Liberian Author and Diplomat Gabriel I. H. Williams Publishes 2nd Book

ROCKVILLE, Md. – From the author of “Liberia: The Heart of Darkness” comes a new account exposing how “Corruption is Destroying Africa: The Case of Liberia” (published by Trafford Publishing). In his latest book release, Gabriel I.H. Williams narrates the prevailing reality in his home country Liberia, and in Africa as a whole, where corruption has become a major hindrance to national and continental progress.

Author and Diplomat Mr. Gabriel I.H. Williams
Author and Diplomat Mr. Gabriel I.H. Williams

Williams writes that the book is intended to contribute to the ongoing discourse about Liberia or about Africa, which has often left people perplexed. According to a 2013 World Bank report, Africa has 30% of the world’s minerals and proven oil reserves equivalent to 10% of global stock. How is it that Africa, which has such enormous mineral and oil wealth, is the poorest continent in the world?

The author also notes that a similar question would suffice for Liberia, which became independent since 1847, has been a sovereign nation for over 170 years but is ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world. This is irrespective of the fact that the country is endowed with abundant natural resources. Accordingly, Williams herewith submit that Africa or Liberia is not poor but poorly managed, and that corruption is a major source of bad governance, widespread poverty and instability on the continent.

“There can be no question that corruption is like a cancer eating at the vitals of Africa, my beloved country Liberia being one of the worst affected on the continent. This is why this book is titled, ‘Corruption is Destroying Africa: The Case of Liberia,’” he asserts. “Because of corruption, critical public services such as health and education have remained in a state of dysfunction.”

Country Map of Africa
Country Map of Africa

According to Williams, the book is penned “To contribute to the ongoing discourse regarding measures that are needed to contain corruption and other acts of bad governance that have caused instability, poverty and underdevelopment in Africa and my home-country Liberia.” Through this, he urges for the proper management of Africa’s resources in order to improve the conditions of its people.

The book is a strong call for Africa’s natural resources to have value added, and to empower Africans through education, skills training and equal employment opportunities. Ultimately, the book relates to the prevailing reality of life affecting Africans and people of African descent.

“Corruption is Destroying Africa: The Case of Liberia”

By Gabriel I.H. Williams

Softcover | 8.5 x 11in | 358 pages | ISBN 9781490795713

E-Book | 358 pages | ISBN 9781490795706

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

About the Author

Gabriel I.H. Williams is a diplomat and former deputy minister of information in the government of Liberia. A career journalist, he has worked with several news organizations in Liberia and the United States as a reporter and editor, including serving as managing editor of The Inquirer independent newspaper in Liberia, and staff writer of The Sacramento Observer Newspapers in Sacramento, California.

President Weah Applauded for Resubmission of Bill to Repeal Anti-Free Speech Laws

Washington, D.C.- June 19, 2018: As a former leader of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), who served in several capacities including Secretary General and Acting President from 1987- ‘93, I join the PUL in applauding President George Manneh Weah for the resubmission to the National Legislature, a bill seeking to repeal some sections of the Penal Law of Liberia in an effort to decriminalize free speech and create an unfettered flow of news in the media environment.

Logo of Press Union of Liberia

The passage of the bill into law by the National Legislature would be another milestone for freedom of speech and of the press in Liberia, and also, one that would further strengthen Liberia’s nascent democracy.

Over the years, laws relating to defamation, libel and sedition have been used to criminalize freedom of speech and of the press and to penalize the media and those who dared to exercise their right to free speech.

This action by President Weah, just four months following the inauguration of his government, is a very encouraging sign that the new government is building upon the democratic gains of the past administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and that Liberia is continuing on a forward course of democratic governance, peace and progress.

One of the major accomplishments of the past administration is the tolerance of dissent, which has birthed an unprecedented level of freedom in Liberia. This is manifested by the fact that in 2010, Liberia became the first country in West Africa to pass into law a Freedom of Information (FOI) act – a law that grants public access to documents or other data in the possession of a government agency or public authority, unless the information falls into a certain category that is specifically excluded from the terms of the legislation.

President George M. Weah.

This was followed by Liberia becoming a signatory to the Table Mountain Declaration, which calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and “insult” laws across the African Continent, and was adopted at the World Newspaper Congress held in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2007.

