EULOGY : Thomas Doe Nah: Prolificity Humanified

      A Eulogy by Samuel D. Tweah, Jr.

                                                   Thomas Doe Nah: Prolificity Humanified

 

                                                            A Eulogy by Samuel D. Tweah, Jr.

Thomas Doe Nah was among the finest in his generation.  The creative and innovative spark ran through his arteries like blood, enabling him to distill complex challenges through fresh and fertile lenses scarcely imagined by compatriots. He could illuminate the quotidian, setting it in stark relief and forcing others to gasp in awe that what was otherwise perceived as ordinary held the potential to goad or to inspire into action or toward greatness. He applied these gifts and skills throughout his life and career in myriad ways:  as a sports enthusiast and sportswriter in the late eighties; as a University of Liberia (UL) student political leader quietly weaponizing innovation and creativity to nearly disrupt the dominance of the Student Unification Party (SUP); as a banker, abstracting from routine banking processes and procedures to develop new approaches that assured greater results; as a social advocate defining the fight against corruption as the crux of Liberia’s national development challenge long before anti-corruption policy in Liberia was vogue;  as a technologist using modern technology and its adaptations to variously simplify,  elucidate, motivate, inspire and organize; and even as a family man leveraging his enthusiasm as a morbid fan of Arsenal F.C. and his footballing knowledge to personally drive his two sons Denny and Kenny to the echelons of Liberian football.  Thomas Doe Nah brought his varied range of skills, expertise, experiences, and his super-human motivation to bear in his first call to public duty as Commissioner General (CG) of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), where he took domestic revenue to its highest nominal level since the country’s founding.

Thomas Doe-Nah

And so shattering was the news of his passing in India on the evening of December 23, 2023, after succumbing to the ailment he was battling.  A beautiful wife had lost a great and loving husband, three well-groomed children had lost their inspirational father, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and other siblings had lost the family pillar, countless friends in and out of Liberia had lost a  loyal buddy, and the nation had lost a patriotic soul who held endless visions and conversations about Liberia’s transition from the nadir of its political decrepitude to the zenith of its true potential.

I first met Thomas, T-man or T-Doe as he was variously, affectionately dubbed, on the main campus of the UL in the mid-nineties.  He was in the throes of building a formidable student movement but was doing so, as was his wont, quietly. Silence and reticence were weapons he lavishly deployed to distract onlookers. He would go at great lengths to appear unassuming, to mask the force of his personality, allowing the consequences of his innovations and actions to betray that force. While serving as its chairman, he quietly recruited many promising young freshman and other students into the Student Democratic Alliance: Boima S. Kamara, Dixon Worwlee Seboe, Acarous Moses Gray, Nathaniel Farlo Mcgill, Varfolay Gbandoe Tulay among so many.  Wielding a gift for organizing, he was adept at spotting and recruiting talent and using it to widen the reach of his organization’s goals.  I found myself walking every evening from the UL main campus to Thomas’ 24th Street residence, holding wide-ranging conversations about strategy, politics, and revolution.  In all these discussions, I sensed the latent storm of a revolution brewing within the man, biding its time to explode. When I decided to join STUDA, I did so because I was drawn to the quiet revolution he was wreaking as a student leader.

Thomas’ formative years at the UL bore the telltale signs of everything he eventually became. He was a student of strategy and he used UL student politics to test the rigors of his strategic genius, as he would subsequently use strategy in his career as a banker, as a social advocate, and as a revenue czar. He adopted innovation and creativity as the byword for his UL student revolution, launching tutorial programs for incoming students, sanitizing dehumanizing bathrooms, organizing drama and different social clubs that brought different genres of students together to pursue various goals. Many of these organizations did not have outright political objectives. But Thomas’ mind was an Aristotelian one: man by nature is a political animal and so all these would eventually redound to his strategic student political aim. In the end, when Thomas contested the leadership of the University of Liberia Student Union as the Standard Bearer of the SIM- STUDA coalition, the result was a shocker. He lost by a mere 41 votes, and of course, it had to take some electoral jujitsu for SUP to edge him by 41.

Thomas began his career as an accountant at the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), where he was recruited with the likes of John B. S. Davies by Mrs. Elfredi Tamba, who served as General Manager. Elfreda Tamba loomed large in the formative organizational mindset of Thomas Doe Nah. An aficionado of strategy, he would spend countless hours telling me about the marvels Mrs. Tamba was wreaking at LBDI. He would variously praise her methods but would challenge himself to impose refinements and modifications on her approach. Her demanding rigor, exactitude, and discipline he admired, and these traits were to influence his thinking and actions in the years ahead. We held many of these LBDI conversations during our evening dinner at our one-bedroom 13th Street apartment, where we usually ate rice mixed with mashings of corned beef or luncheon meat, prepared by young chef Jefferson Tamba Koijee, who was drawn to Thomas from his heyday at the UL, coming under his tutelage and influence at a very young age.

