Happy Pre-Birthday: Kenneth Yarkparwolo Best

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

The name, “Kenneth Y. Best,” is a household word in this country. This is so not because of the individual’s notoriety, but because of the person’s high degree of professionalism, patriotism and nationalism. Should one speak of Kenneth Best, it would be a general conclusion that he is someone who over the years dedicated his life to the journalism profession. Despite the difficulties experienced during the Samuel K. Doe’s regime as the newspaper suffered many illegal closures, Mr. Best remained determined and unperturbed, to informing and educating the Liberian people.

As a citizen who started the first real independent newspaper in this country in the early days of the 1980 coup d’état, Mr. Best who is in his mid-70’s continues to exhibit exuberance, love and passion for the journalism profession he had chosen as his lifetime career in this country. Next Monday will be a major day in the life span of this son of the soil. This will not be a day to celebrate the founding of the DAILY OBSERVER, but as a day to take a sober reflection of his life, activities, and deeds, as a citizen of this country.

On that day, October 28, Mr. Best would be observing his 75th natal day. As usual, it is said that on this day, it is not only the issue of merry-making and conviviality, but a time of sober reflection to determine one’s setbacks, successes or challenges. Additionally, it is time to concentrate on some past incidents, to determine as to whether one took the right decision or not.

Today, as Mr. Best plans to observe this day, he has taken a sober reflection of the first front page story of the daily observer when it appeared on the newsstand on February 1981. In that maiden edition, the paper carried a banner headline, captioned:  “West Point Dwellers Are Angry,” a decision that was made based on the philosophy of the newspaper to be the PEOPLE’s newspaper.

He said when he and his wife Mae Gene established the Daily Observer on February 16, 1981, they deliberately chose West Point, one of the Liberian capital’s worst slums, because they wanted to begin by identifying with the impoverished and downtrodden— the ordinary people and that this was to demonstrate from the very beginning that the Daily Observer was going to be a PEOPLE’s paper. The DAILY OBSERVER is the second oldest newspaper in Liberia’s history, after the Liberia Herald in1826.

Interestingly, after 32 years of the paper’s existence, Mr. Best and family have decided to commemorate his 75th birthday not with a big celebration honoring him, but with community service in West Point where the Observer began. According to information, they have decided to undertake a project in the township of West Point, as part of activities marking his birth anniversary.

A communication from Mr. Best about this project says that a meeting with the Commissioner of West Point, Madam Miata H. Flowers, and elders of the community revealed the Township’s three major challenges: the lack of a high school, the lack of a government clinic or hospital and the lack of a town hall—all of these for an area inhabited by over 100,000 people, most of whom are children.

It said they agreed as a catalyst for educational, social and professional transformation in this long- neglected township, and as a result, envisioned a multi-purpose facility hosting seminars and workshops for community members, as well as study classes for students; a space for community engagement, as well as a safe space to spur creativity and innovation among the Township’s highly expressive youth.

The communication said with the blessing of the Township’s elders, women, youths and the Commissioner, Fanti Beach has been earmarked as the location for the project, which turns out to be a very attractive spot for such a community fixture.  Mr. Best and the township believe that a well-designed community structure there would inspire future private sector activities and investments in this community, which has a largely untapped but high economic potential. Meanwhile, the unveiling of the architectural plan and ground-breaking ceremony takes place at the site tomorrow at 11 a.m. in the township.

As Mr. Best plans to undertake this project in West Point, an area that I also covered when I joined the newspaper in 1983 as a cub reporter, mainly with assignment in the Borough of Kru Town, which I later extended to West Point based on the philosophy of the newspaper. I still recall during the days of Commissioner Dominic Jlateh, the DAILY OBSERVER was the first newspaper that started reporting the activities of the West Point Co-op Society (WPC), then headed by Frank Krah, with Alfred Nagbe, alias “Mullah” and Chon Davies, Boakai and Taylor as some of its officials. Don’t ask me about the status of this organization that created job opportunities for many in the township.

I am happy that Mr. Best, affectionately called by us as “K.Y.” has decided to undertake this great project, instead of the usual merriment. I know that people will provide gifts on this day; the fact that he decided to do this, is commendable, because it takes principle-minded individuals to contemplate. For me, I am not surprised over this because this is someone I worked with for years as a reporter, and editor, and found him to be development-oriented and people-centered.

On this day, let me also express gratitude to him for the opportunity given me as a high school graduate, then, to serve as News Editor, a job previously held by college students. I am also happy for the editorial guidance given by me to other individuals who came through the newsroom of the DAILY OBSERVER. They include Frank Sainworla, Bill Burke and Maureen Sieh, both of IREX, Mr. Gabriel I. H. Williams  and S. Togba Slweion.  As I remember some of those at the DAILY OBSERVER, let me pay tribute to the late Taana Wolokollie, one of my backbones, then in the newsroom. He had “the nose for news.”

As we observe this day with Mr. Best, let me also recognize some of the correspondents that helped make my job very easy. They include Edwin Fayiah,(Lofa County); C. Y. Kwanue (Nimba County), the late Ephraim Johns (Sinoe County), the late Koffa Jabboe (Maryland and J. Grody Borbor (Grand Gedeh County ). Special thanks to Mr. Willis knuckles, for introducing me to supplementary and investigative journalism; the late t-Max Teah, for his patience; Isaac Thompson for his non-compromising stance in the newsroom, Mlanju Reeves for his grammatical ability, Sando Moore, Folley Siryon and Arthur James, of the photo department and ‘Black Baby’ of the Layout Department for their support and cooperation, while serving as News Editor.

As ‘K.Y.’ observes this day in an unusual fashion, I remain grateful to him for the level of discipline, especially as it relates to work ethics and the dos and don’ts in the journalism profession. Even though there were time for jokes and exchange of pleasantries, that did not create room to undermine the production of the paper, as I can still remember the time we sometimes socialized at Kono’s Corner, in the proximity of the DAILY OBSERVER on Crown Hill.

Today, I can proudly say that because of those ethics that were inculcated into the staff, many of them, including the few mentioned supra, are making positive contribution to the society. Mr. Mark  Bedor-Wla Freeman, now a counselor, is the Chairman of the Independent Information Commission, responsible for the enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act; Frank Sainworla, now station manager of RADIO VERITAS; and Mr. Gabriel I. H. Williams, now at the Liberian Embassy in the United States; Bill Burke and Maureen Sieh, both of IREX; and S. Togba Slewion, now Chairman, Social Work Department at the United Methodist University (UMU). Mr. Slewion is also an Associate Professor at the same UMU.

To Mr. Best, I say, the tree you planted many years ago, is germinating better fruits that will help nourish the nation in its reconstruction drive. Your deep sense of manpower development that you introduced would forever be remembered, as the beneficiaries are in high positions today, contributing their quotas to national development.

I say, you are blessed that you and the sitting President of this country, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf were born in the same month and year; the only difference is that you are one day older than her. What a coincidence that both of you are on the stage at a time the nation needs its best for moving it from backwaters to prosperity. HAPPY PRE- BIRTHDAY! I will be with you in “THE KEY”, the nick name for West Point tomorrow and also with you on the day itself, Monday, October 29, as you rejuvenate at 75.