Anas Aremeyaw Anas is a Ghanaian investigative journalist whose motto is “Name, Shame and Jail” and is famous for utilizing his anonymity as a tool in his investigative armory, his work focuses on issues of human rights and anti-corruption in Ghana and throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Anas’s work has earned him rave reviews on the continent and beyond. He was singled out for praise during president Obama’s first visit to Africa as a US president.
Just last year, Foreign Policy named Anas one of 2015’s leading global thinkers. Honors previously granted to the likes of Malala Yousafzai, president Obama and Pope Benedict XVI. This past March, he was invited to as a keynote speaker during the annual African Development Conference at Harvard Law School and TAP Magazine was privileged to interview and speak to him on his experiences fighting corruption on the continent, advocating human rights and creating impactful change in Africa. This interview was first published in TAP Magazine Issue 7.
TAP: For people who don’t know who Anas is, can you introduce yourself, your background?
Anas Aremayew Anas: My name is Anas Aremeyaw Anas, I’m an undercover journalist, I’m from Ghana but I work in many African countries, I usually do 3 things: I name, shame and jail. Those are the principals of my journalism and my reports/stories are a product of my society. I am a realist and I believe that we cannot keep doing the same things and expecting different results. This is why I’ve chosen these particular principles to ensure that we drive out the bad guys who are holding our people captives and stagnating our progress.
TAP: How did you end up into this particular field?
Anas Aremayew Anas: I happen to have done my first undercover work in 1999 when I stood at a crossing junction in Accra and I was able to film horrible things that were happening! The policemen were taking bribes from hookers and there were drug cartels within that enclave. When I broke the story, it had a huge national impact and although I knew then how hard it was to do an investigative piece, the results were so strong that from then on, I decided that this was going to be my key. If I say that somebody is a criminal, I show when the person plotted to steal, how the person stole and where he took what he/she stole to. So my work is based on hardcore evidence.
TAP: Can you talk about one of your work, Ghana in the eyes of God?
Anas: Ghana in the eyes of God is a two-year expose on corruption within the Ghanaian judicial walls where I filmed 34 judges and 148 staff members taking bribes instead of administering the law. The judiciary is important in that it is the brain of each society but in Africa it’s the biggest problem we have. I think that if we are bold enough to challenge and reform our various judiciaries across the continent, we will take a significant leap on liberating the African continent. I am very confident of this. I’ve done a pilot project in Nigeria, in South Africa, I’ve done one in Uganda and I can tell you that the things happening in those judiciaries are very wild. The problem has also been that as journalists, we lack the courage and we assume that these institutions are untouchables. I want to challenge journalists to be courageous and hold these institutions accountable.
TAP: How have you build such a foundation and trust that you are able to present your investigations and something gets done about it? What sort of advice can you give to other journalist working in incorporating governments and societies?
Anas: I think that it is not magic, look; as a journalist, you have to aspire to be credible, always. People will study you and know that whatever you say is credible. Every politician, every president, every government, is concerned about what people say. So if people know that you are credible and you are able to drive the people, then you can drive anything. At the end of the day, governments/politicians come back to the people to look for votes.
I’m not saying that you can do this in two days or three days! It takes time so one must have the courage, the focus, the commitment and the passion to be able to follow through over the years to ensure that this happens. You can see that even the judiciary scandal; it didn’t take a month, it took me two good years! If you have that courage to stay, to keep quiet and do what you do quietly, you will be able to make that meaningful change and the government will follow.
TAP: You mentioned something very critical at ADC; that you don’t see journalism from the outside, but that you start with your own community. Please expand on that…
Anas: True journalism does not write from vacuum but it is communicating with a community, this is what tells us what to do, what to write. This is why I said that we as journalists should be products of the society. I mean, you must be what the society is; you must keep a listening eye, keenly listening to the genuine concerns of the society. That’s why I also said that I couldn’t listen to a society say we want change and do otherwise. No! I want to make that change. Journalism is journalism when it leads to the progress of society.
TAP: You were part of the Africa investigates series, can you tell us what is the mission of that?
Anas: The Africa investigates is part of the World investigates series that is coordinated by Inside News UK. The aim of it is to ensure that Africans are made to tell their own stories and not people parachuting into Africa and taking our stories and telling them by themselves. We want to have Africans telling these stories, so if for example we come to do a story in Kenya, we will be doing it with a Kenyan because a Kenyan is believed to know much more than anybody else. So we have encouraged this module to be the way forward. Furthermore, naming, shaming and jailing is also part of Africa investigates. We are telling these bad guys that look; you belong in jail.