The ‘Little House’ on 13th Street was an intellectual center. After usually downing corn beef rice on most Saturday mornings, students and intellectuals would embark on endless intellectual forays, ranging from UL student politics, through discussions and debates on the Liberian civil war, on books, and on to global developments. Isaac Jackson would come by most times to modify Chef Koijee’s menu, exposing us to a particular variety of rice with our usual mashing of corned beef called bojorborlorpuan, a Bassa term we eventually began using. We also would often spend the time planning social evenings at Merit Night Club which was nearby on 11th street, where we often went to enjoy great music by DJ Fargo.  I and Thomas honed our social skills at Merit, where we learned some serious real dance moves and where I learned from Thomas that social advances had to be ‘gracefully tactical and restrained’, a kind of advancing without advancing, the Nahian maneuver I would be witness to on countless occasions. When Thomas returned from   Ireland on an LBDI-sponsored information technology training, the ‘13th Street lectures’ took on a new dimension. Thomas’ congenital innovation had now acquired an information technology bent and from then on, the world would never again be the same.

Thomas NAh Doe with staff of CENTAL

Even Thomas’ life would never again be the same. One evening, he barged through the door buzzing with excitement, eager to share something. I had prepared my mind for another discussion into a strategy on an IT innovation or something of that sort. “Busted,” he blurted, using the term we often deployed to describe our broke and busted status as moneyless young people.  “I saw a ravishing beauty with grace, elegance and poise that I believe I can get and marry.” ‘Grace, elegance, and poise’ were the passwords in the Nahian maneuver. We shared his excitement. Get, yes, since that was immediate and had to be pursued. Marriage, we thought not sure, since this lay far ahead yet. What Jefferson Tamba Koijee and I needed most was somebody to start sending us regular cassava leaf, potato greens, or palm butter dishes to escape the boredom of corned beef and luncheon meat ‘dry rice’.  Intense strategy sessions on capturing Queenie Kamara ensued. Conceal excitement when facing a target, using praise, tact, and poise in their balanced proportion as effective tools, were his usual musings. When the beautiful eagle finally landed at 13th Street, we were happy for Thomas but the reason for our glee lay elsewhere.

 

Thomas Doe-Nah(r), Mrs. Nah, and Samuel Tweah, former Finance Minister, during the hay days.

And so, with Queenie Kamara by his side, stability had entered the man’s life. The two would eventually marry in 2003 to begin what would become a great and wonderful life together, blessed with three children: Denny, Kenny, and Cynthia.  Thomas would subsequently move on to greater heights. Thomas left LBDI and joined the International Bank (IB) but not as a traditional banker.  He was given the charge to build and lead the money gram remittance program at IB. Remittance inflows are a partial lynchpin to Liberia’s macroeconomic stability.  The ebbs and flows of remittances, especially in response to global economic booms and busts, have jived with the ups and downs of Liberia’s macroeconomics. As such, his running the IB MoneyGram remittance program enabled him to enhance Liberia’s macroeconomic fortunes, albeit indirectly. He was extremely proud of his achievements at IB, raking in about the highest volume of remittance flows by industry standards at the time. Little did he know that this experience would prove seminal in his future more direct contribution to the assertion of macroeconomic fundamentalism as a revenue czar.

Thomas Doe Nah sensed that routine banking or its non-traditional variants ran at cross-purposes with the monstrous transformative force bubbling within him.  He was an agile figure, endowed with a fierce but quiescent competitive drive. Traditional routine banking might sap this vigor. The world was out there to be conquered, to be transformed. His next assignment at the US Embassy brought him closer to these aspirations, affording him a fresh perspective into the interface of national policy and international diplomacy. At the embassy, he gained exposure to the governing sub-structures of Liberia’s policy environ, working as an economic officer whose task was to assess and analyze policy and overall governance, supporting the embassy’s interactions with the Liberian Government. In this role, Thomas supported the establishment of the Governance and Economic Management Program (GEMAP), heralded by the US Government, as a beginning toward constructing Liberia’s post-conflict governance architecture in marked departure to prewar and intra-war patterns of governance. This was an experience Thomas relished. Prior to GEMAP, when I had returned from the U.S. in 2005 for elections, Thomas would discuss with me at length the important work he was doing at the embassy, and how that work was opening new vistas for his perception of Liberia. He even shared the embassy’s perception of the crowd momentum of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), after the CDC had staged a major rally at the party headquarters, which was the talk of the town. “The embassy folks were impressed with the crowd but mainly with the balance between grown men and women and the absence of kids”, he had said.  He was making this observation in contradistinction to an earlier rally the CDC had staged, which had shown a prevalence of too many young people to the near exclusion of ‘grown working men and women.’

