Posts Tagged ‘africa’

Genius guitar from Botswana

Posted 17 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Ian Birrill, co-founder of Africa Express and all round fount of knowledge about international affairs, flagged this up on Twitter and it’s absolutely bewitching. I’m a big fan of African music generally, but it would take a very hard-hearted music fan, no matter what he or she thought of world music, to find fault with this bit of casual, masterly, euphoric guitar playing.

The star is (according to Boing Boing) “Ronnie Moipolai from Kopong village in the Kweneng district 50 km west of the capitol Gaborone”.

He is 29 years old and goes around the shebeens selling and playing his songs for 5Pula each (80dollarcents). He learned guitar from his now late father, has 3 brothers that also play guitar (KB is one of them), has also a big sister and plenty of kids in the yard. Nobody has a formal job and his mother sells Chibuku beer and firewood they get from the bush trying to make ends meet.


Posted 22 Oct 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music

A couple of years ago I picked up Amadou & Mariam’s stunning ‘Dimanche à Bamako’ album and was blown away not just by the wonderful songs but by the fact that on several occasions the vocal melodies the husband and wife duo struck up seemed like exact echoes of the melodies that Damon Albarn has been using – not just in the last few years, when his interest in African music has been well known, but right through his career. It seemed like an incongruous but strangely apt comparison, and one of those happy accidents of art which sometimes magically occur.

Their new single, the gorgeous ‘Samali’ contains yet more of these hypnotic melodies, but if the rest of the song also rings bells it’s because it’s been produced (and, one suspects, co-written) by Albarn himself, who spins a spellbinding concoction of echoey keyboards, beats and atmospherics around the vocal, producing along the way a song that sounds utterly modern without ever sounding contrived. It’s a magnificent single, and deserves to be a hit. You can stream it here.


Posted 03 Apr 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Development

The excellent Hii Dunia blog has been really useful to me in the last few days, providing as it does a comprehensive list of links and news sources pertaining to events in Zimbabwe. Click here for the full list, which includes both blogs and news aggregators – valuable stuff.

Right now, I’m just refreshing today’s news blog on the Guardian, which is dedicated to following events as they happen.

The situation in Zimbabwe is on a knife-edge, and it’s both thrilling and terrifying. Reading one of the blogs Hii Dunia mentions, I found the comment below, which was posted in response to an article assessing the Mugabe government’s future. Can you even imagine what it must feel like to be a Zimbabwean at the moment?

I have been sitting in front of the news since Saturday night waiting, hoping and praying. All I could think of the last four days was the reason I’m in the Diaspora, the pain and wounds of oppression under Mr Mugabe’s Regime. This has been my motivation to hope and stay strong alongside my fellow countrymen. I you further research the Gukurahundi, I think you will find that it is quite a sensitive issue with the power of inciting unspeakable things. I really wish you’d have saved this article for a time when we can all read it and celebrate “offically” the end of a President who caused such disgusting atrocities. I apologise if I’m overreacting, it’s just that I’ve been sat here the last four days fearing the worst and I just feel like you’ve added to my worries with this article. I wish this would now end and Mr Mugabe is finished, I want to go back home to ZIMBABWE :[

tony allen on africa, and in the UK

Posted 20 Jan 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music

There’s a great little interview with the incomparable Tony Allen, whose lovely Afro Disco Beat reissue has been all over my iPod this month, in today’s Independent. Allen is – incredibly – now 67 years old. Anyone who, like me, saw him live this year and marvelled at his drumming will shake their heads in disbelief at this. Yet if anything he is speeding up rather than slowing down. He’s about to embark on a reprise of last year’s hugely successful African Soul Rebels tour (with Salif Keita and Awadi), is working on a new solo record, and reveals that he reconvened with Damon Albarn, Paul Simonen and Simon Tong in December to work on the new Good, The Bad and The Queen record.

I’m a massive Tony Allen fan in any case (his drumming on Fela Kuti‘s Africa 70 records has to be heard to be believed) but obviously I’m excited about him teaming up with Albarn once again. I’m optimistic that this time he’ll be let off the leash somewhat, as the best moments on the debut album – and particularly on the accompanying tour – were those where Allen’s drumming kicked off.

