Sunday, December 5, 2010

A list of amazing photo-journalists in Kenya, Africa ... we owe them more...

I have found an article I wrote last year that reminded me what amazing hands have held cameras in my part of Africa! They risked life and limb to bring our eyes a thousand words in a photo. We owe them so much. On International Press Freedom Day (2009)we remembered them in a special way as Ramadhan launched his wonderful documentary- Uncovering the media.(Kenya) I published this article in the Daily Nation then.

No slight.. Please add missing names of photographers you know in comments to this article if you can. I notice it is so hard to find Kenyan Photographers on the web, you have to know the name first. There is facebook page but it only has a few active members of the group.

I am writing about photographers here from the point of view of the documentary "Uncovering the media", Ramadhan's life and the launch function.

From the Brave and ever inspiring Mo Amin, (Mohammed Amin) there has been a silent file of keen dedicated photo-journalists in Kenya and beyond ...I have great memories of meetings with some of them. When I google them in general and find them not on one good page from their papers, I wonder what their main media owes them in other ways. Read below an analysis on Uncovering the media by Ramadhan Khamis who has made many documentaries including one on the Nubi of Kenya. For some reason, reality has it that we owe so much to these Muslim brothers of ours.. and the others and sisters of course are no less.. but I must say this is impressive.

Mohamed Amin (Mo Amin, (died on duty on a hijacked plane on his way back from Ethiopia)

Yusuf Wachira
Yahya Mohamed
Baraka Karama
Noor Khamis

Rebecca Nduko (attacked during work)

William Oile
Stephen Mudiari
Mathenge Joseph
Paul Waweru

Joan Pereruan
Rebecca Nduku
Joy Wanja
Peterson Githaiga

Jacob Otieno
Liz Gichuki (attacked during work by City Council Police or askaris)
Robert Gicheru (cheated death but was hit on the forehead during the post poll violence of 2007/8)
and award winning... Boniface Mwangi

Hos Maina (the late, shot during work)
Dan Eldon (died serving )
Brian Tetley (died serving)
Anthony Macharia (died serving) (sound)

I was a special guest at the launch of Uncovering the media in May 2009

Uncovering the Media- Kenya

By Philo Ikonya

Behind Uncovering the Media- Kenya, a documentary a good audience watched to celebrate World Press Freedom before a discussion with an eminent panel is the strikingly unassuming photojournalist Khamis Ramadhan.

The documentary available on CD from Communityimages was hailed as a remarkable biography of media in Kenya.

It brings out the big questions on women in the media and the deprivation of local content as Kenyans are assailed by soaps and other features from the North and South.

Essential issues for development of media and unresolved legal matters that keep journalists checked as the fourth estate are addressed in Uncovering the Media.

Bantu Mwaura, a lecturer and poet interviewed in the documentary decries our alienation from our selves through our own media: “If we see so little of Africa and we are in Nairobi, what do the others get?” he poses passionately. The documentary rages on about what photojournalists do not get for all their good work.

Ramadhan is more than self effacing in gatherings and corridors believing that the images will speak if they are allowed to. Followed up for this interview at his office, it was hard to get the man to talk about himself.

All his family; wife Mariam and teenagers daughter Rahma and son Ruhullah, sat in the office doing different things but playing an active role in general discussion. My son and I have walked over to Chester House to meet Ramadhan Khamis on this Sunday afternoon. My son keeps nudging me since I had told him I had come to meet a Very Important Person and that is why I was ready to interview him on a Sunday afternoon. After that, I told him we could go for a walk.

Ramadhan’s family. I had to ask if this has got anything to do with one not praising themselves as a religious tenet and Mariam seemed to agree.

Khamis is a good example of those who journalists who put their life in the line in what is becoming the tradition started by the great Mo Amin.

The list is long: Yusuf Wachira, Yahya Mohammed and Noor Khamis. A number of such photojournalists have passed on but not leaving us, like Mo, because of their indelible images.

The late Hos Maina, Soundman Antony Macharia, Dan Eldon, Wallace Gichere, died in the line of duty; and the latter as an unforgettable icon of the struggle Kenya has had for media freedom.

But Khamis’s vision in life, “It is better to die on our feet than to live on our knees,” words of Kenya’s foremost freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi, reveals that there are photojournalists with a mission deep and sacred. These words emblazoned on a wall hanging greet you as you sit down in his office.

The click of the camera and the image we get preceded by such a vision are important in the struggle to live freedom.

