This, Too, Is Tom Kamara!

A Tribute By Julu M. Johnson, Jr.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
June 19, 2012

In an attempt to arrest General D. Roosevelt Johnson of the ULIMO-J faction at his 20th Street residence in Sinkor, hell broke loose in Monrovia. Consequently, the New Democrat newspaper was badly hit as the building housing it on Center Street was burnt. Reason for the arson attack was no secret, given that the media group was deemed as critical as far as its reportage and editorial contents were concerned.

Following the cessation of fighting created by the April 6, 1996 fracas in Monrovia, former President Charles Taylor, then member of the Council of State headed by Professor Wilton Sankawulo, hosted a press conference at the edifice of the Executive Mansion on Capitol Hill. During the question and answer period, James King introduced himself as member of the New Democrat newspaper. Mr. Taylor, appearing dismayed, asked: “You Democrat people are still around? Where is Tom Kamara?” Mr. King responded, “I don’t know.” Such utterance from Mr. Taylor raised serious eyebrows vis-à-vis the motive behind the burning of the paper’s offices.

Prior to the incidence, Mr. Kamara (RIP) ran a column popularly called “The Trial of Charles Ghankay Taylor.” It was a hit on the local newsstand. And Mr. Kamara’s prophesy became a reality as Mr. Taylor was indicted, tried and found guilty of aiding and abetting the war in Sierra Leone on grounds that he was god father of the Revolution United Front (RUF), led by Corporal Foday Sankoh.

Also brain behind the column “2nd Thoughts,” TK had assembled some of the best prolific writers and media minds, namely G. Henry Andrews (From Where I Sit), Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae, Ben Asante, John HT Stewart and Lindsay Barret.

As a lad still in grade school, it was my duty to read the New Democrat on a daily basis. Although I could not afford to purchase a copy of the paper, my father was the only source of being provided the opportunity to read the paper. I had to wait until my dad came from work with a copy of the New Democrat to read articles therein. My interest in the paper was overwhelming that I had a rice bag filled with it in my room until my family fled our GSA Road dwelling. That was how, as a student of history, my dream of having the New Democrat as a record was dashed by the road side.

Meanwhile, growing up at the Ducor Palace Hotel, home of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), Mr. Kamara was among the many dignitaries residing there. It was that period I interacted with the deceased and individuals like Jabaru Kallon, Nah-Doe Bropleh, Johnson Gwaikolo, Dusty Wolokollie, Bishop Ronald Diggs, James B. Logan, Sheik Kafumbah Konneh, Dr. Fodee Kromah, Mrs. Hawa Goll-Kotchi and Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe. Later did I know that Mr. Kamara would be a man whose writings and style of journalism I would have cherished until his death.

Impunity almost prevailed in the matter concerning little Angel Tokpah. Day in, day out, the pen of Tom refused to rest until those alleged to be instigators of her death were brought to justice. They have since been sentenced to death, subject to appeal at the Supreme Court.

Every journalist’s dream is to walk away with the prestigious Press Union of Liberia (PUL) award. Yet, based on policy difference, TK rejected a PUL award for his newspaper. Such action, many would not have done despite the circumstances surrounding it.

In his drive to remain truly independent, the deceased normally avoided the temptation of comprising his profession. While many of his colleagues in the media accepted government appointments, Uncle Tom remained unwavering. He stood his ground to set a standard for the media landscape. A case in point is when he opted not to serve in the lucrative capacity of being a member of the Board of Directors of the National Port Authority (NPA), known as the gateway of the nation’s economy. He went as far as picking bone with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for naming him on the NPA Board without soliciting his consent prior to the appointment.

Strolling through the local dailies on Thursday, June 7, 2012, the PUL published a list of journalists who died either through natural cause or martyrdom. By them, TK was in a critical state. Hence I began to pray to the Lord Almighty that TK’s name would not be inscribed on the plaque the PUL intended to erect for fallen journalists.

My fear later allayed that same day when some staffers of the New Democrat phoned the wife, Mrs. Rachel Kamara from Brussels, Belgium where the newsman laid in comma. She assured her workers that all was well in spite of growing rumors that TK was dead. While the phone conversation ensued, a driver of Mrs. Kamara joined us and also received the confidence that the husband of his boss lady was gradually recovering. As a result, the driver vowed to celebrate to the fullest when his boss man returned.

Being a witness to the phone discussion, I went on to argue with those who claimed that the New Democrat boss was already dead. Unfortunately for my argument, on that fateful Friday, June 8, 2012, the news of his death was broken by another unknown fellow, quoting the ELBC radio. I disagreed with him for two reasons. Firstly, the wife of Mr. Kamara had given assurances the day before that all was fine with her husband. Secondly, I differed with the fellow for claiming that Mr. Kamara died in London, England. Then, I elected to wait until the final nail was hit on the head by those working with the New Democrat. With the death news finally announced, messages of condolence began pouring in like heavy rainfall. His personal friends, media colleagues, religious leaders, political gurus and public officials have since joined the mourning bandwagon.

The life and writings of the New Democrat Publisher and Managing Editor has proven that the pen is mightier than the sword, no matter how strong the enemies of press freedom have tried but to no avail.

Indeed, TK has set the pace for the local media to follow. His footprint will be difficult for anyone to erase. He stood for a cause in spite of the temptation that goes along with being a journalist in a third world country like Liberia.

Sad to state that this, too, is Tom Kamara, who has now gone to the great beyond, in order to have a peaceful rest! Amen in Nyeswah’s name!

© 2012 by The Perspective
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