And as interesting as Allen’s current activities are, it’s a pleasure to hear him talk about his past. Later this year he’s set aside time for a collaboration with some fellow African musicians and members of James Brown’s band. An opportunity for him to set the record straight about Brown’s legendary visit to Africa in 1970.

“We’d already heard him and assimilated what he did by then,” he insists. “None of the Nigerian musicians got to see James Brown when he came to Africa because he played only for the rich people in a five-star hotel. What really happened was that his musicians came to our club to see us every night after their show. People like Bootsy Collins were writing down my patterns. I didn’t mind, it was flattering. But the truth is that James Brown’s band learnt more from African musicians than African musicians learnt from Brown.”

I can believe it.

Thomas Mapfumo

Posted 19 Apr 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Regular readers will know that I’ve been writing a series of posts for Hii Dunia on African music of late – my post on Mali was, after all, reproduced here just a few days ago. Anyone who enjoyed that, or has an interest in the subject (or the most basic level of politeness, goddamnit!) is welcome to make me feel important by going over to Hii Dunia and reading my latest contribution – a post which purports to be about music and the African exile, but which is really just a potted biography of the excellent Thomas Mapfumo – a wonderful musician who provides a telling counterpoint to the disgraceful Robert Mugabe. In days to come, I’m going to continue with the exile theme, and write about musicians from Sierre Leone and Somalia. Keep your eyes peeled.

Here’s the post about Mapfumo – and there’s a quick extract below.

Thomas Mapfumo is one of Africa’s most important musicians. Born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in 1945, he spearheaded the creation of a new musical style, Chimurenga, which updated the traditional Shona music of his nation and mapped it to the contours of rock instrumentation – rather than use thumb pianos for the distinct, chiming cyclical melodies, Mapfumo played electric guitar, and sang, to increasingly political ends, in his native language rather than in English.

Also relevent to this is Dan’s post on Africa’s Worst Leaders – which actually began life over here on Assistant Blog, but is now up on Hii Dunia too – take a look.

there’s something about Mali

Posted 17 Apr 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Music

This post was written as part one of a series on African music for the ace development blog Hii Dunia (click here for details).

When talking about music in Africa, it is inevitably Mali that first comes to mind. The landlocked, flat country in the heart of West Africa has become synonymous with expressive, beautiful music with a capacity to cross over and win the hearts of Western enthusiasts. In the last seven years Malian music has swept all before it and threatened, for the first time since the early 1980s, to push African music back into popular culture in the UK and Europe. So why is the music of a land so arid so musically fertile? And where should the novice start?

When Ali Farka Touré died in March 2006, it was predictable that the world music community would greatly mourn the loss of perhaps Africa’s greatest and most recognisable guitarist. What was slightly more surprising was that coverage of his passing extended far beyond specialist music magazines and into the main pages of the international press. Farka Touré’s legacy, besides a run of stunning records, is that he carried the torch for Malian music. Yet he is not alone. Amadou et Mariam, Toumani Diabaté and Salif Keita all mine the rich vein of musical history in one of the world’s poorest nations, combining artistic endeavour with critical and commercial acclaim.

Why so many wondrous artists? This is not an easy question to answer. A former French colony which is now one of the most politically and socially stable in Africa, Mali saw many of its finest musicians, like The Rail Band and Les Ambassadeurs decamp for the Ivory Coast in the late 1970s, driven away by the poor economic climate. Yet others, such as the extraordinary Albino folk singer Salif Keita, headed for Paris – and helped give root to a climate of cross-cultural exchange between states previously master and servant. They were joined in Paris by the likes of Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, whose own contribution to the development of international music – and hip hop – cannot be understated. In Paris Keita developed and updated the Mande sound, expunging the Cuban influence which had been dominant since the 1960s, and introducing – much to Charlie Gillet’s distress – the sound of synthesisers. Inspired by the mande sound, Parisian record labels – and London’s World Circuit – rushed to document these new sounds.

Back in Mali, and shortly to benefit from the rapidly rising profile of Keita and emerging stars such as the splendid duo Amadou et Mariam, who also served their musical apprenticeship with Les Ambassadeurs, the jeliya, or Griot, caste of Malian singers and storytellers (of which the wealthy Keita is not a member) built on the extraordinary legacy of their unique role in Malian culture. Most closely resembling bards, the Griots are wandering musicians and poets, who pass down their skills from generation to generation. They are endogamous, meaning that they do not marry outside their tribes, and as a consequence names recur as if they were enthusiastic recommendations – common and familiar surnames include Kouyaté, Kamissoko, Cissokho, Dambele, Soumano, Kanté, Diabaté and Koné.

