Tag Archives: Africa

Ignoring Africa

A Senegalese wrestler (Photo by Denis Rouvre)

There were several incredible photos from Africa in this year’s World Press Photo awards, from Denis Rouvre’s portraits of Senegalese wrestlers to Malick Sidibe’s wonderful fashion series for the New York Times magazine.

It was, as Glenna Gordon pointed out on Scarlett Lion, “great to see photos that aren’t of poverty porn.”

So it’s a shame that the World Press Photo organisers have decided to bring the winners’ exhibition to just one venue in Africa. To put that in context, the exhibition is going to be shown at seven separate venues in the Netherlands alone.

*10 points to anyone who can guess where in Africa the exhibition will be held. No cheating.


The Monocle guide to plotting a successful coup

"If only I'd read the Monocle coup guide..."

Thursday’s coup in Niger is the fifth successful putsch in Africa since 2008, after a decade in which military takeovers had become less common. The African Union, which was founded in 2002, forbade coup leaders from becoming members. “Coups went out of fashion,” says Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society. “There were leaders like Obasanjo and Mbeki who could have a word with anyone contemplating it and say ‘don’t try it’. There is nobody who is leading Africa now. The rules have been bent a bit now.”

The recent rebellions, plus a handful of failures, provide a useful blueprint to any potential coup plotter.

Know where you are going.

A Darfur rebel group that tried to oust Omar al-Bashir in 2008 drove more than 1,000 miles across   the desert to Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum on the opposite side of the Nile. Only then did they realise they didn’t know where the presidential palace was. They stopped and asked for directions, giving the Sudanese army time to regroup and prevent them crossing the bridge.

Don’t tell too many people beforehand.

Simon Mann’s notorious 2004 ‘Wonga Coup’ in Equatorial Guinea failed to get off the ground partly because they couldn’t keep their mouths shut. Several national intelligence agencies were fully aware of what was about to happen.

Get neighbouring countries to help.

Sudan and Chad have been supporting each other’s rebel groups for more than a decade. Laurent Kabila, who ousted Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, was backed by Uganda and Rwanda. Be careful though. Once Kabila was in power his one-time friends decided to stick around and help themselves to Congo’s minerals, which led to a new, even deadlier war.

Take control of the TV and radio stations.

Play cartoons or old films until you are ready to address the nation. In Niger the coup leaders opted for military music on the radio and live wrestling on television.

From my latest column in Monocle. The rest is here.

“Ask what you have done for your country, not what your country can do for you”

"No, that's not what I meant"

What would you do if you were president for the day? That’s the question that BBC Network Africa has been asking this month and so far they have invited 12 people from across the continent to write their inaugural address.

Some of the presidents are full of serious ideas. President Tendai Sean Joe of Zimbabwe planned “to cut military spending by 50% and channel funds towards more critical sectors of the economy such as the education and health departments”. His colleague in Tanzania, President Fredrick Mtundu, said his first priority would be dealing “aggressively with all corrupt leaders who are the main source of poverty in this country. There will be zero tolerance on corruption by making sure all the greedy, selfish leaders face justice.”

Other presidents have taken a more satirical approach. BS Kanyusi of Tanzania began his speech by thanking “those who ensured my victory by whatever means necessary over my much more qualified opponents,” before outlining his plans to scrap term limits and open a Swiss bank account.

My favourite so far is Cameroon’s Johanes Fofang, whose speech is worth reading in full. I particularly like the bastardisation of JFK:

Fellow compatriots, God has given you a Messiah.

My 97% election victory ushers in a new dawn to all Cameroonians.

It gives me the powers to carry out all the reforms that I want. I cannot do this in one mandate and not even two or three mandates will be suffice.

As such, my first action will be to scrub the presidential term limit.

I will dissolve parliament and rule by decree.

My powers are sacrosanct and no opposition will be tolerated. My ministers will be drawn from my old and retired friends who have proven their loyalty to me.

Yes, it is true that the country is filled with corruption but I will arrest anyone only upon presentation of palpable proof.

Countrymen, let’s go to work having this at the back of our minds; ask what you have done for your country and not what your country has done for you.

