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The Cruel Business Of Telling Stories And Bloody Shoes

Salim Amin followed in his famous father’s footsteps by making money with a camera. It’s a business of dollars and a dance with death.

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It’s a rough, tough, brutal business for an entrepreneur; you risk your neck in places where no one wants to go to find stories that everyone wants to know; it’s months of tedium and travelling where one slip can mean death.

This is the news business in Africa that is the life of Kenyan Salim Amin; it is also the cruel business in which his father suffered on his way to an early grave.

Amin will never forget November 23, 1996, the day word came through. His father Mo Amin, a legendary photojournalist, had survived many dangers in more than 30 years on the road, including the loss of an arm in an explosion in the Ethiopian civil war. His life came to a tragic end in the Indian Ocean.

“I was at the gym when I got a call from mum asking me to come home immediately as something had happened to dad’s flight. I only believed it after I identified his body in the Comoros,” he says.

Mo was on an Air Ethiopia flight home to Nairobi when hijackers took the plane. He tried to rally passengers to fight back but the plane ran out of fuel and ditched in the sea, off the coast of the Comoros, killing all but 50 on board.

Entrepreneur, Photojournalist, Kenya, Salim Amin, March 2016

 

“He was still on his feet when the plane crashed trying to get the hijackers off the pilot as he tried to land in the ocean. The hijackers claimed they had a grenade but no evidence of this was found. Mo was flying from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. He had gone to Addis for a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines as we produced the inflight magazine,” says Salim.

Mo died side-by-side with a friend and fellow journalist. Brian Tetley, who was 61, was a British-born, Nairobi-based, king of the keyboard and bon viveur.

“Brian worked with my father for over three decades and they were very close friends. Brian was often the writer while my dad photographed the major news stories, and they also co-authored/produced over two dozen books together. They were like brothers and travelled all over the world on assignments together,” says Salim.

The plane crash cost Salim his father and mentor; the man who remained a mystery right up to his tragic death, an oft told African story of father and son.

“We had a lot of love between us but I hardly saw him and didn’t really know him very well… we didn’t speak much about personal matters, more about work.”

Taking up the camera, for Salim, was bittersweet.

“I started taking pictures when I was eight years old… that’s when he gave me his first camera,” he says.

With this camera, Salim took a picture that appeared in TIME magazine, making him probably the only 10-year-old African to ever have a picture published in a global magazine.

“I was amazed when I saw it actually in print! If I had had any doubts about what I was going to do before that, then those went out of the window when I saw my work in print,” says Salim.

He started working for the media company his father founded – Camerapix.

“My first pay cheque was from Camerapix… he paid me Ksh5,000 for my first month at work in 1992 (then around $100).”

Salim has no regrets in an unforgiving business.

“I don’t think I would want to ever do anything else… definitely I would want to be doing the same thing in another life.”

This is a trade where you can very easily die, unsung, chasing a story. Salim had his fair share.

“I remember being bombed by government forces in Sudan during the civil war, which was terrifying, the dangers of covering Somalia in the 1990s during Operation Restore Hope, the loss of my friends and colleagues Dan Eldon, Anthony Macharia and Hos Maina in Somalia in 1993, and the genocide in Rwanda which was the most disturbing and brutal story I had ever covered,” says Salim.

Eldon, an English-born Kenyan photojournalist, with Kenyans, Macharia and Maina, were killed by an angry mob in Mogadishu in 1993, in the days when occupying US forces struggled to keep order.

Another journalist who survived that violent day is Angus Shaw, who spent 40 years covering eight wars, from his base in Harare, Zimbabwe.

“We were at the hotel that morning when we heard an explosion five blocks away. We decided to go down and have a look,” recollects Shaw.