By this time Farka Touré, still unknown outside Mali, got a job as a sound engineer at Radio Mali. Taking advantage of the opportunity to record his songs, he began sending out cassettes and Sono Discs were quick to release them. By 1994 he had been championed by Gillett, Andy Kershaw and – crucially – Ry Cooder, who recorded the groundbreaking ‘Talking Timbuktu’ with him. It was a revelation, although one which the level-headed Touré did not allow to obstruct his life. He returned to his home town of Niafunke, becoming mayor and concentrating on farming, allowing music to retreat into the background.

Yet the genie was out of the bottle. Touré was not the only musician with devastating talent in Mali. Record labels swiftly picked up on stunning albums by the likes of Toumani Diabaté, a master on the Kora (a 21 stringed harp-lute), Boubacar Traoré, another rootsy, blues-flecked exponent of the desert blues, and Touré’s protegy, Afel Bocoum (who later collaborated with Blur’s Damon Albarn on his well received ‘Mali Music’ LP). Despite the success enjoyed by these artists, in his later years Touré remained unconvinced that the youth of Mali (who in fact were more often engaged with the sound of wassoulou artists such as Oumou Sangaré) appreciated the Griot tradition sufficiently. Keen to put things right, he launched into a prolific late surge of recording activity which yielded perhaps his greatest material yet, notably his delicious collaboration with Diabaté, ‘In The Heart of The Moon’, and last year’s final, peerless, ‘Savane’.

Despite his death, 2007 is as good as time to listen to Malian music as ever. Amadou et Mariam, given a sprightly, pop polish by Spanish producer Manu Chao, are writing and recording the most heartfelt and gorgeous songs of a long career, and recent releases by Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni ba, along with a sparkling debut by Vieux Farka Touré, the son of the great man himself, promise great things. Best of all, it seems that Tinariwen, the strangest and most original of Mali’s new bands, are on their way to bona fide international rock stardom. If things did go that way, it would be no surprise. Writing from the desert Tourag tradition, Tinariwen – who formed in the rebel camps of Libyan leader Col. Gaddafi – are the first band of their ilk to play the desert blues with electric guitars. Their astonishing sound, which combines hypnotic rhythms, call and response vocals and uncompromising guitar, sounds truly unique – primal and rebellious, leading to (fatuous) comparisons to the White Stripes and (perhaps legitimately) The Clash.

Touré is gone, but there is no need for despair – whichever twists, trials and challenges face this remarkable country, the music always survives. There’s just something, it seems, about Mali.

original post accessible here.

music in mali

Posted 06 Apr 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Music

As promised, I’ve written an article on the music of Mali for the ace Hii Dunia blog – the first in a series of looks at African music. Following here is the intro to the article and, first, a stab at a Malian music top ten (caution, emphatically not the opinion of an expert):

1. Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabeté – In The Heart of The Moon
2. Amadou et Mariam – Dimanche à Bamako
3. Tinariwen – Aman Iman
4. Ali Farka Touré – Savane
5. Salif Keita – M’Bemba
6. Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni ba – Segu Blue
7. Super Biton de Segou – Afro Jazz du Mali
8. Toumani Diabeté’s Symmetric Orchestra – Boulevard De L’Independance
9. Afel Bocoum – Alkibar
10. Vieux Farka Touré – Vieux Farka Touré

If you’re looking for a nice flavour of the country, Damon Albarn’s ‘Mali Music’ is a nice collaborative overview, and, for a more challenging but vibrant entry-point, ‘Bush Taxi Mali’, from the, er, sublime, Sumblime Frequencies label, is a collection of amazing field recordings, incorporating street sounds and local radio as well as original performances. Amazing stuff.

From Hii Dunia, then:

When talking about music in Africa, it is inevitably Mali that first comes to mind. The landlocked, flat country in the heart of West Africa has become synonymous with expressive, beautiful music with a capacity to cross over and win the hearts of Western enthusiasts. In the last seven years Malian music has swept all before it and threatened, for the first time since the early 1980s, to push African music back into popular culture in the UK and Europe. So why is the music of a land so arid so musically fertile? And where should the novice start?

