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A Big Pen Has Fallen: Tribute To A Man I Saw Only Once But Will Know Forever
By Mahamed Boakai
“The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones”…. This statement continues to be true ever since William Shakespeare wrote them in one of his five greatest tragedies. So let it be with Uncle Tom, a visionary, a freethinker, a mentor, a master of the pen, who lived his life to fight for social justice at the expense of personal pleasure. It has caused me a personal pleasure this Friday evening (June 8) to force these few words on paper; if the poem above will make any sense.
The name Tom Kamara springs to mind at least one of many touching memories things no matter which side of the spectrum you find we find ourselves on issues relating to Liberia and the world at large. His disdain for what he considered, rightly so, draconian regimes will always survive him. In my young memory, the regimes of Presidents Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor – and remnants of those regimes – will never forgive his critical analysis of their governing styles. War lords and their cohorts will never reconcile with him for his derogatory but just descriptions of the carnage perpetuated in the last three decades in Liberia.
Tom’s deportment against moral injustices and bad governance in society will forever make him the proverbial “Elephant” described by six blind men to both perpetrators and victims of injustice in the Liberian society for years to come. To perpetrators he was and will continue to be a pariah and a confused writer. To the victims, and those secret admirers who dined with the devils for survival and maintenance of their status, he will continue to be a Lux in Tenebris and a symbol of hope who never wavered.
For many, particularly those who saw him from a distance, the name Tom Kamara will always be synonymous to controversy. He wrote against vices in his environment irrespective of who was the cause. He epitomized the true values of the conservative nature of what the journalism profession should be. He never frequented beer parlors or entertainment centers in his communities and was seldom seen at merry-making ceremonies. Except to scoop in on issues he was writing on, he never hanged out with government officials for pleasure.
Tom set the bar so high for the journalism profession in Liberia that it takes a critical decision for anyone in his generation or ours to rise to the challenge. Firstly, I considered him the Rupert Murdoch of Liberia. He had a dream to set up a media empire in Liberia as a way of encouraging those of us in the ‘knowledge industry’ to live off government employment. He praised good and vilified evil. Even for those who considered him a friend, he was always critical and never let anyone reckless behaviors and or statements go without comments. His satirical writings were entertaining for his admirers and foreigners alike, but a mental torture for the guilty and those who fell short of moral values.
My heart is with the family as it bleeds for the staff of the New Democrat Newspaper; and so is my imagination with Tom Kamara in his coffin. We should all take solace in the reality that death is an inevitable end, it shall but one at a time come upon all livings. But most importantly, we should take comfort in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “tell me not in mournful numbers life is but an empty dream; for the soul is dead that slumbers”. Tom never slumbered while with us and so his soul lives on while his physical body takes rest.
There are countless positive results of Tom Kamara’s sleepless nights that will continue to live on. We will miss his writing skills and styles and will always remember him when we are face with issues he was so unequivocal on. Works like C.O. Zaynmgbey, (the cartoon series that detailed character contents of frontline commanders during our civil war); The Trail of Charles Ghankay Taylor (a prophetic imaginary tell-tale that prophesized former president Taylor’s trial long before he became president); 2nd Thought; and This Too is Liberia are but few of his products that will always be talked about.
It will be an endless epitaph to share fond memories of you, Uncle Tom. I am glad to have given you flowers while you were with us; now we will continue to praise you as you take your rest. The Liberian society, the subject for which you sacrificed your personal satisfactions, will continue to miss you as much we miss the likes of Albert Porte, Charles Gbayon, G. Henry Andrews and many other fallen pens and silenced voices who contributed to actualization of freedom of speech in our society. Truly an epoch has vanished and we must restore one fast, and arsenal has been bombed by the dreaded death of Tom Kamara, a patriot, intellectual power house, a battle front commander who proved that the pen is indeed mightier than any sword is no more. Rest in peace, Uncle Tom.
