Chaotic September 2004 But the grassroots organizing continued

When we entered the month of September, hopes were high as the organizing efforts were receiving a lot of traction especially since the publication of the press release announcing the formation of the Liberia National Congress on limany dot org. https://jameskolliedotnet.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/lnc-first-release.pdf

Since that September 8th publication, we began receiving lots of interest in the organization. We were extremely excited by these expressions of interest even though we were still not clear on which way we would be going. The issue of the “critical mass” in its pure form and sense versus the “George Weah as the leader of our generation” were conflicting positions that were difficult to reconcile. We struggled in this quagmire but our abilities to articulate our vision with clarity in spite of the ambiguities and confusions that surrounded the process of achieving that vision probably gave us that “life line” or “breathing space” that made the organization to continue to survive. However, some other folks laid particular goal post and drew certain lines that once we crossed, they would disembark. The good news is that the defections were far less than those who were expressing interest and joining the movement and so this handicap was never prominently observed but I kept the records and most of these personal friends.

As I look back, I can only confess that those who left (like Sekou Dudu, Patrick Meniboon, etc) were smarter than we were and I will justify these observations later.

So with the enthusiasm, energy and hopes we had then, we moved full speed with the organizing efforts. Within that month, we completed our registration with the Minnesota Department of State (our file # was 1025366-2) and also applied for and received our Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS (the number was 01-0820454). We also registered a mailbox number with the local UPS  store in Brooklyn Center and we were therefore given the address:

6066 Shingle Creek Parkway,

Suite 240

Brooklyn Park, MN 55430.

We were not physically present at this address but could receive our mails there. With these three coordinates in place, we had everything required to open a bank account and begin to receive donations and contributions like any other organization.

Based on developments and suggestions from folks who had seen and read our press release, we decided that the mass rally in Minnesota, originally planned for September, should be moved to October. This was intended to allow us to do some consultations with various Liberian organizations and influential individuals in Minnesota. We wanted to consult with some religious leaders, former officials of government, and county organizations. We believed, as advised, that this would make more people to feel respected and therefore supportive of our efforts. It did work!

During this month, we had charged Patrick Meniboon with the responsibility of drafting the Constitution and By-laws of the movement. Patrick is a very smart colleague with whom I had the opportunity of sitting in class with in 1987 and we had reconnected in Minnesota. He continues to enjoy my respect and honor.

Now, while we are doing all of this, I got up on September 20 and got a call from a colleague, Theo Addey, that I should check out the BBC website. I asked what was it? He said that a group named Liberia National Congress (LNC) had petitioned George Weah to run for president in the 2005 elections. I told him it couldn’t be true because we had not yet established the LNC in Monrovia.

Well, I decided to check out the story at http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/africa/3672792.stm and behold it was true. I immediately called Chairman Dtweah and informed him about the unfolding situation. Then I also send out an email to the group that we had a crisis on our hands but we were doing everything to address it.

The issues we were battling at time were a make or break situation:

1.     Will we distance ourselves from this group and inform the world that we had not petitioned George Weah for president even though we would be meeting with him in the next few weeks? What if after our meeting we decided that Ambassador Weah understood the “call of history” and that we needed to collaborate? How would we look? Would we have just damaged our own credibility?

2.     If we didn’t distance ourselves from this group, would it then confirm the belief that we had all along been organizing this movement for the singular purpose of making Ambassador Weah president and have therefore been deceiving our colleagues?

3.     Because we had met with Kofi Woods and informed him that this was a generational effort with no particular individual in mind, I wondered whether we would lose credibility with him and many others like him?

When we informed our colleagues that we had a crisis, these were the issues bothering us. There was no easy answer and this moment drew a line in the sand.

When we looked at the story, Chairman Dtweah was able to contact Thomas Doe-Nah who gave him Ledgerhood Rennie’s number and then Leg was able to give Cole Bangalu’s number to Dtweah and then we were able to establish contact with the person who read the “historic” petition that the BBC carried. Cole Bangalu was then the Secretary General of the LNC in Monrovia.

What remains a misery till this date is whether or not the LNC in Monrovia was truly an independent group that, by coincidence, had the same name as we and had similar plans in mind? For those of us who spoke with Cole and James Boker at that time, I am still suspicious that the LNC in Monrovia was an arrangement that undercut us. I believed, then and today, that they may have followed our organizing efforts and then decided to jump the gun and do what they did. I don’t have evidence to prove this but when we asked Cole at that time to share with us some organizing documents, he was unable but pleaded that we collaborate in this effort. I am not sure we will ever get to the truth in this matter because everyone wants to be the founding father of what is now the CDC so it has been agreed, as a compromise, to live with the narrative that “two groups were simultaneously organizing” and then came together. I guess we have to settle since no one will give in.   