“The Camerapix crew drove ahead of us as we headed to the compound where the explosion took place and as we got there, we saw a swelling crowd. The crowd erupted into extreme anger after seeing the carnage and deaths after the bombings of that narrow street, they started throwing stones at our small press convoy yelling ‘Yankies go home’. Eldon had disappeared inside this angry crowd when they started throwing stones. Every photojournalist wanted the best picture so they hardly paid attention to the possible dangers.”

What followed will haunt Shaw forever.

“I saw a handful of people armed with AK-47 rifles firing shots and I saw a nice young man, Macharia, going down. He had been shot. We realized this was getting out of hand and we started driving away and at that point, they had started shooting at our car which was about 25 meters away.”

Days passed with no trace of the 23-year-old Eldon, last seen disappearing into the angry crowd.

“One morning we woke up to the sight of Dan’s bloody shoes at the doorstep of our hotel. This was a warning to us.”

Shaw says, as they were wrapping Eldon’s belongings, Mo reminded the press corps that covering atrocities was more than reporting numbers.

“When you start wrapping the belongings of your own, then you discover that that’s what people go through all over the world,” says Shaw.

Salim wishes the continent that gave birth to many great journalists could spare a thought for their hardships.

“I wish Africans would celebrate journalists more… we are seen as ‘lowly’ people and in a corrupt profession by many around the continent, and unfortunately even African media organizations do not celebrate African journalists enough. My father was recognized and decorated more outside Africa than within. We should do more and maybe have a commemoration day each year for African journalists that is a celebration of their sacrifices and contributions.”

Salim found himself at the helm of his late father’s business at the age of 26.

“I had no experience at running a company; luckily my father was good at filing all his work so I had to study his documents and correspondences,” he says.

“The first day was chaotic. We had to re-register and restructure the company. We started by giving everybody their dues, close the company and re-employ them again under the new registered company with new shareholding. It never really struck me that I was now running the company, it just happened as there was no succession plan. I had no choice.”

Salim concedes he has to move with the times.

Media and development expert, Rashweat Mukundu, says the internet is changing the news business.

“Traditional models of doing business are being challenged, yet some traditional elements, that include the human touch, will remain necessary, yet more enhanced by ICTs. We are in an era of either business adapts or dies,” he says.

Bruce Mutsvairo, media professor at Northumbria University in Britain, says Africa should plough its own furrow.

“Our innovations should underscore, support and provide the basis for Africa’s cultural and economic needs. We have to come with our own innovations, even if they get rejected in the West.”

In Mo’s day, it was all about hard news, hotspots and wars. The news business these days is more about fashion and business, says Salim. With more than four million images of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and 8,000 hours of video footage, Camerapix Archive is the largest library in Africa.

“Our only asset is our archives. I am not so sure I would attach any monetary value on the company. It’s a family business that I would not dream of selling.”

Like many in the media industry, Salim struggles to make money as there is a lot of free content floating around.

“We are producing a lot of content; it’s not giving us much revenue as yet. So we have to sell our content to multiple broadcasters. There are more opportunities presented through mobile devices but expensive data remains the main impediment.”

Salim plans to ease himself out of the business to make way for the next generation.

“We did the first private-public partnership with a local university where we are also helping develop their postgraduate degree. We have just moved into the Multimedia University where our production team is housed; in exchange we are helping them develop their master’s program.”

Another chapter for Africa – a great story that many journalists have paid with their lives to tell.

Entrepreneurs

Enterprise And Traceable Tea From Tanzania

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Tahira Nizari; images supplied

How this Tanzanian entrepreneur’s tea startup is weathering the Covid-19 storm.

When Tahira Nizari started her social enterprise Kazi Yetu in Tanzania’s bustling city, Dar es Salaam, with her business partner and husband, Hendrik Buermann, almost two years ago, she didn’t anticipate the sheer scope of her big idea.

But she also didn’t expect that, because of an employee’s exposure to the coronavirus in April, she and her entire team would be quarantining for two weeks, stalling work in a year that she had projected growth for her company. With the pandemic’s onset, she lost most of her customer base in Tanzania, albeit temporarily, and was forced to come up with a game-plan and quickly pivot.

