IJG Says Dispatching Investigators To Liberia To Monitor & Collect Data On Threats To Activists

Washington DC, USA and Monrovia, Liberia- February 11, 2019: The International Justice Group (IJG) says it has dispatched a team of Investigators to Liberia as a result of increased security threats to several civic and human rights organizations and activists.

International Justice Group (IJG)

According to a representative of the IJG, it says it has received credible information through its contacts in the West African country and social media monitor. and is concerned that senior operatives of the ruling party and auxiliaries, some of whom are disguised, are intimidating, issuing threats of death and bodily harm to others who freely express critical views of the Government.

Liberia’s Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah last year lashed out at the media over its reportage against the Government and openly threatened to “weaponize” supporters against the media.

Ruling CDC Party Mulbah Morlu

Two weeks ago, the Chairman of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) Mulbah Morlu, at a hastily arranged partisans meeting at his party’s headquarters in Monrovia, accused the opposition bloc and supporters of supporting the assassination of President George M. Weah.

“There are a few supporters of the three political parties, that we’ve documented, that post on social media calling in people to take up arms against the President. And one of them came out to say that the President should be assassinated…” Morlu quoting social media charged.

He, however, presented no evidence to substantiate his accusation that the posters were opposition supporters.

Dolakeh Jonathan Saye Taryor

A member of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) Dolakeh Jonathan Saye Taryor, in a strong reaction to Morlu’s accusations, called them “reckless and irresponsible” and an attempt to instill fear among citizens.

He told the West African Journal Magazine, in a telephone interview on Sunday night, that the ANC and coalition of opposition political parties are committed to maintaining the peace in Liberia.

Mr. Taryor scoffed at Morlu’s “assassination” accusation, adding that, “…the assassination of President Weah, will not, in anyway, install the opposition in power..”, and called Morlu’s Statement simply false.

Coalition of Opposition Political Parties – Liberia

The opposition member challenged the credibility of the current CDC Chairman Morlu and his “ridiculous” claim a couple of years ago that, he, Morlu, met former US President Barack Obama at a summit in Ghana where he claimed, they both held “high level talks”.

There is no proof of this Obama meeting that Morlu claimed.

Taryor said the CDC Chairman was attempting to deflect from the prevailing issues of the missing “16 billion” Liberian dollars scandal, proof of the provision of 78,000 chairs to schools, as claimed by President Weah in his State of The Union Address on January 28, 2019, the deteriorating economy under the CDC-led government and other missteps.

The opposition member called for a state investigation of the CDC Chairman over the “incendiary” accusations, which, he said, have the potential to cause chaos and endanger the lives of opposition leaders and supporters.

“IJG is saying its Investigators will be fully stationed in Liberia indefinitely to monitor Human Rights Violations and has recommended several Liberians to the US and European governments for travel restrictions.”

The global research and rights organization says the IJG is currently lobbying in Washington DC, the United States Senate for full Congressional passage of House of Representatives Resolution (H.Res) 1055 which calls for the full implementation of the Final Report of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the establishment of a Special tribunal for Liberia.

Seal of the US House of Representatives

The Resolution which was introduced September, 2018, and agreed to by the House of Representatives last November, “…Supports efforts by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to advance Liberian national reconciliation…”

Map of Liberia

According to the group, it says it is collecting data on alleged crimes being committed under the current Liberian Administration and will advocate for accountability for all economic and rights abuses.

By Our Justice Reporter In Washington DC, USA and National Politics Correspondent In Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: “Missing Billions” Report In; Govt Allegedly Planning Against Opposition, Media

Monrovia, Liberia January 15, 2018: The Task Force constituted to investigate the missing $16 billion dollars in the West African country of Liberia has reportedly presented its findings to President George M. Weah in the capital Monrovia, according to an unimpeachable source.

Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

The forensic report is expected to confirm that the printed Liberia dollars did come into the country and that over $2 billion Liberia dollars (LD) are actually unaccounted for and may be part of monies which came into the country after the inauguration of the Congress For Democratic Change (CDC) led government in January, 2018.

