A Tribute to Thomas "Tom" Saah Kamara: My Comrade in the Liberian People's Struggle for Rice & Rights
A Tribute By Siahyonkron Nyanseor
We first worked as members of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA). And when I relocated to Liberia, March 1981, we continued our commitment to the Liberian people’s struggle for RICE and RIGHTS. At the time, Tom was employed as editor of the New Liberia; the official newspaper of the ruling People’s Redemption Council (PRC), and I was employed at the Special Projects Division of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs as an Urban Rural Planner. On the weekends, we met in Cardwell, a suburb of Monrovia at the Taylor Major’s estate, where he, Nyudueh Monorkomana (Assistant Minister of Labor) and Blamoh Nelson, deputy director, General Services Agency had their homes. Several weekends we socialized with friends, drank palm wine and ate fufu and goat soap.
Besides being a devoted journalist, Tom was a creative fictional writer. I could not wait to read his fictional episodes: “The Trial of Charles Ghankay Taylor,” which was started in the 1990’s. Many of the predictions in the episodes became reality; Taylor was found guilty and was sentenced to fifty years in prison.
During the INFPL villainous attack on central Monrovia in 1990, Tom was shot in the leg while he was transporting media equipment on Bushrod Island. He had to go Holland for proper treatment.
Tom’s aggressive style of “Investigative Reporting” made him to butt heads with the likes of Charles Ghankay Taylor, George S. Boley, Alhaji G.V. Kromah and anyone who was in his way. Due to Tom’s probing and sometimes, provoking style of going after the story, he created enemies as well as raving fans for himself in many high places. In 1996, his New Democrat office was looted and burned; the newspaper was shut down and his life was threatened. As a result, he went into exile in The Netherlands.
When my colleagues, Abraham M. Williams, George H. Nubo and I started ThePerspective.org newsmagazine in June 1996, we received an e-mail from Tom, at the time he was residing in exile in The Netherlands. He congratulated us and expressed interest in contributing to the magazine. We gladly accepted his offer; and the rest is history.
Tom and a host of dedicated Liberians and friends such as, J. Kpanneh Doe, Tarty Teh, Geepoh Nah Tiepoh, H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr., William E. Allen, Gbe Sneh, Theodore T. Hodge, James D. Smith, Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh, Sumowuoi Pewu, J. Yanqui Zaza, Charles Kwalonue Sunwabe, Jr., John S. Morlu, II, F. Wafula Okumu, James W. Harris, Mohamedu F Jones, Nat Galarea Gbessagee, Josephus Moses Gray, Abdoulaye W. Dukulé, Ray Martin Toe, Ruth Nabakwe, Massa A. Washington, Emmanuel Dolo, Winsley S. Nanka, Moses Geply, Decontee Jackson, Musue N. Haddad, Tarnue Johnson, Wollor E. Topor, Abraham James (partial list of contributors) are credited with the early success of ThePerspective.org newsmagazine.
Tom that I know believes that African leaders for that matter, Liberian leaders are not above the law. According to him, Liberians need leaders who are not only servants of his people but who also should be answerable to the people, and that the practice of praise and worship singing many Liberians are accustomed to, makes these leaders feel indispensable; therefore, the attitude that our leaders can do no wrong should not be entertained. While some of them may have good intentions, the hypocritical practice of the praise and worship singing, turned them into dictators that cannot tolerate any criticism especially from members of the Fourth Estate. As a result, they are not about the people’s business but are ONLY concern about themselves, their families, friends and those who will follow them BLINDLY. In the case of Liberia, Doe sought the help of one of these persons by the name of Kekura B. Kpoto; a political chameleon, who boasted openly that he, possessed “99 strategies of winning election.” Based on Tom’s observation:
Kpoto, former chair of the junta's party who switched sides and began recruiting for Taylor's rebel NPFL in 1990, told the audience the dangers of Liberia's current isolation. He said although the violent war had stopped, the war of the "pen" was hurting the country. He said Liberians were killing Liberians through the pen because, he added, "When some people put things down, people are bound to believe." Kpoto noted unity was important in fighting the current isolation making outside assistance impossible. Asked what he has done for the country since he is a perpetual servant of all governments dating from the Tubman till now, Kpoto recounted scholarships, which he has given Liberians and his agricultural projects. He said since he joined Taylor, he has not seen his check. It goes to the needy, he said, although he did not say from which sources he was getting his money.(“Messengers Carrying the Burdens of Bad News”, published in the September 18, 2000 edition of ThePerspective.org)
The question that comes to mind is why are African leaders unable to tolerate political opposition or journalists? One would think that by encouraging such activities, these leaders would be able to get feedbacks and inputs that would enable them to become better leaders. Also to their credit would be the development of rapid progressive economic activities and a workable healthy political environment that will help promote the interest of ALL of the people instead of a select FEW.
