Anas Aremeyaw Anas is a Ghanaian investigative journalist born in the late 1970s who specializes in print media and documentaries. He is famous for utilizing his anonymity as a tool in his investigation arsenal: just a few people have seen his face and his biography is still mostly unknown. We know that he grew up in a military barrack in Ghana and that he initially studied journalism at the University of Accra before deciding law would be a better way to tackle rampant corruption – eventually leaving with degrees in both law and journalism. After university he turned down an opportunity to work as a reporter for the Ghanaian Times newspaper, instead choosing to join the Crusading Guide newspaper in 1998.
He has been defined the James Bond of journalism for his work in exposing alleged corruption and malpractice in Ghana and Sub-Saharan Africa always through perfect disguises of himself. Why? The answer can be heard through his voice during a TED talk in 2013.
“I am sorry I cannot show you my face, because if I do, the bad guys will come for me.”
“I am an undercover journalist. My journalism is hinged on three basic principles: naming, shaming and jailing. Journalism is about results. It’s about affecting your community or your society in the most progressive way. I have worked on this for over 14 years, and I can tell you, the results are very good.”
With such a clear and successful philosophy of journalism, we can easily believe that these bad guys are numerous.
His multi-awarded career, endorsed in 2009 by U.S. President Barack Obama, started with a very simple question: if street hawking is illegal, why is it so rampant along one of Ghana’s capital, Accra, busiest motorways? To find the answer he disguised himself as a hawker and started to sell a popular peanut snack, Nkatie Burger, on the streets. In the next seven days he learned that cops were regularly demanding protection money from traders and hawkers. This was its first scoop; and the exposed corrupted policemen his first “victims”. During the above-mentioned TED talk he reflected on his first report, affirming:
“Police officers were taking bribes from hawkers who were hawking on the streets. As a young reporter, I thought that I should do it in a different way, so that it has a maximum impact, since everybody knew that it was happening, and yet there was nothing that was keeping it out of the system.
So I decided to go there and act as a seller. As part of selling, I was able to document the hard core evidence. The impact was great. It was fantastic.”
This first undercover experience and its success shaped all his journalism and the following reports and documentaries.
Probably one of his most famous disguise is “the rock“. Yes, in 2010 he disguised himself as a rock to observe the cocoa smugglers near a border post at the Ghana-Côte d’Ivoire crossing. Thanks to his investigation and the hard core evidences he produced, the police could build up a solid case against the smugglers, helping Ghana and the Ghanaian to (partially) recover the income that smuggling of cocoa was hampering. Because everything Anas does, is not for himself and his personal glory: it is for the community he lives in.
“My journalism is about hard core evidence. If I say you have stolen, I show you the evidence that you have stolen. I show you how you stole it and when, or what you used what you had stolen to do. What is the essence of journalism if it doesn’t benefit society?”
And we must believe him, looking at his accomplishments and the positive outcomes of his investigations: in “Mad House”, an undercover reporting of a Ghanaian psychiatric ward where he stepped in disguised as a mental patient, led to a widespread awareness of mental health issues in Ghana and the passage of the 2012 Ghana Mental Health Act; his exposé of a trafficking ring in “Chinese Sex Mafia” led to three human traffickers receiving a 41-year jail sentence, while “Spell of the Albino“, produced as part of Al-Jazeera’s Africa Investigates series, led to widespread awareness of a sinister trade in body parts. “Enemies of the Nation”, which uncovered corruption at Ghana’s Tema Harbor, led to the recovery of $200 million in state funds.
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The risks he puts himself in while undercover is something serious, as showed by the threats to his life which oblige him to anonymity, and he always takes that into account:
“You see, undercover is always a last resort. Before we go undercover, we follow the rules. And I’m only comfortable and I’m purged of fear whenever I am sure that all the steps have been taken. I don’t do it alone. I have a backup team who helps ensure that the safety and all the systems are put in place, but you’ve got to take very intelligent decisions whenever they are happening. If you don’t, you will end up losing your life. So yes, when the backup systems are put in place, I’m okay, I go in. Risky, yes, but it’s a hazard of a profession. I mean, everybody has their hazard. And once you say that is yours, you’ve got to take it, as and when it comes.”
The last of his fatigues, and probably the most significant by now, was premiered September 22 and 23 at the Accra International Conference Center (causing massive traffic): it is called “Ghana in the Eyes of God”. This documentary contains secret footage of 34 judges accepting bribes in exchange for passing lower sentences: you can easily imagine how this massive corruption scandal is shaking the foundation of the Ghanaian judicial system. It also gained the attentions of international media; among others, The Guardian wrote:
“Anas had been working on a documentary featuring secretly filmed footage of 34 judges taking bribes. For two years he pretended to be a relative or friend of an accused, offering to pay judges in exchange for passing shorter sentences. Twelve high court judges and 22 lower court justices were filmed accepting money – and in one case, a goat.”
Enemy lines are growing bigger by the day for Anas: some judges attempted to block the release of “Ghana in the Eyes of God” and one filed a suit calling for Anas to be imprisoned for contempt of court. Ghana’s attorney-general in person stepped in and granted Anas immunity from prosecution. After the shows, a new law suit had been filed against Anas and its media partners.
Anyway, the support Anas can count on is growing. Social networks stood immediately by his side before, during and after the screenings and he received endless messages of support. The hashtags #AnasIsComing and #StopJudicialCorruption quickly trended on Twitter.
— Philip Osei AGYEMANG (@BraaPaaGH) September 23, 2015
— EstherArmah (@estherarmah) September 15, 2015
One may criticise his journalistic ethics or the way he ridicules those who are involved in his investigations. And he partially admitted his guilt when he affirmed:
“Evil in the society is an extreme disease. If you have extreme diseases, you need to get extreme remedies. My kind of journalism might not fit in other continents or other countries, but I can tell you, it works in my part of the continent of Africa, because usually, when people talk about corruption, they ask, “Where is the evidence? Show me the evidence.” I say, “This is the evidence.” And that has aided in me putting a lot of people behind bars.”
Allow us, for what it’s worth, to stand beside him in this fight against many of the plagues that affect not only Ghana but many countries in the world. We ask forgiveness to Anas Aremeyaw Anas for telling his story, because as he said:
“This is not a story of my life, it is a story of my society driven by the need of social change.”
Social changes often have to go through rough and unconventional paths; establishments often fight social changes by making those paths rougher, if not illegal. But “When evil men destroy, good men must build and bind”. And yes, this is by Anas Aremeyaw Anas too.
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