Of all Kenyan photojournalists, Mohamed Amin is still the best known. His death aboard the hijacked Ethiopian airliner, flight 961, some 22 years ago, shocked the world and for a simple reason.
His epic images about the famine in Ethiopia allowed the world to see, for the first time, the gravity of the crisis.
In an exclusive story, first published by the Nation, Amin warned that “between five and seven million people could die in the next two months if the world does not act”.
This story and accompanying images of death and despair were picked by all media houses.
It forced the world to act and also saw top musicians compose the song “We are the World” to rally everyone to help Ethiopia out of famine.
It also saw Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organise the Live Aid Concert in July 1985 at Wembley Stadium, which raised $127 million.
Amin had also lost his arm in Ethiopia in 1991 as he covered an ammunition dump and he had to use a prosthetic arm, which allowed him to operate his lens.
It was in Ethiopia that Mo, as he was better known, earned more accolades and calamities.
“My father was best known as a great frontline photojournalist but he spent more time documenting his country’s beauty, culture, people and leaders than anything else,” Salim Amin writes in a new coffee table book: Kenya Through my Father’s Eyes.
The foreword is written by Chip Duncan, a filmmaker and author, who describes photojournalists — such as Mo — as “risk takers … who put the power of story above their own comfort and safety”. And that is how Mo lived.
On November 23, 1996, Mo was on board Ethiopian Airlines flight 961 when it crashed off Comoros during a botched hijacking together with his Camerapix colleague Brian Tetley. It was a tragic story.
The plane under Captain Leul Abate was on the regular Addis Ababa-Nairobi-Brazzaville-Lagos-Abidjan route when it was taken over by some Ethiopian hijackers who demanded to be flown to Australia to seek political asylum.
They claimed they had a bomb. The only problem was that the plane did not have fuel to reach Australia and Captain Abate told the hijackers as much as he flew south.
It was his third dalliance with hijackers. “Keep flying,” one of the hijackers ordered Capt Abate, who was trying to convince them to let him land and fuel the plane.
After four hours of flying — having overflown Nairobi — he told them: “There is an island here, which is way out of Africa so this is your last chance to refuel. They said no, we don’t need any refuelling. We go as far as the aircraft flies then we crash …” and I said, “If you don’t want to reach your aim, and you want to die in the air why do you have to kill all those innocent people,” and they said “never mind, we are making history”.
Capt Yonus Mekuria was the co-pilot. “I never for a moment thought that anybody, in his right mind sitting there watching the fuel gauge going down and letting it go to empty,” Capt Mekuria would later tell a TV station.
The island below was Comoros and was the only place they could either land to refuel or ditch.
“I told the lead hijacker, guy we have 30 minutes to leave. Unless you allow me to land and refuel.”
At 21,000 feet, both engines stopped and the captain started preparing to crash land the 150-tonne Boeing 767, which was falling out of the sky at 2,000 feet per minute but still moving at 320km per hour.
The captain knew he could only glide using the flaps for less than 65 kilometres before crashing.
He then decided to ditch the plane 500 metres off Le Galawa Beach Hotel near Mitsamiouli at the northern end of Grande Comore island — where they could easily be rescued.
But at a speed of more than 300kph, the plane cartwheeled and broke apart killing, among many others, Amin and his co-writer Tetley.
The three hijackers were among the dead. It is now known that the plane hit a coral reef below the water — which did most of the damage as many were trapped inside the fuselage.
Before it crashed, Mo is said to have attempted to rally the passengers against the hijackers. Others claim he was trying to negotiate.
The new book by his son, the one who keeps his company Camerapix running, is the photographic story of Kenya giving a keen reader a chance to see some images never seen before.
While the book is powerful on images, the same cannot be said of the text and general editing.
Some pictures have no captions, and some of the figures are not identified.
More so, the book would have been powerful had the writer took time to research on the political moments some of the images were taken — and refreshed the reader with the dramatic moments.
For instance, there was never an official constitutional drafting group, which wanted to limit Moi’s ascendancy to presidency.
What we had was a group campaigning to have parliament change the constitution to thwart Moi from acting for 90 days pending elections and this was outfoxed by Charles Njonjo.
And we don’t seem to do justice to Moi by summarising his political life in less than 200 words and pictures on Nyayo era have no captions.
Again, I am not sure why Tom Mboya is only remembered for organising the airlift when it is well-known that he was the architect of labour movement in Kenya, and was actually one of the negotiators for Kenya’s freedom at Lancaster.
Actually, the British and Americans thought he would be a better Kenyan leader than Jomo.
Later on, he would be one of the brains behind the Sessional Paper No. 10, which defined Kenya’s economic policies after independence plus many other accolades.
On the airlift, it did not start in 1953 (which was the start of Mau Mau war and emergency period), but in 1959 when 89 students left.
Similarly, why Mwai Kibaki’s story does not include his years as Moi’s vice-president is a minus to details and with the two images on him, any person with no prior knowledge of Mr Kibaki would hardly know anything about him — or his presidency.
The book allows us, however, to see the role played by Mo in bringing out conservation stories.
It was his images on Ahmed, the Marsabit elephant, which earned presidential protection, thanks to its long tusks each weighing about 70kg.
There is also the story of George and Joy Adamson — who devoted their lives preserving both Meru National Parks and Kora National Reserve.
Joy would later write a book, Born Free, which captured the story of Elsa, the lioness cub that she had domesticated.
Their tragic deaths captured the nation’s attention and I am not sure whether Mo went back to their resting places.
There is much more on conservation in this book — but I doubt whether the decimation of elephants in the 70s and 80s could be blamed on poachers with guns and bows and arrows rather than a cartel that included government officials.
I think the same network that existed in 1970s still exists with the same markets.
While the actual hunting by big-game hunters had stopped, the wanton destruction was left to ordinary poachers who fed to the networks.
There are other iconic images on Safari Rally, athletes including the legendary Kipchoge Keino, and horse racing.
The problem is that the book is not organised in any chronological order of events or themes.
For instance, the pictorial part on Baba ya Simba (George Adamson) on page 47 could have been merged with “She was Born Free” on page 133.
Overall, the most interesting pictures are on the 1970s fashion.
But what we lack is the context on which Amin took all those images that have been included in the book — and one is left with the feeling that it was done in a rush by the editorial team.
As a plus, the book comes out with augmented reality content — which is a first in the country and where you can download a video by scanning an image in the book.
But by selling it at more than $200 dollars (Sh20,200), it appears that Salim Amin has cut out big fans of Mo from accessing this book.
Had a political scientist or historian gone through this work, it would have added much more value to it and identified the many errors.
For instance, Mboya was not born in 1969 (page 25) — that is when he died. Moi’s other name was Toroitich not “Toroitch”.
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was not vice-president in 1978 (page 19) and Nairobi did not achieve city status in 1919 (page 141) but in 1950, when it was elevated from municipal status.
Before 1919, Nairobi was governed by a municipal committee which was replaced with a structured municipality until 1950.
Kenya Through My Father’s Eyes, however, allows us to see the country that Mo walked through.
The events that he covered and his sense of imagination while taking images.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.