Emmanuel Jambo: Photographer who shoots presidents

Emmanuel Jambo

Emmanuel Jambo.

Photo credit: Pool

Born in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, renowned South Sudanese photographer Emmanuel Jambo never thought he would one day call Kenya his home.

Jambo refers to himself as a citizen of the world, since he has lived in different parts of the world. For instance, he spent most of his childhood in Egypt and later on moved to the United States.

“Africa was not even on my mind in regards to where I would settle, because at the moment, my home, South Sudan, is not in its best state because of the war. My dream was to stay in America, play basketball and hopefully make it to the NBA. But I got some injuries and I could not play anymore,” he says.

He then developed an interest in photography, which led him to look for a job at a studio in Atlanta. After a while, he decided to start his own business by setting up a website and looking for photography jobs.

It was while visiting his sister in Kenya in 2008 that his career would take an upward trajectory after he was introduced to True Love magazine publisher Carole Mandi.

His network started growing, mainly through word of mouth and referrals from his past clients. And through these referrals, he found himself as the main photographer at a Kenyatta family wedding event.

“I met former President Uhuru Kenyatta at his brother’s wedding. He was the best man. At that time, he was the Finance minister. That is how I met the whole former First Family and they liked my work,” he says.

This marked the beginning of a long working relationship with the President Kenyatta. Jambo says the minute he was declared the winner of the 2013 General Election, the former Head of State called him to work on his official portrait.

“That is how I met our current President William Ruto, who was the Deputy President then. The same thing happened when Dr Ruto was declared the presidential winner. I remember it was the same day the Supreme Court of Kenya upheld his win that I was called around 5pm,” he explains.

His portfolio is nothing short of impressive. Besides being the official photographer when former US President Barack Obama visited Kenya in 2018, he worked for a year for former Zambian President Rupiah Banda.

“I remember one day during the funeral of the late Zambian President Frederick Chiluba. He was seen off by many Heads of State and I was sitting with all these presidents in one room. And Mr Banda made a joke saying, ‘guys do you see this guy, wherever I go he goes’ and everyone laughed,” he says.

Official presidential portrait

His recent work includes capturing President Ruto’s official presidential portrait. The portrait, unveiled during his inauguration at Kasarani stadium, has the Kenyan flag in the background – a design that mirrors a tradition adopted by American presidents since 1961.

President Ruto becomes the first Kenyan Head of State in Kenya to have the flag as part of his official portrait, which for the first time is three-dimensional. His predecessors had clear backgrounds in their official portraits.

Apart from having the pleasure of having his work (President Ruto’s portrait) displayed in different establishments across the country, his other biggest honour was being asked by some artists to showcase it at the art show Basel, Switzerland.

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