Photo credit: James Duncan Davidson
No one has ever seen his face in public, but many know his work. Earlier this year, reGina Jane Jere caught up with the masked Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas. Here are excerpts that give an insight into the enigmatic man-behind-the-mask rocking African journalism.
On journalism in Africa
Africans are tired of the type of journalism that is being practised. The type that does not bring a smile to their faces. Journalism should bring positive things into our countries including saving people’s lives. Look, when people lose confidence in their justice system, you open the floodgates for chaos. Judges are held in such high esteem and are seen as the deities of society. Whatever they do or say is viewed as sacrosanct and they are expected to live by the strict rules that they themselves have provided. They cannot circumvent the rules, so I have no regret at all doing as an investigative journalist what I have just done in Ghana, because this is what will keep our society moving.
For me, the essence of journalism, is about telling the truth. It’s not about just going around and making up issues.
On western journalism vs fearless journalism
I have always had problems with my friends in the western media. For me, the type of journalism that I practise is a direct product of my [African] society. I am not going to sit down and have a westerner tell me what journalism is in my country or in my continent. I know exactly what journalism in Africa is or should be. I name and shame, and what I do may not be necessary in the West, maybe because they have institutions that are strong which is not the case in Africa where our institutions are weak and what I have done is take one step forward to help law enforcement institutions to arrest and punish the bad guys [that hold the continent back through criminal behaviour]. So I see nothing wrong by getting the evidence that will help the law enforcement people to put these people away. Some of my own colleagues do not agree with my type of journalism and I have been accused of sleeping in the same bed with these law enforcers. But I am glad that it is not only here in Ghana but other parts of Africa where my journalism has helped to end bad things happening and put bad people away in jail. I am glad I have been part of that. In the West they probably do not see the need for that.
But here in Africa, my people need this type of journalism and I do not want to see any western journalist telling me what type of journalism to practise. I have seen many African journalists who have been told by someone else what good journalism is and they have accepted that hook, line and sinker! And I am saying, No! No westerner will solve Africa’s problems but us. The era of parachute journalism where anyone could fly into Africa and write or film whatever they wanted should truly be over and done with!
My type of journalism is all about my people and ensuring that they have got their rights protected and I am saying that at this time in our history in Africa, journalists must go all the way out to help get the bad guys and bring them to book. That’s the only way we can help Africa become a better continent as journalists.
On courage and living in fear
This profession comes with a lot of hazards, but no story is worth your life. My team, myself and everyone else close to me, we do the necessary and put up measures to make sure we keep ourselves alive. My work has seen so many people thrown into jail and lose their livelihoods, so there are angry people out there after our lives. We have to protect ourselves. I have to be courageous yes, but I say it all the time, even if all of us will have to die at some point, I will not die a stupid death, so I take precautions. For example I do not sleep in one house, I keep changing all the time, I have done this for so many years, and it has become part of my lifestyle. No buts about it, whatever you do as a journalist, somehow someone will come at you. I have realised however that there are no two ways about it. As African journalists, we have to be courageous, we have to challenge myths, and we have to burst some dangerous traditions. Many are so afraid of the gods and this fear has led to many innocent deaths, more so of young people.
I have to be courageous yes, but I say it all the time, even if all of us will have to die at some point, I will not die a stupid death, so I take precautions.
On funding his investigations
I get my resources from the newspaper we publish, but I also collaborate. I see nothing wrong with that and will defend my collaborations with others to the bone. I have collaborated with the government of Ghana on many occasions to do some investigations for them. If I am a journalist and I cannot serve my country, who else can I serve? So if my government calls upon me to help, I will serve. But on the current investigation [the judges saga], I did it all by myself. But let us not use the lack of resources and finances as a stumbling block to our work as journalists, let’s put whatever little we have at our disposal, to good use – a good start is to challenge the tradition and dismantle the status quo that breeds corruption, including in the justice system.
Putting “Ghanaian judges in the dock”
The current sessions are just the first leg. But it is good to put on record that out of the 21 names of the lower court judges that I submitted [on corruption charges], all of them were found guilty; 20 have now been sacked, one has been reprimanded. In all those sessions, I was not found to have done anything wrong and the evidence [of bribery] I submitted was strong enough to get them all kicked out. Now I am on the second leg – which is the case of High Court judges, who are 12 in number. So far we have done half the cases and I am strongly looking forward to this as I am sure that by the end of January, we will have an announcement about the outcome and I am confident the result will be favourable with a likelihood of impeachment, because the evidence that I have put together against them, frame by frame, is very tight and strong. Come the end of January, I am confident that through this evidence the people of Ghana will have triumphed against these bad people in our society.
Looking at the history of African journalism, no one has ever taken on the judiciary. Why? Because we are all afraid that they will jail us. In my view Africa is where it is today with all its problems of war, conflict and the issue of natural resources, because we have very bad justice systems. And I will tell you on record that what I have unearthed in Ghana is worse in South Africa, and Nigeria. But are we as African journalists challenging our justice systems?
Giving evidence at the judges hearing
It is a very transparent process. I have made the allegations against these judges that they have taken these bribes. So at these committee hearings, there is a panel made up of Supreme Court judges, and I am being asked to prove and show evidence right in front of the people that I have accused and their counsel. I go to these hearings on my own, I don’t go with any counsel because I know that the evidence I have is enough. Once I have presented the evidence against the accused judge in question, or his counsel, they are then allowed to ask me all sorts of questions and this can go on for hours, even for days. Then after that the committee makes a firm and definite conclusion as to whether I have a case or not. But for me, that is the essence of journalism. It’s about telling the truth, it’s not about just going around and making up issues. If you see that a judge has taken a bribe, you need to be able to substantiate that and have evidence strong enough to back that up. That is what I do.
The evidence I unearth on tape, there should be no arguing about seeing my face, because the evidence is not on my face.
On going “face to face” so to speak, with the accused
When I am making these appearances in court, yes I still come in disguise and hooded. I do not take off my mask. Why? Because I have always told everyone that the evidence that I produce against these people is not hooded. Even if I was not physically there, the evidence I provide should be enough to prosecute the people who commit these wrongs. I don’t think my face would add anything to what I have provided or to what the lawyers are picking up. For example, if I am saying these people have taken money through bribery, I have the evidence on tape, there should be no arguing about seeing my face, because the evidence is not in my face. There have been around 16 or so people who have appealed to the court that I should reveal my identity and in my defence, what I say is just look at the evidence and not my face which has nothing to do with what I have investigated.
What not to believe about Anas
I have read somewhere that people think I am a spirit with mystical powers, that I comes into people’s homes and when they try to touch me, I disappear! How can you believe that! Don’t believe any of that. I am all human.
A day in the life of Anas and how he unwinds
I am basically a workaholic. But I read books and watch films on investigations. And I go swimming. I also like very quiet places like the countryside. I start my day with physical exercise before going to the office. I start with a staff meeting, and then I switch off all the investigations to look into other issues on my desk. Then I retreat to my quiet time to read around, and look at new investigations and progress with older ones. I meet the staff again for discussions and once the staff are out, that’s when I start to dig. I leave the office usually around 10pm each day if I am not undercover.