Remembering Tom six Years After

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The late Tom Kamara

In observance of the 6th anniversary of his passing on June 8, 2012, through the following articles and tributes we remember our founding Managing Editor and Publisher, Tom Kamara and the legacy he left behind for the New Democrat, Liberia and African Journalism.

A Tribute To Tom Kamara: journalist, fighter for press freedom, human rights, justice, democracy (Posted on 11 June 2012 by Dr. Fred P.M. van der Kraaij)

While in Monrovia last month I met with Tom Kamara, the Managing Editor of the New Democrat, one of Liberia’s best-known and independent newspapers. When we separated we agreed to meet again in the Netherlands, in June. However, we would never meet again. While travelling to the Netherlands last week, he suddenly collapsed at Brussels International Airport, went into coma and never recovered. On Friday, June 8 he was pronounced dead. He was 63 years old.

Who was Tom Kamara?

Tom Kamara was one of Liberia’s most outstanding journalists, independent, fearless, someone ‘who could not be bought’. He fought for freedom of the press, human rights, justice and democracy. His independent opinion and writings brought him into conflict with presidents, warlords and other powerful people. In the 1980s he was imprisoned by President Samuel Doe. In 1990 he was shot by warlord Prince Johnson. In the 1990s his newspaper offices were set on fire by Charles Taylor’s forces. More recent, he displeased President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who even considered taking him to court.

Tom Kamara was a Kissi from Lofa County, in northwestern Liberia. He was born in a small village called Sodu, in the Foya chiefdom, Lofa County, where he attended primary school. He obtained his secondary school education in Tubman High in Monrovia, followed by the University of Liberia in the 1970s. He started as a reporter with the Liberian Star, one of the main newspapers during the Administration of President Tolbert (1971-1980). In 1981 he returned to Liberia from the USA where he had studied journalism at the University of Texas and became the editor of the New Liberian.

His criticism of Samuel Doe’s People’s Redemption Council and uncompromising writings led to his arrest but he managed to escape from prison of the National Security Agency, just hours before he was to be summarily executed by Doe’s henchmen during his transfer to the notorious Bella Yella prison. I remember the article in The New African, a leading magazine in those days, narrating his miraculous escape. Unfortunately I did not succeed in tracing an electronic version of this article. The orginal version is in one of the trunks filled with Liberia related stuff somewhere in my attic.

 

In 1985 Tom Kamara was in Accra/Ghana, where he, James Fromayan – the former NEC boss – and Charles Taylor were in close contact – four Liberian refugees living in the same place. The fourth person was Charles Taylor’s girl friend at that time ( ‘Agnes’). To avoid any misunderstanding: neither Tom nor James shared Taylor’s political ideas or were associated with his plans and undertakings. Charles Taylor had escaped from a US prison and arrived in Ghana with the help of Boima Fahnbulleh, a good friend of then Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings. James Fromayan confirmed me this story and even gave me some additional interesting information when we met last month. It again shows a major characteristic of the Liberian political system: virtually all important actors know each other well.

Tom later moved to the Netherlands, it is not known why and how. It is interesting to note that in the same period another major Liberian political player, Togba Nah Tipoteh, had been granted asylum in the Netherlands after he fled Liberia following the execution of the vice-chairman of the PRC, Thomas Weh-Syen in 1981.

When the first civil war raged the country (1989-1996) Tom Kamara was at home. He was closely associated with the Interim Government of National Unity of Interim President Amos Sawyer, a close friend of his.

In 1990 Tom, James Fromayan and some others were on Bushrod Island, near the Vai Bridge, when they met Prince Johnson, leader of the Independent National Patriottic Front of Liberia (INPFL) – one of the warring factions – who was moving towards downtown Monrovia. I was told this encounter last month by both James and Tom. Prince Johnson questioned them what they were doing in the area and wanted to kill them, but they managed to escape though Tom was badly wounded. He was shot in his leg. He would never completely recover.

Immediate treatment in Monrovia was not successful due to the lack of qualified medical personnel. Tom was evacuated to the Netherlands for further medical treatment, but the damage caused by the lack of immediate effective medical treatment was irreparable. He was hospitalized for many months in the Netherlands, followed by a stay with Dutch friends for further recovery. During his stay in the Netherlands he made many friends and often returned to this country that he considered his second home.

