The turmoil of Africa’s emergence into the 20th century
has long been the focus of the critical eye of the Western
World. From exploration to exploitation; from war-torn horror
to wildlife wonder; it has all been exposed to the relentless
gaze of the international press. No one has caught its pain
and passion more incisively than Mohamed Amin, photographer
and front-line cameraman extraordinaire.
He was the most
famous photojournalist in the world, making news as often
as he covered it. “Mo” trained his unwavering lens on every
aspect of African life, never shying from the tragedy, never
failing to exult the success. He was born into an Africa at
the high noon of colonial decline and by his early teens was
already documenting events which were soon to dominate world
news. He witnessed and recorded the alternating currents
of his beloved continent and beyond, projecting those images
across the world, sometimes shocking, sometimes delighting millions
of television viewers and newspaper readers.
His coverage of the 1984 Ethiopia famine proved so compelling
that it inspired a collective global conscience and became the
catalyst for the greatest ever act of giving. Unquestionably,
it also saved the lives of millions of men, women and children.
The concerts of Band Aid & Live Aid and songs “We are the World” and
“Do they know it is Christmas” were a direct result of
Mo Amin’s moving television images.
Born in Kenya in 1943, the second son of a poor railway worker,
Mo was soon faced with racism, an inevitable product of colonialism.
He never forgot those underdog years and fought against prejudice
for the rest of his life.
From the time he acquired his first camera, a box brownie,
Mo’s future was determined. Quickly he learned photographic and
darkroom skills and was already applying them to commercial use when
he went to secondary school in the then Tanganyika.
In a career spanning more than 30 years, Mo covered
every major event in Africa and beyond, braving torture,
surviving bombs and bullets, overcoming disability to
return to camera work within six months of losing his arm,
to emerge as the most decorated news cameraman of all time.
His frenetic life was cut tragically short when, in November 1996,
hijackers took over an Ethiopian airliner forcing it to ditch
in the Indian Ocean killing 123 passengers and crew. Mo died on
his feet still negotiating with the terrorists. By any standards,
Mo’s life was truly remarkable; action-packed,
full of pain and passion and inseparable from the troubled
chronicle of emergent Africa.
At the end of 1997, David Johnson, an American and Christel de Wit,
a South African, collaborated with Salim Amin, Mo’s only son,
to launch The Mohamed Amin Foundation’s Broadcast Television Training
Centre, a professional media training centre based in Nairobi, Kenya.