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What is Wrong with Liberian Community Organizations?

Many organizations in our Liberian community are plagued with many problems ranging from leadership squabbles to foolish bickering. Any one sticking his neck just few inches higher can hear the noise coming out of these organizations or see vestiges of their fights and breakups. Why I don’t pretend to have discovered a cure or reason for the epidemic, I will like to advance three areas of interest in an attempt to stimulate a discussion in that direction. My goal is not necessarily to give reasons why I think these issues occur, but as other things evolve, I want us to look at our establishments as evolving in an effort to work on those things that can make our organizations better. These assessments are based on my personal observations stemming from my intense interest in fixing problems, bringing about changes and improving on what others have already built. I have hung around some Liberian organizations long enough to draw some of these conclusions. During those years, I have watched some organizations bloom and break. I have participated in some of those upheavals, either as part of the conflict or a mediator to help bring about a solution.

1. I think members, as resources of organizations are stretched too thin because the organizations each person is a part of are just too many. As members or participants they find their time and other resources thinned by the many commitments they have to keep up with as they’re pulled in so many different directions by the demands these organizations deserve. Many times, you find one person being part of so many organizations most of which have the same objectives and run after the same sources for funding. It is often said that wherever your treasurer is, there your heart will be but because one person is part of so many organizations, it is hard to sufficiently put one’s treasury anywhere and as a result the heart is no where. Take for instance, a friend of mine living in Philadelphia. He is a Mandingo from Lofa and has been living in the city of brotherly love ever since late 1990’s. This friend is part of the Lofa county organization (1); he is part of the Mandingo organization (2); He is part of Liberian Mandingo of Pennsylvania (3); he is also part of the Quardu Borni Chiefdom Mandingo Association (4), he is a part of the Liberians in Pennsylvania –ULAA chapter (5) and obviously a part of the umbrella ULAA (6). Besides these six organizations with almost the same objectives (development back home), this friend is also a member of the Movement for Political Reform in Liberia (MOP) and his high school alumni association. Let us not forget, he is a family man and part of a local congregation in addition to attending graduate school and working a full time job. I am sure there are many other Liberians who are part of five or more Liberian organizations. Most of these organizations on the average charge a 5 dollars monthly due, hold monthly meetings mainly on the week ends, host yearly conventions, and have teleconferences here and there by the middle of the week normally by 9pm or 10 pm when cell phone calls are free. It is just difficult if not impossible for one person to be fully committed to all these organizations and contribute fully. As a result people who are torn among organizations like my friend in Philly attends one teleconference for five minutes here, ten minutes there and yet want to be relevant and “important” in each of them. The end result is often foolish bickering and idle talk so as not to appear as an outsider.

2. The second area of interest is the way we pick our leaders. Elections or the way we do it may be the problem and the way to test that is to try something else. Most of our organizations hold elections to determine their leaders and quite often elections “talk, talk” has been a major start of all our troubles. Elections disagreements have so many times resulted into break away factions and sprinter groups. One thing we have not tried is the way our grand parents picked their chiefs because we have not thought that election could be the problem. Maybe a rotating presidency may work. Or having people in line who can serve one after another could be the cure but as far as I know, this election business has caused more problems than provided a way forward. My goal here is not to say elections are bad for our organizations but to hold electioneering as a possible culprit and begin a critical study on how to align elections with our organizational settings and our lifestyles, culture, and upbringing as a people.

3. Our organizational structure and leadership model may not suit our setting, purpose and the way we relate to one another in a group and therefore may need to be looked at critically also. Who says President, vice president, Secretary, Treasurer, chaplain and Board is the best way to structure our organizations? What I have noticed with this structure is either the proper check and balance is absent or it is split some where in the middle. Maybe collective presidency or a team system may work. We also see a poorly aligned board that is either constantly engaged in a bitter fight with the leadership or a leadership that is paranoid about the board chairman. Why do we need a board in the first place? Is it because the people we may ask for grants require a board or do we actually have a need for it? We must define ourselves and don’t allow external factors to determine our composition and direction. The problem could be that because we accept these things as iron clad and almost perfect, we never tend to take a second look at them to examine their impacts implications, and implementations. Maybe there could be something else that work, but we will never know until we begin to focus our attention in that direction.

So there you have it, let the discussion begin. Perhaps, you could have other areas that need to be looked at. Or you could be like many others who think that the system is perfect and blame the problem on the participants alone. Something else can be wrong, but unless we set out to take a second look at what we already have, we may do nothing about fixing the problems.

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