... Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf reflects on the late Dr. Sawyer’s legacy at a state funeral
It was a period of solemn reflection, a moment of deep mourning but, for former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, it was also a time to lay the tough questions at the feet of her successor, President George Weah.
Having carried the audience at historic Centennial Pavilion wild for saying that most people who wanted to have come and pay their last respects to the late Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer could not come because the Roberts International Airport (RIA) is in darkness, she then asked, “Where’s the Governance Commission Now?”
The question came following her tribute to the late Dr. Sawyer, the founding chairman of the Governance Commission (GC); an agency of government established to promote good governance by advising, designing and formulating appropriate policies and institutional arrangements and frameworks required for achieving good governance, and promoting integrity at all levels of society and within every public and private institution.
“He worked with us to change the Governance Reform Commission to Governance Commission. The essence of this effort was to give it more scope, more authority and more independence. I am forever grateful that he remained in that position until my administration ended. And, then I ask, where is the Governance Commission in addressing current national issues?”
Former President Sirleaf added that the Governance Commission under Dr. Sawyer and her administration was excellent in its operations — leaving her to think deeply about what is happening to the Commission’s agency nowadays, amid lots of controversial governance issues the Weah administration is grappling with.
“Dr. Sawyer helped exceptionally in changing structures, putting emphasis on local administration and ensuring that those who serve, serve on the basis of merit, serve on the basis of abilities, serve on the basis of integrity,” Sirleaf noted.
Sirleaf then disclosed that the deceased was instrumental in her rise to power and he supported her all through the twelve years she served as President.
“His ability to address issues in the Constitution and law, working with civil society and the National Legislature as well as the Judiciary, I am forever grateful for his leadership and the great strides made in the transformation efforts,” she said.
Dr. Sawyer, who was born on June 15, 1945, and died on February 16, 2022 in the United States, where he went for advanced medical care. Dr. Sawyer was a former professor of Political Science and Dean of Liberia College, now known as the College of Social Sciences and Humanities of the University of Liberia from the late 1970s up to the 1980s and he still provided direction for the UL, even while on other duties in different capacities.
He was a founding member of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), a social justice organization that was very active in the 70s, and which is credited for raising the political consciousness of the population. Other contemporaries of Dr. Sawyer included Dr. H. Boima Fahbulleh, Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh and Prof. Dew Tuan Wleh Mayson.
Dr. Sawyer also served Liberia in many other capacities before his demise, including as Interim President, when warring factions controlled large swathes of territory in the country. He helped organize many peace missions in and out of the country, which led to some cessation of hostilities. Before that, Dr. Sawyer ran for City Mayor in 1979.
He served as Chairperson of the Governance Commission that was established following the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Accord to recommend policies for reforming the public and security sectors, as well as the management of land in the aftermath of the civil war.
On a regional level, Dr. Sawyer served as Chairperson of the African Peer Review Panel of Eminent Persons, the body that actually conducts the peer review for the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). Founded in 2003, the APRM is a twin organization with NEPAD, an economic development program of the African Union. NEPAD believes that it is critical that African development and regional cooperation programs take place in the context of good economic and political governance; while the APRM is a mutually agreed program, voluntarily adopted by the Member States of the African Union, to promote and re-enforce high standards of governance. The peer-review mechanism is a self-monitoring mechanism. At the end of Dr. Sawyer's term as chair of the Panel of Eminent Persons, 31 African countries had voluntarily become members of the APRM.
Dr. Sawyer 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 in a wide variety of fields.
One of the 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.
Meanwhile, former President Sirleaf reflected that in 1985, she returned from exile to contest the Legislative election in the country and Sawyer’s Liberia People’s Party (LPP) was a formidable force, but democracy was still a ways from the country.
Sirleaf added that she did not give up after the experience in 1985, even though she won her Legislative seat for the Senate but could not take office due to an alleged rigging of the Presidential election by former military head of state, Samuel Kanyon Doe.
“I did not give up as I joined Amos and others again in Liberia in 1997 when there was an election. I contested against Charles Taylor and I expected a loss. Amos and I, again, had to go our separate ways into exile and wait until 2005 when, yet, another election was held to return the country to democratic rule and we won,” the former president said.
Sirleaf explained that although she was not a member of Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), a Pan-African solidarity movement, she shared similar ideals and aspirations of the late Dr. Sawyer and his colleagues.
Sirleaf added: “He brought everything into focus. I was then a junior official in government, but everyone else marveled at how Amos tackled the True Whig Party (TWP) and its establishment. On many days when we look back with reflection on that, we remember the mantra of Amos. He does not take violence to challenge a dinosaur.”
She concluded by saying that Dr. Sawyer was a people’s person and he was also her mentor, a friend, and a national hero with conscience.
Also paying tribute, the former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, said the demise of Dr. Sawyer is not only a loss to Liberia but the subregion, Africa as a whole and the world in general.
“On behalf of the West African Elders Forum, I express our condolences to the bereaved family, the government and people of Liberia. We have lost a hero. We have lost a voice. We have lost a leader. We have lost an icon. To Mrs. Thelma Duncan-Sawyer, you have lost a husband, a brother, and we are here to say our deepest sympathies,” the former Nigerian President said.
He pointed out that Dr. Sawyer was well known not only in Liberia but in the whole of West Africa, the continent of Africa and the world, and he was one of the lone voices in the wilderness who never gave up fighting for democratic governance through peaceful approaches.
Jonathan: “Sitting Presidents are very busy but we the former Presidents can work with the sitting Presidents by advising them. Amos Sawyer is one person whose voice resonated very loudly in terms of consolidation of democracy, credible and peaceful elections. Peaceful transition from one government to the other and good governance he stood for, advocated and worked for all his life.”
The former Nigerian leader bowed in solemn reflection and said “He has done very well but, unfortunately; he did not live long enough to continue enjoying the fruits of his labor.’
The West African Elders Forum (WAEF) is an organization composed of former presidents and some high ranking former government officials.
For Dew Tuan Wleh Mayson, a follower of Dr. Sawyer and member of the Progressives who operated MOJA, the loss of his former mentor is heart aching and healing is a distant reality.
“Sawyer was one of those rare individuals who were both intelligent and honest. I have known Dr. Sawyer all of my life. From the beginning, it was clear to me and all of our colleagues that AC, ‘Joe Blow’ (our affectionate name for Dr. Sawyer), was destined to achieve greatness,” Mayson reflected.
He continued: “He was brilliant and well enlightened. He was, and until his death, a very generous fellow; generous with his time and generous with his resources. He was not one of those who opened his mouth but closed wallet.”
The occasion was marked by lots of teary eyes; saying goodbye to the former President of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) was like a dream to many who crossed paths with him.
Dee Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liberia, speaking on behalf of President George Weah and the Government of Liberia, extended condolences to the bereaved family as he narrated the many contributions Sawyer made to Liberia in his lifetime.