To retrospect, I am reminded that Tom was barely in his teens when he had his first brush with the authority at, the William V.S. Tubman high, Monrovia, where he was the first editor of the school’s newspaper, The Mirror. From here on, he used his writings to speak truth to power.
And we are reminded that, “The most important political office is that of the private citizen. If we shirk our responsibilities in preserving our freedoms, they will be lost. No one is above the law and there can never be peace without freedom, equality, and justice.” These are the words to which Tom dedicated his life. The excerpts below show the resolve with which Tom would go to confront those whom he regards as NOT speaking the TRUTH about his beloved country and continent.
He expressed this sentiment in his article titled, “Harbingers of Truth & Reluctant Converts,” published in the March 19, 2001 edition of ThePerspective.org:
…In a much refreshing way of shelving hypocrisy to embrace honesty in today's politics of personal convenience, Feingold said: "We have all read the appalling accounts of atrocities committed in the region. I believe that some of the responsibility for these terrible abuses upon Charles Taylor's shoulders. In fact, I believe that Liberian President Charles Taylor is a war criminal.
Then came the repentance from Congressman Donald M. Payne, once one of Taylor's ardent backers on the House Sub-Committee who opened the Hearing. In a much welcomed afterthought about a man he came to admire as a fellow black who knows the "both worlds" - America and Africa, Congressman Payne said Taylor-backed rebels in Sierra Leone, ''have already exacerbated problems in countries such as Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire which already have illegitimate regimes (and) weak institutions coupled with mounting refugee problems.”
To appreciate Payne's metamorphosis, we must look at what his mind was when Taylor was proclaimed winner after the laughable 1997 elections conducted under the guidance of late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha:
"I always felt Liberia was like a symbolic motherland to African-Americans," he beamed, unabashed about his fantasies for Taylor "because he's intelligent; he knows what sells here, and he's from over there. He has the knowledge of both worlds," Jon Lee Anderson quoted him as proclaiming. This mindset was nevertheless not unique to Payne. Amazingly, African-Americans and Democrats saw light in a man many Liberians saw as a Prince of Darkness. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who could not address Liberians during the heydays of their nightmare without a fee of $10,000, told them after the elections that it was "sunshine time in Liberia." Jackson, a man who makes his living from protests, warned Liberians demanding substantive changes after such a horrible war waged in the name of democracy to "get off the Internet." On one of his frequent visits to the country, he blamed Liberia's horrors on the execution of the "few good people", 13 Americo-Liberian (descendents of ex-slaves who settled in the country in 1822 and monopolized politics and economy) during a military coup 1980, a coup which Taylor in fact helped to consolidate. Such a verdict from a religious and Civil Rights leader, after a war that butchered 250,000 (mostly African-Liberians and their political leaders), was far from soothing considering the ethnic acrimony prevailing as all signs indicate the re-emergence of Americo-Liberian rule of the privileged.
In Tom’s career, he made it his business never to spare neither his friends nor his foe; for this reason, he made more enemies than friends. Many people who knew Tom would agree that some of the problems he encountered were due to his style of seeking and reporting stories. This style has gotten him into troubles with Doe, Taylor, and even Sirleaf, who wrote such eloquent tribute about the man he once threatened to sue. Yet, another patriot, Tarty Teh, who died few months before Tom, was not so lucky to have received similar tribute from the President. Many of us know the reason!
