Mohammed Amin (Mo)

Coming from a rather ‘information sheltered’ upbringing in Kenya, I was exposed rather late to the photographers who make it into the history of photography compilations. Those that I was exposed to, seem unremarkable in comparison. Their work mostly graced the coffee table, or the touristy section of the bookshop, with titles like, Beautiful Kenya, or Vanishing Africa (some of them awesome photographers in their own right).

One of these photographers, Mo (Mohamed Amin), became very well known.

I remember him for two things, his pictures of sunsets – some that showed the sun so high in the sky that the scene could never have been so orange, as though he’d not been bothered to wait, and had thrown on an orange filter to get the effect – and for his images of “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.”

But neither of those are what made him big, big. In 1984 he hit the world stage with what might as well be one of the first links in the chain of starving people pictures.

Aidan Hartley in his absolutely ripping book ‘Zanzibar Chest‘ writes:

“His greatest triumph was TV footage, voiced over by the BBC’s Michael Buerk, of the first pictures to break the 1984 Ethiopian famine. Mo’s pictures whipped up publicity, rock songs and concerts that raised funds for food that probably saved a further two million from hungry deaths. He may have seemed diffident but he was as conceited as hell and never let you forget about his fame

“Mo proudly showed me his office. Covering the walls were framed snaps of Mo with Bob Geldof, Queen Elizabeth giving Mo his MBE medal, Mo with Sidney Pointer, Mo with sundry Third world despots, honorary degrees, TV awards and a platinum disk of the song ‘We are the world’.”

In Africa one has to be able to face blood and guts. Facing the whimsical Idi Amin is likely to make you shake your head in disbelief, while expecting at any moment a sudden death sentence after a joke turned sour.

Mo had one major talent of many, he was always on the spot:

‘He was no media cowboy, no thrill seeker…. he was brave and committed, and his genius was being there when it happened.’ – Michael Buerk

He died in the hijacked Ethiopian Airlines Flight 96 crash, November 23, 1996.

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