Tom Kamara, the Managing Editor of the New Democrat newspaper, who became one of Liberia best known journalist for his role in promoting freedom of speech, human rights, and justice, died on Friday. Mr. Kamara died in the Netherlands after he was rushed there to seek medical attention after been ill for couple of months.
A journalist with the gift of writing, Mr. Kamara went head to head with warlords, presidents, celebrities and con politicians for decades in Liberia. Both his style and the substance of his work drew criticisms from Samuel Doe regime to Taylor and even Ellen Johnson Sirleaf presidency as well as partisans of arguably the leading opposition political party, Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), and others. Critics argued his style of journalism was one sided, but Uncle Tom never conceded to their criticisms because his goal was to educate the Liberia people by bringing the information home.
Uncle Tom started as a reported in 1970 with the Liberian Star Newspaper and after high school went to the United States for further studies and came back in 1981, becoming the editor of the New Liberian a pro government newspaper. He served there briefly, and was dismissed for act incompatible with the aims and objectives with the military junta, the People Redemption Council (PRC) headed by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe. Uncle Tom was sacked after he carried a picture of Master Sergeant Doe and picture of the gigantic house Mr. Doe was building in his home town of Tuzon, Grand Gedeh County. He was arrested and thrown in prison without charge. The junta leader asked than Justice Minister, the late Jenin Scott to prepare confinement paper for him, and Scott concocted charges that were never read to him. The next day was plan for Mr. Kamara to be flown to the notorious Belleh Yellah Prison where he could have been subsequently murder but he later escaped and left the country. He resided in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Ghana for sometimes and later move to the Netherlands.
In 1990, as the Liberian violent armed conflict was raging, Uncle Tom was asked by Dr. Amos Sawyer, a close friend of his to come and organize the Liberian media since the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) headed by Dr. Sawyer was returning to Liberia. When IGNU landed in Freetown, Liberians were fleeing Liberia and Freetown was over crowded with Liberian refugees. Mr. Kamara, and others suggested that it could be good with the ongoing turmoil in Liberia that IGNU contacted the Sierra Leonean authorities to grant Liberian airtime on Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SSBS) on which they could air programs by Liberian journalist already in Freetown among them Cyrus Badio. The Sierra Leone authorities agreed and the idea was given to the government but at the time Dr. Sawyer government didn’t find any relevant in it and it was discarded. Mr. Kamara and others felt at the time that there were misinformation particular coming from the National Patriot Front of Liberia (NPFL) side about the war, false pronouncements made to enhance their military standing. Uncle Tom and others felt if they had air time once or twice a week they could try to counteract those misinformation and also to assist families locate their family members behind rebel lines or vice versa.
When Mr. Kamara arrived in Monrovia with IGNU in 1990, the entire city was a ghost town. Men and women who had status were seen at the Ducor Hotel (the home of IGNU) with plate and spoon looking for food to eat. His job was to organize the media infrastructure. An information process was vital since the peacekeeper was here, they needed an information infrastructure as well as the IGNU to counteract whatever was coming from the NPFL media, remember the NPFL had seize the only state short waves transmission station was broadcasting in the entire country as well as abroad. The enclave of Monrovia never hand any counter measure with the level of information that was coming from behind the lines.
Uncle Tom, along with his junior colleagues, Cyrus Badio, the late Gabriel Gwelakaju and others went to the Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS). There were lot of equipment’s at LBS but the building was under bombardment from the NPFL. Mr. Kamara and his team took some equipment to salvage them and headed toward Bushrod Island where Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) leader Prince Yomie Johnson (now Senator in the Liberian Senate) almost shot him but missed him by inches after asking him series of question where he was going because he (Prince) was advancing toward central Monrovia.
The next stage was what next to do? Mr. Kamara gathered some journalists at the Coast Guard base to reorganize the state media and also private media. The Nigerian information officer than attached to the Field Commander of ECOMOG and Mr. Kamara had a bitter argument because the Nigerian felt the name of LBS should be change to Liberty Radio. Some Liberian journalists were in agreement with the Nigerian officer but Mr. Kamara position was LBS is LBS and is a state entity and the Nigerian officer have no right to change the name of a government radio station. Mr. Kamara and his team sought to organized journalists but that didn’t work. Tom and his team organized private newspapers and it took some time for the Nigerian to bring in FM transmitter but under their control. Been a giant, Mr. Kamara never relented in organizing the media structure. He was shot in 1990 while transporting media equipment on Bushrod Island during the INFPL infamous attack on central Monrovia. He was transported to a clinic in Monrovia (at the time there was no functioning hospital in Monrovia) and later transported to Holland where he remain in hospital.
Mr. Kamara’s career path meandered after he formed the New Democrat. He set his sights on making the New Democrat newspaper the best informative newspaper in Liberia. Mr. Kamara and his teams— who researched, reported and wrote the stories — took on Warlords like Charles Taylor, George Boley, Ahaiji Kromah, and others along with his patented brand of exposés. His famous fictional column “The Trial of Charles Ghankay Taylor” which he started in the 90’s was phenomenon and very popular. He started Taylor’s trial long before even any one dream that Mr. Taylor was going to go to The Hague for war crimes or be sentence to 50 years in prison. That was Uncle Tom at his best!! He tried putting Mr. Taylor entire career into a friction. By coincidence, the indictments that were issued for Mr. Taylor arrest are almost same indictments issue in his frictional tale. Most of Mr. Taylor support thought the trial was personal and wanted he to stop but Uncle Tom been Uncle Tom never give in.
His work tried to put into perspectives the horrors and insane destructions, the shield savages all in the name of politic. He wanted for the Liberian populace to see through it and reinforces that the likes of Taylor need to face justice. The New Democrat office was looted and burned in 1996 by those that antagonized his work of informing the Liberian public. His paper was shut down and his life threatened. Mr. Kamara went into exile in the Netherlands.
While in graduate school abroad, I often sent articles to News Democrat for publication and Uncle Tom was so generous in publishing those articles by even editing some before publication. I remember last year, when I was contesting for a seat in the house of representative, my father (a close pal of Uncle Tom) and I met Uncle Tom on numerous occasions. He was very supportive of my decision to contest and even allowed me to advertise on his newspaper free of charge during the 2011 legislative campaign. He was very optimistic about the future of Liberia and the ongoing process of transferring our country from war to peace and democratization process.
Mr. Kamara created enough such moments to become a paragon of journalism in Liberia. He was a fearless Journalist and a prolific writer who always wrote about the truth; this is great loss to country whose lacks qualified and highly educated professionals.
Uncle Tom success often lay in the questions he hurled in his numerous articles, not the answers he received. Mr. Kamara was a journalist to the bone. He was a great man who crossed many hearts and left his footprints forever in Liberia. Rest in Peace, Uncle Tom!!