Shortly following disclosure of the “missing billion” scandal by an independent Liberian investigative journalist Philibert Browne of the local Hot Pepper newspaper last year, the Weah Administration instituted a task force to investigate the matter. The U.S. Government through USAID seconded forensic auditors to assist with the investigation.

Last September, shortly before departure to address the UN General Assembly in New York, President Weah addressed citizens on the “missing billions”.

“I asked all citizens to be patient and those involved in the investigation to be corporative. I am confident that in the end, we will come to a logical conclusion into the circumstances surrounding this money and if anyone is caught in any financial malfeasance they will be held accountable to the full extent. I can assure you, my fellow Liberians, proper accountability of the money in question is vital to my government’s ability to improve your lives. As we accelerate our investigation to which I have invited international partners to join in advising us to ensure transparency. Let’s us remain calm and have faith in the process. I believe that the mandate I received from you is a mandate to end corruption in public service and I remain fully committed to this task. I promise to deliver on this mandate and I will not let you down, the President said at the time.”

It can be recalled that on Monday September 17, 2018, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in Monrovia issued a press statement in which it officially confirmed that an investigation of the matter was underway by multi-sector government agencies including the Liberia National Police, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) .

liberia justice minister counselor frank musa dean
Liberia Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean

“…Initial findings indicate that the containers and bags of money allegedly arrived between November, 2017, prior to the inauguration of the current Government and on August, 2018. Evidence available to the investigative team has established that the current administration was not informed about the containers and bags of money and bags of money into the country…” the Justice Ministry press statement said at the time.

Information Minister Eugene L. Nagbe around the same time and at the height of the scandal disclosure said, “We can confirm that the money was brought through the Freeport of Monrovia and the Roberts International Airport and for now we can confirm that the amount was L$16 billion. An estimate of a little over US$60 million as far as we are concerned from ongoing investigation as of today, and it came in the two ports of entry,”

But the country’s Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah quickly dismissed the Information Minister’s statement in a radio interview on Thursday, September 20, saying, the  “missing billions” had been infused into the Liberian economy.

Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf  later dismissed any responsibility for the scandal saying it was a ploy to impugn her reputation.

liberian protesters - file photo
“Missing Billions” Protesters In Liberia

Our source in the Executive Mansion who is familiar with the report but not authorized to discuss it due to its sensitivity, told the West African Journal Magazine Tuesday that $1 billion LD is also unaccounted for from the  about $5 billion LD printed by the former Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Administration. About $10 million LD of $15 million LD which were allegedly infused to stabilize the Liberian economy is reported to be unaccounted for – no record, the source said, adding that the plan is to water down the report before release to say that “although the money is not accounted  it is not missing”.

Government spokespersons and controlled media have been instructed to push the narrative that “no money is missing”.

Opposition and Media

Allegedly, part of the Weah Administration plan to blunt the fall-out from the damaging report is a massive public relations onslaught to “kill public anger”, the source said. Protesters in September, outraged by the alleged “missing billions”, staged a peaceful march to demand accountability and return of the money.

free press
Free [Press In Liberia
Manifestation of the alleged plan also include discussions among CDC strategists and government functionaries to target vocal talk shows and hosts and to have critical content controlled through new restrictive media regulations, the co-opting of some “Government friendly” media personnel and financial strangulation of others, the source disclosed, adding that, “some businesses and government agencies are being called in and threatened and instructed to re-channel business to more government-friendly media houses. Some critical talk show hosts will be taken off air”.

A Liberia media executive and publisher of the of the independent Inquirer Newspaper Mr. Phillip Wesseh disclosed over the weekend that there was an attempt to “destroy” his paper with the sudden exit of about five employees who are planning to launch the “Independent Inquirer” newspaper. Accusing fingers have been pointed at the Government in the scheme to financially destroy the paper which was launched in October, 1990 during the height of the country’s civil war.

Wesseh has told the independent Daily Observer newspaper that the Inquirer will continue publication and is not worried about the exodus of some employees.

But publishers of the new Independent Inquirer newspaper have rejected claims that they were being used by the government operative to sabotage their former paper.

