Reflections – the context and the beginning of my decade-long public service – With Dr. James F. Kollie
Whenever you are lost and don’t know where to start from; it is always a good thing to start at the beginning. It also always good to provide context to what you are about to explain so that people who don’t know much about the subject matter can appreciate the utility of the story.
Here is how my decade-long public service in Liberia started…
It was 0n Thursday, 29 January 2009 that I received an email from Mr. Ignatius Geegbae, Administrative Assistant at the UNDP who was working on the TOKTEN program, inviting me to interview for the position of Deputy National Coordinator of the Liberia Reconstruction and Development Committee (LRDC). He wrote that the interview was scheduled for 4 February 2009 at 11″00 AM. I didn’t know what the LRDC was and so I asked him to send me the ToR for my review. I also do not know how he got my CV and I have never asked him to this date.
After reviewing the ToR, I agreed to do the interview. The interesting thing is that a few days earlier, I had given my employer (Merrill Corporation) my ‘two-week’ notice that I would be leaving my position on Friday, 13 February 2009. And so, an interview for a job in Liberia that was scheduled for 4 February 2009 was like a miracle. Besides, the ToR looked interesting. The LRDC sounded like our Office of Agenda Management (OAM) that we had conceptualized during the founding of the CDC. Or maybe, it was really only Dtweah and I who conceptualized that whole OAM thing because it seems that no one else in the movement even appreciated that concept or attached any value to it. But well, we were excited about it, then and so the LRDC gig looked more fascinating to me.
On 3 February 2009, Mr. Geegbae informed me that the interview had been cancelled and that they would get back to me in due course. This, however, did not bother me much or affected my plans because I was already set to leave my job on 13 February 2009 and fly to Monrovia on 7 March 2009. I really did have other things lined up for Monrovia and so the LRDC gig was just a bonus.
When that day came in March 2009, I packed my bag and boarded the Lufthansa flight for Accra. I stopped over in Accra for a week so that I could see my son who was schooling in Accra. I had left him in Accra in September 2008 to do one year of schoolwork in Accra.
After the week in Accra, I flew to Monrovia as planned. And later in May 2009, the UNDP invited six (6) persons including me to interview for the position of Deputy National Coordinator of the LRDC. Three (3) of us were in Monrovia and the other three (3) persons were in the US. It was a written test. After the test, they informed me that I passed the test and was shortlisted for the oral interview. They informed me that three (3) persons were shortlisted for the interview and because one (1) person was oversea, they would do a phone interview so that no one had an advantage in in-person contact with the interviewers. At the appointed time, they called, and we did the interview by phone. I thought it went well because I had spent time reading the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) and understood what it was all about. It had its shortcoming but like every strategy, it is the implementation that matters.
The UNDP later informed me that the names of two (2) persons had been forwarded to the Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs to make final decision. I later found out it was Lawrence Morris (the Honorable) who was the other person on the list.
The Minister of Planning, Amara Konneh, whom I didn’t know and had not met before, was the one we were waiting on for the final decision. Well, he decided, after few weeks, that he would give us another test before making his decision. We met at the Ministry on Saturday, 6 June 2009 for a written test and a PowerPoint presentation. I finished first and left. Later that evening, I got a call from Mr. Edward Essiah, Chief of Staff to the Minister of Planning, that the Minister had decided to offer me the position and that I should report to the Ministry on Monday, 8 June 2009. And I did! Later, I got my official letter of employment which indicated that as of 15 June 2009, I was employed as the Deputy National Coordinator of the LRDC with direct reporting responsibility to the Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs who was the National Coordination of the LRDC. Off course, the President was the Chairperson of the National Steering Committee of the LRDC.
The LRDC was the forum that brought that all the stakeholders (government, diplomatic missions, development partners, civil society, NGOs, etc) together to implement the PRS.
After the rigor of the interview process, the Government of Liberia decided that they would take a radical, opposition ideologue like me to run and manage the Secretariat responsible for the implementation of their development agenda. I want you to imagine this for a bit and reflect very deeply: the guy who considers himself a ‘founding ideologue’ of the largest opposition party that inarguable won the first round of the elections in 2005 is now hired by the Government to run its development program. Hmmmm! Don’t take this lightly! Imagine again! I am James Kollie, a founding ideologue of the CDC. I am not a founding member. Whenever someone refers to me as a founding member, I feel insulted.
Well, it happened. And this was not in a vacuum because many of the actors knew me. I was never on the closest when it came to the establishment of the CDC. I was the Secretary General of the CDC-USA. I managed the CDC website and responded to inquiries as well as critiques. I was active on Limany and The Perspective websites. I was very active on all the Liberian listserv and in all chatrooms. I was a General who was on the battle front. I didn’t only strategize; I executed battlefield plans.
Everyone who was paying attention to Liberian politics at that time knew me and/or interacted with me. Even after I left the CDC on 16 February 2006, I moved directly into championing the establishment of the Neo Progressive Movement so I wasn’t an unknown quantity insofar as my opposition political views were concerned.
However, Minister Konneh and President Sirleaf decided that they would take their bet with me. They apparently saw some value or quality in me that they were willing to overlook my politics and utilize my expertise. They knew that the benefits outweigh the risks of having me run the implementation of the country’s development agenda. That is true leadership! They went for talent and capacity over political loyalty. They wanted to get stuff done and they knew that James Kollie could help them. There are many James Kollie out there.
Well, for whatever it is worth, I was given the opportunity to contribute to my motherland. I had convinced myself, as a Neo Progressive, that helping my country was more important than my political view of any particular persons and so I put my all into doing the job of coordinating the implementation of the development agenda. I wasn’t concern whether it made President Sirleaf looked good or not; I was concerned about whether a Liberian child in Toe’s town would benefit from one more clinic or one more school. And if because of my coordinating effort, one more mile of road was paved, it didn’t matter who was the President when it happened. What mattered the most was that it got done and that child benefited.
The lesson here is that we should always, not some time, go for capacity and competence over political view and loyalty. I am a perfect example of someone overlooking my political worldview and position and extending to me the opportunity to make my contribution to my country.
The position that I occupied between June 2009 and March 2012 as Deputy National Coordinator of the LRDC was an extremely important position. It wasn’t high profile, but it was extremely important and critical. It was like sitting in the President’s office and managing the development agenda. For an opposition kid to have been given that opportunity is indeed a lesson in governance. It meant that after the campaigning was over and governance started, the country needed folks who could deliver, and the leaders saw me as one of those persons. I had gone through several interviews and came highly recommended. I had shown my capability and the leaders noticed. Though they were warned of my politics, they decided that I was worth more to them than the portrayal of my political views.
This is how my decade-long public service began in Liberia and this is one lesson to be learned from that beginning…
Remember! I wasn’t just another Liberian. I was a political figure with very strong views. It wasn’t like just bring another person on board who is not in our party; it was bringing on a key opposition figure into a critical role. This is not accommodation; it is leadership that believe that in talents.
And no one ever asked me to join their party before I could get this gig or continue with it! Absolutely no one. And I never joined the Unity Party.