The founder of the Daily Observer has said he was not forced into selling the newspaper debunking the widely held belief that the AFPRC junta forcibly took it from him.
In the wake of the closure of the newspaper company last week by the government for tax arrears of over D17 million, the chequered history and fate of The Gambia’s leading newspaper has been on the top of public debate.
In an interview with Sheriff Bojang Jnr of the Dakar-based West Africa Democracy Radio, Mr Kenneth Best who established The Daily Observer in The Gambia in 1992 and operated it before his summary deportation to his native war-torn Liberia, cleared the air that he was not forced to sell the newspaper company to the then military ruler Yahya Jammeh. He said he sold it to businessman Amadou Samba in a case of willing-seller, willing-buyer.
In fact, Mr Best said he had to sell the paper because the people he left in charge of his company in Banjul tried to take the paper from him.
He explains: “It’s very sad. People I left in charge tried to take the paper from under me. No. 1 they stopped taking my instructions. No. 2 they would not give me any reports. And No. 3 I sensed they were using my absence to take the paper unto themselves. It happens. People do that. It’s most unfortunate that you trust people and as soon as you turn your back they turn against you.”
He said he was not coerced, or politically pressured by anyone into selling. He added: “My best friend in The Gambia (David Able-Thomas)… He was a banker, called me one day said to me, sell this paper. If you don’t, the people you left in charge will run it to the ground and you may lose everything and he said I have a buyer for you. Of course the price was small but at least thanks be to God we lost everything in Liberia but we didn’t lose everything in the Gambia. Same circumstance but different country… [With] that same money I got from The Gambia, we were able to buy a house of our own in America. And it is that house on which we got a home equity loan and that is what brought us back here [in Liberia].”
Asked how much he sold The Standard, Mr Best declined to answer but added: “Well we sold it at a loss. The brand name alone was worth a million dollars”.
Asked why he sold the company to Mr Amadou Samba, instead of someone else, he replied: “I don’t know. I was not there. But I knew Amadou Samba and he knew me. He and my friend David Thomas concluded the deal and David just informed me and I said okay.”
But The Standard has learnt that although Mr Best said he sold the Observer Company at a loss and the local daily The Point reported last week that it was sold for a paltry D1 million, in fact Mr Best received hundreds of thousand of dollars for the company.
Editor’s note: Read the transcript of the full interview of Sheriff Bojang Jnr with KY Best on the Bantaba column of The Standard this Friday.