“Very harsh language and vocal language will be used including intimidation, family pressure and inducements against opposition operatives, if necessary, ” the source disclosed, saying that the aim is to harm their reputation and demoralize their partisans.

rep acarous gray and deputy minister samorra wolokollie
Rep Acarous Gray and Deputy Minister Samora Wolokollie

Over the weekend, a senior government official and Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) Samora Wolokollie and long-time CDC operative and Montserrado Electoral District #8 Representative Moses Acarous Gray  verbally attacked the  opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) leader Alexander Cummings, calling him a “bare-faced” liar”.

The two officials of the CDC government who appeared on the state-runned national broadcaster took issue with stinging criticisms leveled at President George M. Weah by Cummings who warned in an interview recently that “looting and stealing” in the Government has got to stop. Cummings’ statement drew favorable reviews from several quarters in and out of Liberia including social media.

The source alleged that government surrogates Ansu Konneh and Boikai Fofanna are the lead persons designated to “control the discourse on social media” in favor of the CDC led government.

West African Journal Magazine attempted but was unsuccessful in obtaining a response from the state house the Executive Mansion in Monrovia since no one was authorized to discuss the matter.

Liberians are anxiously awaiting the release of the contents of the report. There is no indication of a release date by the Government.

By Staff Reporter and Correspondents in Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine

 

Liberia: Media Say President Must Keep Free Speech Pledge Real

Monrovia, Liberia: January 1, 2019  – After experiencing a difficult relationship with the George Weah’s government during the first year of his six-year mandate, Liberian journalists have unanimously agreed that inflammatory statements from several officials harm the President’s repeated pledge to support press freedom and free speech in the West African country.
Logo of Press Union of Liberia (PUL)
Campaigners for press freedom and free speech hailed Weah after pledging in his first inaugural speech last  January, to guarantee those basic tenets of democracy.
But his actions sooner than later went contrary to that pledge when Weah labeled government critics including journalists as “enemies  of the state.”
Weah’s charge went against journalists that reported plain constitutional breaches and probable corruption. 
Cabinet ministers failed to declare their assets on schedule in keeping with law while Weah himself reportedly declared his last July 26 after accountability campaigners coerced him.
His declaration, however, remains under seal and contravenes his pledge of government transparency.
Cabinet officials including Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, accused of shady financial deals, have joined the anti media chorus, vowing “to weaponize” (sic) supporters against critical journalists.  
As if these attacks against  the independent press and Mr. Tweah’s  sworn refusal to advertise in independent newspapers, all aimed to frustrate journalists, were not enough, the country’s Information Minister Eugene Nagbe dismissed the journalists umbrella organization the Press Union of Liberia as “useless”.
Liberian Journalists At A Recent General Meeting – File Photo
In response to what Union executives call Nagbe’s “unethical comments,” they promptly suspended his traditional “honorary” membership after the Minister vowed not to apologize, saying that he would challenge the legality of his suspension in court.
Meanwhile, Liberia journalists experienced a “catch-22” scenario last Friday when President Weah, perhaps unaware of a previously scheduled PUL mass meeting, called Union members to disabuse their apprehension.
According to our correspondent in Monrovia, President Weah told the willing few who attended his meeting that “as a friend of the media I will always support press freedom… No journalists will go to jail during my administration.” But he warned that “journalists must always have their facts together and correct. “
As the bulk of Liberians is viewed as a gullible public that can quickly disown rights advocates and campaigners for justice and fair play, it would be unsurprising for media practitioners to sooner than later become cagey about their aggressive reportage.
Liberian Journalists Meeting President George Weah – File Photo
One media executive quoted long time multi party democracy rights advocate and politician the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews who warned decades ago about Liberians: “When you remove their roasted palm nuts safely from the fire, they hail you; but if your fingers get  burnt, they’ll say he looked for it.”
Tepitapia Sannah
Bureau Chief, Africa
West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: Two Former PUL Officials Say They Will Defend Right To Freedom Of Speech For All

Boston, MA USA December 28, 2018 – Two former officials of the Pres Union of Liberia (PUL) say they will continue to strongly defend the inalienable right of freedom of speech of every Liberian and the media, irrespective of whether views expressed are contrary.

