The passing of Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant was a shock. It saddened the nation. Unfortunately, we had not given him his roses before he died. Leading a post-conflict interim or transitional government in Liberia has its unique set of challenges. The legitimacy of such a government rests not directly on the support of the people but on the support of the various parties to the conflict. By peace agreements, these parties are allocated positions in the cabinet and civil service and seats in the legislature in exchange for their support of the peace process. They bring to the table competing concerns and interests that must constantly be addressed if they are to stay on board. Consequently, the leader of the government is constrained to spend a considerable amount of time in negotiations with various parties and individuals in the government (intra-governmental negotiations) simply to keep the government from disintegrating.
Public expectations of a transitional government can also be unduly high, largely because of the hardship and pain that come with the circumstance of violent conflicts. While the major task set out for the transitional government is to create an enabling environment for elections, the people expect it to deliver all their basic needs. They expect it to pay salaries, provide clean water and other public goods and services. They expect a government that is a composite of factions with varying agendas to operate as if it were of a single mind. Having lived in a political culture in which presidential decisions are implemented without question, they look to the leader of the interim government to issue instructions that yield prompt results. And this rarely happens.
International partners also have their expectations. Quite often, they are not all on the same page and may send out unclear or even conflicting signals. They participate in cobbling together various groups into the transitional government, often employing threats to obtain compliance; yet they expect a unified transitional government. They get impatient with the bickering. They provide blueprints designed from post-conflict experiences elsewhere and expect high level of performance and quick fixes.
Gyude Bryant accepted to chair the transitional government after several trials and miss-starts, including a government that was elected by popular vote in 1997 but went wrong. Liberians were exhausted and emaciated by violent conflicts. Hopes of a new dawn had been dashed. To many, the transitional government he headed was their last hope. Could he hold it together, maintain the support of the international community, appoint the right people to the electoral commission and land Liberia safely into a new era of constitutional rule? Yes, he could and yes, he did!
Bryant was a quiet businessman. He was also devoted to his church, the Episcopal Church and rose in its hierarchy. His role in the peace process became more visible as the process tottered on for several years. Functioning as a senior official of the Liberia Action Party (LAP), he became active in cross-party consensus building for peace. He participated in preliminary meetings in Monrovia and Ouagadougou and in the Accra Conference at which the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was negotiated in 2003. The conference selected him as head of the transitional government.
As head of a transitional government in which every issue of governance had to be negotiated, he was unflappable and persistent. In the face of strong contending forces, he did not only prevent the collapse of a fragile transitional government but was able to constitute all of its foundational structures for democracy and reform. Among these were the Interim National Elections Commission, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Concessions and Monopolies Commission, the General Auditing Commission and the Governance Reform Commission.
We live in a country in which leaders in society whether in government, business or social clubs, do not like to acknowledge that they build on the legacies of others. Our leaders frequently relish in being considered as “the first” to accomplish this or that. As a result, we often praise our leaders for being pioneers forgetting that if we remain pioneers we cannot build institutions and establish systems. So let us recognize and be grateful for Chairman Bryant’s service. Let us build on his legacy and consolidate democratic governance on the foundations he led us in laying.
Thank you Chairman Bryant. May you rest in peace.
About the Author: Dr. Amos C. Sawyer is Chairman of the Governance Commission. From 1990-1994, he was President of the Interim National Government of Liberia.