— Daily Observer co-founder Kenneth Y. Best says as newspaper celebrates 40th anniversary
Over hundred persons, including former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and many other distinguished personalities yesterday gathered at the premises of the Liberian Observer Corporation, Publisher of the Daily Observer newspaper, to listen from the horses’ own mouths the rich story of Liberia’s oldest surviving independent daily newspaper.
How they navigated the troubling systems, mainly the tense and draconian political space was a mouth-watering piece as Mr. Kenneth Y. Best, Publisher of the Daily Observer narrated in over an hour’s time the ordeals encountered both in Liberia and The Gambia in the 1980s and the 1990s.
Mr. Best, Daily Observer’s former Managing Director (MD) now 82 years old, said God led him, along with his wife and team all through the dark valleys and he is today proud that he is alive to tell a story that has arrived at its fortieth year.
“But before getting into the matter of offspring, we can never forget the challenging, critical and costly pains we endured during our formative years—pains, yea crises we suffered beginning with the very second month of our founding—March 1981, when the erratic, powerful and tyrannical Justice Minister, Chea Cheapoo, summoned me to his office one Monday morning and, with loaded guns pointed at me from every direction, blasted (spoke harshly at) me for one and a half hours because we had published a story about him to which he did not like.
“He also threatened to ‘hunt you down from door to door and shoot you’,” Best narrated. “He sent for me the following Wednesday and demanded that I bring to his office ‘all those foreigners you got working for you’. He immediately imprisoned them, without due process of law, demanded that I feed them three meals a day for the two weeks he held them in prison; that I pay the fines of US$500 each for working without work permits (which I told the Minister were in process); and that I buy airline tickets for them to be deported back to their countries—two to Ghana and one to Nigeria,” Best said as he narrated his story.
Prior to the launch of the Daily Observer, Best and his wife, Mae Gene lived in Nairobi, Kenya where he served as information director for the All Africa Conference of Churches from the late part of 1973 up to the day of his return to Liberia in 1980.
Best’s efforts to begin Liberia’s first independent daily newspaper did not have a rosy honey-moon, as it was an era under the fist of a military junta, the People’s Redemption Council (PRC), headed by then Master-Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe.
Doe and his men, sixteen in number, on April 12, 1980, overthrew President William R. Tolbert and killed him on allegations of bad governance, corruption, nepotism, among others; things his regimes failed to get rid of, too.
Mr. Kenneth Best added: “But if you see us standing here today celebrating 40 years of publishing this newspaper, started during the brutal and cruel regime of military dictator Samuel K. Doe, then you can guess that Kenneth and Mae Gene Best must truly have been blessed by God Almighty Himself, with all His divine love and protection!”
He narrated that the Doe-led regime imprisoned him, his wife and staff more than five different times and, at each, there was no reliance on any Constitutional violation by him and his staff.
Best further explained that when the Liberian civil war broke out on December 24, 1989, and intensified in the subsequent years that followed, he sought refuge in The Gambia, where he launched the Gambian Daily Observer, also that country’s first-ever independent daily newspaper.
“We started on a good note but an ousted dictator, Yayah Jammeh, who overthrew Dauda Jawara and became head of state, got at us because we reported ills perpetrated by his government,” he said.
The Daily Observer’s publisher said President Jammeh became outrageous and deported him but, with war still raging in Liberia at the time, God blessed him and his family to seek refuge in the United States of America.
Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in her very brief remarks, said the Daily Observer’s story is worth listening to because Mr. Best has been and is still that brave man of the 1980s who stood up to tell the truth to the public through his newspaper.
“It is something we all wanted to hear. There is the time one sits and appreciates the depth of the content that tells the real story. As I reflect deeply about those days, it was Kenneth Best who could stand to tell the story. He was the one who braved the storm, stood up and told the truth. He stood up and challenged the wrong. Times, conditions and chances change but people like Kenneth have always stood their ground. Thank you for what you are and what you represent,” Madam Sirleaf said.
Decades before her election as President of Liberia, Madam Sirleaf served as President of Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) and it was through her instrumentality the Daily Observer secured its first loan from the bank.
Under her twelve year rule as President of Liberia, the country became a signatory to the Table Mountain Decalaration, thereby nullifying and repealing the draconian laws against press freedom.
Also making remarks, Charles Coffey, President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), said he was amazed by Mr. Best’s narration of the Observer story, which was an accumulation of real-life challenges.
“I wish this was under Madam Sirleaf’s leadership that we are celebrating your 40th anniversary. She signed the Table Mountain Declaration, allowing the press to function freely,” Coffey said.
He added: “The draconian laws that used to strangulate the operation of the media no longer exist. She went further by forming the Independent Information Commission that compels public officials to disclose information to the public through the media.”
He further said: Mr. Best, during your days, there were no laws respected. I urge you, management and staff of the Daily Observer, to continue on the legacy of Mr. Best. Continue the style of professionalism.”
Coffey said Mr. Best and his team, going all through the difficult days from Liberia to another country, they stood firm and continued the business.
“You still hold the best newspaper of the year. Balanced news and professionalism should be the hallmark of the day as always and we are proud of you on your many accomplishments,” he concluded.
Stanton B. Peabody Memorial Library Digitized
Another milestone in the celebration of the fortieth founding anniversary of the Daily Observer, the newspaper’s library named in memory of Staton B. Peabody, editor-in-chief of the Daily Observer from 1983 to 2011, is now in transition as a digital library with the capacity to archive online all hard copies of Liberian newspapers.
The digitalization of the library came through the generous financial support of Mr. Alexander B. Cummings, the political leader of the Alternative National Congress (ANC).
In his brief remarks, Cummings has he was touched and inspired by the fact that the Daily Observer has kept the true Liberian story all through the years, since its founding.
“I just want to, first of all, congratulate on reaching 40 years. I also want to be happy that my wife, Theresa and I are part of this story, the story of archiving the history of our country,” he said.
Cummings added: “One other thing I would like to say is that technology is a major tool for helping our country, once it is used properly. Intellectuals — I know we use that word very loosely around here — but they will have access to the history of our country.”
He challenged Bai S. G. Best, Managing Director of the Daily Observer to keep up the fighting spirit of his father, Mr. Kenneth Y. Best for the good of the newspaper.
Going forward, the aged print editions of the Daily Observer and other newspaper titles of Liberia before the days of the Internet will gradually become available online from any part of the world, eliminating the prior need for anyone to be present in person at the library before accessing stories reported in the 1980s and the 1990s.
Unlike any other newspaper company in the country, the Daily Observer has in its library many other dailies, including The Inquirer Newspaper, Front-page Africa, The New Dawn, The New Democrat and others.