On Saturday, The Gambia media fraternity converged at the Penchami Hall at Paradise Suites to honour and celebrate Gambian journalists who have excelled in their work over the past twelve months. One award that stands out is the Press Freedom & Media Empowerment Award given to Mr Kenneth Y Best, the founder of The Daily Observer newspaper in The Gambia.
On 30th October 1994, Mr Best was summarily deported to war-torn Liberia by the government of President Yahya Jammeh for his uncompromising journalism in holding the feet of public officials to the fire. Arguably, he has been the best thing to have happened to Gambian journalism. In the three years prior to his inauspicious exit, he had set up the Daily Observer newspaper and recruited and trained a corps of reporters who have to this day defined popular journalism in the country.
Unknown to many, it was in fact the coming of Mr Best to The Gambia that catalysed the setting up of The Point newspaper. When news filtered that Mr Best was setting up a tabloid, Mr Baboucarr Gaye, Deyda Hydara and Pap Saine resurrected their triad from the early days of 1980s when they published The Senegambia Sun. These three brothers of the ink felt that it would be unedifying for their patriotic ego and nous were a foreign journalist to come and set up what could be a flagship newspaper under their very noses. So they quickly marshalled resources and efforts and set up The Point in 1991.
Shortly afterwards, Mr Best incorporated the Observer Company and months later on 11th May 1992, the first edition of The Daily Observer hit the streets. Owing to its sharp editorial focus and trendy layout, the newspaper quickly became a national institution and the word ‘Obsava’ – a corruption of the name Observer – became the generic name for newspapers in The Gambia even among unlettered Gambians.
In addition to providing livelihood to scores of young people, the Daily Observer became an academy and a field where the talents and skills of young Gambians were sown, gestated and refined. The students and the students of Kenneth Best’s students have come to dominate Gambian journalism for a generation. In the works of his protégés, his legacy lives on.
The government of President Adama Barrow should apologise for errant actions of predecessor regime in declaring him a persona non grata. The government should officially invite him to the country and confer on him the highest national order and insignia in recognition of his sterling contributions towards the development of journalism in the country and promotion of freedom of expression.
Congratulations Mr Kenneth Y Best. You are a worthy recipient of all the honours and awards conferred upon you. May you live long and continue to inspire us.