x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Continent finds voice of its own

A media company owner is set to launch a news channel that will allow 'Africans to tell the African story'.

Salim Amin is only weeks away from launching A24 Media, the first step towards a news network.
Salim Amin is only weeks away from launching A24 Media, the first step towards a news network.

NAIROBI // Salim Amin's office in a residential neighbourhood in Kenya is like a museum to his late father, Mohamed Amin, one of Africa's most famous photographers. The front page of a Kenyan newspaper with the headline announcing his father's death in a plane crash hangs on the wall. Below that sits the prosthetic arm he wore, salvaged from the plane wreckage. It is still in its metal suitcase.

On the wall are many photos of Mohamed Amin with world leaders such as Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, and George H W Bush, the former US president. There is also a framed platinum record of We are the World, the song inspired by his photos of famine in Ethiopia. Salim Amin has large shoes to fill as he follows in his father's footsteps. He has taken over his father's media company, Camerapix, and he has plans to launch a 24-hour news channel.

"I have this recurring nightmare of him walking into this office and screaming at me and saying 'what have you done to my company?'" Mr Amin said. This latest venture into television news would make his father proud. The Amin family knows a lot about media coverage on the world's most under-represented continent. So when Mr Amin announced plans to start Africa's first 24-hour news channel, analysts said the network would do for Africa what al Jazeera did for Middle Eastern media.

Mr Amin is weeks away from launching A24 Media, the first step towards a news network. A24 Media will be a news agency for freelance photographers and television reporters from across Africa. Freelancers will send their images to A24, and the agency will market them to international broadcasters. "No one has ever tried this in Africa, especially for video," Mr Amin said. "It's changing the whole agency model."

The journalists will get a 60 per cent cut from the sale of their work and they will keep the copyright. A24 will be a recruiting tool for the network, which Mr Amin plans to launch within a year if the agency is successful. The freelancers who submit the best content to the agency will become bureau chiefs for the network. "I want African journalists to tell the African story," he said. "For far too long we have relied on other journalists to tell our story."

For Mr Amin, telling the African story is his way of continuing his father's legacy. "I think he would have been very happy to see we are going back to the roots of proper journalism on this continent," he said. "He would have liked that we are giving journalists on this continent a chance to earn a decent living from their content." Mr Amin, 38, has his father's penetrating eyes, wry grin and goatee. His black hair is thinning on top, but he is not yet bald like his father. He fills a room with his jovial personality and large, stocky frame. But it was his father who was larger than life.

A Kenyan of Indian descent, Mohamed Amin won countless awards covering every major event on the continent for four decades. It was his photos of starving Ethiopians during the 1984 famine that shocked the world and resulted in an outpouring of food aid. He covered wars in Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Uganda and was close friends with presidents and warlords. In 1991, he lost his arm covering an explosion at an Ethiopian ammunition dump. Three months later, he was back on the job with a prosthetic arm made by Nasa, the US space agency.

In 1996, Mohamed Amin, 53, was on an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. The plane was hijacked and he died when the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the Indian Ocean. In order to amass more than three million images, the world's largest archive of Africa, Mohamed Amin travelled 10 months of the year at the expense of his family life. Since his father's death, Salim Amin has had to deal with unresolved issues with the man he idolised but never knew.

"I never saw him," he said. "My mum basically brought me up. I harboured a lot of bitterness because of that." To help him come to terms with their strained relationship, Mr Amin made a documentary about his father's life called Mo and Me. In the film, Mr Amin retraces his father's footsteps visiting some of the places that made his career. "Making the film I learnt that we are very similar in a lot of ways," he said. "I think I inherited the passion from him to tell the African story."