New Internationalist

African stories by African journalists

As a journalist, I have heard of Mohamed Amin, best known for his compelling photographs and videos of the 1984 Ethiopian famine. He is also credited with taking exclusive pictures of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. In 1996, he died tragically on board a hijacked Ethiopian airlines flight.

Amin was renowned not only for his passion for African stories but also for his belief that these stories should be told by African journalists. He was firmly opposed to the colonization of foreign correspondents and international news agencies in Africa and wanted to encourage young Africans to take up his cause. Today, his son Salim, whom I met in Nairobi, continues his legacy through the Mohamed Amin Foundation, a training institute for African journalists and A24, an independent pan-African source of news, video and documentaries.

‘The stories told by the international media often lack context and that’s the advantage that we can bring,’ says Salim. The Foundation, based in Nairobi, provides a structured curriculum in broadcast journalism to its students and then tries to get them involved in A24 for practical experience. ‘Most of the time with international agencies, journalists and photographers lose copyright over their work and rarely get compensated appropriately,’ he adds.

The Foundation teaches journalists the value of their work and also how best to market it. And it’s not just for the international media. Salim says that in 2010, 80 per cent of A24’s revenue came from selling content to African broadcasters.

The idea for the training academy came about from the realization that journalism in Africa poses unique challenges. ‘For instance, what would you do if your camera broke in the middle of nowhere? You can’t just walk into a store and buy a new one. We teach our journalists to think on their feet,’ Salim says.

Most international media houses are cutting down on foreign correspondence budgets. Salim believes this provides journalists an opportunity to push themselves forward and change the African narrative that currently revolves around civil war and natural disasters. ‘International media don’t have the time or the budgets to look for the big development stories and this is what our journalists can provide.’

However, Salim also maintains that his students and freelancers need to adhere to the same standards of objectivity and impartiality that all international media aspire to. ‘There is more pressure on us to get it right because we are African,’ he says.

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