The Readers Hub is pleased to bring to you another inspiring, educative and thought-provoking SOCIAL CONVO encounter with a giant in the Media Industry whose sense of worth and dedication to defending the voices and concerns of the downtrodden has echoed across the length and breadth of the country.
Manasseh Azure Awuni is a freelance journalist having worked with Multimedia Group Limited in Accra for some time in the past. He is known for is controversial investigative and anti-corruption reports that have caused national uproar and also land some government officials in prison. He spends his leisure time speaking at youth programs and anti-corruption seminars. Indeed; he has won various awards for his works including the Journalist of the Year at the West Africa Media Excellence Awards (WAMECA).
Tonight, he takes us through the compendium of challenges in his life’s journey and how he finally finds himself with the inky fraternity. By choice or by providence divine? Stay tuned as one of our moderators-Alima Bawah, adroitly moderates the encounter to unveil the vicissitudes of our guest.
Alima Bawah: Ladies and gentlemen, I have the pleasure to introduce to you, our distinguished guest for tonight’s SOCIAL CONVO session –Manasseh Azure Awuni. Please you are most welcome.
Manasseh A. Awuni: Thank you. And good evening to THE READERS HUB.
Alima Bawah: READERS HUB is most grateful to have you tonight. You have become a household name in Ghana now (smiles).
Manasseh A. Awuni: I’m honoured to be here tonight with READERS HUB.
Alima Bawah: Great! Now tell us, the name behind Manasseh Azure Awuni.
Manasseh A. Awuni: I’m a 35-year old native of Bongo in the Upper East Region. I grew up in Kete-Krachi, where my family migrated as economic refugees. I’m a journalist and a writer. I speak Gurune (Frafra), Twi, Ewe, Fante, Kaakye and a bit of English (smiles)
Manasseh A. Awuni: I enjoy Borborbor and I am never tired of eating banku; if it’s served with okra soup or stew, especially when it’s mixed with groundnut soup (smiles).
Alima Bawah: Did you just say you speak “a bit of English “??
Manasseh A. Awuni: Yes. The only language I feel unsure when speaking
Alima Bawah: I can imagine, particularly when one’s knowledge and intelligence is measured by the quality of a foreign language you speak.
Manasseh A. Awuni: Well, here when you butcher the local language and names, you can be forgiven, but not English.
Alima Bawah: So without any malice or ill motive intended, why did you choose Journalism? It sounds like choosing to be a ‘Professional Gossip’ against other ‘honourable’ and well-paying professions” What is the driving force?
Manasseh A. Awuni: I came into journalism by chance. I wanted to be a bank manager because in Krachi, the man we all looked up to was the GCB branch manager.
Alima Bawah: I’m curious! Tell us how it all happened please.
Manasseh A. Awuni: So I did Business at the SHS. When I completed, I applied to UCC to study BCom, but I didn’t get admission. It was the only form I had bought in 2005 so I had to wait until 2006 to buy another form.
Manasseh A. Awuni: After SHS, I worked at the GES Guest House as a caretaker. I cleaned the toilets and did the laundry with my hands. But in my spare time, I wrote articles and short stories
Alima Bawah: My goodness! How long did you do this with your bare hands? You had no alternative job offers?
Manasseh A. Awuni: It depended on the quantity of laundry, but it wasn’t a good job. Sometimes men and women would sleep on it and “release” on the sheets (smiles). I combined it with teaching some children whose parents were rich enough to pay for extra classes.
In a related development, PRO of the GES met me one morning when I went there for detergents and he said he liked my writing so it would be good if I considered journalism. He said it didn’t matter what course I had studied, I could still pursue it.So I went to the Ghana Institute of Journalism because I wanted to be a writer, not a journalist.
Alima Bawah: How many years have you been practicing journalism now?
Manasseh A. Awuni: For 10 years, minus my days as a student/intern
Alima Bawah: Do you feel you sometimes regret for the decision you made to offer journalism?
Manasseh A. Awuni: Not at all. I do trainings for journalists and others. I felt my steps were directed by God. I got into the right profession, in my view.
Alima Bawah: Impressive! For some years now, you have been all over the newspapers in the media following your publications on some happenings in the country. Tell us some of the frustrations of being a journalist if any.
Manasseh A. Awuni: My biggest frustration is that; little gets done to the people and institutions I have risked my life to expose. I don’t see why Abuja Pele and Phillip Assibit should be in jail why Humado, Jospong and the rLG bosses have been left off the hook.
Alima Bawah: Does this discourages you and makes you ever feel like quitting journalism?
Manasseh A. Awuni: Of course it discourages. And the people you fight for end up fighting you because of their political affiliations. In fact, I find selective justice as one of the worst forms of injustice so when some people are untouchable because of their connection to the political authority; it frustrates the one who defies all the odds to go after them.
