Special Feature: Well Done, Mr. Kenneth Y. Best

There is a wise saying which goes, “Give a man his flower while he is still alive.”

Mr. Kenneth Yarkpawolo Best - Photo TLC
Mr. Kenneth Yarkpawolo Best – Photo TLC

This is why, following his retirement in February 2018 after laboring for more than 50 years as a journalist, it is my honor and privilege to pay homage to Mr. Kenneth Y. Best, a legendary journalist, fearless warrior with the pen and mentor.

A youth from an under-privileged background, I was given an opportunity out of poverty by Mr. Best,who trained and mentored me to be a professional journalist. He truly exemplifies the old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Over the years, Mr. Best taught, mentored, empowered, and employed many young people, especially in Liberia, and The Gambia – where he relocated with his family in 1990 during the Liberian civil crises and founded that country’s first independent daily and first modern newspaper, The Gambian Daily Observer. His influence speaks to the conscience of the Liberian society in particular, and to humanity, in general.

D. Tweh High School in New KruTown
D. Tweh High School in New KruTown

While preparing to graduate from the D. Twe Memorial High School in New Krutown, Monrovia, in December 1982, I took a letter I had drafted to Mrs. Rachel A.B. Cox-George, then D. Twe’s Vice Principal for Administration, to proof read for me.

The draft was one of several letters of appeal I had been sending to prominent individuals in the Liberian society seeking financial aid for college enrollment.

Without financial support or a job, my prospect for college enrollment did not look promising.

As she handed me back the proofread letter, Mrs. Cox-George (May her soul rest in perfect peace), offered to sponsor me to pursue professional study in journalism at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) in Accra, Ghana. Concerned that many young people who graduate from public schools like D. Twe are often stuck in their poor communities due to lack of support and opportunities for advancement, Mrs. Cox-George said she did not want me to fall through similar cracks because I had distinguished myself to be a studious and respectful youth.

When I enrolled at D. Tweh in the 10 th grade in 1980, there were many organizations, including the Science,  Debate and the Press Clubs. I joined the Press Club and became the reporter for my class. Upon promotion to the 12th grade, I was elevated as chairman and editor-in- chief of the Press Club. In 1980, I was one of the original reporters of School Special, a popular program which aired every Saturday on national radio ELBC, during which reporters from various high schools in Monrovia and parts adjacent filed news reports from their respective schools.

Some of School Special’s notable reporters were Patrick Manjoe of Boatswain High School and my best friend, now late Gabriel Gworlekaju of Monrovia Central High, both of whom went on to successful journalism careers.

It was having closely followed my activities as a student journalist at D. Tweh that Mrs. Cox-George offered to sponsor my study at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ). While gathering information about GIJ, we learned that a critical requirement for enrollment was that an applicant must have no less than six months working experience with a recognized media entity.

Daily Observer Monrovia
Daily Observer Monrovia

And this is why, after graduation, Mrs. Cox-George sent me with a note to Mr. Best, Managing Director of the Liberian Observer Corporation, the publisher of the Daily Observer newspaper. The note was a request for Mr. Best to kindly take me in as a cub reporter at the Daily Observer, one of West Africa’s leading independent dailies.

As God would have it, Mr. Best was in office when I arrived at the Daily Observer facility to deliver the note. The secretary requested me to be seated and she took the note in to him. When she came back out, I was informed that Mr. Best was waiting to see me.

I was almost a nervous wreck when ushered into Mr. Best’s office.

“Sit down young man; I heard from your principal that you want to be a journalist?” he asked.

“Yes Sir,” I responded.

“Do you know what it means to be a journalist in Africa, especially here in Liberia?”

With those two questions, Mr. Best gave me a pep talk about the importance of the role of a journalist in society. As the watchdogs of society, he said, journalists are obligated to serve the common good of society by being the voice of the voiceless, and to advocate for equal justice and good governance, among others. Nevertheless, he added that being a journalist in Africa or Liberia, for that matter ,was fraught with personal risks and dangers.

This is because freedom of speech and of the press was basically
criminalized, as journalists suffered arbitrary arrest and detention and independent media entities were banned for alleged anti-government reporting.