Well, the list above might help – otherwise, read the rest of the article here.

coming soon

Posted 31 Mar 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Another trailer for some of my writing over on Hii Dunia:

“For many people, it seems, music remains the most accessible entry point to Africa, often culminating in a real interest in the culture, politics and history of the continent. Over the next few weeks, Hii Dunia will focus on some of the most rebellious, romantic, refined, and by turns melancholy and joyful music in the world. The first, publishing shortly, will focus on Mali”.

That post should be up very shortly – in the meantime, here’s the introduction from which the above excerpt was culled.

change in libya?

Posted 31 Mar 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Islam and the Middle East, Politics

Libya is a nation of extremes.

“I am recalling now that last summer before I was sent away. It was 1979, and the sun was everywhere. Tripoli lay still and brilliant beneath it. Every person, animal and ant went in desperate search for shade, those occasional grey patches of mercy carved into the white of eveything”.

The narrator above, exiled from Libya in Hisham Matar’s 2006 novel ‘In The Country Of Men‘, surmises the twin reality of Libya, on one hand a bright, luminous, prosperous North African country, and on the other a place of shade, of darkness, where 30 years of Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya regime have forced dissidents abroad, or vanished them, rarely granting any mercy to their opponents.

Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa and, possessing an abundancy of oil, the richest of the Northern region. It has the potential, according to Anthony Giddens, a former director of the LSE, to become the Norway of North Africa, prosperous, egalitarian and forward-looking. That such a statement could be made by a respected academic and not treated with derision demonstrates that much has changed in Libya in recent years, and indeed it has.

The country has accepted (partial) responsibility for Lockerbie, it has renounced its rusting nuclear weapons programme, and Gaddafi, that most virulent of anti-Westerners, has even travelled as far as Brussels to preach from his ‘little green book’. Accordingly, the world has reacted with cautious – and not so cautious – optimism. The US, Libya’s most violent detractor, has reopened diplomatic ties and removed Libya from its list of states which sponsor terrorism. Gaddafi has intimated that it is time to open up economic freedoms in a state where private property was once all but outlawed. Libya is slowly re-entering the international community. According to Wikipedia,

“Since 2003 the country has made efforts to normalize its ties with the European Union and the United States and has even coined the catchphrase, ‘The Libya Model’, an example intended to show the world what can be achieved through negotiation rather than force when there is goodwill on both sides”.

Tripoli, a gorgeous jewel on the Meditteranean, and even the Saharan desterts of the South, are now, once more, a viable tourist destination, and anyone who makes the trip will find stunning architecture, dazzling sun and a population keen to stress that they are ‘not bad people’. Joanna O’Connor, writing for the Observer, notes that:

“Something very odd is happening. This is the fourth shop in Tripoli’s old town my friend Andie and I have walked into, clutching our hot little wad of money, and so far we’ve failed to spend a single penny. It started in the market, when the man on the fruit stall wouldn’t let us pay for a bag of dates. Then, in the patissierie, the boy with the eyelashes as long as a camel’s shyly insisted that we take two pieces of baklava. And now Walid is fastening the beads around my neck and inviting us to have a cappuccino with him in his tiny Aladdin’s cave of a shop in the copper souk.

This wouldn’t happen in Marrakesh, I think to myself. But this is not Morocco, this is Libya, where tourists are still rare enough to be seen as a source of mild curiosity rather than wallets on legs. Against the deafening clang of hammers on metal from the surrounding workshops, Walid says something I am to hear several times during my stay here: ‘Your gift to us is that you visit us and you go home and tell people that Libya is not a bad place. We are not bad people’”.

But Gaddafi has always been characterised – in the West – as just that; bad. And although he retains broad support from a people who describe him simply as ‘The Leader’, he shows no sign of allowing political reform to accompany his new-found enthusiasm for globalisation. Nor has his contempt for democracy softened: “In Libya there is no dictatorship, no injustice; there is no conflict over power,” he insisted on Al-Jazeera recently:

“People feel they have power in their hands. In the west, power is money, not democracy. Is it democracy, when half the people don’t want you to remain president?”