“It’s been an economic recession overnight, more or less,” says Nizari.

With family roots in Tanzania, and armed with formal degrees from Dubai and Canada, and experience in economic inclusion in the non-profit development sector, Nizari aimed to set a benchmark in the agribusiness sector in Tanzania through value-addition and by employing local women in her factory based in Dar es Salaam to produce “a traceable product” for the local and international market.

“Right now, tea is just exported in bulk completely (from Tanzania) and then all the jobs thereafter in that value chain are done abroad. So what we said was ‘let’s redistribute that job creation, let’s bring it back to Tanzania and let’s create a facility in which we can hire workers all locally and have a product that is 100% made in Tanzania’,” says Nizari. After extensive research in multiple target markets, both locally and abroad, building relationships with 250 Tanzanian farmers, setting up a factory exclusively employing local and previously-unemployed women, and many iterations of the seven blends of its flagship Tanzania Tea Collection using local flavors and spices, Kazi Yetu was ready to expand its scope in 2020.

“We were following our business plan… but we were really cautious and risk-averse (in 2018 and 2019). And then, we said, ‘you know what, when 2020 hits, it’s going to be growth’.”

Nizari was planning on reaching up to 4,000 farmers, buy machinery from China, grow the local B2B customer base, permanently employ all the women at the factory and begin to export on a larger scale after the launch of Kazi Yetu’s online store.

But when the coronavirus hit the local and international markets, things started looking very bleak, especially since Kazi Yetu is currently fully self-funded.

 Not only did it lose almost all of its monthly income, but the farmers stopped meeting in groups for the training, so the supply chain was disrupted.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution.”

The factory also had to introduce safety protocols for employees at work and at home, as well as reduce the number of people working at any given time in order to adhere to social distancing.

An employee’s father also died of the coronavirus, which forced Nizari to ask everyone involved with Kazi Yetu to quarantine at home for 14 days.

“So what we said was, ‘look, we don’t want to risk their safety, but we also don’t want to risk their economic well-being’. So we just paid all of them their full-time salary,” says Nizari.

“Generally, our operational costs have been really hard to cover right now… but it’s okay, because it made us pivot.”

It inspired Nizari to expedite Kazi Yetu’s plans to export, kickstart the online store sooner than anticipated and build up stock to send to Germany, rather than just focus on the Tanzanian market, which is temporarily quite small. Exporting has been an issue, given limited shipping at the moment, but the European market proved to be a pleasant surprise for Nizari.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution,” she says.

Slowly, the factory is moving back to normal operations and Nizari is trying her best to ensure a steady income for the employees. Kazi Yetu is also now available on local delivery applications in Tanzania, so people can order tea to their doorsteps.

Looking ahead, Nizari hopes to scale up exporting through the online store and retailers, whether in Europe, or also in markets like South Africa where products from sub-Saharan Africa are popular, and North America where innovative African products are in demand.

“We want our product to be competing with products made in Europe, and for example, Sri Lankan tea, Indian tea and Chinese tea. We want Tanzanian products to be well-regarded,” she adds.

Since the teas are traceable, which is a unique selling point, Kazi Yetu is also working on an app that uses blockchain to allow customers to access data on the tea they purchase, from the farm level, all the way to their cups. This way, they will know first-hand the impact the product has.

In addition, Nizari is working on a farm-hub model to build Kazi Yetu’s supply chain by helping them produce better raw products through a no-interest investment that can be paid back with their final product over time.

“The whole ‘economy versus safety’ debate… it’s something we have to think about moving forward… You can’t just operate as a business that makes money, you have to think about… the well-being of your workplace, the well-being of everyone in your supply chain… And I think this is where social enterprises really come in,” Nizari adds.

And a hot cup of locally-produced tea can certainly help take forward any such deliberations.

By Inaara Gangji

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Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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