Mo and Me: African Image-maker Extraordinaire

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Mohamed “Mo” Amin captured Africa‘s pain and passion like no other before him.

The Kenyan photographer and front-line news cameraman  trained his unwavering lens on every aspect of African life, bringing some of the continent’s most important stories to the world.

Perhaps his most influential report was his coverage of the 1984 Ethiopian famine, which inspired a collective global conscience and the greatest act of giving in the 20th century through We Are The World, Live Aid, Heal the World and Live 8.

Mo’s remarkable life was cut tragically short in November 1996, when hijackers took over an Ethiopian airliner and forced it to crash-land in the Indian Ocean, killing 123 passengers and crew, including Mo.

By any standards, Mo’s life was truly extraordinary; action-packed, full of pain and passion and inseparable from the troubled chronicle of emergent Africa.

During his career, Mo covered some of the most important events on the continent of Africa [Screengrab/Al Jazeera] 

‘Mo and Me’, the first documentary series to be shown on Al Jazeera English, tells the story of this legendary figure.

Al Jazeera recently spoke with Mo’s son, Salim Amin, about carrying on his father’s mission and the role of photojournalism in Africa.

Al Jazeera: You say in the film that you have this recurring nightmare that you’re never going to live up to the immense work of your father. How do you feel about that now?

Salim Amin: I still have the same nightmare but I’ve come to terms with his life, which was truly unique; both in an African and a global context. The body of work I’ve now spent time looking at, it’s phenomenal – over three million images that he clicked in 40-odd years.

Al Jazeera: How do you think Africa has changed in the two decades since his passing? 

Amin: It’s changed a lot. In some ways, it’s changed a lot more in the last two decades than it did in the last 50 years before that. The technology has been a huge leap, things like mobile money and all these apps and wonderful innovations. 

Leadership has been a massive problem. Kenya alone, in 2017, we had this massive election problem, in 2007, we had post-election violence, in South Africa, we’ve got a whole change of guard with people getting fed up with corruption so some things haven’t changed, they’ve gotten worse.

Mo made a documentary on Ethiopia’s former emperor, Haile Selassie and took the final photographs of Selassie [Screengrab/Mohamed Amin]

Al Jazeera: How dangerous is it still to film in many parts of the continent?

Amin: When my father was operating, one of the things that he taught me was how to get in and out of war situations and, for him, no matter how gung-ho or passionate he was, no story was ever worth dying for. He said, “I’m not afraid of the bullet with my name on it, but I don’t want to be killed by the one that says ‘to whom it may concern’. 

Going into a warzone, he said the first thing I look for is the exit. It’s not how to get into a warzone, it’s how to get out, because there’s no point going to these places and putting your life on the line if nobody sees your pictures.

When my father did die it was a “to whom it may concern” sort of a situation. It was a case of his luck running out, not just his luck but a lot of other people. It was a freak accident, it was an unnecessary hijacking, nobody has ever been able to explain how they got on that plane.

Al Jazeera: And your father tried until the very end to convince them to stop.

Amin: Yeah, he had spent most of his life negotiating with armed maniacs, that was what he did for a living and so he tried, he did everything he could. Remember this was before 9/11, had it been post-9/11, I think 100 people would have stood up and jumped on top of these guys and tried to take the plane back.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Source: Al Jazeera

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