Mr. Kenneth Best, an uncle to the publisher of FrontPageAfrica has been on a spree of late, meddling in the case against former Agriculture Minister Dr. J. Chris Toe, going as far as urging doctors treating Mr. Sieh to send him back to prison, even though he was undergoing serious care at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center. Mr. Best went as far as questioning authorities at the Ministry of Justice over why the publisher was released from prison and demanding that he be sent back to prison until he apologizes to Dr. Toe. What Mr. Best failed to note in his controversial editorial is that he and his nephew has never been on good or speaking terms since Sieh's resignation from the Observer which led to his formation of FrontPageAfrica over corruption allegations regarding a long-time friend of Mr. Best. Mr. Best failed to disclose the issues with his nephew which clouds his objective to write a one-sided editorial on a very serious issue affecting the life of his sister's son. Sadly, Mr Best chose to go on a rampage at his nephew who was incarcerated and not in the position to fight back. Please find below a reprint of a resignation letter Mr. Sieh wrote in August 2005, which should offer some clarity on why Mr. Best is suddenly going after his sister's son.
Liberian Embassy Scandal Widens: Observer Online Editor Quits over Minor Issue
Aug 26, 2005
Author: Rodney Sieh--Editor-in-Chief /Liberian Daily Observer
Dear Readers-----A little over nine months ago, I accepted an invitation from my uncle, Mr. Kenneth Y. Best to help him begin the campaign to re-launch the Liberian Daily Observer. The goal was to produce a first class online forum, replica of the Observer of old, where the people could freely express their views without fear, intimidation or threats-thus paving the way for the Daily Observer on the ground in Monrovia.
I took up this challenge solely on a volunteer basis, utilizing every bone in my body and breadth of my life, to ensure that the paper's long-standing reputation remain in tact and in the process help restore and revamp the credibility of journalism in my beloved Liberia.
Besides being my uncle, Mr. Best has always been my idol, a friend and the long-lost father I never had. It is in this light, that I regret to inform you all that I have decided to step down as editor-in-chief of the online Daily Observer due to editorial differences with Mr. Best.
I first joined Mr. Best in The Gambia in 1992 as a sports editor/reporter for the Gambia Daily Observer. As a young lad I, like most of you was very proud of the Observer, so proud that during my elementary school days, I volunteered to sell the newspapers on the streets of Monrovia and my neighborhood in Paynesville after school. It was something, I did with pride. I remembered the many days the Observer was shut down and I would go without an after-school job. I even help the Best family sell cookies and bread during one of the longest closure under the Samuel Doe regime. I love Mr. Best to death and would do anything to support him and his family. While in The Gambia I was fortunate to land a job as a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC.
Things were going fine for the Observer until Yahya Jammeh and his forces seized power from Sir Dawda Jawara who had ruled the Gambia since independence. In just over a few months the new government had begun to show the sign-of-the-times that had corrupted previous rulers before them on the African continent. When the Observer began to reflect the sentiments of Gambians, the military junta became uncomfortable. Following the arrest of Mr. Best I called the BBC Focus on Africa and told them I could give them the information, but I was afraid to do a two-way interview for fear that I might become a target. The producers insisted that they would prefer the interview and I concurred. Following the airing of the interview, Jammeh's plain-clothes soldiers came after me. I spent two weeks in hiding before fleeing to London where I was for a few months before finally settling in the United States. Over the years I have successfully managed to hone my journalism skills through education and by working with several major dailies in the United States. My work with the Observer was more of a moonlighting one. Besides serving as Editor, I am also a part-owner in the online publication. It takes a lot of work, sleepless nights, dedication and devotion to come up with what you all have come to love and appreciate. From James Yarclay to J.D. Slanger, from David Johnson to Charles Minor, the team of dedicated reporters, mostly volunteers worked hard to produce and present stories that we felt were factual, credible and in all cases supported by source documents and other proofs to back them up. Not once have we posted a story on this website that was not supported by documentary evidence. In the process of exposing the flaws, the good, the bad and the ugly of many of our fellow Liberians and political leaders, we have been accused from all sides of being unfair and partial, especially when it involved someone they liked or supported.
I have never hidden any letters, opinion pieces or commentaries that was critical of the Observer, of me or of any member of our staff. I've always strived to present all sides of the story before posting on the web. The Ellen Saga
A few weeks ago, I received information that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was in possession of an American citizenship. Thankfully, Mrs. Sirleaf was in the U.S. at the time. I contacted her brother Mr. Abe Johnson and told him what I had in my possession. Mr. Johnson informed me that he was on his way to pick up Mrs. Sirleaf and would get back to me in about 30 minutes. To this day, I haven't heard from Mr. Johnson.
Meanwhile, I received a phone call from Mr. Best the following morning informing me that Mrs. Sirleaf had called him to say that if we ran the story it would cause the campaign to backpedal a bit because of the controversy. But neither Mr. Best nor anyone from Ellen's camp answered my inquiries about whether Ellen was a U.S. citizen.
The story we carried was not about Ellen's citizenship, it was a follow-up to a USA Today (a national U.S. daily newspaper) story which stated that a candidate for the presidency of Liberia resided in the Virginia area. An investigation by the Observer discovered that only three persons in the race resided or had residences in that area - John Morlu, Charles Brumskine, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
I informed Mr. Best that as much as I respected Mrs. Sirleaf, the Observer was not a member of her public relations staff and suggested that it should not be our concern whether the story would cause her to back track; that should be the problem of her public relations team. All she had to tell me was whether she was a U.S. citizen or not. All I could gather from her camp was that she had a permanent residency card which she had surrendered to the United Nations in 1992.
