidence that locally derived mechanisms to reconstitute order in the face of state collapse should be incorporated in the rebuilding of democratic order in the country, the new constitutional paradigms and institutions established to rebuild Liberia came up short as the country still operates under a theory of unitary sovereignty where too much power is still wielded by the executive. Reconstituting order after plunder was highly focused on decentralization and the good governance model as promoted by Bretton Woods institutions.

From here the book outlines the alternatives to a monocentric government derived from a theory of unitary sovereignty in the place of a polycentric governance structure based on a system of limited or shared sovereignty. The rest of the book focuses on security in the process of instituting democratic governance; how the new governance system would work; the role of education in this regard; and Liberia’s chances as a democratic and developed country.

Dr. Sawyer’s analysis of the problems besetting Liberia’s drive to true democratic governance is worthy of a textbook. In light of the impending presidential and legislative elections, individuals and parties interested in ruling Liberia should read this book and encourage their members do the same so as not to repeat the mistakes of every president since Tubman (when a system of patronage relegated the people to mere puppets) ,Tolbert, (when the people were first given a taste of participating in decision making in their own affairs), Samuel Doe (when the chances presented by the drafting of a new constitution offered Liberia the unique chance to set her governance trajectory right), Charles Taylor (when a gangster government was legitimized by a world blinded to the plights of poor people due to changing global geopolitical hegemony), and Sirleaf (leaving power as is, still over-centralized in the hands of the executive).

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