Following his pep talk, Mr. Best had me accompany him to the newsroom, where he introduced me to Mr. T. Maxson Teah, then News Editor of the Daily Observer.

“This young man says he wants to be a journalist. Test him and let me know whether he has a foundation for development,” Mr. Best instructed.

This is how I began my career as a journalist at the Daily Observer, which was also a training institution, where the editorial staff benefitted from regular in-service training programs to upgrade their professional skills. At the time I was brought on board, Observer staff members were undergoing a training program conducted by a lecturer from the London-based Thompson Foundation, which enjoys global recognition as a leader in journalism training.

My skills were sharpened while working under the tutelage of some of the best journalists in Liberia during that time, including now late legendary Stanton B. Peabody, Editor-in- Chief, whose imprisonment in the 1960s by the government led to journalists coming together to organize the Press Union of Liberia.
(PUL).

Daily Observer Newspaper
Daily Observer Newspaper

Others were Sub-Editor Isaac Thompson, Features Editor Joe Kappia, World News Editor Mlanju Reeves, and now late News Editor T. Max Teah, who was commonly known as T-Max.

At the conclusion of my six-month journalisim internship at the Daily Observer, after which I was expected to enroll at the GIJ, there came a major stumbling block. Ghana, then an unstable country due to successive military misrules, had been plunged into yet another bloody crisis that resulted into the closure of institutions of higher learning, including the GIJ.

The economy and living conditions in Ghana had deteriorated in those days so much so that that Ghanaian merchants and others came to Liberia to purchase basic commodities, such as toothpaste, tissue and bath soap.
But today, Ghana is one of the most democratically peaceful and prosperous countries in Africa.

By God’s grace, Mr. Best decided to retain me as a reporter at the Observer because, according to him, I had performed satisfactorily and that he saw in me the potential for growth.

Mr. Best also asked if I could go to New Kru Town and find one of my former schoolmates and colleagues of the press club, who was serious minded and dedicated to duty as I was, who would be trained and deployed in New Kru Town as a Daily Observer correspondent.
I went to New Kru Town and contacted Philip Wesseh, who graduated a year earlier as my senior. I succeeded Wesseh as editor-in- chief of the Press Club. Even though he graduated as the valedictorian of his class, Wesseh was unable to attend college and was without a job. He was also an example of the many students in public schools who are unable to transition from high school to college due to their economically disadvantaged background.

Kenneth Y. Best
Kenneth Y. Best

With the opportunity afforded to him to excel, Wesseh soon became one of the best reporters at the Daily Observer, and he was later promoted to News Editor. Today, Attorney Philip Wesseh, a graduate of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, the University of Liberia, is Managing Editor of the independent Inquirer newspaper and a university lecturer.
Mr. Best maintained a culture of hard-work at the Observer and did not have tolerance for mediocrity. He often reminded us that journalists are part of the intelligentsia of the society. He strived to ensure that the media is positioned to play its role as part of the main foundation on which rests a democratic society.

The Daily Observer was launched by Kenneth and his wife Mae Gene Best February 16, 1981, less than a year following the military take-over of the government in Liberia. In the succeeding years leading to the civil crises, the Observer suffered five closures, including one that lasted nearly two years, for alleged anti-government reporting.

There were several government imprisonments of the Observer staff, including Mr. Best and his wife; as well as several arson attacks, the last of which completely destroyed
the building housing the newspaper’s offices and facilities during the early stage of civil upheaval.

newspaper
Newspaper

During the prolonged period of the Observer’s closure in 1984, I landed a reporter job with then newly-established SunTimes newspaper, led by legendary journalist Rufus Darpoh, following his release from the notorious Belle Yallah prison, where he was incarcerated for alleged anti-government reporting.

While at SunTimes, I applied for an international journalism fellowship, through which about three to five journalists are brought to the United Nations Headquarters in New York annually for education andmentoring in international affairs and to cover the annual session of the UN General Assembly.