Back in Liberia he formed the New Democrat making the newspaper one of the most popular and most informative newspapers in Liberia. His independent writing and criticism brought him into conflict with Charles Taylor. Supporters of the warlord looted and burnt down the newspaper offices in 1996. After Charles Taylor had become president he continued to harrass Tom and his newspaper team. In 2000 the Taylor Administration even shut down the newspaper and Tom’s life was threatened. Tom again went into exile, first to Ghana then to the Netherlands where he started an online edition of his newspaper. In 2005 Tom and his wife Rachel returned home where Tom continued his work for more democracy, more justice and more press freedom.

One would expect that during the Administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who strongly advocates freedom of the press Tom’ s work in Liberia would be smooth sailing. The reality is different. In 2010 the New Democrat’s website was brought down by hackers twice in one month time. The government brought multimillion dollar libel suits against the newspaper following reports on corruption by government officials. Even President Sirleaf once wanted to sue him, he told me in his Clay Street office on May 9, but he convinced her that he had used official sources for a publication that she disliked and the libel case was called off. Their relationship certainly was strained which though did not prevent him from contacting her occasionally by telephone, he emphasized. He was a true journalist, without any fear, independent, not ready for compromises and avoiding conflicts of interest.

In February this year, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed Tom Kamara as a member of the Board of the National Port Authority, an appointment that stirred much debate. Typically for Tom, he declined the offer that very likely would have been accompanied by an interesting monthly check. On March 1 he thanked the President, adding: ‘Kindly permit me to extend my humble appreciation to you for appointing me as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Port Authority. However, due to my current busy responsibilities, it is my courteous regret to inform you, Madam President, of my unavailability this time to serve in this position.’

Yesterday, friends of Tom Kamara in the Netherlands held a memorial service at St. Andrews Cathedral in the southern town of Heerlen where he spent many years of his life.

I will remember Tom Kamara as a great and independent journalist and an ardent defender of democracy, social justice, human rights and press freedom. His demise means that a great Liberian has moved from the present to the past. RIP Tom.

A Tribute to Thomas “Tom” Saah Kamara: My Comrade in the Liberian People’s Struggle for Rice & Rights (A Tribute By Siahyonkron Nyanseor The Perspective, Atlanta, Georgia, June 22, 2012)

Andrew Jackson said once, “One man with courage can make a majority.” Mike Murdock went on to say, “You will be remembered for two things: the problem you solve or the ones you create.” Both statements remind me of my comrade and Liberia’s patriotic son, the late Thomas Tom Saah Kamara to whom this tribute is devoted.

We first worked as members of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA). And when I relocated to Liberia, March 1981, we continued our commitment to the Liberian people’s struggle for RICE and RIGHTS. At the time, Tom was employed as editor of the New Liberia; the official newspaper of the ruling People’s Redemption Council (PRC), and I was employed at the Special Projects Division of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs as an Urban Rural Planner. On the weekends, we met in Cardwell, a suburb of Monrovia at the Taylor Major’s estate, where he, Nyudueh Monorkomana (Assistant Minister of Labor) and Blamoh Nelson, deputy director, General Services Agency had their homes. Several weekends we socialized with friends, drank palm wine and ate fufu and goat soap.

Besides being a devoted journalist, Tom was a creative fictional writer. I could not wait to read his fictional episodes: “The Trial of Charles Ghankay Taylor,” which was started in the 1990’s. Many of the predictions in the episodes became reality; Taylor was found guilty and was sentenced to fifty years in prison.

During the INFPL villainous attack on central Monrovia in 1990, Tom was shot in the leg while he was transporting media equipment on Bushrod Island. He had to go Holland for proper treatment.

Tom’s aggressive style of “Investigative Reporting” made him to butt heads with the likes of Charles Ghankay Taylor, George S. Boley, Alhaji G.V. Kromah and anyone who was in his way. Due to Tom’s probing and sometimes, provoking style of going after the story, he created enemies as well as raving fans for himself in many high places. In 1996, his New Democrat office was looted and burned; the newspaper was shut down and his life was threatened. As a result, he went into exile in The Netherlands. When my colleagues, Abraham M. Williams, George H. Nubo and I started ThePerspective.org newsmagazine in June 1996, we received an e-mail from Tom, at the time he was residing in exile in the Neithelands.

