How Mo Amin Inspired Change in Ethiopia

The 1984 Ethiopia famine seen through the lens of photojournalist Mohamed 'Mo' Amin.

The starving (1984) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

The closest thing to hell on earth

Ethiopian famine victims (1984) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

How Mo Amin Inspired Change in Ethiopia 1

Mohamed Amin travelled to Korem in northern Ethiopia on 9 October 1984. He captured the horrors he witnessed on film and through photographs. In turn, the world fell silent and woke up to the tragedy of this Biblical famine. Thousands were dying on the fields, in the freezing rain and under the searing sun. Thousands were dying, not due to war or disease, but hunger. If one had the strength to look for shelter and food, they would find none.

Mohamed Amin filming the Ethiopia famine (1984)Mohamed Amin Foundation

How Mo Amin Inspired Change in Ethiopia 2

Gently, caringly, Mohamed Amin moved among the dying and the dead with only his cameras, in the hope that he could share this story and find the much needed help. What passed between him and the victims, and thus through his lens, was so elemental and so profound that, four days later, it would change the world.

Mohamed Amin filming the Ethiopian famine (1984)Mohamed Amin Foundation

Mohamed Amin felt crushed, disheartened by the disaster in Korem. He later said that nothing that he had witnessed in 25 years of covering wars, disasters, riots, and even the previous Ethiopian famine could have prepared him for this.

Bereaved families (1984) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

"Ethiopia has changed me. Definitely, it’s changed me. Before the 1984 story in Ethiopia, anything that I filmed was to me always just a story. I couldn’t have cared less. There’s not much you can do in most situations. I was just doing a job and that was it."
Mohamed Amin

Mohamed Amin and Michael Buerk (1985)Mohamed Amin Foundation

"But here in Ethiopia, it was different because what we were looking at, simply in terms of numbers, were hundreds of thousands of people who were victims of a situation. First of all, they were dying simply because there was no food."
Mohamed Amin

Ethiopian famine victims (1984) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

"Every time I think of this particular situation, I get tears in my eyes because it’s not imaginable that there are people, particularly in the case of the very proud Ethiopian people, who just took it for granted that they were going to die. They were not going to get the food. They were dying for months and months, probably for some years. The government couldn’t care less. The world couldn’t care less. They were totally helpless themselves. They couldn’t do anything for themselves."
Mohamed Amin

Biblical famine (1984) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

"It’s like the Holocaust, but these are not the victims of hatred — only of indifference.  In Europe, millions of tons of grain lie rotting in stores — too much for people already glutted with the realization of plenty. Here in Korem, they shrivel before your eyes, wasted with the pain of starving and yet in their bearing, there is dignity to match the hopelessness in their eyes. It’s like something out of the Bible."
Mohamed Amin

Ethiopian famine victims (1985) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

The day the world woke up

Mohamed Amin and Bob Geldof (1985)Mohamed Amin Foundation

Mohamed Amin's photographs were published in every newspaper across the globe. The world saw the brutal reality of the famine. In response, political activist and musician Bob Geldof created the charity group Band Aid and organised the Live Aid concert to raise money for Ethiopia.

Bob Geldof with famine victims (1985) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

“Sometime in the last days of October 1984, I turned on the television and saw something that was to change my life. I was confronted by something so horrendous, I was wrenched violently from the complacency of another rather dispiriting day and pinioned, unable to turn away from the misery of another world inhabited by people only recognisable as humans by their magnificent dignity.”
Bob Geldof

Grain for Ethiopian famine (1985) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

"I do not know why Mo Amin’s pictures did this to me. God knows, if you watch an average night’s news, you are confronted with enough scenes of horror to seriously question man’s sanity."
Bob Geldof

Ethiopian famine victims (1985) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

"But the pitiless, unrelenting gaze of this camera was different. Somehow, this was not objective journalism but confrontation. There was a dare here: ‘I dare you to turn away, I dare you to do nothing’. Mo Amin had succeeded above all else in showing you his own disgust and shame and anger and making it yours also.”
Bob Geldof

We Are The World songMohamed Amin Foundation

We are the World

We Are The World songMohamed Amin Foundation

America responded by setting up USA for Africa. Spearheaded by Harry Belafonte and Ken Kragen, the organisation was able to bring together many of the top US music stars in Los Angeles. Through the night of 27 January 1985 and into the next morning, the worldwide hit song, We Are the World, was brought to life.

Mohamed Amin with the 'We are the World' platinum disc by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

The song was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, who were joined by Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, and many others. It sold in its millions and raised more than USD50 million for victims of the Ethiopian famine, and other drought-hit countries in Africa.

Harry Belafonte and Marlon Jackson (1985) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

"The power of Mohamed Amin's gift compelled me and my colleagues in the entertainment communities of the world to use our resources in response to the needs of the people of Africa… Mohamed Amin was no ordinary man. If ordinary men were made of such courage in the struggle for truth … then uncompromised love for one another would be tangible."
Harry Belafonte

Mohamed Amin with George Bush by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

Mohamed Amin went to the White House to be honoured by then vice president George W. Bush, who told Mo that his work had stirred the US Congress to empower a unique Bill to donate an additional USD1 billion of aid to Africa. 

Ethiopian famine victims (1985) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

Hundreds of VIP guests from government, defence, business, and private sectors gathered to hear Bush describe Mo as the “man who mobilised the conscience of mankind.” Bush said such government action would not have happened if the world had not first seen the misery for itself as a result of Mohamed Amin’s "persistence and courage in risking his life time and again" to produce the televised coverage. "Many are alive today because of his photography," Bush said.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Mo Amin: Eye of Africa
The photojournalist who moved the world
View theme
Google apps