Once we established contact with Cole and James Boker, we tried to find out some details about the LNC in Monrovia but it was difficult to get anything out of the comrades. The chorus was that we find a way to collaborate and move on. Because things were moving pretty fast, it was almost impossible to stop, investigate further, and then move on which was what some of our colleagues wanted. We got comments from the likes of Inyene Ekah and Norris Tweah that we should change our name and continue with our original direction rather than try to join forces and conform. Some of them classified this as a hijack and that we should not negotiate.

We were in a very difficult position at that time: the movement was about to veer course and take an historic, accelerated leap into the center of Liberian body politic and become the biggest thing in town. Did we want to slow that down on ideological, philosophical and procedural grounds? We were terribly conflicted and I must admit that probably this is the point where we ceded ownership of the movement to Ambassador Weah and probably looking back, the other comrades were right: we should not have negotiated.

But what made us to have felt not too guilty, in the moment when the decision was being made, was that I decided that I would call Kofi and inform him about what was unfolding. Remember we had met Kofi a few weeks earlier and laid out our vision to him and now we are at a point where we have become another petition toting group of young people. So I called Kofi who was still in the US. He had gone to Virginia or thereabout to visit with His Holiness Arch Bishop Michael Francis (deceased) during his ailment. When I called Kofi and told him that a group with the same name in Liberia had petitioned George Weah and we were thinking whether we should dissociate ourselves with them or not, Kofi said that he didn’t think that would be a good idea; instead, since Weah was coming to Minnesota, we should wait for him to come and have a discussion with him. It was then that Kofi and I agreed that he (Kofi) would return to Minnesota when Weah was there and then it would be a good thing if we could arrange a meeting between the two of them. Al Jerome succeeded in arranging that meeting and I became an “intruder” not the organizer of that meeting. I will explain the implications of this later when we enter October.

Immediately following my conversation with Kofi, I informed Chairman DTweah and then called Cole and informed him. At that time, the thinking was that if we could get Kofi to go as running mate to Weah, the election was over. Our colleagues in Monrovia agreed with us and said they were thinking similarly. At that time, the major points of contact in Monrovia were Cole and James Boker. We never got to talk to the other folks including Jerome Verdier (yes TRC Verdier) who was the lawyer for the group.

 With that calm position from Kofi, we decided to moderate our position and started working with the colleagues in Monrovia. Because we did not move fast enough to distance ourselves from the LNC’s petition, the likes of Norris Tweah and Patrick Meniboon, would use this as a point of departure but the struggle continued.

There was confusion in Monrovia as I tried to get Levi Demmah, Steven Howard and Dixon Seboe to try to make contact with the folks in Monrovia and put things under control, they could not break through. It was during this time the Monrovia group, while trying to file paper works with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was informed that the name, Liberia National Congress (LNC) was already taken. Once Cllr. Verdier informed the group that the name was not available, everyone agreed to immediately get to work to find a new name. We in the US had informed our group that we would be taking suggestions for a new name to be communicated to the group in Monrovia for possible consideration. Monrovia started to call the shots!

From there we started working with the group in Monrovia as we in the US planned for the arrival of Ambassador Weah. Then on September 27, Chairman Tweah informed me that Ambassador Weah was in the US and had called him. I immediately informed the group. At that point we had not settle on a date for his visit to Minnesota but since at least he was in the US, we could begin to plan for our “big discussion” with him.

And the month of September, though appeared chaotic, seem to have pushed things too fast and maybe most of the critical mistakes of the movement was made during this month.

But October is even more interesting; this is when we eventually meet with Ambassador Weah and our program is hijacked by a group named and styled the Friends of George Oppong Weah (FOGOW). The dangerous gossip peddled by this group and how it affected our relationship and therefore the revolutionary efforts is very intriguing. I will hold no punches as I narrate events that would unfold in the months ahead. The infighting between FOGOW and the LNC turned CDC would last until February 2006. I will reveal what they told Weah about us and how we fought back. Most of the witnesses are still alive!  

Author: JAMES F. KOLLIE

I am a Liberian professional with passion for pro poor economic development and grassroot political organizing. I have read public policy, corporate finance and accounting at various levels. I have worked in government, private sector and non-profit sector.

3 thoughts on “Chaotic September 2004 But the grassroots organizing continued”

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