Giddens was present on that occasion, and gave Gaddafi’s argument short-shrift:

“I have no time for that argument and said so. It is just not true that multiparty democracy doesn’t have a popular mandate in Western countries. More than 95% of people in such societies agree that they want to live in such a democracy. In Libya, what is a nice idea in principle — self-rule through a plethora of peoples’ committees — works out quite differently in practice. Gaddafi steps into the vacuum left by the absence of effective mechanisms of government, and the result is a de facto dictatorship.”

Indeed it is, and yet Gaddafi’s enthusiasm for his unique ‘state of the masses’, Jamahiriya, is undimmed – presumably because it affords him absolute power. In the meantime his wider philosophy, beyond his concept of a ‘direct democracy’ of local councils (and no political parties) is impossible to pin down. The Little Green Book has influenced no other state, and Gaddafi himelf has veered from one popular philosophy to another, at one time or other being an advocate of Socialism, Arab-nationalism, Pan-Africanism, Islamism and now Globalisation. He offers no coherent narrative, in other words.

And yet he finds himself suddenly in demand. In fairness, Gaddafi’s reputation in Africa has never quite tallied with his demagogue status in the west. He is increasingly seen as an elder Statesman of African politics, winning praise from the likes of Nelson Mandela (indeed, one of Mandela’s grandchildren was baptized “Gaddafi”), and lauded for his continent-wide aid contribution and willingness to absorb Sub-Saharan Africans into the Libyan job market.

He remains an enigma – a talisman of sorts in Africa, a tyrant in his own country, a bogeyman to the west, suddenly a friend and ally, a simple man who lives an austere life, and now, perhaps, a man ready to lead a country which boasts the highest recorded temperature in history, out of the darkness and into the light. Some people are optimistic, and some believe he will never change.

This post was originally published on Hii Dunia on the 22nd March 2007. In my next post on Libya, I’ll look at the prospects for reform and consider how genuine they are. And question just what the implications of cuddling up to Africa’s most eccentric father-figure really are.


Posted 23 Mar 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Daft, Islam and the Middle East

Censorship and repression in Egypt is nothing new, but the state is clearly ratcheting up its intolerance for freedom of expression. That sounds like the first line of a ponderous essay, but actually, it’s just a prologue for this rather funny Egyptian joke, courtesy of The Arabist.

Hosni Mubarak goes to a primary school to talk to the kids. After his talk he offers question time.

One little boy puts up his hand and Mubarak asks, “what is your question, Ramy?”

Ramy says, “I have 4 questions:
First: Why have you been a president for 25 years?
Second: Why don’t you have a vice-president?
Third: Why are your sons taking over the country economically and politically?
Fourth: Why is Egypt in a miserable economic state and you’re not doing anything about it?”

Just at that moment, the bell rings for break. Mubarak informs the kids that they will continue after the break.

When they resume Mubarak says, “OK, where were we? Oh! That’s right…question time. Who has a question?”

A different little boy puts up his hand. Mubarak points him out and asks him what his name is.

“Tamer,” the boy says.

“And what is your question, Tamer?”

“I have six questions:
First: Why have you been president for 25 years?
Second: Why don’t you have a vice-president?
Third: Why are your sons taking over the country economically and politically?
Fourth: Why is Egypt in a miserable economic state and you’re not doing anything about it?
Fifth: Why did the bell ring 20 minutes early?

The changing face of Libya

Posted 22 Mar 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Islam and the Middle East, Politics

With the Republican administration in the USA so keen to label and classify states in the Middle East as sponsors of terror and axes of evil, it’s a curious thing that they have afforded Libya a reprieve in the last few years, and taken them off the list. Gaddafi, for so long a bogeyman to the West, is now ‘on our side’ in the ‘war on terror’, and there have been cautious murmerings to the effect that Gaddafi is at last reforming the North African country and opening up to the free market.

In the first of a couple of posts I’m going to write for Hii Dunia, I’ve tried to provide an overview to Libya’s new role as friend and ally of the West. An extract follows:

“The country has accepted (partial) responsibility for Lockerbie, it has renounced its rusting nuclear weapons programme, and Gaddafi, that most virulent of anti-Westerners, has even travelled as far as Brussels to preach from his ‘little green book’. Accordingly, the world has reacted with cautious – and not so cautious – optimism. The US, Libya’s most violent detractor, has reopened diplomatic ties and removed Libya from its list of states which sponsor terrorism. Gaddafi has intimated that it is time to open up economic freedoms in a state where private property was once all but outlawed. Libya is slowly re-entering the international community”.