Despite these accomplishments, freedom of speech and of the press remains under threat in Liberia while the laws on libel, defamation and sedition, which are inimical to free speech, are on the books.

Having served during the first four years of the Sirleaf administration as Assistant Minister and Deputy Minister for Public Affairs, respectively, at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, tasked with the critical responsibility to manage the media and public expectations, I am grateful to God for the opportunity to help institute the necessary reforms that created the enabling environment that has brought about the gains made toward freedom of speech and of the press in Liberia.

However, I am on record for stating that the gains made toward freedom of speech and of the press in Liberia are under threat as long as there are laws on the books that criminalize these fundamental rights.

As a former leader of the PUL, I recall the many journalists and others who have suffered and sacrificed over the decades, some losing their livelihoods and their lives in the process, due to the imposition of draconian laws such as provisions of the laws on defamation, libel, and sedition, among others.

To cite a few historical examples among the many tales of repression, I specifically recall Liberia’s 1925 False Publication Act, which stipulated heavy penalties for “harmful and false” statements against the President and other government officials; I recall  legendary pamphleteer Albert Porte, who endured constant harassment and imprisonment for his advocacy for good governance; I recall in the 1950s, C. Frederick Taylor, editor of theAfrican Nationalist newspaper, who languished in prison for nearly 15 years for publishing what the establishment did not like; as well as editors Bertha Corbin and Tuan Wreh of the Independent Weekly, who, like Mr. Taylor, also served prison sentences for criminal libel of the political elite, including the President.

An American born but naturalized Liberian, Ms. Corbin was denaturalized and deported to the United States, while Mr. Wreh was severely tortured and reportedly forced to clean feces and toilets with his bare hands in prison.

Map of Liberia

I also recall that the PUL was founded in 1964 by a group of journalists to advocate for their collective interest, following the arbitrary detention of Stanton B. Peabody, then editor of the Liberian Age, for publishing an article that angered some establishment elites.

This is why I join the PUL and others in applauding President Weah for the resubmission of the bill to decriminalize free speech, and I pray that the National Legislature would undertake a speedy passage of the bill.

According to an Executive Mansion release, the bill to the National Legislature, which was resubmitted on May 31, 2018, seeks to amend Chapter 11 of the Penal Law of 1978, repealing Sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President; 11.12 on Sedition; and 11.14 on Criminal Malevolence.

House Speaker Bhofal Chambers

In his letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr. Bofal Chambers, President Weah noted that Chapter 111, Article 15 of the Constitution of Liberia provides for Freedom of Speech and expression and a caveat of an abuse thereof.

Additionally, he added, Liberia is a signatory to the Table Mountain Declaration, which demands that African countries abolish insult and criminal defamation laws.

The President also reminded the National Legislature of the legal instruments on press freedom Liberia established, such as the passage of the Freedom of Information Law, followed by the establishment of the Independent Information Commission.

According to President Weah, “Liberia, in anticipation of fully adhering to these legal instruments; enacted the Freedom of Information Law and established the Freedom of Information Commission. However, there appears to be challenges in the full implementation of these as Section 11.11: Criminal Libel against the President; Section 11.12: Sedition; and Section 11.14: Criminal Malevolence of the Penal Laws of Liberia tend to impede freedom of speech and expression and acts committed thereof are considered to be criminal.”

If enacted into law, the Act will be known as the Kamara Abdullai Kamara Act of Press Freedom, in honor of deceased journalist Kamara Abdullai Kamara, former President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL).

I also thank President Weah for naming the proposed act in memory of Mr. Kamara. Before the end of his tenure as President of the PUL, I met Mr. Kamara, who headed a PUL delegation from Liberia at the 2017 annual convention of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. During that event, I inquired from Mr. Kamara as to what the PUL was doing to repeal anti-media laws on the books. He briefly explained to me efforts that were being made and challenges that were faced.

Late T. Nelson Williams Sr.

May I also use this opportunity to extend condolences to the bereaved family of Professor T. Nelson Williams, former President of the PUL and former Chair of the Mass Communications Department of the University of Liberia, who died in the U.S. on May 28, 2018, in his 84th year.

Professor Williams played a critical leadership role in the establishment of the UL Mass Communications Department. May we be inspired by his contributions to the cause

of press freedom and democracy in Liberia.

Gabriel I. H. Williams

Minister Counselor and Press Attaché

Embassy of Liberia

Washington DC, USA

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