For those of us alive, a situation has created a vacancy, a void to be filled. It is a challenge we should all take on as intellectuals or continue to citizens of KUTORTAHUN (if I can make reference to a poem by Liberia’s current Foreign Minister); and perish as a nation. As I sat pondering over the sad news and staring through the mist overlooking Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, I could not control my emotion but shouted a big pen has fallen as a tribute to a man I saw only once in my life but will continue to know him as I live on.
Remembering ‘Uncle Tom’
By Bai M. Gbala, Sr.
Elsewhere, I wrote a tribute/condolence to a grieving, Liberian family, that “death is the greatest loss than any other tragedy that a family, professional society, nation, indeed a people can endure, because the void created by death cannot be filled, for ever”; so it is and shall be with the passing of Tom Kamara.
For, Thomas (Tom, as he was affectionately called by relatives, friends and admirers) Kamara was a towering figure, a personality not only in Liberian, but also world journalism. He was independent, fair, fiercely patriotic, brave and roaring with the desire and rage for socio-economic and political justice; a journalist, a reporter’s reporter of the news, a classic essayist with humor and precision in story-telling, particularly, as developing events relate to the human condition, the prevailing social order.
Tom saw political power and the intellectual as an inevitable marriage of human reason, morality, experience and wisdom, in much the same way that the ancient Greeks did – the philosopher as the critic of political power (Socrates), the philosopher as tutor of princes (Aristotle), and the philosopher as king (Plato). Tom wrote the Liberian classic, The Trial of Charles Ghankay Taylor in the Great Beyond or something of this title, during the heyday of the civil war, Mr. Charles Taylor’s “jungle justice” declaration and at the peril of his (Tom Kamara’s) very life. In fact, the Democrat Newspaper, its equipment and offices were burned and totally destroyed; Tom was lucky to escape with is life and family.
Determined to write a final chapter to the devastating saga of the civil war, Tom returned from exile, regrouped and restarted the Democrat. It was one of the leading, informative and intellectual daily papers in Monrovia. Tom’s Democrat had the “guts” and reported daily of the reactions – Liberian, African and the world – of the conviction and sentence of the former, Liberian President, Charles Taylor.
Indeed, the void created by the death of Tom Kamara will be felt not only by Mrs. Kamara and the children, the Kissi People (as one writer indicated), the Press Union of Liberia, but also by the peace-loving, justice and democracy-seeking people of Liberia, the world and the world journalism. For Tom was a man of courage, principles and commitment to the cause of justice and journalism.
As a friend, admirer and pen-comrade, still around, I write to sympathize with and console the bereaved family and the journalist profession, with request that you all take heart, be strong and proud, because Tom Kamara was good and human, a man who lived and led a useful life, contributed immensely to make, and made, our country a better place to live.
Democrat Editor & Publisher, Tom Kamara, has gone home to rest from this sinful, ethnically-hateful and jealous world. Let us, therefore, rejoice and celebrate his home-going, because we will meet Tom at the feet of our departed fathers and mothers in the great beyond. His soul will, definitely, rest in perfect peace.
May the God of our Fathers help, guide and be with you all now and the years to come.
‘Doing Wonderfully Well’
By Kewellen Dolley
Tom Kamara, noted for his brilliant editorials often dramatizing issues in Liberia’s body politic will forever remains ,though, he dies this morning. Mr. Kamara from the time i had not seen him in person, his critical analytical writing styles always kept me thinking.
I finally had the chance to meet him during my recent visit to Liberia, at which time, i paid him a courtesy visit to show him my appreciation for feeding me with his resourceful writing styles. Afterward, he hired me to tutor some of his employees on computer generated newspaper design and we were able to talk a lot about journalism in Liberia and the struggle to catchup with cyber journalism especially in regard to the shortfalls at most of the local Universities with the lack of computers and technical knowhow about computer generated media production. Every Universities i visited in Liberia, the lack of basic educational tools, was visible.
Comparatively, he was doing wonderfully well with some of the newest computers, softwares and printers in the newspaper business in Liberia though he express some frustration about the unwillingness of most young people to pursue professional career in journalism. Many of the graduates, he told me, were ill prepared to take on the job. He encourage me to come back home and work with the New Democrat newspaper, something, i said was worth thinking about.
