Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, Chairman of the Governance Commission and former Chairman of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), turns 70 on Monday, June 15.
A 1966 graduate of the University of Liberia, Amos was awarded a fellowship to pursue graduate studies at Northwestern University, where he took the PhD degree in Political Science in 1973.
He returned home and was later appointed dean of Liberia College, the UL’s Liberal Arts college, where as a Political Science teacher, he attracted one of the largest classes at the university. The administration, given the huge number of students in that class, was forced to transfer it to the UL auditorium.
It was during has days as a UL professor that he joined Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh and Dew Tuan Wleh Mayson in founding the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA). MOJA and Baccus Mathews’s Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) became the leading political activists of the 1970s. The two groups conscientized Liberian students and youth, enhanced their political awareness and sharpened their rhetoric for change in Liberia.
By the end of the 1970s the time had come for change. President William R. Tolbert, Jr. himself tried to bring about some changes in the way the government did business, but was unable to convince his other stalwarts in the True Whig Party to follow him. During that period Liberia was still ruled as an oligarchy (government by the few).
Baccus Matthews’ PAL, meanwhile, organized the April 14. 1979 demonstration to protest government’s alleged attempt to increase the price of rice, Liberia’s staple food. The government mishandled the protest. Despite pleadings to President Tolbert by the veteran teacher, constitutional analyst and pamphleteer Albert Porte, to “let the young people march—it is their constitutional right”—Tolbert and his Justice Minister Oliver Bright demanded that the march should be called off or, in the words of the hard line Justice Minister, Cllr. Bright, “we will shoot.” And shoot the government did as the demonstrators passed the Information Ministry en route to the Mansion. That led to pandemonium and turned the march into a full scale riot that shut down Monrovia for three days or more with widespread looting and burning throughout the city. Over 100 people were killed and government had to cough up US$100 million to compensate businesspeople who had lost so much during the looting and destruction.
April 14 led to another Baccus Mathews protest in March 1980, when the PAL people, in the early night hours, marched to the Executive Mansion demanding the resignation of President Tolbert. Matthews and several of his followers were arrested and imprisoned in the Post Stockade, the government’s maximum security prison at the Barclay Training Center.
The following month, on April 12, the coup d’etat occurred, when 17 young enlisted men, of the Armed Forces of Liberia, led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, stormed the Mansion and killed President Tolbert. Most government officials were arrested and imprisoned and on April 22, 13 of Tolbert’s top most officials were executed by firing squad at the BTC beach. Baccus Matthews and many of his fellow prisoners emerged from prison to occupy top positions in government, he as Foreign Minister.
Sawyer, Tipoteh, Fahnbulleh, Dew Mayson and Matthews, who led the intellectual and political basis for the avalanche that was to come, will forever regret that despite all their thinking and action, they had made no plan for any eventuality. That is why the enlisted men, who now called themselves the People’s Redemption Council (PRC), did not seize power only, but seized the intellectuals, too, and made them do the young soldiers’ bidding. Not long after the coup, for example, Doe demanded that all Ministers of government become enlisted in the Armed Forces as uniformed majors.
In 1982-83 Doe turned to Amos Sawyer to head the 25-person National Constitution Commission (NCC). The Commission worked around the clock and by 1983-84 they were ready with their draft, which they submitted to Doe.
Doe lifted the ban on politics and several persons, including Amos Sawyer, announced that they intended to seek the Presidency. That infuriated Samuel Doe who himself had presidential ambition. Shortly following a trip to Germany, Doe had Sawyer arrested and imprisoned, accused of “a socialist plot.”
That is when the students of the University of Liberia went on a strike, commenced a vociferous (loud, noisy) vigil at the UL gate demanding their beloved professor’s release or else they would not return to classes. Not long thereafter Doe went to the Capitol Building and demanded that the UL students “move or be removed.” Minutes later, Defense Minister Gray D. Allison, licking his mouth like a hungry lion, led a stream of blood thirsty soldiers to the UL campus, where they shot at, beat up, stripped naked many students and faculty and even committed rape. Doe later disbanded the entire UL administration, which was headed by a tough and forthright president, Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman.
The coup, which was terribly mismanaged, led to the civil war.
It was during the civil war, especially following the massacre at the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on June 29, 1990—when over 600 people were brutally murdered by soldiers loyal to Samuel Doe—that the Mediation Committee of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) convened a meeting in Banjul, The Gambia. The meeting was called by the Committee’s Chairman, Gambia President Sir Dawda K. Jawara. That meeting, held August 6-7, took the momentous decision to send into Liberia ECOMOG, the ECOWAS peace keeping force, to stop the war. That meeting was followed in mid-September by the convening by President Jawara of an All Party Liberian Conference. It was at that conference that Amos C. Sawyer was elected Chairman of the Interim Government of National Unity.
A short while later he and his team of officials moved into Monrovia and took up the authority of governance. He served until 1994 when began a series of other interim arrangements that led to Charles Taylor’s election in 1997 as President of Liberia.
But Taylor’s corruption, mismanagement and intransigence led to the protraction of the civil war, in which nearly 300,000 people were killed and the country’s infrastructure almost totally destroyed, setting the country 50 years backward.
Amos Claudius Sawyer was born on June 15, 1945 in Greenville, Sinoe County, to the union of Abel and Sarah Sawyer.
Amos is married to Mrs. Comfort Sawyer.
He celebrates his 70th birthday on Sunday ensuing with a thanksgiving service at his parish, the St. Stephen Episcopal Church at 10th Street, Monrovia.
Amos has had a rich life filled with many accomplishments. As Chair of the Governance Commission, he and his colleagues and many other consultants from a cross-section of the country, have set in place a framework for the devolution of power—the handing of power from the presidency—which some say is among the most powerful presidencies in the world—to the people.
It will be the culmination of his lifelong dream the day this devolution of power is complete and the Liberian people at the county, city, town and village levels begin to share in a genuine way the nation’s power, which the 1986 Constitution affirms is “inherent in the people.”