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From obscurity to internationally-acclaimed journalist – 25 years ago

Emmanuel Dogbevi
Emmanuel Dogbevi

What would be your reaction if you were told that a middle school graduate whose education had been truncated would one day become a journalist whose exploits would add to Ghana’s pride?

The career of this globally recognized journalist has been a long, winding one, but he became the first Ghanaian to be awarded the most sought after journalism fellowship in the world, the Knight-Bagehot (pronounced baje-t) Fellowship of Columbia University in the United States of America, making him the only Ghanaian and seventh from Africa on the list of close to 400 fellows in the 40 years of the Fellowship.

His first article on e-waste in Ghana, which was the first by any Ghanaian journalist on record, was published on June 15, 2007 by the Daily Graphic and subsequently on myjoyonline.com. The same article is published as a chapter in the first edition of a university textbook published by New York-based Cengage Learning, titled: Cross currents: Cultures, Communities, Technologies.

He has also had a photograph on e-waste published by National Geographic, and an article published by Government News of Australia.

Many of his stories and articles have been cited in books and academic journals including Biochar for Environmental Management: Science and Technology; Economics, Management and Financial Markets; Food Security Journal; The Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences; Ghana – A Decade of a Liberal State, and the journal of New York-based Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

From an education cut short after middle school, a serendipitous stumble upon writing, to studying while raising money in the wilderness of freelance journalism to continue his education, Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, Managing Editor of business news website ghanabusinessnews.com looks back on 25 years of journalism.

He completed his basic education (middle school) at the Nima ‘4’ Roman Catholic School, two years into the revolution of Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings: to be precise, in 1983 – a year Ghana would rather forget.

For those of us fortunate not to be around, the story is told of a Ghana whose beautiful blue skies were fast fading to grey. There was drought, famine, a shortage of “essential commodities” (sugar, bread, milk, toiletries, toothpaste, tinned foods et al.) and bushfires that destroyed farms and crops. Many adolescents grew lean, and had prominent collarbones as a result; and that was popularly called the “Rawlings Chain.”

About a million Ghanaians were deported from Nigeria with their “Ghana must go” bags, to join the worsening hardship and poverty.

Then there was a thriving black market for foreign currencies crippling the cedi. The cedi’s devaluation followed as part of a Structural Adjustment Programme imposed on the country by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The aftermath was bitter.

It was in such a year that Emmanuel’s mother had to admit that she did not have the means for him to further his education – he had to find a job.

He first joined the People’s Defence Committee – community groups maintaining order and controlling the rationing of scarce essential commodities under the military leadership of the time.

In the next years he worked in a corn mill, did apprenticeship in radio and television servicing, worked in a roofing tiles factory as a factory hand, as a chocolate drinks vendor, a ‘garden boy’ and as a butcher’s boy at the Mallam Atta market in Accra, all the while clinging to his literacy by reading anything he could find, including newspapers and writing poems.

A ray of hope came in 1990 by way of a publisher’s advert in Step Magazine seeking children’s stories. Emmanuel approached the publisher with his poems but as it was not quite what the publisher wanted, he got redirected to the editor of Step Magazine, and subsequently got a poem published, getting paid “some 21 Pesewas or so.”

The publishing of this poem began his career in journalism.

“Step published one of my poems but more importantly for me – and unexpectedly – they paid for it. And I was like what! I could be published and paid? Wooow!” he tells me, attempting to mimic the ecstasy of his young self after that discovery.

Interwoven with short stories in The Mirror and visits to Radio Ghana’s programme, ‘Reflections’, his first stint with Step saw him helping with some aspects of production and running errands.

“I would go to Step and they would say go and buy paper for us. These days young people don’t do that – they feel pompous. But that’s how I learned; by learning to serve. And it exposed me to a lot of things.”

Emmanuel later agreed to do proofreading – with no idea what it was initially!

“One day they asked me: ‘can you do proofreading?’ I had no idea what it was but when I heard reading, I said yes.” Fortunately for him he eventually rose to become an editorial intern at Step Magazine.

The rules could however not be bent for him and lacking the academic credentials to be fully employed by Step, he left in 1992, taking up a contract at The Christian Messenger to train some staff on newspaper layout with the knowledge he had accrued from Step.

One of only a handful of companies owning computers in the early 90s, Step had laid in him a foundation for graphic arts and printing which he put to use on his own after leaving and later at the Independent newspaper founded and published by Kabral Blay-Amihere in 1995 where he went on to become Production Editor.

It was during this time that he first encountered some juggernauts in the profession at a training seminar at the University of Ghana’s School of Communication Studies: the likes of Prof. Kwame Karikari, Prof. Audrey Gadzekpo, Prof. Kojo Yankah, and the Late Prof. P. A. V. Ansah.

But out of the blue in 1994, when establishing contact with people was still quite difficult, he heard Step Magazine was looking for him. By the time he made contact he had only three days for the task at hand: an assignment to do a front page story on street children.

He took up the challenge and met the deadline. And the story he wrote titled; “Woes of the street child” eventually won the first prize of the Media Features on Children Awards of the Ghana National Commission on Children.

After two attempts at the O’ Level in 1993 and 1996, and an entrance exam, he gained admission into the University of Ghana in 1999 to pursue a Diploma in the Study of Religions, returning in 2003 for a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.

After spells with myjoyonline and Citi FM following his graduation, he started his business news website ghanabusinessnews.com in 2008 when he noticed the void in online business news.

He won the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) Best Anti-Corruption Reporter Award for 2012.

But what was the pinnacle of his 25 years in journalism? Looking back, he says it was being named among the 2013/2014 Knight-Bagehot Fellows to pursue a Master’s degree in Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York City; being part of the handful of non-American business journalists from across the globe, who in the words of the Programme Director, “represent the best and brightest in business journalism”.

The fellowship afforded him contact and dinner with the likes of the Nobel Economics Prize winner and former Vice President of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz and former US Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner among others.

Journalism has taken him around the world and he has covered some major international conferences.

Emmanuel Dogbevi has no role model but says he certainly looks up to the likes of Lawrence Darmani, Adjoa Yeboah-Afari, Kabral Blay-Amihere, Audrey Gadzekpo, the Late Merari Alomele and the late P. A. V. Ansah as well as other big names who rank with them.

By Emmanuel Odonkor

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