Tom Kamara, Like Joe Mulbah at the University of Liberia who passed some months ago, was somehow tired but equally full of spirits about the day to day running of his newspaper in Liberia, where, electricity supply is on-and-off and the tedious running of a paper with a aging staff can’t be any difficult. i could tell from their looks.
Both Tom Kamara and Joe Mulbah left their mark well on Liberian journalism but it is now a fleeting career far behind their handling but their frustration before their untimely death was placing it into the hands of a generation who is less unwilling and worst of all ill prepare to take on the mantle.
Rest in Peace Good Guys!
‘Very Passionate’ About Journalism
By Sam Togba Slewion / Former Secretary General
Press Union of Liberia (PUL)
I heard about this sad event early this morning from another colleague, Gregory Stemn, who called me and delivered this news in a very sad and unbelievable tone. Like most poeple I was sent into a state of shock with many questions pondering through my mind relative to the actual cause of dealth, but consoled Stemn that we will later find out as more details begin to emerge about this development. We both ended our conversation with the understanding that indeed the media and journalism profession in Liberia have lost one of the best and brightest in the profession. Tom was one of the “ few good men” who was still standing and maintaining what is left of the integrity and credibility of the Liberian media not only because of his hard-core journalism practice, but his commitment and dedication to the profession despite the many odds and challenges TK faced throughout while practising a profession he was very passionate about.
May his soul and those of other faitful legends and departed, including Rufus Darpoh, Stanton Peabody, T-Max Teah, Klon Hinneh, Bill Enonyai, G.
Henry Andrews, John Vambo, J. N. Elliott, Charles Gbenyon, etc. rest in perfect peace as their legacy live on to inspire a new generation to
continue to give voice to the voiceless in our society even at the peril of their lives, as expected in this noble profession of ours.
Sleep on TK, you have fought a good fight and won the race!
Inspiration To Many
By Cletus Nah
I met Tom Kamara for the first time, in 1998, when I was studying at Radio Netherlands Training Centre. It was during a program hosted by Amnesty International Netherlands. I was invited to listen to people who were fighting for press freedom and human rights around the world. Tom Kamara was invited to speak about people who were fighting for press freedom and human rights around the world. Yes, his name was on that list; he was one of the keynote speakers. I was not surprised at all.
Less than 30 seconds after I was introduced to him, he had no problem with me joking him about how he gave the Liberian government hard time during the 80s, and how his name was always ‘ringing’ during that period. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had something to do with Amnesty International recommending me to the Dutch media company, Hungry Eye Documentary, in 1999, to serve as a consultant and Bassa dialect translator for the post-production of a documentary about the difficulties former Liberian child soldiers faced in their attempt to be re-intergrated into the society in Grand Bassa County. The documentary, ‘No Bad Bush ( For A Bad Child)’ would later win a prestigious award.
When I learned that Tom Kamara had returned to Liberia and had launched his own newspaper, I remembered our conversation in 1998. I thought, with no iota of doubt, that he was going to inform, educate, and entertain his readers. From where I sit, I have learned that he has impressively done so with the New Democrat. When I also read about how he publicly appealed to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to re-consider his appointment as a member of a board of directors, I said to myself: “That’s Tom Kamara at one of his best.”
The work of Tom Kamara was well-appreciated around the world, especially by oneMen, a Dutch NGO that helped him with funds to run the New Democrat. He is one of the organization’s pioneers around the world. I will leave you with Tom’s own statement (translated from Dutch) on the group’s website: “I fight for the preservation of freedom of expression. During the civil war, press censorship was imposed. Through our critical reporting in the newspaper, we feared for our lives. Many journalists fled the country.”
Tom Kamara inspired many of us. Liberia and the rest of the global village have lost a son who struggled on several fronts for what he believed in while using the pen, knowing fully well that the pen is mightier than the sword!
My deepest condolences to his wife and the rest of his family. May his soul rest in perfect peace!
