By William G. Nyanue
(March 23rd 2005)
"...Implied in the decision of any minority to disregard the wishes of the majority is the belief that they, the minority, know what’s best. They say to the majority, “Trust us, we know the solution.” And this is exactly how our country has been run since its founding. At the center of our national nightmare is the practice whereby a very small but determined minority of the Liberian society call the shots because they apparently believe that they know what is best for the country. All that they need the rest of us for is simply to legitimize their dictatorship and feed their egos....."
What has now come to be known as the “All Liberian National Conference I” has ended and some commentaries have already been written. The conference was held this gone weekend in Washington , DC . Yesterday, Monday, March 21, those of us who did not attend the conference began peeking into the deliberations from the information circulated on the various listservs and postings on the Daily Observer Internet web site. I was particularly interested in the commentaries---what reporters, pundits, etc., people we might consider objective observers, had to say.
I was delighted that the majority of those who commented on the conference continued to encourage and support the coming together of the two All Liberian National Conferences, the second conference scheduled for April 14 th through the 16 th. But what interested me most, and which is the subject of this article, was the observation by a Daily Observer reporter about having two conferences. He wondered, “Why have two different conferences that have the same objectives and that will discuss the same issues?” Of course, the Observer reporter knew that the two conferences were a result of the splintering of the original steering committee that was charged with the responsibility of planning the conference. But his point was that the split was really not necessary and should have been avoided because the issue of contention—one group wanting “an incorporated entity while the other group did not”--- was so trivial. Dr. Amos Sawyer implied this conclusion, too, when he reportedly said that the splinter “is not about the substantive issues that are at the core of the challenge for Liberia .”
I think the Observer reporter’s conclusion that the steering committee splintered over a trivial issue, which I believe many other Liberians share, suggests a very cursory analysis of the issues that led to the splintering of the committee. I don’t think that the issues that led to the steering committee splintering are trivial. I believe that they are, in fact, at the center of the Liberian nightmare. These issues, at their very core, have to do with the rule of law and respect for the wisdom of the majority. The steering committee splintered because its original chairman and no more than six other members of the committee disagreed with the decision of the overwhelming majority of the committee’s members. In the absence of written rules, as was the case with the steering committee, group dynamics dictates that the group should follow the wishes of the majority where a consensus cannot be reached. The wishes of the majority then become the law. It was the violation of this fundamental principle of group management that resulted in the splintering of the committee.
Implied in the decision of any minority to disregard the wishes of the majority is the belief that they, the minority, know what’s best. They say to the majority, “Trust us, we know the solution.” And this is exactly how our country has been run since its founding. At the center of our national nightmare is the practice whereby a very small but determined minority of the Liberian society call the shots because they apparently believe that they know what is best for the country. All that they need the rest of us for is simply to legitimize their dictatorship and feed their egos.
No, there is no triviality to the issues that led to the splintering of the steering committee. The issues are central to our search for harmony and peace.
In a way I thought the splintering of the ALNC Steering Committee was a blessing in disguise because I thought it afforded the Liberian community here in these United States an opportunity to begin dealing with some of the major causes of our national nightmare at their roots. This was an opportunity, for example, to have sent a clear message that supports the principle of governing based on the wisdom of the majority. Unfortunately, we missed the opportunity; even our spiritual leaders and elder statesmen fumbled this great opportunity.
The more I see us squander opportunities to confront ourselves, the more I am convinced that we are looking in the wrong places for solutions to our nation’s problems. It seems to me that many of those who are vocal and passionate about reform in Liberia are putting too much hope in institutions. I share the view, without reservation, that working institutions are indispensable for a peaceful and more equitable Liberia. But institutions by themselves are not living organisms that possess a will and power to enforce. They are really, in my opinion, repositories of the nation’s social contracts that derive their life and usefulness from the men and women who fashion and manage them. Institutions are products of men, not the other way around, that reflect the aspirations, character, convictions and strength of the men and women who develop them.
The institutions of the United States that many of us now benefit from and greatly admire were developed by men and women of immense courage. These institutions reflect their character. To hope, then, that we can be unprincipled, reckless and tyrannical and yet develop working democratic institutions seems just too far fetch to me. Our institutions will reflect what we are at the core. That is why I think we should be looking more to how we might force each other to develop a mindset and character consistent with our democratic aspirations. And this is not about becoming righteous and infallible. This is about redefining, or perhaps just refining our sense of simple decency, fairness, and what is acceptable behavior in public discourse, and then developing the courage to rebuke and shame those who traverse these standards. The splintering of the All Liberian National Conference Steering Committee presented a wonderful opportunity to have begun this transformation.