An award-winning Ghanaian journalist can say in all modesty that he has seen it all and more so he is the monarch of all that he has surveyed, and no one can begrudge him.
This fact is incontestable especially when he has been twice awarded the journalist of the year aside many other coveted prizes in his chosen field
Currently he hosts front page on JOY FM and Kwaku one on One on TV3, and has put him in a good stead to interview some of the most prominent news makers from different disciplines. And the beauty of it all is the fact that he keeps re-inventing himself, and this is so important especially when you live in the country like Ghana where people are fetish about the shelf-life of TV and radio personalities.
There is a Ghanaian proverb which states literally that; “if you know how to wash your hands, you eat with elders,” the moral of this saying is not lost on Kwaku at all. He has mastered his craft very well, metamorphosing into a strong brand, to the extent that his equity keeps appreciating anytime he sits behind the JOY FM console or the TV3 lights are beamed on him.
His insightful, intelligent, and straight-to-the-point line of questioning endears him to his endless list of admirers. His nice and boyish looks, could easily deceive one to think that he must be in his 40s, and his solid command over the English language, are some of the qualities that have earned him a place of among his many admirers. And these are qualities that even his bitterest critics as well as his enemies will attest to.
When I pointed out to Kwaku Sakyi-Addo that he’s spoken to some of the prominent people in the world from different background in a head to head interview, he said to me: ‘I have not spoken to Barack Obama.’ That is true but I’ll not be surprised if the next time I hear he’s had the opportunity to interview the US President.
Some of the personalities he’s interviewed include current United Nations boss Ban Ki Moon and his two predecessors: Boutros-Boutros Ghali and Kofi Annan. He has also interviewed not only the current Liberian President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf but her predecessor, Charles Taylor-currently answering charges of war crimes at the Hague, Holland.
“Charles Taylor is an interesting subject; he makes good news in quote from a journalistic point of view, the kind of guy who will give you a story anytime. He creates the news,” he said about Mr. Taylor
Then a correspondent for the BBC Focus on Africa programme, Kwaku said his last encounter with the former Liberian president was here in Accra during the summit of African leaders.
Mr. Taylor had been indicted by the UN war crimes. He risked being arrested so he left the summit to get back to Liberia in good time. Before leaving, Kwaku said he waited for him to get an interview on what he thinks about the indictment for his arrest.
He thrust the microphone to Mr. Taylor’ face but “he wouldn’t talk and ‘Focus’ had started and I described what was happening to him.”
Kwaku said he sat in one of the convoys in tow of Taylor’s and described what was happening. Incidentally, Mr. Taylor who was listening to the programme became enraged at Kwaku’s behaviour.
“So when we arrived at the airport, I got out of the car and he also got out of the car and he then came face to face to me wagging his finger saying to me, ‘Kwaku, that was very unprofessional.”
His bodyguards nearly ruffled him when he subsequently attempted taking pictures of Mr Taylor entering the aircraft. It took the intervention of former Vice President Aliu Mahama then close to the scene to prevent any further scuffle.
“I got my job done and it was interesting encounter, and that was the last time I’d spoken to him,” he said though he’s spoken to Taylor’s ex-wife Jewel and lawyer Courtney Griffiths.
He has written for The Economist, Newsweek, the Washington Post, the British Guardian, Telegraph and the Mail. He has also reported for CNN.
He worked for the BBC for a period of thirteen years and in between worked for Reuters News Agency for eight years, leaving the two jobs three years ago.
Kwaku said his first interview for the BBC was with fashion designer Oswald Boateng. Oswald was on his way to Ghana with a number of journalists from the UK to do a fashion show. The interview did not turn out as well as he wanted it to go.
“I think we might have talked for four hours and I was recording everything... and I couldn’t edit it....so I completely lost the plot and nothing good came out of the interview. I was clearly told why it could not be used. The sound quality was bad. But I learnt from that experience.”
Kwaku’s journalism career started more than two decades ago.
“I have been in journalism for 25 years since 1984. Initially for about eight years for Ghana News Agency and subsequently acting editor for the Ghanaian chronicle for about a year.”
It was at the Ghanaian Chronicle that his column the “Animal Farm” won the Columnist of the Year prize in 1994. The idea for the column started during his time at the United States, where he had gone to study at the World Press Institute at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.
Kwaku’s host at the institute was the American actor Harry Morgan who incidentally hosted Kofi Annan, during his time at the institute. During a Republican Party’s Convention Kwaku said Mr. Morgan had encouraged him to speak to Condoleezza Rice, then an adviser to George Bush, Snr- because she was somebody to look out for in the future.
Mr. Morgan also hosted Kofi Annan during his stay at the institute.
Upon his return to Ghana, he changed the name ‘the American Postcard’ to ‘Back to Kokokmlemle’ where he was living at the time. He later settled on “Animal Farm” as a platform to addressing the many injustices in the system at the time.
The twenty-five years as a journalist has taken him around almost everywhere in the globe, where he had shared the same platforms with the likes of UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Funnily enough, Kwaku said he wanted to become either a lawyer or diplomat but poor A-Level results helped bury that dream.
“I stumbled upon journalism because I write poetry and at the time I didn’t do well in my A levels, I was distrusted, so when I wasn’t able to go to University and appear to have an interest and some skill in writing, I was advised to try journalism,” he said.
His love for current affairs even at a very tender age was good enough to shape up his writing skills.
“I remember when I was 12, 13, 14 I was reading Newsweek from cover to cover, my father subscribed to Newsweek. So I have always been interested in national affairs, in international issues about Africa so that combined with my writing skill, I was advised to try journalism. “
He said he felt like “fish in water” when he entered journalism school in 1981.
Kwaku said he had never been attacked in his journalism career though an encounter with the then notorious Salifu Amankwah’s guards in 1985 still hangers at the back of his mind.
“There was a boxing match at the holy gardens. And there were people standing on top of the bridge watching the match. And Salifu Amankwah’s guards were ruffling them up, driving them away from the bridge and I intervened. I told them but you can’t stop people from standing on the bridge.”
“These guys attacked me, beat me, ripped my necklace handed to me by my grandma to my mother to me. I was cooked up in the place with two others. We managed to escape because we had to. The thought that the next morning we would be made to crawl on the streets or go and sweep a gutter was too much, so we managed to escape.”
Kwaku said he later met Salifu Amankwah who had just been released from prison and they patched things up.
“I asked him if he knows me and he said of course, and I said ‘how you remember me. He said you were the man who got attacked by my boys, you lost your necklace in the process.”
Kwaku’s life is not all about interrogating guests on his radio or television shows.
“I go to the gym, I lift weight, I have been in body building for almost 17 years,” He is also into Tae Kwondo and holds a senior belt. He said he’ll be taking his examination this month for the Red Belt and later Black Belt.
“I listen to music. I love African music and reggae and Jazz more Malian, Senegalese, southern African, I don’t do r and b, it doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t do for me, it’s noise, they all sound the same.”
Though he appreciates the creativity in hiplife, he doesn’t think it fits into his life as a 51 year old.
Kwaku is married to Georgette Barnes and, they have three children; Akua Ofeibea, Ohene Kofi and Nine months old Abena Oforiwa Baawa.
He is the second of six siblings. He comes from Akropong in the Eastern Region. His father turns 86 next month.
He was educated at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, School of Communications Studies, and University of Ghana, Legon, University of Wales in Cardiff, the International Institute for Journalism in Berlin, Germany.
He has just completed an MBA in ‘Leadership and Governance’ from the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration-GIMPA.