All in all, what set Tom apart from other journalists is the fact that he went after both those who considered themselves his enemies, and his trusted friends with his same style of seeking stories. This style got him in into many palavers and often time into heated written exchanges:
Find below in his own words how he escaped death:
In fairness however, Taylor is simply building upon the pillars of lawlessness erected for decades. The coup of 1980 heightened the level of lawlessness since the soldiers lacked the finesse of their predecessors in pretenses of leading a democratic society when the truth was that it was a concealed tyranny. In 1984, this writer was arrested and thrown in prison on an infamous charge of "Security Risk" for Samuel Doe's Government. The "Security Risk" encompassed critical journalism, for Doe, unlike Taylor, had little idea what constituted "espionage." Without a formal charge, I was thrown in prison, but not before the head of, National Security Agency, (the secret police) Sylvester Moses, now in US exile, gave me a complete dress down for my alleged masterminding of underground leaflets produced by University of Liberia students against the regime. Since the NSA concluded I was the only one capable of producing such scathing leaflets in the absence of press freedom, Doe decided that the high security prison in the jungles of Belle Yalla was the best place to dump me and thus remove the risk. So the soldiers bundled me up from prison at my NSA cell and escorted me to the tiny city airport to be flown to Belle Yalla, possibly to be killed en route. But the officer in charge of the tiny plane saved my life by refusing to fly the plane and demanded legal papers on my case, including formal charges. Without the papers, he insisted, he would not risk his reputation in participating in an illegal imprisonment. As I was shoved in the car under heavily armed escort back to my cell, he yelled, "Tom you're lucky!" That was the last time I heard his voice. He was killed latter. This little event indicated some forms of "law" still existed in Doe's Liberia. Had this even occurred in Taylor's Liberia, I would not have lived to tell the story! (“Ordeals & Pretenses,” published in the April 3, 2001 edition of ThePerspective.org)
In remembrance of Thomas (Tom) Saah Kamara, I say, we will continue the STRUGGLE. So farewell my friend and brother, you fought a good fight; therefore, death need not be proud; for there was nothing it could have done to STOP the course of our history toward which you contributed immensely. May your travel be smooth and safe, and give our best regards to our brothers and sisters in the struggle who went ahead of you.
Also, to Tom’s wife and family, I say take solace in the fact that he left his mark on African History, and for that matter, Liberian History; and that he has gone from labor to rest where there will be NO STRUGGLE. Therefore, you and family should celebrate -- knowing that Tom made invaluable contributions to humanity.
Finally, I beg to leave with you Tom’s profound and prophetic words that read:
…Every society deserves the type of leadership it has, for people determined to rid themselves of stupid tyranny can muster the strength and will to achieve their objective. If they refuse to act, then indeed they deserve what they have. So it is with Liberia as with many African states. (“Woes of the African Journalist,” published in the March 12, 2001 edition of ThePerspective.org)
Oh, how true these words are!
I bade you PEACE my friend, until we meet!
Gwe feh Kpeh!
Our eyes are opened; the time of the people has come!
In the Cause of the People, the Struggle Continues!
Comrade Siahyonkron Jglay Kpa-kay Nyanseor
Check out the partial list of his articles on ThePerspective.org Website:
• “Shifting Alliances in Liberia’s Theft and Plunder,” July 1996
• “Liberia: The Emergence of a Criminal State,” July 2000
• “Messengers Carrying the Burdens of Bad News”, September 18, 2000
• “Liberian Officials Bicker Over Genesis of Horrors”, October 2, 2000
• “Praying and Celebrating Against Going Home,” October 9, 2000
• “Blames & Blunders: Combing Kromah's Claims”, November 8, 2000
• “Elections and Erosion of Stability in Africa," November 16, 2000
• “The Liberian Senate's Feuding ‘Criminals,’” November 20, 2000
• “Selling Deception”, December 5, 2000
• “Where Jesse Jackson Sees Best,” December 15, 2000
• “A Demon or Demonized?” February 5, 2001
• “Misinformation, Sanctions & Bedfellows,” February 6, 2001
• “The Senate's Inquisition,” February 26, 2001
• “Woes of the African Journalist,” March 12, 2001
• “Harbingers of Truth & Reluctant Converts,” March 19, 2001
• “Ordeals & Pretenses,” April 3, 2001
• “Disappearances, Denials & Doubletalk,” April 12, 2001
• “Are Taylor's ‘Hands Clean’ in Liberia's State-Sponsored Terrorism?” October 2001
• “Liberian Citizenship and Passport Up for Sale!” August 2001
• “Piracy and Anarchy in West Africa: The Ivory Coast's Turn,” September 2001