Prof. Nyutho eloquently explained that these photojournalists and others in life discover and use their passion, not just brain, early in life.

Prof. Nyutho explained to younger Kenyans who are losing out on knowing their heroes who are not feted locally how Mo shook the earth with his images from Ethiopia, revealing the ravaging famine of the times there. Mo died in a plane crash on his way from Somalia in 1994.

All these photojournalists and others have, like Ramadhan contributed a lot, without expecting accolades and honors. But indeed they deserve them.

A fine example through and through Ramadhan like a number of self-taught photojournalists and cartoonists holds two awards one received in 2003 and the other in 2004 for his work.

Indeed, Mariam is right, Khamis appears to be at the service of some higher goal and patiently immolating his talent for our good.

Ramadhan nearly escaped recognition in the hall where the documentary Uncovering the Media was launched save for that the MC, the renowned writer and dramatist John Sibi Okumu had to blow the whistle, calling not just Ramadhan but also all those who participated in the making of the documentary for introductions.

The fast paced and well choreographed moving story told in 31 mins and 30 seconds, about Media Persons baring themselves begins with a touching account from local photojournalists.

The whole documentary becomes one big picture which if you agree one photograph can be worth a thousand words, becomes infinitely valuable.

A caption – Wallace Gichere died a few weeks after the completion of this documentary- flashes below Gichere’s image on his bed, explaining his tragedy.

Gichere is interviewed extensively in the documentary which he did not live to watch. He is the photojournalist who was thrown down from a fourth floor flat by Kenyan security forces and he got paralysed waist down.

Finally awarded money for damages; what will linger forever in his now silent mind and on our pained consciences, are the man’s pain and struggle to break the silence on his plight when the money awarded for damages was not forthcoming. Indeed he died fighting for he had to stage a hunger strike before he could get the damages awarded him delivered.

The images in the documentary will remain with you; the same way as photojournalists tell us images of pain, death and suffering remain with them and always revisit them before they go to sleep daily.

Stephen Mudiari’s call for counseling for journalists is not misplaced. One is touched for one by one, from Liz Gichuki; who tells of her beatings by City Council askaris to Jacob Otieno; whose pain is so alive on every nerve of his face will leave you in tears. Otieno broke down during the interview upon recalling photos he took at an accident scene ten years ago.

You ask, before you see Rebecca Nduku describe the pain a mother feels taking a photo of a hungry child out there, another hungry child, how journalists go so unnoticed in our society sometimes much in the same way as the hungry and silent child, voiceless and surrounded by cold stones and an empty bowl; startled by pain whose image they bring to us.

You ask many questions as Robert Gicheru narrates long moments in the gutter after a bullet skimmed his forehead. You see the dark days, and still the darkness remains. To the present, photojournalists who have done amazing work remain in background their merits benefiting others.

Baraka Karama’s brought Barack Obama’s Kenyan connections to the limelight but was shunted aside when Obama became known for who he is with a media house claiming the discovery.

The history of photojournalists just as that of correspondents, as Oloo Janak of the Correspondents Association says in the documentary has been one of misery thus far.

Beyond that, the documentary also raises all the fundamental questions facing our media today. From poor pay to lack of transport making reporters ready recipients of transport money from politicians and NGOs which could easily be abused to the Books and Periodicals Act.

Why should we tolerate a colonial prescription for the execution of a million shillings bond, came the well needed indictment of the law by David Matende. He queries too the unjust Freedom of Information which still protects government secrets.

Indeed, Mburu Muchoki bore the brunt of this law last year as he languished in jails. Just why have we allowed the imprisonment of the entire alternative media calling it gutter press?

Just how do such bonds leave room for people to create themselves jobs in the media and be free to express themselves without watching over their shoulders? Isn’t this already an abuse of freedom in a poor developing country? The questions shot from every corner in the debate that ensued after the show.

Why does Kenya, a country that led with community FM radios go so much for profit driven media neglecting this medium which could educate us out of poverty? Grace Githaiga, a community media trainer asks.

Women in the documentary speak of sexual exploitation albeit shyly; one of them charmingly winks to say yes, there is sexual harassment and sexual promotions! The wink calls for stronger voices on issues. But watch that space, Khamis is not done with the screen and other issues ranging from elections, violence and the legal issues that had the late Walter Gichere on the cross for so long.


  1. There was also Steve Ouma (Nation) who captured great shots in 1992 during the Ford rallies.

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