From the essay submissions, I became number one out of more than 380 journalists around the world competing for only four spots in 1986. I became the first Liberian to serve as a Daj Hammarskjold Scholar, one of the most prestigious awards in international journalism, since its establishment in 1961.
Upon return from the U.S., I became Secretary General of the Press Union, and during the civil war, acting President. I was the founding Managing Editor of The Inquirer newspaper in 1991, after which I fled to the United States due to death threats during the civil war and served as Staff Writer of the Sacramento Observer newspapers in Sacramento, California.

Liberia - Heart of Darkness
Liberia – The Heart of Darkness

While in California, I published the book “Liberia: The Heart of Darkness” which details accounts of Liberia’s civil war and its destabilizing effects in West Africa.
(www.google.com). Since the restoration of peace in Liberia, I have served in a couple of governmental positions, including Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, and currently a diplomat.

All this is possible because of Mr. Best’s tutorship and mentoring.

Despite the trials and tribulations, the Daily Observer celebrated its 37th anniversary February 16, 2018, becoming Liberia’s oldest surviving newspaper. At 37, the Observer has surpassed the Liberian Herald, founded in 1826, which lasted for 36 years.

It is my fervent prayer that the Lord would grant my professional father peace, fulfillment, and good health in retirement.

Thank God for Mr. and Mrs. Best!

Gabriel I.H. Williams
Gabriel I.H. Williams

By Gabriel I.H. Williams

Washington DC USA

Eurasia Group 2018 Risks Group: Africa

The Eurasia Group has released its 2018 Top Risks Group which includes Africa. The following is an in-depth analysis for Africa.

Africa
Africa

THE “AFRICA RISING” NARRATIVE REMAINS APPEALING, but this year will face a new challenge. The continent’s core countries (Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia, among others) have recently demonstrated robust investment climates, and they’ve been generally sealed off from the troubles of the “periphery” (Mali, South Sudan, Somalia, etc.). But in 2018, negative spillover from Africa’s unstable periphery will increasingly spoil the continent’s success stories.

The threat lies in security risks: militancy and terrorism. The dangers posed by Al Shabaab in East Africa and Al Qaeda in West Africa are not new, but they’re set to intensify. Despite losing territory in 2017, Al Shabaab is still carrying out successful one-off surprise attacks and will look to more international targets in 2018. The Islamic State is likely to increase activity in West Africa and expand into East Africa as it is pushed from traditional strongholds in the Middle East.

Boko Haram Fighters
Boko Haram Fighters

Countries targeted by militancy and terrorism are more vulnerable than they’ve been in years, and external partners are less able to provide unified support.
Target countries are more vulnerable than they’ve been in years, and external partners are less able to mount a united front of support. Local actors in “core” countries are already suffering from weakened political capacity. Kenya’s government will focus on economic recovery after a prolonged election cycle. Nigeria enters an election season with uncertainty over its current leader’s health. South Africa faces internal political strife. Angola is busy with a fresh leadership transition. Mozambique is still struggling with a years-long debt scandal.

Foreign partners who have helped stabilize weak governments in the past are distracted. In the east, a preoccupied Europe has reduced its salary support for troops of the UN-mandated African Union Mission to Somalia operating in the Al Shabaab hotspot. Across the Sahel, the G5 counterterrorism partnership of Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Mauritania plans to launch a 5,000-strong force in March 2018. But differences among France, the US, and UN officials will slow the necessary funding, leaving the region at risk, despite an injection of financial support from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The growing fragility of Africa’s top performers has several implications. Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Ethiopia face increased security costs at a time when their governments need to reduce spending. A spike in attacks would also undermine foreign investment perceptions already shaken by the election-related violence in Kenya, a growing social protest movement in Ethiopia, and presidential succession uncertainties in Nigeria and Uganda.

Naira-The-Trent
Nairas

Foreign investors may see their assets directly targeted. Tourist and energy installations will be especially at risk. This will put downward pressure on FDI into the continent, leaving development reliant on limited local capital. And the pressure of security-related refugee flows—on countries in the region and in Europe—will not abate, creating a headache for policymakers on both sides of the Mediterranean.