PUL President Charles Coffey
PUL President Charles Coffey

In a press statement issued on Friday, December 28, 2018 from Boston, Massachusetts, the United States and copied to West African Journal Magazine, Messers Isaac Bantu and Emmanuel Abalo, two former Presidents of the journalists Union said their attention had been drawn to a decision by the PUL to suspend the membership of Liberia’s Information Minister Mr. Eugene Nagbe for a statement attributed to him in which he referred to the PUL as “useless”.

 The former PUL Executives said although the derogatory characterization of the Union by the current Information Minister was unfortunate and highly irresponsible, the attempt at curtailing his right to express an inconvenient view of the Union by suspending his membership pending his apology contravenes the very essence of the business of the PUL; to protect the alienable right of Liberians to freely and responsibly express diverse views through media reportage and serve as a watch dog in society.

 According to the two, the PUL has a duty to encourage and defend the right of every citizen who expresses an alternate view in the public square, even if that view makes the PUL, Government or public officials uncomfortable.

 

Liberia Information Minister Eugene Nagbe
Liberia Information Minister Eugene Nagbe

Meantime, Messers Bantu and Abalo have strongly criticized a statement calling for the expulsion of the Information Minister from the PUL without due process.

Liberians must be reminded, they said, that for some who are calling for the extreme position of the expulsion of Minister Nagbe from the PUL for expressing a contrary view, it was some of the same individuals who presided over the arrest, incarceration and mal-treatment of media personnel, including the closure of media houses for their reportage which were viewed as critical of past Governments.

The PUL must not be used to repeat the tactics of marginalization of free speech as was done in the past by public officials, according to the former PUL officials.

 “The current climate of intimidation and threats against the media as enunciated by senior governments officials are unacceptable and the Government of Liberia has a duty to protect all citizens, equitably enforce the Constitution and sanction its officials who threaten press freedom and media personnel. Freedom of speech and press freedom are scared rights that all Liberians should enjoy in a democratic environment,” the two media executives concluded.

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: Media Org Suspends Membership of Country’s Information Minister

Monrovia, 27 Dec 2018: A  bitter row between the umbrella media organization known as the Press Union of Liberia ( PUL) and the West African country’s Information Minister Eugene Nagbe Wednesday entered its third day running after his membership was suspended for allegedly describing the body as “useless”.
Liberia Information Minister Eugene Nagbe
PUL executives quickly suspended the Government’s spokesman’s membership demanding an apology of the charge against the PUL before his status can be restored.
For his part,  Minister Nagbe clarified that, he, instead said PUL executives were ” useless ” for failure to regulate contents of the local media they accredit.
Our correspondent in Monrovia reports that The Liberian government official also rebuked the media organization’s leadership for failure to seek the welfare of working journalists, some of whom he says are paid the Liberian dollar equivalent of 10 to 15 USD monthly.
PUL President Charles Coffey
The PUL Vice President Daniel Nyan Konah told state radio that Minister Nagbe must recant his Statement against the media organization before his membership can be restored.
But Information Minister Nagbe says he will challenge his suspension in court.
In a separate development,  Truth FM 96.1 local radio remained off air for the fourth consecutive day Thursday as its 36 employees including journalists are striking to press demands for nine months of salary arrears owed them since April 2018.
Truth FM Radio Owner Musa Bility
Truth FM Editor in Chief Joseph Koon told state-runned ELBC Radio on Wednesday that the strike action was their last resort after Truth FM management including the CEO Musa Bility gave “deaf ears” to all verbal and written appeals from the employees.
Business magnate Musa Bility owns the RCI media conglomerate comprising radio, TV and a newspaper.
Reporting By Tepitapia Sannah
Africa Bureau Chief
West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: ANC Leader Alexander B. Cummings Keynote Address To ALJA Convention In Minnesota

Mr. President and officials of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the United States, my fellow Liberians, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

ANC Leader Alexander B. Cummings Jr
ANC Leader Alexander B. Cummings Jr.

I am deeply honored by your invitation to speak to you today.

Given the current state of affairs in our country and the unique role that journalists play in a democratic society, I thought to speak to you today about how we can use journalism as a tool for promoting accountable governance and development in our beloved Mama Liberia.