Eventually, Thomas left the embassy in pursuit of visions churning in his mind. Few individuals would disrupt the certainty of a nine-to-five job or career path to settle for building an alternative career more in tune with their aspirations. Those who do so have an innate confidence in their capacity and exhibit a measured tolerance for risk that is balanced only by the belief that visions and concepts imagined must have a chance at the dawn of reality. Thomas Doe Nah was of this genre. T-Doe was born to be a creative human force, to transform ailing student organizations and limping social causes into meaningful enterprises; to imagine social constructs and will them into being by the sheer force of ideas and sustained action. It was this drive that led Thomas to join deceased comrade G. Jasper Cummeh and others in establishing the Center for Transparency and Accountability (CENTAL) in 2004.

Thomas Doe Nah and his compatriots were ahead of their generation in establishing CENTAL. Thomas had seen the role non-governmental organizations had played during Liberia’s civil crisis and the immediate years after conflict. These institutions were delivering humanitarian relief and providing capacity diminished by the war-induced collapse of government institutions, which would require some time to recover. Many Liberians began to write project proposals to donor organizations for delivering post-conflict emergency services, or for service delivery in key sectors such as health and education. Others were organizing civil society organizations that seemed too meshed with the political class. Still, other Liberians saw their post-war future in the political space via the joining or establishing of political parties, arguing that politics is the be-all and the end-all of the Liberian society. Nah himself briefly dabbled briefly in this thinking, joining the movement-styled Liberians for Winston Tubman (LIBWIN), in which he and Nathaniel Farlo Mcgill were the major organizing actors. I too was involved with LIBWIN while in the U.S. but withdrew later to establish the CDC. Thomas soon sensed that between short-term visions of forming NGO-type organizations for service delivery and a career path as a full-time politician, there lay a vast middle to be filled by a purposeful more long-term vision of enduring value: his anti-corruption vision would be the best candidate. If politics was critical in the recovery and rebuilding of Liberia, he reasoned it had to be a different kind of politics. Some independent or serious-minded group of Liberians or organizations had to hold the politicians’ feet to the fire in a rather different form and manner than the country had seen. Thomas provided the vision and the intellectual leadership for this rethinking in the form now widely known and respected as CENTAL.

Anti-corruption policy in Liberia was a new phenomenon emerging only after the debris of war.

Liberia’s state collapse in the nineties was occasioned largely by corruption which sustained major class divisions in the country. Thomas’ grasp of the post-conflict nuances, challenges, and opportunities of governance in Liberia while working with the GEMAP program greatly spurred his thinking and ambition on the role CENTAL could play in cementing anti-corruption policy in Liberia.

And Thomas was best fit to lead this fight against corruption as a simple, honest, and patriotic Liberian. Born to the union of God-fearing Christian parents, mother Suzana Cummings, and his father Athanasius Nah, Thomas Doe Nah was raised on a staple of strong moral scruples of fairness and integrity. In several visits to the home of his mother,  Consu, as siblings affectionately called their mother, and that of his father, who both resided in the borough of Old Road, I could immediately sense the stern upbringing that had stood the young Thomas in good stead. Their conversations severally betrayed the discipline and probity that groomed young Thomas into the man he had become, his penchant for caution, silence, frugality, and fairness emerging from principles, beliefs, and worldviews shared by his parents.  His father had once run a business in Tapita, Nimba county, imparting a practical business sense of discipline to the young Thomas. I observed the same sense of probing rectitude in conversations with his elder sister, now Supreme Court Justice Jamesetta Howard-Wolokollie, whose conservative stances and tough demeanor were occasionally the subject of our many discussions. These were the virtues Thomas Doe Nah would stand on to lead STUDA, CENTAL, the Carter Center, and more recently the Lions Club and a few others.

When I returned from the U.S. in 2011 to take up residence in Liberia and began work as an economist with the Government, I met Thomas in full command of CENTAL, brimming with ideas and unleashing many different programs. My brother Cllr. Norris Tweah, then Deputy Minister of Information, and James Thompson, then management consultant, were inseparable from Thomas. They would spend hours together daily.    They would support him in his work at CENTAL while feeding on his expansive innovative charisma.  Today, CENTAL has arguably a long way to go to perfect its founding vision, but there is no denying it has imposed a credible dent in the anti-corruption space in Liberia, thanks in large measure to Thomas Doe Nah. Gifted with an eye for talent, Thomas nurtured a cadre of young leaders at CENTAL, whose capacity and expertise have been a boon to the institution after he departed from CENTAL.