TAP: How are you making sure that you are continuously creating a grassroots movement of young Africans that embody what you do?
Anas: We have started a movement in Ghana, we have built an institute which is specifically training people not in general journalism but specific undercover journalism and the issues to concern yourself with when you want to name, shame and jail. We want to take people through the hazards and open them up to the frustrations so that at the end of the day they become more committed and realize that these changes are not made in a day, they are made with a lot of time. We aim to train more Africans across the continent.
TAP: Your work is very dangerous so when you are training other people, how do you explain to the dangers associated with the job?
Anas Aremayew Anas: I keep telling them that if you want to tell a good story, you have to be alive to tell that story. No story is worth your life. There will be thousands of stories but your life is one. So you must take precautions to protect yourself. As for the death threats, the people shooting at your car and getting to your family members, this is normal. These things are going to happen there is no magic to stop that because we always stop on the toes of the powerful in society. What I say it that, when this happens; it should not induce in us a sense of fear but rather it should send a signal that we are truly working and working hard.
TAP: How long have you been doing this for now?
Anas: 15-16 years.
TAP: How have you changed as a person during this time?
Anas: There is nothing more beautiful than doing a piece of journalism that puts a smile on a trafficked child’s face, nor a piece that saves an entire community from drugs. So it’s worth it, the changes are palpable; I’ve sent many people to jail and the results are good.
TAP: I know you can’t go deep into what you are working on, but you just mentioned that you are working on something called ‘’Good civil servants’’?
Anas: Yes, a collaboration with other African colleagues from the continent and we’ve done very beautiful investigations which are yet to be published but we will do so very soon under the Africa investigates series. You’ll be able to see pieces on Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, and a number of other countries. I’m really looking forward.
TAP: Going with the theme of this years ADC, what does the African renaissance mean to you?
Anas: That there is a need for us to collaborate in doing things, we cannot live and work in isolation if we want to impact the continent. We must work together for us to shape this continent in a more progressive manner.
TAP: What should we be doing to take Africa to where it out to be?
Anas: I think that we have to be open and sincere with each other; we have to be honest, we have to accept that we have problems as a people and then invite everybody to put his or her hands on the bus for us to push the continent forward. One person cannot solve the problems of our continent. We need everybody from every discipline to come on board. Even if you are holding your mobile phone and you are making a point on social media, you are contributing. Nothing is too small. If we push the frontiers, we will get to where we are supposed to be.
TAP: You live on the continent, you work everywhere on the continent, beside corruption, what are the three other major things that are inhibiting Africa today?
Anas: When you put corruption away, you can see that a lack of proper use of our resources is creating a big problem. We are “import” driven and unable of turning our raw materials into profitable commodities that can feed our own people. Another issue is our dependency on foreign funding, which is not helping. We must get off handovers because handovers are never going to push us forward.
TAP: Are you optimistic of our future as a continent?
Anas: I’m very optimistic, I think that we are pushing the frontiers; I think that with time, we are going to make it. We are getting there.
TAP: How is your life away from work like?
Anas: Because of what I do, I cannot say I have a social life; I don’t have it. I’m a trained lawyer so I indulge in law books during my spare time. I also seat down and look at other things that do not relate to the kind of work I do.
TAP: What would you say is the role of the African diaspora in taking Africa to the next level?
Anas: I think the diaspora is very important because they are the bridge between the west and us. What they learn and bring back home is very important and we encourage them not to decide to live forever out there but to come home; to come and impact our people with the knowledge that they have learnt abroad. Many people suffer, many people die because of simple technologies, which the diaspora can bring back home to help. So I believe they have a bigger part to contribute towards getting the African continent where it should be.
TAP: And to finish it off, what advise would you give to young journalists bon the continent?
Anas Aremayew Anas: That we should be daring, we should ask the right questions, and we should challenge the authority, more so in being daring, we should be cautiously daring, and we should know that no one will tell our stories for us, we are the ones who can tell our own stories and we are the ones who can push the frontiers, and that if we are all committed and passionate, we are going to move our various countries to where they should be.
No one will tell our stories for us, we are the ones who can tell our own stories and we are the ones who can push the frontiers. Anas Aremayew Anas