Go to Hii Dunia to read the full article; Libya is a fasinating country, so I hope my post gets that across to some extent.

Africa’s Time Wasters

Posted 18 Mar 2007 — by Dan
Category Development, General, Politics

During a time when renewed focus has been given to issues surrounding governance in the Developing World it is often a continual source of frustration to see that many African leaders persist in working to the clear detriment of their country’s interests.

In a not-too-serious look, and in no particular order, this article draws attention to and attempts to rate out of 5 some of Africa’s present day worst leaders and highlight their policies, legacies and crimes, all of which add up to their inclusion in this list – the ‘Time Wasters of Development’.

Sudan – President Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir

Pity the largely impoverished population of Africa’s largest state, especially if they belong to the half which is Black African. President Al-Bashir was ‘elected’ in 1996 but can trace his time in power back to his days in the Sudanese and Egyptian armies when in 1989 he overthrew a democratically elected government and set about establishing an authoritarian, as well as fundamentalist Islamic, state in Sudan. This gained momentum when in 1991 Sudan introduced the archaic Sharia law, exacerbating the already festering conflict with the largely Christian south of the country. Though an uneasy peace has been signed in relation to the south of the country, unaddressed grievences in the western region of Darfur in have helped renew Al-Bashir’s notoriety.

The overt support his Government lends to the racist and genocidal nomadic militia known as the Janjaweed and its pillaging of the Darfur region, driving millions of its inhabitants into a desperate exile in neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic, has recently gained the World’s attention. The International Community, however, has unfortunately fumbled its response to Al-Bashir, and China, with an eye on Sudanese oil, has even stepped up investment into the country.

Al-Bashir is fully implicated in the genocide occuring in Darfur which at present has claimed over 200,000 lives, yet neither the African Union nor the United Nations has been able to bring him to account. Al-Bashir is able to continue with his ruinous leadership safe in the knowledge that he is unlikely to be directly challenged by anyone, either internally or externally. Meanwhile life in the fractured country of Sudan for the majority of its inhabitants remains very bleak indeed.

Time Wasting Score: (5)

Equatorial Guinea – President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

For President Obiang, the man who treats the tiny Southern African state of Equatorial Guinea as his personal fiefdom, accusations over poor democratic accountability and corruption are not taken too seriously. Obiang, who deposed his own uncle in a coup in the late 1970s, likes to be known on his patch as El Jefe (the boss). Since the discovery of substantial oil and gas reserves in Equatorial Guinea’s territorial waters the hope has been raised that revenue gained from this can go to assist EG’s 0.5 Million people, most of whom live on less than $1 a day. Unfortunately, with El Jefe in charge, most of the money has found its way into his political allies and family’s personal bank accounts. In what is one of the most breathtaking examples of a leader gaining personally from his countries wealth, Obiang has personally pocketed over £300 Million.

A 2004 attempted coup backed by Spain, the United States and Britain (all of whom were possibly too embarrased by whom they were buying oil from) resulted in failure when the hired mercenaries were caught on flight in Zimbabwe and subsequantly jailed. Apparently Obiang was in anycase tipped off.

Last year the people of Equatorial Guinea may have been forgiven for feeling the need to throw a party with the news that Obiang was actually dying from inoperable Cancer. Those more cautious however would’ve soon realised that this may not be such good news because Obiang’s eldest son would be his likely successor.

‘Obiang junior’ is by all accounts a nasty piece of work. Described by the country’s opposition in exile as a known killer, he seems to spend all his time swanning around Paris and London spending his father’s (or more precisely the people of Equatorial Guinea’s) money on fast cars, large houses and fine food. He is a truely abhorent individual and any fair minded onlooker can only hope that somehow foreign powers step up their efforts in deposing this disgusting dynasty.
Time Wasting Score: (4)

The Gambia – President Yahya Jammeh

Another Ex-Military man, President Jammeh’s contempt for Democracy (he has ‘won’ two elections through a mixture of intimidation and vote rigging) also extends to the contempt he has for his populace’s intelligence. Not content with running Gambia badly, he has recently taken the unbelievable step of claiming that he alone has a cure for HIV/AIDS and that it is made up of a herbal remedy known only to him. In a speech made recently at State House in Gambia’s Capital Banjul, President Jammeh said “I can treat asthma and HIV/Aids and the cure is a day’s treatment. Within three days the person should be tested again and I can tell you that he/she will be negative”. He went to say in a speech faithfully reproduced in the Gambian media that “I am not a witch doctor and in fact you cannot have a witch doctor. You are either a witch or a doctor”.