He subsequently left for a Master’s at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, an experience and education that added fuel to his already burning urges for change.  He would share wonderful insights from distinguished Harvard professors, relate perspectives from Harvard colleagues from many countries, share motivating Ted Talk series with me on a range of subjects, and generally discussed books. After Harvard, Thomas joined the management team at Carter Center, a globally reputed institution straddling niches of governance, development, and electioneering. He would remain at Carter Center until he is appointed Commissioner General of the LRA.

Thomas’ reputation for integrity, innovation, and transformation preceded him and largely willed his appointment as the CG of the LRA. Long before I could even broach the subject of his replacing Mrs. Elfreda Tamba as CG in 2018, Monrovia was agog with rumors that the man had gotten the job. Truthfully, we had had no such conversation and I had never discussed this with the President. When the rumor became so pervasive, he visited me to discuss how it was that I had not even talked to him about going to LRA but the whole town was whizzing about it.  I joked in response that in politics perception tended to always be ahead of reality. I related to him that people probably expected that I would recommend him for the job but that his skills, character, and reputation were bigger reasons behind the widespread rumor.

Thomas Doe-Nah

When the rumor finally congealed into truth, Thomas Doe Nah found himself sitting before President George Manneh Weah in his office at the Executive Mansion. The President had asked to see the man I had lavished with praise.  I had previously variously related to the President what Thomas thought of his ‘out-sized’ generosity, in particular, and of his personality more generally. In several conversations on George Weah, Thomas had attributed his political rise more to his humanitarian largesse than to his stardom as a football legend.   He often reminded me of the kindness Mr. Weah had shown the Legends of Virtue, a social club at the University of Liberia, of which we were both members. Legends had asked Mr. Weah for support for its inauguration program, and we had gone to see Mr. Weah on the request. When Amb Weah handed some crisp US 100-dollar bills amounting to $7,000, Thomas was touched. Seven thousand U.S. dollars was no child’s play in the late nineties, probably the equivalent of US$30,000, adjusting for inflation in today’s terms. Thomas would often recount Mr. Weah’s support for the University of Liberia, both to students and the University of Liberia student Union, in scholarships, renovation of the student center and donation of buses, as well as support to families for weddings, funerals, and other important causes.  Now Thomas Doe Nah sat right before the man whose generosity he was inspired by, probably prepared for his first interview for one of the most important positions in the Government of Liberia.

But it was hardly an interview for Thomas was characteristically quiet for much of the time as both exchanged pleasantries and started small talk. Walking him out of the Mansion after the meeting, I asked while he surprisingly didn’t say much during the meeting, to which he responded, “Bob,” which was the avuncular way we occasionally addressed one another in our close circle on jovial occasions, “the presidency can be overwhelming even for the brightest mind.” I agreed with him.   During Thomas’ second meeting held this time in the presence of Nathaniel McGill, he was unreservedly expressive about his vision for the LRA. When he left the second meeting, one impression stood out the most: the President’s statement that the future of the country lay in the hands of people like Thomas who were now challenged to do their utmost in service to the country.

Rising to this challenge was something Thomas set his sight on when he began work as CG in the middle of 2018. This was a year of economic and politically motivated turbulence. Exchange rate volatility, soaring inflation, and declining revenue depicted a gloomy macroeconomic picture. Macro fundamentalism was weak, and we had to battle this at the Economic Management Team meetings at the Central Bank of Liberia. In 2019, the economic crisis deepened, and the Government moved into the IMF-supported program, having previously undertaken a series of reforms in the nation’s wage system, without which the Government would have collapsed. As the crisis deepened, Thomas once paid me a visit at my 16th Street apartment to wrap his head around the dire economic situation. “What are we doing wrong, DTweah?“ he had asked. I relished the question as a moment of truth and honesty between two buddies at a very bleak moment in the country, friends entrusted with critical roles in turning the dark situation around. “We are doing nothing wrong Thomas,” I replied, adding “that if Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz held my position and were not given any extra help, he would make the same decisions we are making today. It is only a matter of time before success happens. We can do nothing but wait.” This is a conversation I have heard Thomas recount severally at public functions, describing the macroeconomic turnaround that began in 2020, impinging on deficit management, inflation reduction, exchange rate stability, and domestic revenue mobilization.