About EURASIA GROUP: 

According to its website, the Eurasia Group says it connects geopolitics and business to provide valuable strategic and operational insights. Its combination of strategy consulting methodologies, deep industry sector coverage, and best-in-class country expertise is applied to areas including:

Risk-adjusted market assessment, market prioritization, and market entry planning

Political risk assessment and messaging strategy

M&A macro risk due diligence

Enterprise risk management & process design support

Strategic risk identification and monitoring

Source: The Eurasia Group

 

Special Feature: The Impact Of President Trump’s Attacks On The Media

President Trump Hosts Ceremony Recognizing First Responders In The June 14 Congressional Baseball Shooting
President Donald J. Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump, in effort to erode public confidence in the mainstream media, has stepped up his attacks on the free press in manners and styles uncharacteristic of any leader of the free world in recent memory, by tweeting about “fake media” 141 times from January 10 to the end of October, according to The Washington Post.

Under the cloud of this shameful moment in US presidential history, journalists are being coerced to abandon their sacred duty of objective reporting in favor of normalizing lies, racism, and personality glamorization. You’ve got to fall in line to ingratiate yourself with the chief or risk being branded as a bunch of “fake news media” entities populated by “very dishonest people.” Whether it is his anger during a press conference or meeting with a foreign leader at home or abroad, the message remains consistent – “media organizations are fake and journalists are very bad people.”

That a sitting US president could be at war with the free press at this level and at his own choosing is mesmerizing, to say the least. This situation is so alarming that respected Arizona Senator John McCain recently warned that this sort of behavior is akin to “how dictatorship starts.”

Even Fox News, Trump’s favorite cable news network and an unlikely source of any criticism for him, is at odds with the President on this one. In a live interview earlier this year, Chris Wallace, an anchor at Fox News, confronted the President, accusing him of baselessly calling the free press the enemy of the people. “We fought with (President) Obama here and there, but he never said we were the enemy of the people.”

media
Media News concept

But Mr. Wallace appears to be even more determined to push back on the President’s assault on the media. Delivering a speech at the International Center for Journalists in Washington, DC earlier in November, the Fox News anchor said “President Trump is engaged in the most direct, sustained assault on the free press in our history,”  adding that the president “has done everything to de-legitimize the media, attacking us institutionally and individually.”

Mr. Wallace surmised that President Trump’s purpose for this concerted campaign is “to raise doubts over whether we can be trusted when we report critically about his administration.”

Africa

While the American free press is the main target at the frontline of this war, attention must be drawn to the devastating consequences it could have on the media in emerging but fragile democracies around the globe, particularly Africa.

African Media_1
Africa Media Impact

Most African governments are viewed as corrupt and our leaders, most often than not, take on the posture of tyrants and dictators. There can be no bigger gift to a tyrant orchestrating his next media clampdown than hearing the President of the United States refer to the free press as “the enemy of the people.”

Before the inception of the Trump administration, African journalists had always counted on Washington to come to their aid when the going got tough. And through its various agencies responsible for press freedom, human rights, justice, among others, their cry was heard and supported.

Today, however, African journalists do not see a friend in the White House. They are now the ally of the fighting forces whose powerful “general” once scared away their enemy with a simple warning; just a simple warning! But that “general” has now turned the gun on his own men who are fighting for their own lives, leaving the African continent of the forces isolated with no arsenal.

Country Map of Africa
Country Map of Africa

Nonetheless, this situation as dire as it may be seen, shouldn’t be equated to the inescapable wall before an escapee.  The African media should not be the subject of a permanent dependency syndrome, in the first place. The continent has a vast natural resource base capable of self sustenance without launching “Africa First” policy only to isolate the continent and deprive it of the human capital needed for modern development.

Consequently, we need our leaders to remove the continent from the claws of corruption, ineptitude, inefficiency, and bad governance. We need our leaders to exhibit a high level of fiscal discipline, political tolerance, and transparency. We need our leaders to promote press freedom and consider journalists as partners in democracy, not enemies who pursue scandals.

If our leaders cannot create the enabling environment for our development and prosperity in partnership with the media, who else can?

About the Author: James Seitua is a former Editor of the Daily Observer Newspaper in Liberia