Tributes To A Great Man
By B. Arthurson
What a great tribute to a great man! Tom was indeed a hero for the fight for freedom and justice for the downtrodden. Indeed, Tom Kamara made his contribution to his country and people, and to humanity. Indeed, he left a legacy worth emulating. May his soul rest in God’s perpetual peace.
By Dr. Elliott Wreh-Wilson
Tom loved his people and did his best to speak for them when they could not. I will remember him as a man of conscience and a true lover of his country. We will miss him.
He was one of Liberia’s best writers. I am so sadden by the loss, and feel empathy for his dear wife. What a shock. May the Almighty God comfort his family.
By Mrs. C. Johnny
I am sorry for the Lost. May God continue to keep his family in his care. rest in peace. No more problems, no more pain, just rest!
By K. Abdullai Kamara
Tom Kamara was a mighty pen for justice and freedom, and his death is a great loss to the fighters for free expression in Liberia. May God bless his soul, grant him the peace that he stood for, and may he see God as has been promised in the Book of Luke.
By M. Boakai Jaleiba, Jr.
It was a little too early and the sky seemed impregnated with millions of barrels of water. Just by guesswork, I concluded that it would have been a rainy day. No, I was wrong because it did n¥ot rain. The anger of the cloud was the preparation of the unveiling of the news nobody wanted to hear. Not even the sorcerers had the clairvoyance of foretelling what was about to occur. And so, Liberia was caught pants down by the news of the tragic passing of the media guide, intruding writer and critic, Tom Kamara. By all accounts, was one of the last remaining icons of the golden generation of the Liberian media.
Tom, a true and dedicated opinion leader, wrote ferociously about ills in our society. His voice echoed in the power of his pen was as penetrating as a cluster bomb. Through his pen, he made many enemies. Yet, he made a lot of friends too. Whatever the sway, he will be remembered as someone who stood by his convictions and beliefs. He dedicated his entire life to the service of his people using every means at his disposal. It is therefore with utmost humility and great deference that I pen down this homage to the late national intellectual conscious, Mr. Tom Kamara. He was a national hero from a humble beginning. The Liberian political history can never be written without mentioning his work. He might have won for himself many enemies but his heroism in making Liberia better will be always be missed.
Throughout my lifetime, I was fortunate to see Mr. Kamara once. Thanks to the TRC public hearing! He had gone to make a presentation to the TRC. And just to take a glimpse at him, I dedicated my whole day to the hearing. From hindsight, He appeared as quiet person but when he started unfolding the issues, I reassured myself that my time spent on Ashmun Street was not in vain. After the hearing, I walked home in joy seeing the living body of the man behind the pen.
For me, a member of this generation, his life is a library for knowledge and a fountain!
A cloud of sorrow descends upon me every time I write a line in memory of the man who never feared exposing the ills of our society. His unwavering support to exposing the charlatans of the civil war remains the single most sacrifice anyone could do during the tyranny of late 90s and early 2000s!
He was prepared to die for the love of his people and country. He was consistent and truly patriotically stubborn in his conviction for a democratic Liberia. He was a consistent and predicable leader of the masses, an ideology he cherished until death. He fought for free speech and political independence we enjoy today. His footsteps must truly be emulated. The present generation must now proclaim their steadfastness to ensure that the future generation of Liberia shall never again be subjected to servitude for which thousands have sacrificed their lives!
And as a young man, I must therefore resonate with the undeniable fact that at no time during the dark history of our country, has Liberia been more peaceful since the introduction of real democracy to which Tom Kamara shares the glory.
With his death, Liberia lost one of the most vigilant custodians of our freedom, who never feared to write up on matters of principle. He will remain an example of a courageous life, dedicated and inspired by the highest values a democrat and a man of principle can aspire to.
Tom added substance and vigor to whatever he did.
Tom Kamara, you were a revolutionary combatant. I am sure that you are happy and content wherever you are and as I write today it will end up as true story. But never mind I’ll go on praising you till my last breathe, of life. This is one thing which I should always do in loving memory of this national icon.
Thank you, Tom Kamara for serving Liberia.