Liberia: Dr. Amos Sawyer, Former Interim President, Dies

Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer.

Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer, a man whose enviable vantage point at the intersection of various dimensions of Liberian history might be a subject of study for years to come, has died. He was 76. 

According to sources close to the family, Dr. Sawyer died of cardiac arrest in Maryland, USA, having survived two brain surgeries. He had just returned from the Hospital on Tuesday, February 16 when, the following day, he took his last breath. 

Dr. Sawyer was a Liberian academic, activist and politician. Highlights of his enviable career included service to his country, Liberia, as interim President from 1990 to 1994. Prior to that, he ran for Mayor of Monrovia, the nation’s capital, as an independent candidate. Dr. Sawyer was a founding member of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) and in 1983 founded the Liberian People's Party. As an academic, he worked as a professor of political science at the University of Liberia. In December 1980, he was appointed Dean of the College of Social Sciences and acting director of the University.

In an exclusive interview with Dr. Sawyer in November 2021, he told the Daily Observer that he did not initially set out to go into government service. “I wanted to be a scholar. People who I admired growing up were people who were experts in public affairs. But I wanted to teach. People like Ernest Eastman were people we used to look up to,” he said.

“Those we followed were people of eloquence and a sense of national service. You could see from their public behavior and how they composed themselves, seriously.

“That’s the kind of trajectory I grew up in. But professionally, I wanted to be a university professor. I stayed in school too long and perhaps long enough to work towards a graduate degree."

He however noted that it was what he calls the “era of service and discipline” that characterized his upbringing.

Born on June 15, 1945 to Abel and Sarah Sawyer, Amos already had in his genes the convergence of their values. He was named after his maternal grandfather, Amos; and given his father’s middle name, Claudius, after the Roman emperor. Abel Sawyer, Amos’ father, was a staunch catholic. 

“My mother was a school teacher and a strict disciplinarian. After school we had to show what we did in school every day.” 

Having hailed from a long line of lawyers from his mother’s side of the family, Amos’ father, on the other hand, was a tax collector. 

“The combination had some impact on me,” he narrated. “What I learned from him was the importance of public service and the importance of accountability in public service.

“My father used to cross the Sinoe River in a canoe, collecting hut taxes. There were no banks in Sinoe at the time. The Dutch OAC company and the German Company were the custodians of government’s funds in Sinoe at the time.

“That was in the early 1950s. My father used to come back home from collecting taxes with all this huge money, at the time in kerosene cans. At that time it was coins. My brother and I had to keep watch over these kerosene cans of coins. We used to take turns from Saturday until Monday morning.

“My father would tell us: ‘This is government’s money. You two, one person will take care of this money for a few hours and the other, too, will come and watch over the money.’

“That instilled two types of values: discipline and trustworthiness, knowing that this is not your money. It’s not your father’s money. It is for the government.”

But young Amos grew up hearing his father complain about President Tubman, who would often host parties and use his yacht to travel over the sea to either Maryland or to another country. 

“Tubman used to do serious merry making with the country’s money,” Sawyer recalled. “My father had serious concerns about President Tubman spending public money on pleasure trips. Every Easter, Tubman was in Harper for a beach party and my father used to be so uncomfortable. He used to grumble in silence that people’s hot taxes paid were lavishly spent. All of these made us have respect for public property.” 

Dr. Sawyer has authored several academic books and is the recipient of the prestigious Gusi Peace Prize, given by the Gusi Peace Prize Foundation, based in Manila, Philippines. The Gusi Peace Prize is given to recognize individuals and organizations who contribute to global peace and progress through a wide variety of fields. 

One of his legacy projects he was working on up to the time of his death is a series of civics books that the next generation of Liberians can use to strengthen their sense of citizenship and national direction. 

Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer is survived by his wife Comfort, children and a host of other relatives, friends, and professional colleagues at home in Liberia and around the world.