Anas Aremeyaw Anas, the ‘James Bond of Journalism’ has dressed up as a woman, a rock and a pastor to uncover corruption in all its forms. He tells us why he wants to name, shame and jail the bad guys.
Anas Aremeyaw Anas is the only investigative journalist of his kind. For security purposes, he appears in public as a faceless figure: a string of beads hide his features.
When I met him during a dinner for journalists in London, his friends asked me to take pictures of them on their smartphones, and he kept his mask on in every photo.
Anas has become a household name throughout the country.
I later discover that his group of friends doubles up as a security entourage and a decoy. Out and about, Anas can remove his mask and blend in. Sometimes his friends even wear the mask instead.
I got the chance to interview him the next day and I jumped at it; it was the only interview he gave while he was in the UK.
Originally from Bimbilla in Northern Ghana, a remote rural town known for ethnic troubles, Anas has since become a household name throughout the country. TRUE Africa writer and fellow Ghanaian, Alfred Adjabeng explained why: ‘In Ghana when you are a corrupt police officer on the street you are now scared to take bribes from drivers. You never know who you are stopping now. [He chuckles] It may be Anas!’
Anas seeks to make his and Alfred’s society more transparent. His first undercover investigation was in 1999 where he posed as a street hawker to expose police officers taking bribes from unlicensed traders on Accra’s main highway.
Jump forward to 2015, and he made headlines internationally when his investigation Ghana in the Eyes of God: Epic of Injustice alleged that 34 judges and magistrates had been caught on camera receiving bribes of money, goats, sheep and food. Some even demanded sexual favours. Other officials were honest and didn’t take the bribe, threatening to arrest Anas (who was undercover) instead.
Extreme diseases call for extreme remedies.
A further 100 members of the judicial service were investigated after Anas submitted a petition. 12 high court judges were consequently suspended. A friend of Anas told me the masked enigma had the chance to take down more members of the judiciary but did not: ‘Anas didn’t want to bring down his whole country!’
The programme was suspended after only being screened in Accra and Kumasi; the accused victims felt it acted in prejudice against them. Anas’s aim is: ‘naming, shaming and jailing’ on camera movies. The judges obviously couldn’t take seeing some hard-core evidence stacked against them for once.
His determination to stand up to corruption is admirable. There are many Africans, and others around the world, who look at corruption as an unchanging part of their society. Anas doesn’t think so. He goes for the jugular on his YouTube channel and his series on Al Jazeera.
His fans call him ‘the James Bond of Journalism’, a glamorous title but one I wouldn’t quite agree with.
He often admits his methods are irregular but says it’s necessary to be dishonest about his own identity to reveal, as he calls it, ‘the mischief’ in others. ‘Extreme diseases call for extreme remedies’ he says, and that this type of journalism is ‘a product of my society’.
His fans call him ‘the James Bond of Journalism’, a glamorous title but one I wouldn’t quite agree with. It’s clear that he doesn’t dress up for fun but for work. The mask is such a unique item, reminiscent of Rorschach in Watchmen, that you can’t help but be caught up in the vigilantism of it all.
It is dangerous and he wears the mask for his safety. Not only does he want to stay anonymous for future stings, but anyone who knows who he is could seek revenge. Friends of those he’s managed to lock up for up for over 45 years (his Chinese Sex Cartel investigation is just one example) are still out there.
Anas certainly likes to make things entertaining.
He’s worn many ingenious disguises: priest, Sheikh, woman, mad man, doctor, policeman, a homeless man, wealthy chieftain and even a rock by the roadside. He also uses props as part of his sophisticated disguises. He once tricked a witch doctor into thinking a prosthetic baby was his deformed child. Anas filmed him just before he attempted to kill the baby with a boiling potion.
'Ghana is a pilot project… we are coming to your country soon. All those bad guys have limited time.' Anas Aremeyaw Anas #LSEAfrica2017 pic.twitter.com/SawzGXG46p
— TRUE Africa (@_TRUEAfrica) March 31, 2017
These subjects are thrilling; Anas certainly likes to make things entertaining. Dramatic titles like Deadly Gold, Spirit Child, Torture on the High Seas (I don’t have time to go through all of them here but I strongly recommend watching the collection!) are all part of his showmanship. He wants people to see his movies. And it’s working: he’s almost like a Hollywood film star as people pack into houses across Ghana for group viewings of his latest bust (and I wondered why they were called blockbusters!).
You’re never quite sure who Anas actually is.
Even his talks are dramatic. His voice is soft and soothing but commands a room as he paces deep in and out of the crowd like a lion. He likes to make an entrance. At the talk I saw, he came in 20 minutes late with two of his entourage dressed in the same creepy robes and masks as him. You’re never quite sure who Anas actually is.
In person, he comes across as a quiet man but is this also an act? We will never know. He tells me that when he is not working, he likes to relax in the country. The Anas Reading List? Chinua Achebe, Ama Ata Aidoo and Isidore Okpewho.
He wants to inspire ‘a new generation of thinkers’ who are willing to push frontiers. He knows he can’t clean up the country on his own. And he has his sights set further: ‘Ghana is a pilot project… we are coming to your country soon. All those bad guys have limited time.’
He’s been to Europe, USA as well as all over Africa and the Far East so who knows where he’ll strike next. ‘Stay tuned,’ he tells me, ‘and keep watching your screens, it’s coming.”
Anas wanted to thank his security team, production team, Sorias, Clive Patterson, Ron Mculloch, Jonathan Ossoff and everyone at Insight TWI.