Over lunch one day at an upscale Accra hotel, I asked David Asante-Apeatu whether Anas had ever interfered with police work. Asante-Apeatu, who previously directed the criminal-investigations division for the national police and was now stationed at Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France, shook his head. He told me that Anas often “feels that it’s better to do things all by himself,” because he, like many Ghanaians, doesn’t trust the police. “I don’t blame him” for acting on his own, said the cop. “Anas is a hero.”
Anas was born in 1978 in Accra, a coastal city with about 2 million inhabitants, and raised by a career soldier and a nurse. He is tall, with bony elbows and a droopy posture. He boasts of having a “very innocent face” and told me that, without his glasses, “no one will ever suspect me.” From a young age, Anas thrived on theatrics and disguises. Kojo Asante, the president of the National Association of Pan- African Clubs, remembers Anas, who presided over the club at his school, reenacting major events in African history. “You had these plays, it was pretty casual, but Anas took it very seriously,” he told me. “If you wanted him to play the role of the rebel, he would go out and look for costumes, and then come in full regalia, ready to play the part.”
Anas later went to the Ghana Institute of Journalism. When it came time for his internship, he joined a weekday newspaper published in Accra, The Crusading Guide, as the paper was called until early 2009, and he has never left. (Today he is a co-owner of The New Crusading Guide.) His internship duties consisted of office work and milquetoast reporting assignments. “He was a student journalist; I didn’t want to stress him,” says Kweku Baaku, the editor in chief and Anas’s co-owner.
Unbeknownst to Baaku, or anyone else in the newsroom, Anas was spending his free time in the company of street hawkers, running up and down a stretch of highway on the outskirts of Accra, selling peanuts to gridlocked motorists. Street hawking is illegal. But the police, Anas discovered, cracked down only when VIP motorcades came through. Otherwise, the hawkers gave a cut of their sales to the cops, and everyone was happy. Baaku was amazed when he read the story. As he told me, “Being so young and able to craft this kind of reporting strategy? After that, I encouraged him to take over the paper’s investigative branch.”
In 2006, Anas wrote two stories that burnished his reputation as a “social crusader,” in the words of one Ghanaian working at a foreign embassy in Accra. First, he worked the assembly line at a cookie factory and caught the company using flour infested with termites and maggots. After the story ran, the factory was shut down. Then he exposed corruption inside the passport agency, going so far as to fabricate phony documents for the president and chief of police. “There was chaos in the country after that came out,” Anas recalled with a smug grin. The Ghana Journalists Association subsequently named him Journalist of the Year. (He has won the group’s Investigative Journalist of the Year award three times.) Meanwhile, the government set about transitioning to biometric passports.