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Talking Points for August 8 Toledo Debate

Well, thank you very much Mr. [Moderator] for this opportunity. I also want to thank Ms. Grant and the other hard working members of the Elections Commission for organizing this event – to give us the opportunity to engage one another as aspirants and also make the case to the voters. Let me pause to also thank FOLAO and especially the leadership and the entire Liberian community of Toledo for making it possible for us to assemble here today.

 Few decades ago, a group of Liberian students studying in these United States under the Liberian Student Association, constituted a Task Force to study and develop the principles and objectives for an association. On April 21, 1974, that body - the Task Force submitted its final report and recommendations at a conference held at my former School Drexel University in Philadelphia which gave birth to what we know today as the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA). 

According to historian and former president Siahyonkron Nyanseor, The organizations represented at this conference were: the Liberian Students Association of New York - consisting of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut; the Liberian Students Association of Pennsylvania - including Delaware, and the Liberian Students Association of Metropolitan Washington, D. C. - including Maryland and Virginia. Among others, the purpose of the Union was to create a framework for the consideration of problems related to the welfare of Liberian people at home and the articulation of responsible collective viewpoints among Liberians abroad. As reflected in its motto “together we struggle for a better Liberia,” ULAA became a key player in shaping political developments in Liberia and building its profile as the voice of the people. It made public policy recommendations to the Government of Liberia in to improving the condition of our people, criticized other policies it disagreed with and even organized mass protests and demonstrations in some instances, to make its case.  

Over the years, many changes have taken place and therefore the role, strategy and operation of ULAA must move with the time. Three of the most notable changes that demand that ULAA change as well are the following:

  1. ULAA is no longer a union of Student organizations and there are more Liberians in the USA today than any time in the history of ULAA. That growth resulting in so many organizations and the varying needs of the people puts pressure on ULAA to adapt.
  2. Technology has revolutionized the world where social media have shrunk vast geographical areas such that someone sitting at a coffee shop in Russia and another in his bedroom in Australia can simultaneously write on the sheet of paper using google doc, OneNote or any collaborative tool on the web.
  3. Liberia is no longer a one-party state as during the True Whig Party dynasty neither is the government repressive and authoritarian as the Doe and Taylor regimes.

The changing time, landscape and demographics require a new kind of thinking, approach but especially a kind of leadership that will be nimble and versatile in adapting to the changing dynamics and meeting the demands brought on a country weary from over a decade long senseless war, which some with a poor grasp of history blamed on political agitations championed by ULAA and the progressive movement. Unfortunately, the ULAA of today has over the past decade struggled to adapt to that change. As a consequence, the Union has become conflicted as to whether it should continue its advocacy role or metamorphose into a complete not-for-profit organization with the sole purpose of providing relief and eager to enjoy sumptuous meal with the power that be or pick other low hanging fruits to play it safe as long as there are no serious civil crisis. As items on the ULAA menu lists became fewer and fewer due to conflicting agenda and slowness to adapt, public trust and interest in ULAA noted for being the voice of the people began to wane.  A broken or outdated public interface under a weak if not inept secretariat made matters worse and the information gap it created reinforced the public perception that ULAA was now outdated and served no useful purpose.

Such a sorry state of affairs representing our collective acumen and calibers has to change and this is why I am running for the position of General Secretary. ULAA is an extraordinary organization that has played a significant role in the political history of Liberia during some turbulent times and we cannot abandon such call because the job is not yet over. Now with multi-party democracy and growing population of Liberians resident in the diaspora demanding an expanded role of ULAA during this technological age, I believe that ULAA can do better.

 The secretary of any organization especially in this information age is the virtual lifeline of that organization, which serves as the tendon that holds the organization together. This is the information age and so the custodian of the organization’s records and chief correspondent is undoubtedly the lifeblood of that organization. The office of the secretary is functional when proper records are kept and disseminated. Where there is a free flow of information in the form of meeting minutes, meeting invites, press releases and other forms of communication, the likelihood of suspicion, rumors and falsehood is significantly reduced. If it is happening on the national level and not at the local or chapter level, it still does not serve us well. The National Secretary sets the tune for the Chapter secretaries. My job will be to coordinate with other secretaries across the chapters so we can share best practices and publicize chapter activities on the main ULAA website. Instead of coordination and interaction only at conventions, this can be an all-year-round affair.

The ULAA website is a significant tool not only to disseminate information but to generate revenues as well. Like Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo and others free sites that generate revenue from ads because of the number of visitors or account holders on those sites, ULAA can make money from its website. By revamping the current ULAA website to include a spot for users to post articles and respond to articles or simply interact just as we do on the various listservs (EveryLiberian, OLM, OnLiberianMedium, Horizon, UNICCO etc.), we will be taking business away from yahoo, the host for all our listservs and at the same time owning the content we create thereby attracting thousands if not millions for research on Liberia. We will also have a place on the ULAA website that is similar to craigslist or Facebook Marketplace where Liberians, other Africans and anyone can buy or sell goods and services. The goal is to have more and more people using the ULAA website. When there is enough traffic on the ULAA website which in turn attracts ads, member chapters will be able to publish their events on the ULAA website for free or at a discounted price as an added incentive for being part of the umbrella organization. The more visitors on the ULAA site the more others will be encouraged to send ULAA their press releases, announcements, etc. which are all revenue generating opportunities. I know this for a fact because I have been working in the technology sector for over a decade now.

There are little things that can be done to make information readily available to the public and thereby restore public trust again. For example, the ULAA website carries of list of all the chapter leaders and their photos but unfortunately with no contact information making it impossible for them to be contacted by a potential donor or a new comer to the community. Complete and accurate information dissemination is essential. While the current secretariat (although incomplete as the positions for two assistant secretaries have been left vacant) is doing incredibly well, but when you check and find that the list of former presidents, for instance is either incomplete or inaccurate, you can tell that in addition to the writing ability of the General Secretary, computer knowledge at the minimum, maintaining a website is very essential. This helps the secretary to make some of these changes quickly without having to run behind one webmaster for weeks if not months to make updates to the site. While these skills are difficult for one person to have, you have a rare case in your humble servant. There is only one aspirant for Secretary General who writes/communicates very well and is also computer savvy. That person is me. There is only one published author in the race for secretary general. Again that is me. There is only one blogger in the race, someone who has written extensively on Liberian issues for over a decade now. There is only one person in the race who earns a living as a Project Manager and as most of you may know, the job of a secretary is about communication and for a project manager, communication is the number one skill he or she must have.

Fellow Liberians and friends, I am not only qualified for the job but I have demonstrated consistently that hiring me for General Secretary of ULAA is getting two or more for the price of one. From being a class room teacher, community newspaper editor, political blogger, secretary for many organizations to my day job as a project Manager, I have what it takes to revitalize the secretariat that will take ULAA to the next level.  Besides the knowledge, skills and experience, I also have the character, credibility and a heart for volunteerism that ULAA so desperately needs. 

Please vote for me to repair ULAA’s broken public interface so as to rekindle the public trust again. Call your family and friends to support my candidacy and give me their vote so that together we struggle for a better Liberia and a viable Liberian community in the Diaspora. If you want change from the neglectful and irresponsible ways the ULAA secretariat has conducted the affairs of the Union in the past, then Dennis Chewlae Jah is your guy for the job. I thank you very much!

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