Of course, Thomas went on the collect the highest level of domestic revenue nominally, and he did so by building a strong team at the LRA and by drawing on his congenital gift for innovation and creativity. A huge part of Thomas’ success at LRA lay in the strategic reorganization of the LRA, building on the foundation CG Elfreda Tamba had laid. Thomas had a keen sense of people and their capabilities, and he had to reassign staff to achieve optimal outcomes. Drawing on his experience with technology, Thomas brought transparency to most of LRA processes and payment systems using digitalization. He motivated LRA staff by launching a highly successful credit scheme in which workers could take advances on their salary to consume goods and services, a program he wanted to see widely adopted by the Government as a stimulus for macroeconomic consumption. He knew how to push and inspire people to get things done.

Raising revenue is a complex process.    The ultimate goal of a revenue czar is minimizing any gap or large discrepancies between business transactions and sales that companies periodically report through tax filings to revenue authorities and the actual volume of sales that factually occur. The larger this gap, the greater the size of the revenue leakage. Technology and digitization are the major means to solving this tax collection dilemma and Thomas would usually discuss his ideas in this area and share the successes he was having with trial runs of Point-of-Sale digital devices located at businesses. We would discuss his reorganization of the real estate tax division, his organization of the Sinkor business areas into tax districts, and the general potential for improvements in real estate tax collection. We would discuss the need to minimize tax expenditures and giveaways and reforms we were pursuing in legislation to achieve these aims.  Most of our revenue conversations would wind its way back to technology and the role it could play in talking Liberia closer to billions in revenue and the whole process of change management in revenue reorganization across African countries.

Thomas Doe Nah: Prolificity Humanified - FrontPageAfrica

Thomas  Doe-Nah(L) and Samuel Tweah

As he became more and more successful, he launched the ‘going to billions program.”  He once mentioned to me that an observant visitor scanning the Liberian economy from our borders through the major economic corridors would reach the inevitable conclusion that we should be doing a billion yearly in revenue. “ DTweah if we could increase revenue by $200 million annually,” he would often say, “we could increase it by the next $200 million moving us closer to a billion. But serious work has to be done.” Thomas was overly committed to pursuing this goal and the President and the Government were determined to help him achieve it. We had a model relationship any minister of finance and LRA CG should have to achieve revenue maximization. I sometimes received complaints that “Thomas was eroding my powers as  a finance minister in his drive to collect revenue,” to which I often responded, “I could cede more authority to him to do more for his country.”

Discussing the motivation and drive of Thomas Doe Nah could consume pages, the prolific and multi-faceted man he was. Every goal he approached he did so with the full panoply of his strategic, galvanizing genius. He even applied his strategic mindset to his family, drawing on his knowledge of football and his enthusiasm for Arsenal F.C. to raise his two sons Denny and Kenny to the highest level of Liberian football. Most parents would allow the passion of their children to ineluctably take flight: Thomas goaded his boys into footballing excellence, with the pair now playing for the Invincible Eleven F. C. He was probably a coach and motivator more than he was a father to these boys and their beautiful little sister Cynthia Nah, the full replica of her beautiful mother Queenie Nah, who herself was transformed from the receding taciturn beauty queen she once was to the fully intellectually practiced and assertive Queenie we now see. He was the pillar to his siblings and a veritable bastion to countless friends.

Now lies Thomas Doe Nah beyond the Elysian realms of life, leaving us mortals the business of conjuring up reminiscences and remembrances of his short but wonderful and impactful life. We are all broken by his loss and join the family, friends, and the nation in this difficult moment of grief.   His life continues in the lives he touched in innumerable ways, in the memories he stirred within so many people, in the laughs he evoked via boundless, unrestrained, sometimes ironic humor. No more shall we behold that receding façade of quietude he presented, only to be elegantly belied by the illuminating, transformative consequences of his actions.  Ron Chernow, the prolific biographer, in Washington: a Life, captures the first American president George Washington describing himself thus: “With me it has always been a maxim rather to allow my designs appear by my works than by my expressions.” Thomas Doe Nah might have said the same thing about himself, except that he never said it; those of us who shared intimate spaces with him only observed it. He was deeply private yet more public in the same vein, a duality he nursed strategically to achieve his aims.  He impacted a generation- family, friends, students, professionals, politicians, clerics, organizations, and Governments through the sheer reach of his amiable personality and by dint of his versatile, creative organizational genius.  He now resides at the interface of memory and history, which will undoubtedly do more than its fair share of justice to his pursuits, impacts and accomplishments and even more so to his flaws and failings as a human being.

May his blessed soul rest in peaceful repose perpetually and may God grant us the strength to carry on where he has left off!

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