As I gave thought to my speech, it dawned on me that exactly 73 years ago this month—on October 24, 1945—Liberia was among the countries that led the world in founding an organization that, despite its many flaws, has been in the vanguard of the fight for democracy and development across the world:  The United Nations.

In 1948, just three years after its founding with our country Liberia as a founding member, the United Nations held its Conference on Freedom of Information that declared access to information an essential freedom.

Let’s ponder this for a moment.  In 1948, the United Nations had been in existence for barley three years.  It was still faced with the daunting tasks of pulling the world out of the rubble of the Second World War and providing basic services–food, housing, health care and education—to tens of thousands of war survivors.

Yet, the United Nations found the time to focus on the importance of the right to information—the right to know.  Why?

The answer perhaps lies in the fact that freedom of information is a freedom that underpins all of the other freedoms we hold dear.

Access to information promotes transparent and accountable governance.

When there is transparency, when people know what is going on, they can monitor and assess the performance of government; they can hold public officials accountable.

When there is accountability, government is more responsive to the needs of the people; it is more attuned to protecting their rights and providing them with basic social services.

Information Minister Eugene Nagbe and ALJA President Moses Sandy
Information Minister Eugene Nagbe and ALJA President Moses Sandy

So how do you as journalists fit in here?  Well, the journalist is the vital link between policy makers and the people.   When you perform your jobs well, you are the conduit through which the people communicate with the government and the government communicates with the people.

And what a crucially important role you have to play here.  An independent media that represents plural points of view plays an essential role in delivering the information people need to participate in the debates and influence the decisions that shape their lives.

A media sector that reaches and gives voice to the broad populace can create informed citizens who can better monitor the performance of their leaders.

In short, by helping provide the public access to information about the workings of public institutions, the media vests the people with the power to demand quality performance and accountability from their government.

A strong, free, and independent media that monitors those in power and provides accurate information to citizens can also serve as an effective check on corruption—by exposing private and public sector corruption, a free media allows voters to hold corrupt politicians to account.

And we can point to very recent examples of how the media can play a very effective role in exposing corruption.   Take the case of the missing containers of money.   It took intrepid reporting by independent journalists to expose the fact that somehow our government printed millions of dollars that suddenly went “missing” and cannot be accounted for.

We will depend on you, journalists, to follow up on this story so that the government provides answers to questions that demand answers:  who ordered the printing of the missing money?  How much exactly was printed? Where was it printed?  Who took charge of the money once it entered the country? Did it go through the proper channels and processes at the Central Bank before being injected into the official money supply?  How is it that at one point the government can tell us that millions of dollars is missing and identify individuals who are under investigation  for the missing money, but yet at another point the government through its Finance Minister and the Central Bank Governor can announce that there is no money missing?  Which version is true?  Does this suggest a cover-up at the very highest levels of government?  Is the missing money the result of incompetence or outright thievery or both by government officials?

These are crucial questions you can help the Liberian people answer by shining the bright sunrays of fair and objective reporting as a disinfectant on the processes of government.  And it is important that we get answers to these questions because as much as we have heard about corruption in previous government, we have never seen anything on this scale:  the literal disappearance of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars that belong to the Liberian people.  If there is anything that defines corruption, this is it

ALJA Members
ALJA Members

In addition to taking on corruption, your focus should be on providing the kind of information that helps the public evaluate government programs and policies.

Above all, you want to provide information that allows the public to reach sound conclusions about whether public pronouncements actually become sound public policies.

This may require a sea change in the way you operate.  You must move beyond a fixation on the sensational.  You must resist the temptation to politicize your stories, or to make them just about personalities.

Instead, your stories must focus on issues—issues that matter in the lives of  your audience and help them to both understand and affect the policy choices their government makes.

You must also follow up on your stories to see whether the policies announced today are producing the desired effect tomorrow.

Additionally, you must write or broadcast your stories so you provide your readers or listeners the background and context they need to fully understand the issues at stake.

Recent developments in our country again provide useful examples about how journalists can go about doing this.  Very recently, apparently as a result of the injection of the millions of missing dollars into the money supply, we saw a significant increase in inflation.   Indeed, the President himself told us that the Liberian dollar decreased by about 25 percent under his watch, meaning that ordinary Liberians must now pay 25 percent more for everything they consume.  The President proposed to solve this problem by announcing a series of measures, including the injection of $25 million dollars into the economy.