Tragically for ordinary Gambians, their President is wasting their potential for ongoing development and, it would seem, is cleary mad.

Time Wasting Score: (4)

Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has recently spent over a Million Dollars celebrating his 83rd birthday (more than twice the average life expectancy of an average Zimbabwean male) is perhaps finally feeling the heat caused by his 26 years of misrule. Mugabe, increasingly embittered at the continual failure of his Neo-Marxist economic reforms has blamed everyone for his country’s decline (his favourite being a Neo-Colonial cabal headed by Tony Blair) and with an increasing ferocity continued to clamp down on his opponents.

Mugabe once boasted that in addition to the several degrees he had gained whilst imprisioned by the British of the then Rhodesia, he also had gained a ‘Degree in Violence‘. The recent Police beatings of members of the main opposition the Movement for Democratic Change are testiment to that and to Mugabe’s stoic determination to hold onto power.

Once seen as one of the more enlightened leaders of one of Africa’s more prosperous, educated and liberal countries, the hope has long since faded for the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. The country itself is haemorrhaging people, it’s economy is in free fall, and is breaking all kinds of records in the process – including the World’s highest inflation rate and fastest drop in life expectancy. Zimbabwe now finds itself slumped towards the bottom of a great deal of global development indicators, a terrifying decline for a country which was once seen as being comparitively highly developed.

Mugabe must surely go, yet the only likely challenge to his autocratic rule is from either inside his own Zanu-PF movement or from the Police and Army when the time comes when there simply is no longer the money available to pay them.

Mugabe’s neighbour and old ally from the anti-colonial struggles, South Africa, has been shamefully silent on the plight of its northern neighbour despite the repercusions a collapsing Zimbabwe would have upon it. South African President Thabo Mbeki‘s cowardly and frankly puzzling reluctance to confront Mugabe has only acted in prolonging the suffering still further for the ordinary people of Zimbabwe.

Time Wasting Score: (5)

The scores given obviously aren’t to be taken too seriously, those above and many others should probably all receive ’5′, and in an ideal world removed from power and replaced by more enlightened leaders as soon as humanly possible.

However, there are many more leaders in Africa, other parts of the developing world, and indeed the developed world that should also merit a mention in this article. Corruption, non-adherance to Human Rights and interference in the democratic process are not, sadly, limited to the cases mentioned above or, indeed the Developing World. It must also be stressed that the reasons why certain countries are blighted by such leaders and governments are very complex.

Yet it remains deeply disturbing to many (not least of course those who live in the affected countries) that such corrupt, ignorant, stubborn and frankly evil men remain in positions of unchallenged power in 2007. Whats more, that they act as a bar on the long overdue hopes of peace, fairness and prosperety of their peoples. They and others are, in short, clearly ‘Time Wasters‘ in the way of development.

Links & Resources:

The World’s Top 20 Dictators –’s annual look at the World’s worst misusers of power. – Website of US based Darfur pressure group

Sudan Watch – Useful Blog resource for independent news from Sudan

This is Zimbabwe – Blog of the Sokwanele – Zvakwana (‘Enough is Enough’) Civic action group, detailing daily events from within Zimbabwe

Blogging by Dan

Chinese Takeaway?

Posted 09 Nov 2006 — by Dan
Category Development, General

It is easy to forget that China is still a Developing Country. We’re becoming increasingly used to hearing stories about the most rapid and dynamic economic and cultural transformation currently being experienced anywhere in the world – by a fifth of humanity, in fact. As a result, many of us perhaps assume that China has already made it and is a fully paid up member of the First World club. Whatever its current World Bank/IMF enshrined status, China and its growth affect us all and, as we are beginning to realise, its continued growth to world hyper-power status is likely to have an indelible effect on the world’s political structure, natural resources and environment.

