By Nat Galarea Gbessagee
A founding member of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), Inc., Mr. Siahyonkron Nyanseor, told delegates at a recent ULAA Annual General Conference in Columbus, Ohio, that in spite of notable moral, political and ethical failures by some former leaders of ULAA, especially former ULAA Board Chairman and current Liberian President Charles Taylor, the founders of ULAA ought to be commended and honored for their farsight in establishing an organization that has over the years played a pivotal role in shaping the political, economic, and social landscapes in Liberia, and not ridiculed for their failures.
“I am here to tell you that despite what former members in Liberia have done to our beloved country (Liberia), the founders of ULAA should be honored not ridiculed. Because you as our benefactors cannot claim to know more than us, or what our intentions were when we established this august institution”, Nyanseor told the delegates, adding “It is upon our shoulders you stand today. Therefore, it is only right to celebrate our farsightedness and successes and learn from our mistakes in order to continue the original intent. This is not to suggest that the mistakes we made in the past must not be evaluated, so as to improve upon them. But the practice of Fast forwarding into the past to apportion blame is what I think should be avoided if we are to advance our common goals and objectives.”
Mr. Nyanseor, Chairman of the Liberian Democratic Future (LDF), Inc., an Atlanta-based democratic and research organization devoted to political pluralism and social justice in Liberia, made the remarks in Columbus, Ohio, on August 10, when he served as keynote speaker during the 28th Annual General Conference of ULAA. The three-day ULAA General Conference, which began on August 9, and attended by 15 delegates each from all 15 chapters of ULAA across the U.S., also included the elections of new corps of officers of the Union, and farewell program for outgoing ULAA President , Mrs. Mydea Reeves-Karpeh.
Speaking on the topic: “Conversation with Our Benefactors Regarding the Original Intent of the Founders of ULAA,” Nyanseor said the original intent of the founders of any organization or instrument of law such as a constitution is always subject to great debates and interpretations but said the “original intent” of the founders of ULAA grew out of a desire to break with the political status quo of Liberia and create an organization based on “Representative Democracy”.
“From the inception of the Republic of Liberia, 152 years (1822 – 1974 when ULAA was founded) of its existence, political, social and economic powers were held by a few who believed in the politics and philosophy of: “So Say One, So Say All”. This approach and system of government, limited the participation of the majority of the Liberian people in the affairs of their government. As a result, the country failed miserably in making any significant progress and development,” Nyanseor said, and added that “This experience served as a point of departure for the founders of ULAA in charting a new direction for their country and people. As a result, the founders and framers of the Constitution of ULAA founded this organization on the principle of “Representative Democracy” in which everyone takes part.”
“The principal institutions of the organization were divided into three separate bodies – The Annual General Conference, Board of Directors, and the Administration or Executive. Supreme Authority was vested in the Annual General Conference. The Annual General Conference encompassed all Liberians and their local chapters. The Conference reviewed the basic policies and direction of the organization, and served as the highest constituted body. The Annual General Conference then empowered the Board of Directors to exercise legislative and policy-making powers. The Board consisted of presidents of local chapters and two elected representatives. The Executive was composed of the administrative officers of the ULAA. The Executive fell under the leadership of a National President. The National President served as the spokesperson for the organization. He/she was charged with the day-to-day operation of the organization, which includes the implementations of its policies”, Nyanseor outlined the original intent of the administrative structure of ULAA.
Nyanseor said as one of the participants in drafting the original ULAA Constitution of 1972, he has often been asked as to why the General Assembly, and not the Board of Directors, was made the highest authority of ULAA, and he clarified that by saying, “It [the General Assembly] was made the Supreme Authority because ULAA as a Representative Democracy had to assure the full participation of the membership in the general affairs of the organization. Secondly, it was set-up in this way to discourage the abuse of power and authority by a select few, which is a hallmark of past and present Liberian government officials.”
In relation to the theme of the three-day General Assembly, “Pathways to Success: Achievement, Accountability and Authority,” Nyanseor recommended that “First, we need to learn to be civil towards one another – by this I mean, if we disagree, it must be on issues; and make our case on that particular issue rather than engage into a confrontation that will lead to sweeping and general accusations such as “This is a new day in ULAA, the days of beer drinking at General Conferences are over.” This statement suggests that the present leadership is better than that of yesterday. These kinds of statements tend to bring about disunity among the past and present leaders. Furthermore, it defeats our ultimate goals and objectives, therefore, it should be avoided at all cost.”
He also recommended that ULAA conducts annual mandatory In-service Training Seminar for ULAA members and elected officials on the ULAA Constitution, the role of the National President, the role of Board of Directors, chapters, membership, Communication, Listening Skills, Constructive Criticism, Managing a Diverse Group, Assessing and Evaluating Performance, etc. as a way of encouraging active participation and making the organization transparent. He also recommended for the ULAA leadership to minimize the number of “Emergency Meetings” at the Board or Administration by utilizing available technologies – such as the Internet and Conference Call in order to relieve members of unnecessary financial obligations as is the present case.
Nyanseor also recommended that the 15 Delegates from each ULAA Chapter to the Annual National Conference should be elected, and not appointed as is presently practiced. He further recommended that the newly-elected leadership of ULAA should make as its top priority the securing of permanent headquarters for ULAA, adding “It is about time for ULAA to have a permanent (physical) headquarter, where for example, the organization’s records are kept. Years ago, Washington DC was selected as the headquarters. An organization that is 28 years old, cannot afford not to have a place of its own.”
The birth of ULAA began with the Liberian Student Associations (LSA) in the United States. From this endeavor, the leadership of LSA appointed a Task Force in 1972 to study and develop the principal and objectives for association. On April 21, 1974, the Task Force submitted its final report and recommendations at a conference held at Drexel University’s Hopkinson Hall, 34th and Chestnut Streets. It was at this conference, the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) was born. Organizations represented at this conference were: the Liberian Student Association of New York – consisting of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut; the Liberian Student Association of Pennsylvania – including Delaware, and the Liberian Student Association of Metropolitan Washington, D. C. – including Maryland and Virginia.
No Liberian or any Liberian organization can afford the luxury of being a passive onlooker on prevailing developments in Liberia. Giving ULAA’s longstanding role as one of the major players, which helped to shape political developments in Liberia the last two and half decades, it is expected to provide sound leadership in helping to influence the NPP government to promote genuine democracy, civil and human rights in the country. ULAA’s policy of “Positive Neutralism” (not affiliating with any political party) in Liberian political affairs puts her in the position of showing the political way forward to turn developments around in Liberia.
In short, it is a proven fact that there exist no other organization in the U.S. with such broad base and inclusive appeal, and in which Liberians can relate and feel an integral part of, than the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas.
Published on the August 14, 2002 Edition of The Perspective.
2002: From Siahyonkron Nyanseor’s Archive