As journalists your duty should be to objectively examine the initiatives proposed by the President and ask critical questions to determine whether they have produced or can produce the desired results: Did the government actually inject $25 million into the economy?  How did it do so?  Have we seen an appreciable resultant decrease in inflation?   Are the policies announced by the government capable of addressing the long term structural economic challenges we face or do they represent at best only short term ephemeral gains?

As you go about asking these questions and examining the results of actions taken by the government you should also examine and educate the public about the merits of alternative proposals for getting us out of the economic morass in which we find ourselves as a nation.

For example, unlike the President, we in the opposition put forward a set of policy ideas that, if implemented, can produce some immediate positive results while simultaneously and more importantly addressing the long term structural impediments to growth and development.  It is worth quickly summarizing the key features of the policy proposals we put forward:

Maintain Sound Fiscal Discipline: First, we called on the government to ensure that we live within our means as a nation and avoid unwise debt we cannot afford. There are some indications that the sharp decline in the Liberian Dollar since the President came to office is a result of financial markets already taking into account the strain that servicing over $1 billion in new debt sought by the government will place on our meager national budget. We should thus look to smartly grow—and not borrow—ourselves out of the country’s current economic morass.

Adopt Smart Growth Inducing Tax Policies:  We also proposed that the government focus on tax policies that can spur rather than stymie growth.   It is often the case that acting out of desperation for cash to fund what amounts in many cases to unwise and ill-conceived initiatives,  the government maintains a regime of relatively high tariffs and other taxes that inhibit the risk taking so essential to wealth creation.  Moreover, tariffs on essential imported commodities are among the most regressive taxes, adversely affecting the poor whose cause the President claims to champion.  Smart tax policies, including targeted reductions in tariffs and other taxes, can stimulate growth and, in the process, add more revenues to the government’s coffers than the current regressive tax regime.

Eliminate Monopolies:  Additionally, we urged the government to do away with monopolies and exclusive licenses. The average Liberian knows that if the government gives only one person the right to import “chicken soup” or tomatoes that person, because he has no competitor, can charge supra competitive prices or bring in inferior products.   There is no net economic benefit we derive as a nation from giving only a few persons or entities exclusive licenses to import essential products like rice, chicken soup, and other consumer goods.  Opening the market to more people with a focus on Liberian business people, would result in lower prices and better product choices for consumers.

Enhance Environment for Exports/Import Substitution:  We further stressed the need for the government to adopt sensible, cost-effective regulations and policies to increase local and foreign investment in export/import substitution sectors.   Regulations and policies could include:

Creating a food safety inspection unit along with relevant regulations so that our farmers’ produce can meet standards for export to European and other markets: There are many stories of our development partners trying to help our farmers export crops such as okra, pepper or eggplant only to be stopped in their tracks because of the absence of something as basic as a national food safety inspection system or unit. Small investments in establishing such a unit could pay huge dividends.

Establishing industrial parks in coastal cities like Buchanan and Harper with built in advantages such as sea ports and easy road access to airports and Monrovia:  These advantages would serve to attract investors looking to manufacture for export or local consumption.

Improving the value chain for key agricultural products like rice:  Pilot projects funded by international donors around the country amply demonstrate that improving the rice value chain by, for example, helping Liberians entrepreneurs establish rice mills can produce huge results—enhancing  the quality of locally produced rice and creating a market for local producers.  Scaling up these projects could help us reduce the hundreds of millions of dollars we spend annually on rice imports—money that could go to build schools, hospitals and roads.

Implement Reforms that make it easy to move goods In and Out of our Ports: Moving goods in and out of our Ports is unnecessarily cumbersome, complicated and expensive. Reforms to simplify moving goods in and out of our Ports should be implemented to enhance ease of doing business and to help ordinary Liberians.

We now urge you to do these policy prescriptions of ours the same thing we urge you to do to the policy ideas announced by the government:   Subject them to rigorous and critical scrutiny.   Examine their potential upsides and downsides and report stories that educate and inform the public and policy-makers accordingly.

