Countdown begins...Up close with Captain Kojo Tsikata

BY: Yaw Boadu Ayeboafoh

When you believe in yourself, you begin to believe in the people around you-- Casey Treat.

My association with the Graphic Communications Group Limited as a permanent employee will end this year as I am due for retirement. I have since the beginning of the year attempted to give account of some of the developments I have gone through serving as a journalist with the company.

It is only when you get close to a person that you can appreciate his or her true nature. That was exactly what I experienced with Capt. Kojo Tsikata when I had the opportunity to cover the peace negotiations and talks that eventually restored peace to Liberia after years of civil war.

One day in 1995, I was asked to join the negotiating team which comprised Capt. Tsikata, Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the Deputy Foreign Minister then, and Brig-General Agyemfra, with Mr Harry Mouzallas from the Ghana News Agency (GNA) as a journalist covering the events. We travelled to Monrovia to join Mr James Victor Gbeho, the Resident Representative of Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, then Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and another diplomat, Mr Ate Allotey.

Before then, all I knew about Capt. Tsikata was that he was a mysterious personality who could sit the whole day without blinking an eye. More importantly, it was said that even when he was confined to a room, he could see whatever was going on outside. So when I joined the team, I thought he would be cold towards us. but I was extremely wrong as Capt. Tsikata proved to be very jovial, witty, a good conversationist and above all a high-class entertainer.

Each time we travelled to Monrovia and concluded business for the day, we retired to the residence of Mr Gbeho. The only safe haven in Monrovia at the time was the UN Village, Riverside and that is where we retired after each day’s proceedings. While Capt. Tsikata and Dr Chambas stayed with Mr Gbeho, Harry and I stayed with Mr Allotey. It was at Mr Gbeho’s house that most of the time and sometimes beyond midnight, Capt. Tsikata recounted stories, including crass jokes that made everybody laugh. I was enamoured and fascinated about what I observed but each time we returned and I told my colleagues in the office that Capt. Tsikata was such an affable and vivacious person, they doubted.

My affection for Capt. Tsikata was sealed when instead of scorn, he applauded me on the second day of my first visit to Liberia as a journalist. Mr Mouzallas had advised that it was the practice to show all stories to Capt. Tsikata for his approval before transmitting them to Accra. I told him I could not do that, since he was not a professional to be able to accurately judge or determine the quality of a news story and that I would not do that.    

There was only one fax machine at the UN Village for us to transmit our stories. I was determined not to show any story for vetting or censorship while not trying to appear openly defiant against the admonition of my senior Harry. So as soon as we returned from the meeting, I told him I wanted to have a view of the Village and used that to steal into the information room to transmit two stories. I kept this to myself and returned to dinner in Mr Gbeho’s residence after I had deposited my documents in Mr Allotey’s house.

At dinner, Capt. Tsikata asked whether we had written and sent out any story yet. I could no longer hide the fact from Harry and responded affirmatively that I had sent two stories to Accra. He asked to look at them and charged Harry to take a look “at the young man’s stories, since they are very good and accurately reflect proceedings”.

Indeed, that was the last time Capt. Tsikata inquired whether we had a story or otherwise. He had full confidence in my work as a journalist and respected my independence.

It was, thus, a shock when after an article I wrote stating that in all circumstances Charles Taylor was going to win the election handsomely, one of the candidates, a Dr Fanbulleh who was virtually based in Accra, made a complaint of bias against me for the false claims about the future aspirations of the Liberians. When the Editor, Mr Elvis Aryeh, invited me to come and listen to the accusations, all I said was that we should all wait and see as we would be witnesses to the results, which turned out as I had observed.

It was easy to predict because those who had not benefitted directly from supplies of rice from Mr Taylor were of the opinion that if he did not win the election, Liberia would not know peace.

Since my association with Capt. Tsikata through the Liberian peace process, I have maintained the respect he won from me because he proved to be such a humane individual despite public perception of who he was.