Magazine article New African

African Media: How Life Was 40 Years Ago; So Many Things Have Changed in African Newsrooms since New African Was Founded as African Development 40 Years Ago. Cameron Duodu, Who Has Lived through All These 40 Years as a Journalist, Writes about the African Media's Odyssey Using His Own Professional Life Story as the Anchor

Magazine article New African

African Media: How Life Was 40 Years Ago; So Many Things Have Changed in African Newsrooms since New African Was Founded as African Development 40 Years Ago. Cameron Duodu, Who Has Lived through All These 40 Years as a Journalist, Writes about the African Media's Odyssey Using His Own Professional Life Story as the Anchor

Article excerpt

I was very close to the birth of New African, but not involved in it. In 1966, I had just begun my first stint of residing in London. I had arrived hotfoot from Accra, after spending some weeks in Paris, where I had hoped to work with the famous weekly news magazine, Jeune Afrique. I had been introduced to it by my friend, the late Germain Mba, a relative of the first president of Gabon, Leon Mba. But it didn't work and I came to London.

My economic situation was precarious, but I didn't worry too much about it. I was just happy to be out of Ghana. For by mid-1965, my paper, the Ghana edition of Drum, was about the only significant independent publication left in Ghana and was thus the cynosure of all eyes that had anything to do with politics.

The two major dailies, Daily Graphic and The Ghanaian Times, were both state-owned. The Pioneer, based in Kumasi, which had bravely struggled for many years to give Ghanaians an independent voice, had disappeared. (It was later revived and edited by, among others, Baffour Ankomah, the current editor of New African.)

In 1965, The Pioneer's star political writer of the 1950s and 1960s, Kwame Kesse-Adu, was in jail under the Preventive Detention Act, which empowered the government to imprison for five years without trial anyone who was considered a threat to national security--for which read, "critic of the government".

In this atmosphere, the position of Drum was enormously precarious, if not anomalous. Not only was it foreign-owned but the foreigner concerned, the late Jim Bailey, was South African (though he held a British passport). And no country was more of an anathema to the authorities in Ghana than "apartheid South Africa".

As an active participant in the hot debates that took place amongst journalists at the Ghana Press Club, I found myself often asked: "Why are you working for someone from apartheid South Africa?" I am not known for dodging questions and I would retort: "Have you ever seen a gun that shoots at people by itself? A publication is run by people, not by itself. If you think I am serving the interests of apartheid South Africa, read the paper and point out to m e which parts of it serve that purpose."

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But such encounters, repeated often, did put a psychological strain on me. The job was tailor-made to dish neurosis out to me in small doses. But young as I was--just 23--I considered it all as a great challenge. You knew that one wrong word could earn you five years in jail. And yet you sought to produce your best--which, in this case, was not just to produce good writing, but also writing that demonstrated to all and sundry that in a country in which the state owned the rest of the media, your paper's voice was a truly independent one. I was extremely happy when the circulation figures began to mount, indicating that I was succeeding in what I was trying to achieve.

But it wasn't easy. My job was made more difficult by the fact that Drum had been banned by the government, just before I was appointed editor. The then editor, Henry Ofori, had published a biography of Dr J. B. Danquah, the doyen of Ghana politics, who had run against Dr Kwame Nkrumah in the presidential election of 1960. Danquah, as the leading politician in Ghana before Nkrumah arrived back home--at the invitation of Danquah and others--to become secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the independence movement founded by Danquah and his colleagues, was newsworthy at any time, of course. But the government didn't like the idea and so banned Drum.

Jim Bailey, the owner, didn't make any noise about it, and I was not aware of the reasons for the ban, although I had become interested in the paper after Ofori had attempted to recruit me to work for him, whilst I was on the staff of the news division of the Ghana Broadcasting System. Bailey had interviewed me himself, and had offered me the job. …

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