ALJA Convention Dignitaries
ALJA Convention Dignitaries

We are convinced you will conclude that while they do not provide a panacea or a magic wand that instantly cures all of our development challenges, the ideas we have advanced offer us a chance to successfully set ourselves on the journey to development.

Let me now talk briefly about the role of the media in promoting development itself.

The notion of development journalism rests on the premise that the media has the power to make positive change possible.

If there is one thing that characterizes development journalism, it is a singular focus on deliberately and actively pressing for change; on mobilizing the broad populace to pursue a development agenda.

So what do you need or what must you do to be an effective development journalist?

I believe that to be a development journalist, you must first appreciate the unique role the media can play in the development process.   You must then be dedicated to using your professional skills to educate, to teach, to pass on knowledge and skills that enable others to contribute to the development of your country.

But to play this role effectively, you yourselves must be thoroughly versed in the relevant development issues and challenges.  You must have the ability to evaluate the upsides and downsides of specific policy initiatives.

Much of this you can gain from reading, learning, and thinking through the critical development challenges our country faces.

To be a good development journalist also means that you must be able to target and reach the people most affected by or in need of development programs.

In our country, Liberia, those people live mostly in rural areas. To make development journalism meaningful we thus need to focus on the needs and aspirations of the rural poor.

To understand their needs and aspirations, you must spend time with them.  It is not enough to report about them from the comfort and safety of Monrovia or other urban areas.

A good development journalist will also ensure that the people who are affected by development programs will have their voices heard and their views known to policy makers.

A preference for profiling innovation and success stories that motivate people and inspire them to work for change is also a very good attribute of a development journalist.   You must further have a knack for presenting people with the various development options and letting them understand the pros and cons of these options.

There is more you can do.   You can show why development issues are important by giving them prominent placement in your newspapers or in your radio or television newscasts.

You must also put emphasis on evaluating and reporting on how specific development projects are relevant to the needs of local communities or the nation as a whole.

So development journalism does not merely mean reporting about something that happened, about a speech, or a project. It is reporting about trends, processes, policy choices and their broad implications.

Development journalism is not about championing or promoting a political party, a government, or a specific personality.

Development journalism is about telling stories, publishing articles, and providing information that foster fundamental social and economic change—that help people make the right health choices; that educate farmers about emerging market trends, and how to employ improved farming methods; it is about exposing national policies that discriminate against the vulnerable—women, girls, the poor—and what can be done to remedy societal ills.

I must admit it is a difficult task but it’s doable task.  You have your work cut out for you.

But before you give up and think it is too hard, let me remind you of how hard those that came before you had to work to bequeath us the country we have today.

Many of our founding fathers were journalists. Hillary Teage, who wrote our declaration of independence, edited the first newspaper ever founded in Liberia–The Liberia Herald, which was founded in 1826.

The Herald was the principal source of news about the new country; it provided what we will call development news today, exhorting its readers about what they could do to improve their lives.

Another of our great early fathers, Edward Wilmot Blyden, will go on to  serve as the Editor of the Herald from—using its pages to promote the causes he held dear—integration between the settlers and the indigenous tribes.

Many of those who came before us willingly sacrificed their freedom, and chose the jail cell over the comfort of their homes because they steadfastly refused to compromise their journalistic integrity.  You know them better than I do:   Tuan Wreh, Rufus Darpoh, and Albert Porte.

Then there were those who paid the ultimate price in the performance of their journalistic duties:  Moses Washington, Tommy Raynes, Klohn Hinneh, Sekou Kromah; Charles Gbenyon.

So every time you are tempted to throw in the towel and give up because you believe your working conditions are not the most optimal; or because you believe that powerful forces are out to frustrate your efforts to inform and educate your audience, think about these men; think about the powerful examples they set for you; the heroic roles they all played in making it possible for you to enjoy the freedom you enjoy to practice your craft today.

And as you do so, I have no doubt that you will resolve to carry on—to be the best possible journalist you can be; to practice your craft in service to a larger goal:  building a stable,  truly democratic  and prosperous  Liberia that serves the interest of all of its people.

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