Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the authors and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors
Image courtesy of Jon Benjamin
“Name, shame and jail”: this is the modus operandi of prominent Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyew Anas. In a society which is permeated by corruption and detrimental social norms, Anas uses his voice to raise awareness of obstacles to foster progress and actively holds the facilitators of these problems to account. He has carried out numerous undercover investigations and gathered explicit evidence of wrong-doing, leading to arrests and convictions of corrupt customs agents, sex traffickers and quack doctors, to name just a few. Chatham House recently hosted a talk by Anas about his work as a journalist, which I had the opportunity to attend thanks to tickets arranged by UCL’s International Public Affairs Society (IPAS). I went to the talk with the expectation that I would learn more about investigative journalism, but it contained much broader themes about the role of media in society and African development. As a result, it unexpectedly became very relevant for this year’s IPPR theme of social change and status quo.
Anas’ most striking feature was his trademark face mask, a curtain of strings used to obscure his identity in public appearances. He spoke in a calm and deliberative manner and explained his need for anonymity in the face of harsh opposition, as he has received many death threats for his work. This opposition stems from his radical approach to journalism, which aims not only to report the news but to have a “meaningful impact” on society through “naming, shaming and jailing”. In all his undercover investigations, he seeks to gather video evidence that can be used in court. Critics of his method point out that this goes beyond journalism and it did occur to me that much of Anas’ work was more akin to police sting operations. He justified this by stating that “extreme diseases require extreme remedies”. In Ghana and most African countries, law enforcement and the judiciary system are extremely corrupt. Institutions are neither willing nor able to effectively uphold the rule of law when it is in the financial interest of officials to maintain the corrupt status quo. To combat the “extreme disease” of corruption, he endeavours to expose it using his radical methods.
The effectiveness of Anas’ anti-corruption work was highlighted through his undercover investigations into the Ghanaian judiciary system. Several high court and circuit judges were exposed for taking bribes. An official investigation into the judiciary system was launched, leading to several suspensions. A more recent investigation into the Ghana Football Association (GFA) exposed officials from all levels for taking bribes, including Kwesi Nyantakyi- the president of the GFA. Nyantakyi was banned by FIFA and the GFA itself was dissolved. Such examples show that these methods produce results. However they also come with tremendous risk. Ahmed Hussain-Suale, a member of Anas’ team in the GFA investigation, was shot dead a mere week before the talk. This led to a poignant moment where the room observed a minutes’ silence in honour of Mr. Hussain-Suale.
“My methods are a product of my society”- this was an oft-repeated phrase. Anas stated that his methods yielded results because he used personal experiences within his society to construct the best strategy for change. He spoke of criticism by western journalists who called his methods unethical. Journalists in the west worked under “old paradigms” he retorted. They do not understand the realities of his society, expecting the western blueprint to succeed despite societal differences. I found this to be an especially important point about the relationship between developed and developing countries. Western countries have taken it upon themselves to aid poorer countries with development. The primary strategy for this usually involves a nudge towards liberal democracy and free-market capitalism. This is a flawed approach that seeks to rapidly transplant a homogenous solution onto a range of countries with a diverse set of problems. A better strategy could be to identify and support leaders who are committed to progress within a developing country. These leaders will be more aware of the immediate problems that need to be solved, which will allow for incremental progress and meaningful development.
Such leaders need not be politicians. The media can have a huge impact on society by raising awareness of important issues and giving a voice to those who wish to make progress. Throughout the talk, Anas alluded to the potential of media to affect social change. Many of his investigations focus on problems that are already known to the wider public. Corruption and crime are a fact of life in many developing countries and Ghana is no exception. Weak institutions take little action in addressing such structural problems. This is where Anas fits himself into the picture. He voices concerns held privately by most citizens and backs this up with video evidence that is hard for institutions to ignore. Consequently, many criminals and corrupt officials have been punished. The media has a real ability to disrupt the status quo and hold institutions accountable. However, it is not a given that a free press will lead to social change. It takes principled and determined individuals such as Anas to truly harness that power. The mere presence of such people in society can give others the inspiration and courage to challenge the status quo.
The enigmatic Anas Aremeyew Anas described his impactful journalistic work but went beyond that by infusing his discussion with broader themes. I gained an insight into the positive role that the media can play in fostering development. The extreme challenges associated with social progress were also made clear. It is a difficult thing to challenge the status quo in any society, especially one which has normalised violence and corruption. The long-term impact of Anas’ work remains to be seen but his successes have been numerous. Having been backed by large international media organisations such as the BBC and Al Jazeera, he is set to continue having a meaningful impact on societies across Africa and the world.