Manasseh Azure Awuni: six lessons from his life

Estimated read time 9 min read

Celebrated Ghanaian journalist Manasseh Azure Awuni is a man known for breathing fear into the faces of society’s corrupt figures. His work in journalism is celebrated both, internally in Ghana and externally by the international community.

But just like many people who the world today sees as successful and high achievers, the revered Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Estate did not have an easy walk to the top. If you have been following him, you would always notice him reference his passion for his work as the drive and not the luxury of it. Based on you, might think the Bongo “Voice of Conscience” author was born into luxury, but that is the complete opposite.

Manasseh Azure Awuni, who began a one-year paid fellowship at the prestigious Harvard University in the United States as a Nieman Journalism Fellow, shared six lessons from his life as he encourages young people to not give up on their dreams.

According to Manasseh Azure Awuni, the award-winning anti-corruption journalist, life is not a straight road and as such he missed out on opportunities due to poverty. But all the missed opportunities did not end his journey as he found alternatives and strived to get to where he is. The first of his major setbacks according to him was missing the chance to go to his preferred Senior High School, the Tamale Senior High School due to the cost of transport. That took him to Krachi SHS where he honed his writing skills by writing plays for the school’s drama club and that has been a blessing for him as we can all see where that has taken him today.

The story of Manasseh Azure Awuni: from Krachi SHS to Harvard

SIX LESSONS

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In 2001, I completed junior high school with the best result in the Krachi District (now Krachi West, Krachi East, and Krachi Nchumuru municipalities and districts). When the results were released, I looked forward to a miracle, but it did not happen.

I wanted to go to Tamale Senior High School (Tamasco), but my father had said I should choose a school in Kete-Krachi because there was no money to fund my secondary education outside Kete-Krachi. In Tamasco, just as in Krachi SHS, I qualified for the Northern Scholarship (feeding/boarding grants), but the cost of transportation, which was about a couple of cedis at the time, was the reason I could not live my dream.

“If you’re here and things get difficult, you can still eat leftover TZ and go to study,” my father, a night watchman at the Krachi District Hospital, had told me.

I had wept and selected a secondary school in Krachi, but when the results came and the teachers kept telling my father that I had a lot of promise and needed to go to a bigger and better senior high school, I thought something miraculous would happen and change my father’s mind so I could go to a “better secondary school”.

After SHS, pursuing a degree was out of the question for me because my elder brother, who had obtained a distinction after senior high school, could only go to the polytechnic. In the case of my twin sister and I, the wise men and women in Kete-Krachi had advised my father to let us go to the teacher training college so that we could get students’ allowance to support ourselves.

University education, they said, was meant for children of the rich.

Fortunately, I worked after SHS and saved some money and paid my admission and initial fees until help arrived when my elder brother got a job.

It is against these backgrounds that I don’t take for granted the modest successes that come my way. Neither do I ascribe them to my hard work and effort. It is for this reason that I feel more blessed than others who may have gotten this far or higher than I have.

For someone who could not go to a secondary school with a scholarship because of transportation, getting two fully-funded admissions to two universities in the US this year is, perhaps, the delayed miracle I expected years ago.

Yesterday, I started a one-year paid fellowship at Harvard University here in the United States. Apart from the main programmes of the Nieman Journalism Fellowship, I also have the freedom to take (audit) courses at Harvard and MIT. This means I can select and study any courses at the Harvard Business School, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Law School, or any course of my choice in the two top US universities.

While I thank God for this grace and favour, I feel obliged to share a few lessons I have learned in this difficult journey. My story is similar to those of many exceptional young people who are giving up because their dreams and aspirations are shackled by the chains of poverty and deprivation.

1. The Grace of God: I believe in hard work. But I also believe that hard work is, sometimes, not enough. There are more exceptional and hardworking people who don’t get half this far. Some call it luck, but I see it as God’s amazing grace.

2. The Blessing of Not Getting What You Want: I joined the drama club at Krachi SHS and started writing plays because there was no one to write plays for us. My creative writing abilities and my general love for writing developed in that school. As a result of these writings, the PRO of the district GES office, Mr. Fredoline Empeh, suggested that I should study journalism instead of the accountant I wanted to become.

Again, when I applied to GIJ in 2006, I had failed to obtain admission to the UCC to study BCom, the most prestigious Business programme aside from Business Administration in Legon. If I had gone to the better-resourced Tamasco, I may not have got the opportunity to write plays for my drama club, and if I had gained admission to UCC, I would have ended up as an accountant somewhere. The UCC would have lost the opportunity to study and examine its students on the investigative journalism works of Manasseh Azure Awuni, as the Communications Department has done in recent years.

3. Paying Your Dues: In applying for the Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, I did not have to include my transcripts or academic records. It was based on the body of works I had done. I have heard many say Ghana is not worth dying for, but I believe if you pay your dues to your society or country, the reward may come from elsewhere even if those you are dying for don’t appreciate you. (In my case, I can say many “ordinary” Ghanaians appreciate what I do).

4. The Path to Your Destiny Is Not Always a Straight Line: Sometimes, we get frustrated when things do not go our way. But I have realised that the detours of life’s journey are meant to prepare us when we follow the process and give it our best. So, don’t always expect a straight journey to your dreams. It can sometimes move in the opposite direction. When I gained two admissions to do my master’s degree in the UK in 2011, but could not get a scholarship, I thought it was a hindrance to my success. When I did my master’s in Ghana and sneaked out of class to do journalism alongside, I won Ghana’s best journalist for that year. What followed my career after that recognition is part of what got me to Harvard this year.

5. Setting Your Priorities Right: In 2012, I was 27 and had graduated from journalism school barely a year ago. I was adjudged Ghana’s Journalist of the Year. As part of the prize package, I was supposed to undertake a working visit to the United States. I was that typical villager who should have jumped at the opportunity to travel to the US, which would have been my first trip out of Africa. I told Unilever Ghana Ltd, the sponsors of the award, that I was a freelancer who struggled to finance my operations so I needed equipment to work and excel in my career. Instead of sponsoring me to the US, as had been the norm, the company should use the prize package to get me equipment. I knew that if I excelled in journalism, many opportunities would come my way.

I told my friend Abubakar Ibrahim, with whom I went to Unilever, that if the company insisted that I should go to the US, I would tell them to keep their prize package. I was determined to do just that, but the company saw wisdom in my suggestion and broke the tradition. Two years later, the US Department of State selected me for the International Visitor Leadership Programme on Investigative Journalism. That trip took me to five states in the US, and today, I’m here in the US.

6. Giving Up is Not an Option: There are times I read stories of young men and women who commit suicide because of difficulties, and I wish I had spoken with them. Growing up in Kete-Krachi, there were times I felt hopeless, but I didn’t give up. My siblings and I didn’t have much to be proud of. But one step at a time, and one day at a time, we plodded wearily through the muddy path towards a progress that seemed elusive. We may not have peaked yet, but I believe all of us have seen some progress.

I don’t know your situation, but should you ever feel like giving up, remember my story and those of others with even more difficult backgrounds who have broken bounds and grounds.

Do not give up!

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