Going forward, I don’t know yet whether to quit journalism or not to quit, but one day I will go into full time writing and do journalism as a party time hobby. My main passion is to be a novelist. But I did not quit Multimedia because I wanted to go into full time writing, I resigned on a matter of principle.
Alima Bawah: Looking into the future, do you see this changing anytime soon with more youth going to politics to “safeguard” our future?
Manasseh A. Awuni: Nothing much will change until a disruptive force sets in. I don’t know how exactly, that will happen. Maybe, a man or woman with good conscience and character will take over one day. Maybe the mess will hit the ceiling and a ‘J.J. Rawlings’ may intervene. I don’t know how, but the youth who go into politics appear worse. I was an SRC President at GIJ and chaired the NUGS Vetting Committee in 2009. I concluded that student politics was worse than the national one.
Alima Bawah: Your works have seen heads rolling as in the case of Dr Ali Gabass how do you feel when you “release” a story yourself and it gets the whole country talking about it?
Manasseh A. Awuni: I felt very sad and sorry for Ali Gabass. I had met him and spent over an hour with him and he confessed when I told him what I was doing and told him the evidence I had gathered against him. He begged me to drop the story. But there were also young victims of his actions. But I still felt very sorry for him.
Generally, it’s mentally and emotionally draining when you publish a story and everyone is talking about it. People say all kinds of things and for the respect and security of your sources; you’re not able to reveal everything about the story.
Alima Bawah: Wow! So do you feel safe generally in the conduct of your work?
Manasseh A. Awuni: Of course with the nature of the stories you publish, your safety cannot be guaranteed.
Alima Bawah: Does this mean the independence and freedom of journalism is not fully granted?
Manasseh A. Awuni: Exactly so in some cases. Generally speaking, this is a job you do and know that there are many out there who want you dead. But the atmosphere has become even more hostile than ever.
It is worth stating that, not many journalists are able to speak their minds, for the fear of being verbally abused or physically attacked. The daredevils like us know the consequences full well.
The culture of silence has crept back into this country. How many people can speak freely without being tagged and victimized? Civil servants and public servants cannot speak their minds when it is against the government, and in this case, I’m not referring to this administration alone. Teachers, nurses, doctors and others are transferred or punished if they expose problems in their sectors.
The security agencies are gagged. And some journalists are gagged too. So Ghana’s free speech is enjoyed more by politicians than any group. Sometimes people with a lot of knowledge on issues refuse to grant media interviews because of the repercussions
Alima Bawah: With this frustration and security issue, if you had the opportunity to meet the President who touts himself as the promoter of rule of law, what would you say to him?
Manasseh A. Awuni: I would tell him to repent.
Alima Bawah: (looking shocked)!
QUESTIONS TIME WITH OUR READERS FROM (THE READERS HUB)
Maazu Bayuoni: How do you handle criticisms and critics in the course of your work?
Manasseh A. Awuni: There are some that are genuine and malicious while some are also informed and ignorant critics. So there are some I respond to, there are others I learn from, and there are others I completely ignore.
1. Do you believe the media is under attack by government? Why do you always seem to be against parties in power? Is that perception true?
2. Can media ever truly be independent of influence when they depend so much in advertising? Isn’t that a form of sponsored control of the media?
3. What would you say about the quality of journalism in Ghana?
From my observations, it seems there is so much ‘sensationalism’, with little ‘meat’ in articles, poorly-checked/unverified ‘facts’, and poor grammar and spelling. Nowadays, I take any article and read with a grain of salt, because I’ve lost confidence in the media.
Manasseh A. Awuni: The media is under attack. Apart from the pressure and intimidation of media houses, we have seen the killing of a journalist after a leading member of the governing party put his picture on TV, mentioned where he lived and asked that he be attacked. We have seen National Security operatives invade a media house, seize gadgets and arrest journalists, detain them and allegedly torture them. There was no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the journalists. They had published negative stories about the National Security Minister in those days and they were made to delete the stories. Nobody was punished for that. If this is not an attack on the media, then what is it?
Media cannot be truly independent when they depend so much on advertising. In some countries such as the US, some foundations sponsor some media organizations to do independent journalism. That insulates the media from powerful corporations.
On the quality of journalism, you choose what you read or who you listen to. You can choose to listen to Joy FM, Citi FM or Oman FM. Not everything you see in the media is written by journalists. The quality can be better but journalists are poorly paid and they work under terrible conditions. Some of the crooks make so much money and create the impression that all is well.
But it’s a hustle in there. That’s why you find a number of good journalists leaving to join corporate entities. It’s almost impossible to retire as a journalist in Ghana. When you’re fed up with the frustration, you leave. That’s what affects the quality of journalism. When people get mature and the society is expected to benefit from their experience, the frustrations force them out. And there are many others that are set up to achieve certain political purposes so they have no regard for the rules of the game.
Alhassan: Manasseh is mostly tagged on social media as being arrogant and has the propensity to always arrogate knowledge to himself. How do you react to this?
