VOICE OF CONSCIENCE
BY MANASSEH AWUNI AZURE
NO. OF PAGES: 267
REVIEWED BY KOFI AKPABLI
Voice of Conscience by Manasseh Azure Awuni is a collection of articles on the investigations and reflections of a young Ghanaian journalist. Published mainly in the Daily Graphic and online between 2009 and 2014, the 36 feature stories showcase the compelling writing ability of the author as well as the broad range of his interests.
The book is divided into five sections to include: ‘Motivation’, ‘Anti-corruption’, ‘Politics’ and the captivating obituaries of leaders such as John Attah-Mills, Nelson Mandela and Komla Dumor. The inclusion of photographs of personalities connected to the topics and the cartoons depicting the lighter side brighten up the pages.
Another exciting feature of this 267 page book is the title given to some of the stories. ‘Joy FM is not for my Father’; ‘I’m not a Neutral Journalist’ and ‘Mensa Otabil and the Mad Women of Kete-Krachi.’ The good news is that there are more; just that they couldn’t find space. An example is Manasseh’s article entitled ‘What Audrey Gadzekpo and Joyce Aryee do in secret.’ (http://www.myjoyonline.com/opinion/2013/December-9th/manassehs-folder-what-audrey-gadzekpo-and-joyce-aryee-do-in-secret.php).
In ‘Voice of Conscience’ readers do not only get to read some of the best feature stories of our time, they also learn about the stories behind these stories. Though the issues are eclectic, I could glean the themes of self-determination, integrity, accountability and inspiration for a personal turn-around.
One narrative style of the writer is to mention public figures and involve them directly or indirectly in his story-telling. While this may be distractive or intrusive, the author’s ability to establish relevance and stay focused on the issue consistently redeems him. Manasseh also buttresses his points with quotes from literary greats such as Chimamanda Adichie and, especially, Chinua Achebe.
As one journeys through the work, one encounters episodes which are conscience-piercing. The inefficiencies, the indiscretions and the impunity we face as a nation stain some pages like the mess of an open sore. The book disgusts you about the inertia of our systems and the refusal of some of our institutions to live up to expectations. Notably, the author’s reports on Gyeeda and SADA epitomise this.
‘Voice of Conscience’ transcends the collection of news features by a journalist. Manasseh inserts his own biography into the affair. We learn as much about his personal life as we do his reporting. Titles such as ‘Graduating with Second Class Upper’ and ‘The Bongo Boy in America’ are two chapters which illustrate this point.
Throughout the publication, we see the author mention his humble background. He never gets tired of referencing that destiny-shaping journey from Bongo to Kete-Krachi where he and two siblings joined their father who had secured a new job as a watchman at the local hospital. To Manasseh, Kete Krachi is a metaphor of the metamorphosis of the impossible becoming possible.
My own connection with Manasseh Awuni spans different levels. The rocky terrain of Bongo, his hometown, had in the past provided fodder for my own savannah musings. Indeed, while I reminisce my bicycle treks through Bongo Soen, Namoo, Yelowongo, Navrongo and my pito encounters on the backstreets of Bolgatanga, Manasseh nurses his nostalgia about the Volta Region, where he romanticises ‘borborbor’ and his much-beloved Kete-Krachi. Here, I appeal to those who haven’t done so to visit both Bongo and Krachi in the spirit of domestic tourism.
I still can picture that quiet student who sat at the back of class when I was invited to the School of Communication Studies to deliver a lecture. By then I had read a few of Manasseh’s reports in the ‘Daily Graphic’. But when I saw his article entitled ‘Kofi Akpabli and Northern Ghana’s Single Story’, I knew that this is an individual who was heading somewhere. (http://www.myjoyonline.com/opinion/2014/september-8th/manassehs-folder-kofi-akpabli-and-northern-ghanas-single-story.php)
To place the achievement of this first book in context, we need to establish the place of a catalogue of a journalist’s reports. We also have to note that by this feat, Manasseh has joined the ranks of Cameron Duodu, Merrari Alomele, Ken Bediako, Kwasi Gyan Appenteng and other such illustrious commentators. If the publications of these forerunners continue to serve society it confirms that like we learn in journalism school, today’s news item may become a page in tomorrow’s history book.
And it is for this reason that accuracy and staying fair to all parties concerned become imperative. Does the book under review exhibit these? Positively. Page after page, ‘Voice of Conscience’ provides verifiable evidence as the basis for the author’s actions and conclusions. He even intimates on some behind-the-scene events.
In his brilliant foreword to the book, my friend and senior colleague, Kwaku Sakyi Addo said Manasseh is bold. I say Manasseh is a professional risk taker. And I cite the very first chapter in which he mentions names and designations of real people who supported or thwarted his efforts in his various news enterprises.
Efo Kojo Mawugbe, a mentor who Manasseh and I shared wrote a thought-provoking play called ‘G-Yard People.’ In that piece, the late playwright artistically highlighted how the writer and by extension, the journalist is the collective conscience of society. For Manasseh to frame his book title to contain the word ‘conscience’ implies that as a journalist, he is poised to make his knife cut both ways.
‘Voice of Conscience’ teaches us to judge people against their own progress and circumstances. We learn that it is futile to compare professional talents. The chapter on Anas Aremeyaw Anas and Manasseh comes up for mention. Here, and amusingly, I couldn’t help but notice that one can derive ‘Anas’ from the word ‘Manasseh.’
Another lesson from the book is the virtue of sacrifice. In pursuit of his professional development, the author forwent frivolous lifestyles. One is also touched by his rejection of a prize trip abroad in favour of using the amount involved to invest in equipment for his reporting activities.
Like many of us, Manasseh might have made a fundamental mistake or two in news gathering and news writing. However, this doesn’t dim the brightness of his rising. Still very young in his career, he has enormous potential to make a much broader impact.
My advice is for him to explore literary journalism. I also wish to introduce Manasseh to an icon whose works have inspired me- Ryszard Kapuściński. (http://culture.pl/en/artist/ryszard-kapuscinski) During his lifetime, this Polish writer and journalist nearly nabbed the Nobel Prize in Literature.
He had reported across all the continents, and quite naturally, very few reporters have been translated as Kapuściński. His stories on the Congo, the Rwanda genocide and Bosnia are touted as the very best. This man from Poland had lived through twenty-seven revolutions and coups, been jailed 40 times and survived four death sentences.
He had seen it all, you may say. While at it, let me reveal that Kapuściński had visited Ghana, right after our independence, just as he had other 50 African countries.
His journalism reports were so artistic that folks referred to them as literature. His family background was so humble that when he visited Africa and saw poverty, he said he felt at home. His posture was so unassuming, that he never in his life asked a single question at any press conference.
The simplicity of Kapuściński’s life and his merging of art and journalism are ideals recognisable in the spirit behind ‘Voice of Conscience’.
Finally, what we do with a Manasseh Awuni Azure? What does a nation do to the diligent journalists who are working hard to bring dignity to the profession? I dare say we leave them alone.
Let us allow the fruits of their reporting and the ethics of their profession to judge them. It doesn’t help to antagonise, or patronise a journalist. It doesn’t even help to over-befriend them with ‘benefits.’ Committing any of these acts may be tantamount to tampering with a weighing scale.