10 Lessons from the life of Anas Aremeyaw Anas
Ghana’s award-winning, investigative journalist and undercover, anti-corruption campaigner embodies a bold new African identity. Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ most recent work has exposed alleged corruption within Ghana’s judiciary system changing the way many Ghanaians look at an institution that has existed under a perception of corruption for years.
But what events in Anas’ life inspired him? What motivates him to take the risks he faces from his work and what lessons can be learned from his life?
Recently I have been working alongside Anas, as a director for his documentary film, ‘Ghana in the Eyes of God’. From my one-on-one conversations with him and from studying his work, I’ve come up with a list of 10 essential things to know if you want to be, the next Anas…
1. Look around you, your background may hold clues to your future Anas grew up in a Ghanaian military barracks in the 1980s. “There was a time when the military held so much power in all aspects of life,” said Anas when I sat with him recently for an interview. “But toward the mid-90s, you could see all that changing with the liberalization of the media. Journalism seemed to me like the right career choice in that new democratic dispensation.”
2. Find your mentors early — get an excuse to meet and learn from them While studying for his undergraduate degree Anas said he identified Kweku Baako Jnr, a young activist who fought for Ghana’s press freedom in the early 90s, as his mentor. Anas said, “We were going to have a debate in which I was to be the principal speaker. It was on criminal libel. I went to Mr. Baako to take his books. He had just come from prison. After reading his books, things went well for us in the debate. So, that’s how for the first time, I had the sense of a strong commitment to whatever he was doing.”
3. It pays to have tunnel vision when you know what you want When it was time for Anas to have his first internship he chose, The Crusading GUIDE, a liberal socio-political newspaper managed by his mentor Baako. “He had an air of independence and a rebellious streak which attracted me, I wanted to be where the action was. In those days there were other options for me like the Ghana Review in London”, but instead Anas said he kept to his vision and stayed with The Crusading GUIDE.
4. Take what seems like a setback and turn it around The year Anas began working at The Crusading GUIDE was a time of tense politics in Ghana. Instead of being sent on scheduled assignments and supervised like most interns, he said he was left on his own to identify and report stories,
“I wasn’t getting the needed push that ordinarily, every reporter will get. I thought it was a bad idea but that’s when I started asking myself, ‘What can I do with my spare time?’ So, I decided to go out there and report on my own. Not very strong investigation, but enterprise stories based on questions and a unique angle that was at once singular and noteworthy.”
5. Be mindful of the rules but know how to work around them One of Anas’ first undercover stories was about police officers extorting money from local street hawkers. After failing to get the police to admit to this allegation in interviews, Anas said he decided to go undercover, “I thought, seeing or hearing about something wasn’t enough. You need evidence in most cases and since undercover was permissible in journalism, I jumped on it.”
6. Develop a theme and stick with it Anas is known for his works on anti-corruption and human rights. “These are things that affect my society,” he recently said in a speech at a media discussion event in Accra. The theme of, “what is journalism if it doesn’t affect my society?” has run throughout Anas’ work over the last 16 years.
7. Be versatile After spending his career as a newspaper journalist, Anas went into documentary filmmaking in 2009. The results were a chilling 30-minute un-narrated documentary detailing human rights abuses and the sale of narcotics at a major Ghanaian mental health hospital. The content led to reforms in the country’s mental health care system and marked the beginning of his career as a multimedia storyteller.
8. Look beyond your borders for inspiration In 2011, Anas worked with colleagues to launch the Africa Investigates documentary series on Al Jazeera. As part of this series, Anas went undercover in Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Nigeria to continue developing his multimedia, investigative reporting skills.
9. Think carefully about the impact you want to have In this widely viewed TED talk, Anas asked again, “what is journalism if it doesn’t impact your society?” A question everyone should consider, whatever your passion may in life may be.
10. Loosen up As a member of his documentary film team, I have been shadowing Anas for a while now. One thing I found is his ability to find time to ‘unplug’. On more than one occasion, our crew found him playing and singing along to reggae tunes as he drove across country roads in Ghana…that must be a good thing, don’t you think?
More on Anas and Ghana’s Judiciary Scandal
In September of this year, Anas released a series of newspaper reports and a new documentary film that showed 34 Ghanaian judges allegedly taking bribes drawing international attention. Known for his disguises and unconventional reporting methods, Anas’ investigations into Ghana’s judiciary are seen by many Ghanaians as a hit to the country’s reputation for fair and stable governance. Others have said his style of undercover journalism is a necessary step toward sanitizing an institution reeling from corruption.
For Anas, national scandals and worldwide attention are not new. For the last 16 years, he has worked as an investigative journalist exposing corruption and human rights abuses throughout West Africa. His reports have lead to the breakup of a child prostitution ring and his work exposing human trafficking won him the US State Department, ‘TIP Heroes Award’ in 2008. In 2009, President Barack Obama said Anas was a, ‘courageous journalist’ who, ‘risked his life to report the truth’.