Manasseh A. Awuni: In Ghana, when you speak your mind such accusations come in all the time. We have mistaken timidity for humility so the price of speaking up includes being called arrogant. But from what people tell me when they meet me in person, I think I’m humble.
Barnabas: Please why the seeming sabbatical break in his pursuits, are you going to bless us with yet another investigative piece imminently, or is it the case of throwing in the towel in silence?
Manasseh A. Awuni: I am working on certain stories while doing the writing of books as well. As and when it’s ready, I’ll publish
1. Considering the hostile situation that journalists are under will you advise young ones to go into journalism or do otherwise?
2. Also from your narrative, I’m getting the impression that politics in Ghana is not a noble profession but that is what I want to take up. What will be your advice to me on that score?
Manasseh A. Awuni: Journalism, like any profession, is a calling. If someone wants to go into it, they should do that with the right conviction. They should be prepared to suffer for their beliefs and principles. If they are enticed by the glamorous lifestyle of some journalists, they will mess themselves up.
There is a politician called Dr. Yaw Adutwum. I admire him so much. You can get into politics and be different. If we all say it’s not noble and therefore will not want our boots soiled, we will leave the arena for pigs, and they will decide our destiny.
Hammer: I happened to be in a company where people were trying to kill your story by offering you money. You refused the money and published the story. Where do you get the courage? The characters could have changed your life for good?
Manasseh A. Awuni: You don’t really need courage to reject those offers. I grew up in abject poverty, the number two of 11 children of a night watchman. If God did not allow poverty to kill me when I was a kwashiorkor boy, he wouldn’t allow poverty to kill me when I became a journalist.
Besides, some of the rich people we worship are not actually intelligent. They are not rich because they have superior business ideas. Don’t follow the lies they tell you about how they got their money. Some of them are thieves.
So if someone has stolen so much for the state and you want to expose them and they’re prepared to pay you, I find it insulting. Selling your conscience is the worst you can do to yourself. When you look at the damage they cause society, you will not have the appetite to take their money and kill a story. It’s something I have never done and will never do.
Alima Bawah: How do you deal with being labelled”NDC” when NPP is in power and the vice versa?
Manasseh A. Awuni: The NDC is not a terrorist organization so if someone says I’m NDC; it’s the least of my worries. I have written publicly that I am not neutral. I have only tried to be fair. I have voted NDC and NPP. In 2016, for instance, I felt Mahama was terrible in his leadership so I even convinced a few friends to vote against him. I voted Akufo-Addo, not because I am a member of his party, but I did so in the interest of the state. That doesn’t mean if he is doing the very things I didn’t like in the Mahama administration, I should not talk about it.
So political tagging is the least of my worries. It’s the 2020 election that I don’t find a reason to vote. In The Fourth John, I said Ghanaians are presented with a choice between death by firing squad and death by hanging. Well, I used to argue whenever people said they would not vote, but for the first time I feel voting is meaningless.
Alima Bawah: Finally, tell us about the “Militia in the heart of town” documentary and how you felt considering the commentary and the position of the NMC.
Manasseh A. Awuni: I felt disappointed at the posture of the NMC and when I spoke to individual members, they expressed various reservations about the final outcome. You can read my full reaction here:http://www.manassehazure.com/2019/07/behind-the-flawed-ruling-facts-the-nmc-ignored/
Alima Bawah: Awesome! Kindly wrap up with your final comments to the youth.
Manasseh A. Awuni: I want to thank you for the moderation and thank members of the platform for their questions and audience. I think someone asked how different this platform was from others. THIS IS THE ONLY WHATSAPP GROUP THAT PARTICIPANTS OBEY RULES.
I will want to encourage everyone to do their best in their chosen fields. It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding to know that you can help change your country in your own small way. All of us will die one day. It may come sooner than we expect. It’s good to make money and live well, but there’s more to life than making money.
Let’s identify our callings and pray to God to give us the strength to make humanity better than we met it. If racism will stop, if our children and grandchildren will be respected by the West and Asia and the rest, then how we conduct ourselves today will count.
Your calling may be beyond your personal comfort and the prosperity of your immediate environment. Let me leave you with the words that inspire me a lot: They are contained in Esther 4:12-14 of the Holy Bible which emphasize the fact that God brought us here for a reason:
12 Esther’s words were relayed to Mordecai, 13 he sent back to her this reply: “Do not imagine that because you are in the king’s palace you alone will escape the fate of all the Jews. 14For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows if perhaps you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”…My mouth has fallen (smiles)
Alima Bawah: An inspiring night it has been for me and other Readers as well. THE READERS HUB Thanks you very much for sharing with us your insightful journey in life, thus far.Hope to meet you same time next week with yet another inspiring conversation with THE READERS HUB. Until then, have a good night…………………………….. (Exeunt)
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Hub Editor: Bassing A.M.A.Kamal (email@example.com)