Liberians Search for New Leaders Amid Claims and Accusations - (Part I)

By Jefferson Cooper

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 21, 2007


One of the oldest Liberian community organizations in the US, the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota (OLM) is searching for new leaders who will bring community services and development, which residents are long overdue.

• Possibly the largest immigrant community in Minnesota, the Liberian community lags far behind Somalis in developments and social services for its members. OLM has no social programs for the growing Liberian youth and elder population in the Minneapolis and St. Paul areas. They have no place they can go to or social services available for its youth and elders compares to the Somalis whose leaders have benefited immensely both state and federal grants that went to community centers and provide social services to their people.

• Most of Liberian programs are held in churches and cities hall in contrast to the Somali and Hmong immigrants who have many community centers of their own.

In 2003, the late US Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) and former Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN) helped secured $250,000 federal grant to build a community center for Liberians in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center areas. The money was either withdrawn because George Wuo and the current administration headed by Mrs. Martha Sinoe failed to meet federal guidelines before been released into OLM’s account or it has not been put to use. Whatever the explanation, the Liberians have benefited from this grant.

But at a public debate on Nov. 11, Sinoe said that that she has received the $248, 000 with $2, 000 deducted by HUD for processing. She will talk in detail about the money after the Dec. 2 elections.

Her opponents said Sinoe was misusing information regarding the $250,000 to remain in power, a position they said she has failed to execute. They also accused Sinoe of claiming credit for the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) that the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf lobbied hard and won for Liberians in the US.

Sinoe is standing for reelection her vice president Jackson George and two other candidates. She did not return calls seeking comments.

“No single person should claim credit for DED,” said Kerper Dwanyen, CEO of Acme Mortgage Corp in Brooklyn Center. Dwanyen said DED was a result of a collective effort of all well-meaning Liberians including OLM. Kerper most importantly it was the result of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s hard work and diplomatic skills coupled with her strong relationships with US President George Bush.

Dwanyen, 48, is a Certifies Financial Consultant with six years in the mortgage business.

Sinoe has openly accused Dwanyen of taking part in the Liberian civil war. “Let Mr. Dwanyen tell the Liberian people the truth about his role in the war”, Martha Sinoe, current head of OLM who is seeking reelection told an audience of about 300 recently at a community meeting Nov. 11

Dwanyen dismissed Sinoe’s accusations as a distortion of good work for peace in his country that Liberians enjoy today. Dwanyen said the allegation stemmed from the help gave the Economic Community West African States (ECOWAS) Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in 1992 when, as a son of Nimba County, he worked with the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) and ECOWAS to prevent Charles Taylor from taking Monrovia by force when Taylor launched the infamous Octopus attack on Monrovia.

Dwanyen said he was in Monrovia in 1992 with a container of clothes and cosmetics for a boutique when he was approached by the government to speak to Nimba citizens about the good intentions of ECOWAS peacekeepers who were trying to dislodge rebel soldiers from Nimba County, then a stronghold of Charles Taylor’ rebels.

Dwanyen said it was hypocritical on the part of Sinoe to smear his character. He said Martha Sinoe was one of the main financiers of Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). Dwanyen said Sinoe was a constant host to Col. Eric Dagbason one of MODEL main battle field commanders who died fighting in Liberia. An estimated 250,000 Liberians were killed in the war that ended in 2003.

Kerper maintained that his role in the war was to help end Taylor’s tyranny and looting of the country’s resources. He said now, he wants to end the ineptitude that has plagued the Liberian Community in Minnesota for 35 years.

But the search for leaders in Minneapolis is as divisive as politics can be. Claims, accusations and allegations abound.

Mr. Wynfred D Russell, 34, a resident of Brooklyn Park, is also on the ballot for the OLM presidency. His challengers accuse him of falsely claiming that he is a professor. Russell has granted many interviews to local and state media including Minnesota Public Radio and Minneapolis Star Tribune in which he was referred to as Prof. Wynfred D. Russell.

Russell’s campaign team had said on, a Minnesota based Web site that Russell once “managed a doctoral program in economics, at the University of Minnesota which has produced two Nobel Prize laureates.”

The University of Minnesota Department of Economics office manager said “Mr. Russell was a “graduate program coordinator” about five years ago. “He did not manage a doctoral program here,” the manager said. The office manager said the University doctoral program in economics is managed by the chair of economics- a position that requires a Ph.D. and extensive published researched works

When asked at the Nov. 11 debate in Brooklyn Park whether he was professor, the former adjunct instructor at the University of Minnesota said he was claiming the title “Professor” because “it is a term of endearment.” But in an interview days before with this reporter, Russell had said that he does not call himself a professor.

Mr. Jackson George, another contender for the presidency, said the main problem OLM face is its structure: the executive members and board members elected. As a result, there is a power struggle between the two. To resolve this problem, George said OLM must become a service-focused organization with an executive director as its head.

George said he was prepared to move swiftly once elected to rid OLM of what called “systemic problems.”

Similarly, Dwanyen has offered to restructure the organization to make it more service-oriented and make the executive director the highest position appointed by the board. Dwanyen wants OLM to function as a non-profit body with an outside board overseeing it to enable to focus on community development and services. “The presidency which I seek will be the first casualty under my administration,” Dwanyen said.

One resident, Dr. Clarence Yaskey, said what Liberians need is a team of visionary leaders, with proven leadership abilities and skills to move the community from its status quo to developments and services for its members.

After 35 years in existence, the OLM still does not have a community center compared to Hmong and Somali communities. But all that may change if the estimated 25,000 Liberians in the Twin Cities vote right leaders on Dec. 2. Three of the candidates challenging the Martha Sinoe leadership said there is a need to depoliticize OLM and by transforming it into a service oriented-organization.

Mr. Paul Wilson, former vice president and a resident of Brooklyn Park said recent and past failures of OLM have a lot to do with lack of leadership skill. “OLM has a unique problem that needs attention. That problem is that past and current OLM leaders have not followed protocol,” Wilson said.

Birthed in 1972 as an advocacy body for Liberian immigrants, the Organization for Liberians in Minnesota (OLM) is the oldest Liberian organization in the Twin Cities.

© 2007 by The Perspective

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