The Great Patriot: President Sirleaf Pays Tribute to ‘Iconic’ Journalist Tom Kamara (Monday, 11th June 2012, Washington, D.C.)

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has learned with deep sadness the passing of iconic journalist Tom Kamara, editor and publisher of the New Democrat newspaper.

President Sirleaf referred to Mr. Kamara as a great patriot who dedicated his life to the pursuit of freedom of speech, the right of the media, and the democratic process in Liberia and in Africa.

The President learned the sad news of the death of Tom Kamara while on a working visit to the United States of America.

According to President Sirleaf, Mr. Kamara has earned a special place in the hearts of many Liberians, both at home and in the Diaspora because of his unwavering commitment to the defense of the rights of the people to speak freely, and has worked tirelessly for the strengthening of media space in Liberia as an indispensable pillar of democracy. The President expressed the wish that media practitioners, as well as the general public will emulate the work of Mr. Tom Kamara.

The President has extended her deepest condolences to the bereaved family, adding that Liberia has lost one of its greatest sons, who did not live long enough to benefit from the fruits of freedom and democracy for which he fought for so many decades.

The President said Mr. Kamara was a good friend and will be missed by the entire nation.

 A Tribute to Tom Kamara: A Liberian Giant (Seltueblog Karweaye)

Tom Kamara, the Managing Editor of the New Democrat newspaper, who became one of Liberia best known journalist for his role in promoting freedom of speech, human rights, and justice, died on Friday. Mr. Kamara died in the Netherlands after he was rushed there to seek medical attention after been ill for couple of months. A journalist with the gift of writing, Mr. Kamara went head to head with warlords, presidents, celebrities and con politicians for decades in Liberia. Both his style and the substance of his work drew criticisms from Samuel Doe regime to Taylor and even Ellen Johnson Sirleaf presidency as well as partisans of arguably the leading opposition political party, Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), and others. Critics argued his style of journalism was one sided, but Uncle Tom never conceded to their criticisms because his goal was to educate the Liberian people by bringing the information home. Uncle Tom started as a reported in 1970 with the Liberian Star Newspaper and after high school went to the United States for further studies and came back in 1981, becoming the editor of the New Liberian a pro government newspaper. He served there briefly, and was dismissed for act incompatible with the aims and objectives with the military junta, the People Redemption Council (PRC) headed by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe. Uncle Tom was sacked after he carried a picture of Master Sergeant Doe and picture of the gigantic house Mr. Doe was building in his home town of Tuzon, Grand Gedeh County. He was arrested and thrown in prison without charge. The junta leader asked than Justice Minister, the late Jenkin Scott to prepare confinement paper for him, and Scott concocted charges that were never read to him. The next day was plan for Mr. Kamara to be flown to the notorious Belleh Yellah Prison where he could have been subsequently murder but he later escaped and left the country. He resided in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Ghana for sometimes and later move to the Netherlands. In 1990, as the Liberian violent armed conflict was raging, Uncle Tom was asked by Dr. Amos Sawyer, a close friend of his to come and organize the Liberian media since the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) headed by Dr. Sawyer was returning to Liberia. When IGNU landed in Freetown, Liberians were fleeing Liberia and Freetown was over crowded with Liberian refugees. Mr. Kamara, and others suggested that it could be good with the ongoing turmoil in Liberia that IGNU contacted the Sierra Leonean authorities to grant Liberian airtime on Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SSBS) on which they could air programs by Liberian journalist already in Freetown among them Cyrus Badio. The Sierra Leone authorities agreed and the idea was given to the government but at the time Dr. Sawyer government didn’t find any relevant in it and it was discarded. Mr. Kamara and others felt at the time that there were misinformation particular coming from the National Patriot Front of Liberia (NPFL) side about the war, false pronouncements made to enhance their military standing. Uncle Tom and others felt if they had air time once or twice a week they could try to counteract those misinformation and also to assist families locate their family members behind rebel lines or vice versa. When Mr. Kamara arrived in Monrovia with IGNU in 1990, the entire city was a ghost town. Men and