Its thirst for Oil, Iron Ore, Soya and Timber has affected countries as diverse as Canada, Brazil and Sudan. Vast swathes of the Amazon (the equivalent to the size of Israel each year) are being exploited by non-indigenous farmers to grow Soya that’s then exported and fed to Chinese livestock. Canada has opened up old coal and copper mines in Alberta and British Columbia to meet Chinese demand and China has struck deals with non-democratic regimes in several African states. Most predominant amongst these is Sudan, where, because of international embargos and the unwillingness of many western companies and governments to invest, the Sudanese have found themselves isolated and are grateful for Chinese investment and assistance.

Thousands of Chinese labourers today live and work in Sudan and Khartoum now echoes to the sound of Karaoke bars each night. Since 1993 China has been a Net importer of Oil, and Sudan now provides 12% of that demand. 80% of all oil currently drilled in Sudan is exported to China through Chinese built and partially-owned pipes, refineries and ports. The West’s surprise at the speed of the Chinese involvement in the Horn of Africa is matched only by its unease at the level of engagement the Chinese have with a regime widely blamed for the genocide currently being perpetrated in the Darfur region of Sudan. China acknowledges that it is engaged in oil related projects in Darfur but is mute when quizzed on the ethnic conflict currently occurring there and the Sudanese governments’ complicity in it.

China has longstanding links with many African states, as during the Cold War it participated heavily on the continent with its Foreign Policy of aid without political intervention. As a result it made long term friends, connections it is able to make the most of today. It is this week hosting a large scale conference where representatives of virtually every state in Africa are in attendance. To mark the occasion the smoky skyline of Beijing is punctuated by brightly coloured pictures depicting classic scenes of African wild animals. The Chinese are hoping to secure not only their growing trade links with the continent but also political support essential for manoeuvrings at such international bodies as the Untied Nations. It knows that this voting power will be crucial in future trade talks and in possible political ranglings with the US, Russia and Japan.

Meanwhile, to meet its surging demand for power, China completes the construction of a new coal fired power station each week. In ten years its total annual Carbon emissions will surpass that of even the World’s current worst polluter, the United States, and continue to rise to national output levels the world is yet to experience. China’s own environment is already paying an extremely high price for the cost of its rapid development. The Yangtze River is polluted and dying and the new Chinese love affair with the car is causing 19th Century style ‘Pea-Souper’ pollution to occur in most of its major cities.

It seems that the rise of China is triggering a myriad of emotions in those concerned for the world’s wellbeing. Its involvement and large scale investment in Africa is positive if it leads, as many hope it will, to the reduction in poverty and an increase in development on the continent. However, China’s no ‘questions asked’ foreign policy causes many to fear that its investment will instead lead to the propping up of corrupt and undemocratic regimes and missappropriation of funds on a massive scale. Critics of China’s involvement point to the trade deals it has signed with many African countries and argue that the opening up of their economies to Chinese goods will undermine domestic industries such as textiles and agriculture, exposing them to Chinese competition.

China’s remarkable growth has not occurred by magic: it is the result of 30 years of growing foreign direct investment from mainly Japan, Europe and the US. Its huge low paid and organised workforce has for years provided the west with ever cheaper goods delivered in large numbers, and in turn China has been changing rapidly. That China’s growth and expansion should carry such a potentially heavy economic price tag for the world’s poorest people, and carry an unbearable environmental expense to the world itself should cause widespread concern.

The answer may come from the Chinese themselves, yet with little sign that the growing Chinese middle classes are interested in democratic accountability and governance for their country, the world may well be left holding its breath.

[Blogging by Dan]

damon on the radio

Posted 10 Jun 2005 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Politics

Nice to hear Damon Albarn talking good sense on the Today programme this morning,

“This country is incredibly diverse. More than ever, black culture is an integral part of society, so why is the [Live 8] bill so damn Anglo-Saxon?

If you are holding a party on behalf of people, then surely you don’t shut the door on them. It’s insensitive and it also perpetuates this idea that Africa is separated in some way. In a way Live 8 does that – it doesn’t make you feel closer to Africa, it treats it like it’s a failing, ill, sick, tired place.

My personal experience of Africa is that yes, I have witnessed all those things there, but it’s incredibly sophisticated – the society and the structure of people’s lives is as sophisticated, if not more sophisticated in some ways, than in the West.”

You can listen again here, today only, I think.