Journalist Mustafa Amin: Those Good Old Days

Journalist Mustafa Amin: Those Good Old Days

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - The recent visit by the new general manager of the state-run Sudan News Agency (SUNA) Mohammad Abdelhameed to the Agency’s founder and former general manager Mustafa Amin, has struck a chord with many who knew Mr. Amin or worked with him.

The images released after the encounter were indeed gratifying as they showed the man sitting upright as he chatted with his guest, a sign that he has now recovered from a reported previous ailment that kept him in bed for sometime.

The images also showed the man depending entirely on himself despite his advanced age.

For many, Mr. Amin is a real figure in Sudanese journalism, having carved his way from a junior reporter in the Khartoum dailies, to the celebrated office of general manager of one of third world’s outstanding news sources.

People may also differ on how they think about Amin.

For this writer, and as a subordinate of Mr. Amin for about a decade, the man is that vigilant boss, who is always conscious about his surroundings, never misled and always prepared to lead!

The new General Manager of SUNA visits the latter's founder Mustafa Amin

This had allowed him to do justice to whoever deserved it away from any bureaucratic gossip or impressionism.

His high sense of the news, had kept him always in the lead whether in the newspapers or in the national news agency.

Other merits of Mr. Amin are best summed up by veteran journalist Mr. Yahya Alawad: "As if the congruence in the names of Mustafa Amin of Egypt and his namesake Mustafa Amin of Sudan is also a sign that their gifts for creativity are the same: the same genes, so to speak. The two men represent a distinctive school in journalism.

The first one, Mustafa Amin of Egypt is still standing tall, decades after his demise, commemorated with a street carrying his name in Cairo, a lecture room at the Cairo University’s Faculty of Communication and an annual award for shining young Arab journalists. All the publications he founded in Egypt still carry his name as founder.

The other Mustafa Amin (of Sudan) was the throbbing heart of the Alayyam (the days) newspaper when it first came into print in the 1950s; under the leadership of the master of Sudanese journalism Bashir Mohammad Saeed and his close associates Mahjoub Osman and Mahjoub Mohammad Salih (the two Mahjoubs as they came to be called.)

Yahya Alawad

And when Alayyam was shut down in 1962, Mustafa Amin shouldered the duty of promoting the then nascent Alsahafa (journalism) daily newspaper with its founder Abdelrahman Mukhtar. Due to his relentless effort, the paper took the leading position in terms of content and circulation.

Then Mr. Amin took the office of deputy general manager of the then News Agency of Sudan (NAS), founded by caliber newsman Abdelkareem Almahdi, who was also its general manager.

Then after the sweep of nationalizations of the early 1970s, Mahdi sold out his agency to the government, which then renamed it Sudan News Agency (SUNA) and appointed Amin as its general manager. As general manager of SUNA, Amin was promoted to the office of state minister (deputy minister) in the government of former President, General Nimeiri.

But Amin was not that fond of his senior office: he kept riding his humble private Volkswagen car, despite the fleet of vehicles he provided for his staff. He had no taste for travel for conferences or on reporting missions abroad, always preferring to dispatch his staff members to do the job, a matter that would often put him in trouble with the government protocol.

Amin was the first to get into office in the morning. When he gets in, the first thing he would do was to clean up his office and its corridor, all by himself.

It was an honor to me to have worked with and to have been trained by Amin in the news desk of Alayyam daily in 1962.

My impression is that we, all of us, have been ungrateful to Mr. Amin. He is alive, though forgotten by the Sudanese memory. But he does not care about this. He continues to glow, proud and tall. He never tells about himself, nor does he knock the doors of people of influence.” (unquote).

Mr. Amin’s longtime assistant, Mr. Mohammad Alfatih Sidahmed is giving these recollections about Amin his news sense and his resolve to get the news wherever and however:

Mohammad Alfatih Sidahmed

“I was that SUNA correspondent who covered the attack and occupation of the Grand Holy Mosque in Mecca in 1979 !!

Mustafa Amin, as usual, alerted the news desk in SUNA and me in particular of the Mecca incident and informed me that I would go to Mecca leading a team of reporters as he had already contacted the

Saudi News Agency and agreed with them that SUNA would help in covering the incident from Mecca. And as head of the East African Centre of the Pan African News Agency (PANA), SUNA would transmit the covering to the 13 member countries of that Centre. And as a founding member of the Non-aligned countries news agencies pool, SUNA would also transmit the news to the pool's seat in Belgrade.

I was dispatched to Mecca together with the veteran excellent Radio Operator Aldirdiri Alsheikh who would file what I write via SUNA Mobile Service which was a fast range transmission radio always dispatched with reporters as it was cheaper and faster than any other communication facility…Two more reporters and another radio operator were to follow us.

But, when we arrived Jeddah after midnight, the customs confiscated our equipment and there was no one from the Saudi News Agency to help us …..All my attempts to communicate with the Saudi News Agency failed as it turned out that they did not want us there and there was a state of emergency and all foreign media were banned! Then I approached the Sudan embassy and asked permission to use their radio ….No way !! But after so many arguments and by the help of my friend  the marvelous diplomat/poet Mohamed Almeki Ibrahim who was then a Sudan’s Minister Plenipotentiary we were allowed to use the embassy’s radio once a day and only for fifteen minutes!

One day I was back in Jeddah from Mecca  with a very hot piece of news but the embassy operators who read our dispatches and oked them said that was too dangerous and would embarrass the embassy with the Saudi authorities who monitor all radio transmissions ….I was mad and angry. Then I asked myself what if we could transmit that in a language the Saudi security could not understand Nubian language …….and I asked Aldirdiri (the radio operator) if he could do that if I wrote it in Latin letters…He said “yes” as he was also a veteran Morse Code operator …So we first transmitted only one word to Mustafa Amin in Arabic: “Bel-Nubiya”, meaning in Nubian…and he got the message and immediately put two Nubian staffers in SUNA on the alert: Radio operator Salah Yasin and Telex Operator Najat Talsam ….And that was IT !!!!!

Eighteen days of discretely going in and out of Mecca during the state of emergency is another story!!!

By the way we wouldn’t have sought the embassy’s help if we had our equipment with us or if the Saudi News Agency had honored their agreement with SUNA! Mustafa always saw to it that his reporters work independently“ (unquote).

But how could Mr. Amin elevate the Sudan News Agency from just a tiny office run by a few journalists to a semblance of a media giant in this part of the world.

The beginning was a rented apartment in the center of Khartoum.

And with the growing portfolios of the facility, Amin moved his mushrooming staff to a seven-storey building down the City (later on the Agency bought the building).

The idea was to accommodate the varying specialized departments: the accounting and administration units, the information section, the English department, the General news Department, the Foreign news Department and the technical department that housed the telex, the radio unit, the news broadcasting monitoring unit and the photography section.

The telex unit needs a pause. Amin was keen to connect his country with the world. It was then the telex age and Amin secured the services of Reuters, the AP, the AFP and the rest of global media outlets. This has availed journalists with first hand information on what was happening in the world, relevant selections of which were promptly relayed to the country’s executive.

The information department contained the archive and the library. The latter was indeed of great help to the reporters because of its rare  wealth of books on journalism, history, economics, Sudan and other important aspects of human knowledge. In this unit the reporters were also made to find fresh copies of international magazines and newspapers.




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