Anas Anas: Undercover journalism is the sexiest job you can ever do on earth

Going undercover as a crown prince to negotiate with rebels armed to the teeth is just the tip of Mount Kilimanjaro as far as the daring stuff Anas Arameyaw Anas and his Tiger Eye team get up to is concerned.

When they investigated what eventually became the documentary film Malawi's Human Harvest danger was thrown into the mix. They almost got killed after they were mistaken for the murderers they were trying to expose.

Anas and Malawian reporter Henry Mhango wanted to expose the real people who profited in a spate of ritual killings in rural Malawi. In the documentary he also tries to show what could happen when an undercover investigation goes haywire.

In the investigation he posed as a businessman “with a secret taste for muthi magic”. His cover was blown completely. What’s worse, people thought they were vampires. The killers reportedly sucked blood from live humans with medical equipment.

In Spirit Child: Ritual Killings in Ghana they busted concoction men and soothsayers whose job was to poison children believed to be possessed by evil spirits. Most of the children murdered in these rituals had disabilities and were blamed for bringing bad fortune.

This cruel practice in Northern Ghana is a remnant of an archaic tradition where a child born with a disability is called a spirit child. Such a child is seen as evil and should be killed by elder concoction men and buried in the “evil forest”.

This could be one of the scenes in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

For the takedown to work a colleague agreed to allow their 18-month son to be used as the so-called ‘problem’ child. The plan was to switch the child with a similar looking dummy made from silicon just before the concoction men administered the poison.

The goal was to catch them in the act - just when they were about to poison the child.

Poisoning the child would have only cost $40 three and chickens. In the documentary Anas says he became nervous when he saw that concoction men had no qualms whatsoever about going ahead with the killing. In fact, the men were giggling and joking as they went about their preparations.

Judging the impact

The impact of these exposes has been far-reaching. The fallout after rampant greed and corruption in African football was exposed in the documentary Number 12 was massive.

Ghana’s football association was dissolved, 74 referees were suspended and two football administrators were charged with the crime of money laundering.

These are not the only big fish fingered in these investigations. Ghana in the Eyes of God turned the idea of a trustworthy judiciary system on its head. Judges were exposed for taking bribes and freeing alleged criminals.

In response, Chief Justice Georgina Wood was in a quandary - there were just too many judicial officers implicated and they could not be fired without destabilising the judicial system.

Eventually twelve high court and 22 lower court judges implicated in the expose were suspended.

Making investigative journalism sexy

Promoting and elevating the standard of journalism has become an important part of Anas’ work. At the Tiger Eye Foundation they draw on his two decades as an investigative reporter to support the next crop of journalists shining a light on social justice in Africa.

They conduct investigative workshops that equip entry-level and mid-career journalists. The foundation also tries to create a bridge between journalists and the communities in which they work.

They host outdoor screenings, educational roadshows, street theatre and have community meetings and other activities.

A plan to set up the Anas Arameyaw Anas Centre for Investigative Journalism in 12 countries is under way.

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