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‘How I became President Uhuru’s official photographer’

My Man
 Emmanuel Jambo: Photo; Courtesy

Emmanuel Jambo talks to us about presidential assignments, being misunderstood and the professional basketball road he never took.

You are all over the place. Earlier in the year, Drum East Africa had you in their 100 most influential Kenyans list, a few months ago, the Nairobian weekly newspaper had you in their top ten most eligible bachelors in the city list. What is going on?

I have no idea. I keep doing what I know how to do best. I work hard, almost everyday. Those magazines are noticing my work. I have no PR team. My work is my PR. My social media footprint is pretty light, I wasn’t active on social media till recently.

DJ, singing, acting, TV show hosting and photography are careers known to be for people who like to control situations and people. Is this the sort of person that you are?

No I’m not. I’m not controlling. I let people around me be at their natural best.  I let them be as they feel most comfortable and most natural.

What kind of a person are you then, away from the camera?

I’m easy. Fun guy who avoids quarrels. I like things to be fun all time. I’m passionate about what I do and I’m competitive too. Above all, I deliver. I can’t come short.

I’m the sort of guy who will be up till three, sleep for one hour then be at a shoot by 5am if I had an engagement.

How do you feel when someone else is behind the lens and you are the subject?

Relaxed and comfortable.

There is this thing between you and President Uhuru Kenyatta. What is it?

I’m his official photographer - for both family and official occasions.

How did you land such a major gig?

I met him first time through Nana- his niece. Back then, he was the Minister for Finance. Then we didn’t speak for a while. When he decided to run for president, he looked for me.

We did his campaign shoots and those of Deputy President William Ruto, and the other Jubilee members. And when he got into office, I sort of became his official photographer, getting called on for family events like weddings and birthdays plus the official stuff.

So...that is an official engagement then, isn’t it?

Ours is a cool relationship. Easy. Business and friendship working in sync. Not show me the cheque - I show you the product kind.

Most of your schooling was done in the US...

My primary school was in Sudan. Comboni College - it had a primary school wing too. Then I went to high school at Lincoln High in the US, and then to Harald Washington College in Chicago.

What was it like breaking into magazines, a field previously dominated by non-Africans?

I had gone for a boardroom shoot at a local bank when a board member nearly jumped off his seat with joy when he saw that it was a black man behind the camera.

 He never said it but it was like ‘finally!’ Then he told me he had been on those shoots for years...and that I was the first black man to take their photos.

When did you break into the Kenyan photography scene?

I settled in Nairobi mid-2008. And that is about the time I got serious with the local jobs.

Your work has been featured all over the continent and abroad. How does that make you feel?

Forget abroad. When I walk into Nakumatt and visit the magazine stand and the cover photos on five magazines on display are all my work, I feel good.

What was the lowest point in your life?

When I got injured playing basketball. My ankle got badly hurt. Sort of changed my career path though.

What of the high point?

Being President Uhuru Kenyatta’s official photographer.

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