My thinking was that it would not be fair to the candidacy of Mr. George Weah if we did not raise questions about a story that said three candidates in the race for the Liberian presidency resided in the Virginia area. We had rigorously stirred a debate regarding Mr. Weah's citizenship so I felt we had to do the same for Ellen, Brumskine and Morlu. Of the three, only Mr. Morlu was able to come forward and show the Observer a copy of his green card. I know of no journalist in the world who would have such information and not raise questions about it. These are the kinds of stories that made the Observer famous over the years.
Following the story, the Ellen camp still failed to answer the questions raised, but instead resorted to personal attacks on my credibility. In my continued effort to promote transparency, I published their news release unedited. Ironically, the first major story the Observer carried on its website involved a scandal which has now led to my reason for leaving.
The Charles Minor Scandal
Ambassador Charles Minor called the Observer in January to say that his employees were engaged in corruption at the Liberian embassy in Washington, D.C. The diplomat informed the Observer that he was shutting down the consulate section pending an investigation. A team of investigators was sent to probe Mr. Minor's claims, not to clear or exonerate him. I'll return to that later. Reporter Sidiki Trawally and I received documents from the audit based on the Inspector General's findings. We were fully aware of the friction between Ambassador Minor and Foreign Minister Thomas Yaya Nimely. It is no secret that Minor and Nimely do not see eye to eye and everyone knows that the ambassador has the support of Chairman Gyude Bryant who has been at loggerheads with Nimely. It is in this light that we made several attempts to contact Ambassador Minor before going with the story. We even asked Mr. Best to talk to his friend, the ambassador, about the report. I personally told Mr. Best that we had in our possession a copy of the audit in which the foreign minister asked Ambassador Minor to account for some 0,000 he allegedly received from NTGL chairman Gyude Bryant. We never accused Minor of stealing; we only said the audit pointed to him and Mr. Bryant. Reporter Trawally and I even tried to call the ambassador on his cell phone and left several detailed messages explaining the magnitude of the minister's claims. The messages were not "Ambassador, this is the Observer, please called back." We explained what we had in our possession. We even contacted Mr. Samuel Z. Abou, who is Minor's point man at the embassy. But instead of answering the concerns raised in the Inspector General's report, Mr. Abou tried to convince us to kill the story. It was at that point that we decided that the embassy may be trying to hide something and so we ran with the story. Two days later, we learned that Ambassador Minor and his wife went to Mr. Best's residence in Silver Spring, Maryland, and threatened to sue the Observer if the story was not retracted. It was during that confrontation that the ambassador finally presented Mr. Best with a copy of the auditor general's findings which supported his concerns about corruption at the embassy. Mr. Best instructed me to immediately come out with a story and headline to say "Auditor General's Report Exonerates Minor." However, after reporter Sidiki Trawally, Observer Project Coordinator Abraham Walker and I read through the report, we did not find any instance where the Auditor General report exonerated or cleared the ambassador. How could we run a headline that says exoneration when it was not stated in the report? We were even instructed to take the word "scandal" from the stories on the website. We decided that the only way to solve this issue was to come out with a story that said "one audit, two findings," which pretty much summed up the scandal. We have two auditors, one (the auditor general) representing Gyude Bryant, and the other (inspector general) representing the foreign minister of Liberia. However, we were being told to delete any reference to the inspector general because his voice did not count and that we should only go with the auditor general's finding.
One Audit, Two Findings
I refused to go along with this plan because it meant taking sides. On Monday morning we came up with the headline "One Audit, Two Findings" as well as a story headlined: "Audit Supports Ambassador's Fears about Corruption at the Liberian Embassy." We also carried a letter written by Bryant's Economic Advisor, Harry Greaves, who obviously had not known that we had contacted the ambassador to no avail, criticizing our previous story on the matter. We also carried reaction from the Liberian embassy demanding a retraction as well as an editorial explaining how this story unfolded. Mr. Best insisted that because we did not use the word "exonerated" or "cleared," we did not do the ambassador justice. But this audit was never about exonerating the ambassador, it was about finding out whether or not there was corruption. It so happens that a letter from Nimely asking the ambassador to account for the money showed up in the report. I have also been chastised for an editor's note under the Liberian Embassy Reacts that said: "We Stand by Our Story."
I wrote Mr. Best and the rest of the Observer staff informing them that I was not in favor of any report that would "exonerate" a government official or tarnish the good image of reporter Sidiki Trawally's and mine. I defend our story and will continue to do so until the day Ambassador Minor accounts for the money sent by Bryant or until I die. Mr. Best decided to go ahead and post a story exonerating Ambassador Minor without a byline. I really wish we hadn't departed on this note, but it is something which I have to do, for my credibility and to protect what I've fought so hard to create. All I ever wanted was to protect the Observer's reputation, if doing so was wrong, I wish to never again, be right in my journalistic life.
Editor-in-Chief Liberian Daily Observer
UPDATE: Regarding Mr. Best's claims in the Gambia. Football's World Governing body FIFA had had sent some sporting goods to the country to be used for a workshop and training. A German national alarmed that the goods had suddenly disappeared. It was based on an investigative story published in the Observer at the time that led to the goods suddenly resurfacing less than 48 hours after the publication. The German trainer selected not to testify in the case because it was against FIFA policy to get involve in domestic suits which led to the Observer deciding not to proceed to court. The editor stood by the story then and does so now. If Mr. Sieh was so evil in The Gambia then, why did Mr. Best turn to him during his exile in the U.S. for assistance in getting the Daily Observer restarted? You be the judge...