women who had status were seen at the Ducor Hotel (the home of IGNU) with plate and spoon looking for food to eat. His job was to organize the media infrastructure. An information process was vital since the peacekeeper was here, they needed an information infrastructure as well as the IGNU to counteract whatever was coming from the NPFL media, remember the NPFL had seize the only state short waves transmission station was broadcasting in the entire country as well as abroad. The enclave of Monrovia never hand any counter measure with the level of information that was coming from behind the lines. Uncle Tom, along with his junior colleagues, Cyrus Badio, the late Gabriel Gwelakaju and others went to the Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS). There were lot of equipment’s at LBS but the building was under bombardment from the NPFL. Mr. Kamara and his team took some equipment to salvage them and headed toward Bushrod Island where Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) leader Prince Yomie Johnson (now Senator in the Liberian Senate) almost shot him but missed him by inches after asking him series of question where he was going because he (Prince) was advancing toward central Monrovia. The next stage was what next to do? Mr. Kamara gathered some journalists at the Coast Guard base to reorganize the state media and also private media. The Nigerian information officer than attached to the Field Commander of ECOMOG and Mr. Kamara had a bitter argument because the Nigerian felt the name of LBS should be change to Liberty Radio. Some Liberian journalists were in agreement with the Nigerian officer but Mr. Kamara position was LBS is LBS and is a state entity and the Nigerian officer have no right to change the name of a government radio station. Mr. Kamara and his team sought to organized journalists but that didn’t work. Tom and his team organized private newspapers and it took some time for the Nigerian to bring in FM transmitter but under their control. Been a giant, Mr. Kamara never relented in organizing the media structure. He was shot in 1990 while transporting media equipment on Bushrod Island during the INFPL infamous attack on central Monrovia. He was transported to a clinic in Monrovia (at the time there was no functioning hospital in Monrovia) and later transported to Holland where he remain in hospital. Mr. Kamara’s career path meandered after he formed the New Democrat. He set his sights on making the New Democrat newspaper the best informative newspaper in Liberia. Mr. Kamara and his teams— who researched, reported and wrote the stories — took on Warlords like Charles Taylor, George Boley, Ahaiji Kromah, and others along with his patented brand of exposés. His famous fictional column “The Trial of Charles Ghankay Taylor” which he started in the 90’s was phenomenon and very popular. He started Taylor’s trial long before even any one dream that Mr. Taylor was going to go to The Hague for war crimes or be sentence to 50 years in prison. That was Uncle Tom at his best!! He tried putting Mr. Taylor entire career into a friction. By coincidence, the indictments that were issued for Mr. Taylor arrest are almost same indictments issue in his frictional tale. Most of Mr. Taylor support thought the trial was personal and wanted he to stop but Uncle Tom been Uncle Tom never give in. His work tried to put into perspectives the horrors and insane destructions, the shield savages all in the name of politic. He wanted for the Liberian populace to see through it and reinforces that the likes of Taylor need to face justice. The New Democrat office was looted and burned in 1996 by those that antagonized his work of informing the Liberian public. His paper was shut down and his life threatened. Mr. Kamara went into exile in the Netherlands. While in graduate school abroad, I often sent articles to News Democrat for publication and Uncle Tom was so generous in publishing those articles by even editing some before publication. I remember last year, when I was contesting for a seat in the house of representative, my father (a close pal of Uncle Tom) and I met Uncle Tom on numerous occasions. He was very supportive of my decision to contest and even allowed me to advertise on his newspaper free of charge during the 2011 legislative campaign. He was very optimistic about the future of Liberia and the ongoing process of transferring our country from war to peace and democratization process. Mr. Kamara created enough such moments to become a paragon of journalism in Liberia. He was a fearless Journalist and a prolific writer who always wrote about the truth; this is great loss to country whose lacks qualified and highly educated professionals. Uncle Tom success often lay in the questions he hurled in his numerous articles, not the answers he received. Mr. Kamara was a journalist to the bone. He was a great man who crossed many hearts and left his footprints forever in Liberia. Rest in Peace, Uncle Tom!!