Long live Cameroon and my limitless presidential term.

Haiti’s African lifeline

For Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal’s octogenarian president and a committed pan-Africanist, simply offering aid to Haiti’s earthquake victims was not enough. Any Haitian that wanted to “return to their roots”, he said, would be “repatriated” to Senegal for free and given a plot of land.

Wade’s pledge is more of a publicity stunt than a plan, but other African leaders have made more realistic promises. So far a dozen governments across the continent have pledged aid to Haiti, from cash-strapped Liberia, which has offered a gift of $50,000 to the newly oil-rich Ghana, which has pledged $3m.

The generosity of governments has been matched by its citizens. The Africa for Haiti campaign, launched by Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, in Johannesburg on Friday, will seek to raise money from ordinary Africans over the next six months. Churches, civil society groups and businesses have already pledged support for the initiative that is also backed by some of the continent’s leading media figures such as Mail and Guardian owner, Trevor Ncube. “We need to show the world that yes, we might not be as rich as some of us, but we do have the heart,” says Ncube.

While the pledges of aid have showcased Africa’s heart it is a group of computer programmers and technological innovators who have played a far more important role thanks to a website called Ushahidi.

From my latest column in Monocle. The rest is here

Do they know it’s Christmas? Yes. Yes, they do.

I’m back in Britain for a long Christmas break. The streets are full of fairy lights, trees are in windows and everything is covered with a thin layer of snow.

The shops – busy as ever, despite the recession – play an endless stream of Christmas songs. Noddy Holder must make a packet.

It was similar in Nairobi as I was doing last bits of shopping before coming home for Christmas. It was impossible to go to Nakumatt without hearing Cliff Richard’s ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ or The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’. Someone had clearly bought a Christmas greatest hits song and stuck it on repeat.

So, while standing in the queue I heard  a classic from 1984 booming out. Do they know it’s Christmas? Yes. Yes, they do.

Just in case you’re ever stuck in a queue at an African supermarket at Christmastime and want to sing along, here are the lyrics

It’s Christmastime / There’s no need to be afraid

At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade

And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy

Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime

But say a prayer / Pray for the other ones

At Christmastime it’s hard, but when you’re having fun

There’s a world outside your window / And it’s a world of dread and fear

Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears

And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom

Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime

The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life

(Oooh) Where nothing ever grows / No rain nor rivers flow

Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?

(Here’s to you) raise a glass for everyone

(Here’s to them) underneath that burning sun

Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?

Feed the world / Feed the world / Feed the world

Let them know it’s Christmastime again

Feed the world

Let them know it’s Christmastime again

A year of blogging…

I began this blog just over a year ago. I had just left The Independent to start working on a book about African football and wanted an outlet to occasionally vent, make the odd witty remark, or post a bit of analysis.

The book is now all but finished – available in good bookshops (and bad) in May – and I’m now trying to work out what to do next. I’ll carry on writing for Monocle and in the run up to the World Cup I’ll be writing and talking about African football to a rather unhealthy degree. After that, who knows? I think I’ll carry on blogging though. Whether it’s getting into a transatlantic row over Darfur or discovering I’m not the only one that finds Nairobi’s traffic jams interesting, I’ve rather enjoyed it.

So for all those who have read and commented over the past year, thank you. The site is going though a slight redesign to make it look a bit nicer but other than that nothing much will change. I’ll still post irregularly, I’ll still make hypocritical comments about bad journalism, and I’ll still use the same title which one reader in Sierra Leone correctly charactised as “a bit wanky”.



Africa and stereotypes

Three examples of crass stereotyping of Africa from the last two days:

One: Twitter decides to commemorate World Aids Day by turning every tweet about Africa red. Because AIDS equals Africa, see?

Two: The BBC wonders whether an African team can win next year’s World Cup. And how do they choose to decsribe Africa? “The world’s poorest and most underdeveloped land”

Three: In a piece commemorating the 25th anniversary of Bob Geldof saving Africa launching Band Aid, the Independent’s Paul Vallely describes how Band Aid raised £100m for “the stricken people of Africa”. No, it was for the stricken people in the Ethiopian highlands.