Richard Dowden

A regular blog from RAS Director, Nicholas Westcott.


Richard Dowden spent last week touring South Africa looking at projects where the country leads the world or is working on things you would not expect to find in Africa. This is the first of his reports. Each day this week he will add a short description of another project.    In South Africa last week I saw: a mobile robot being programmed, a magical film studio, a radio telescope system that explores galaxies and dark matter, polluted mine water being purified. And I went down... more
Wednesday, 19 March 2014
Written by Richard Dowden
The referendum in Crimea is a dangerous precedent reminiscent of the Austrian Anschluss and the other uprisings in eastern Europe to join Germany in the 1930s. I used to think that Europe’s states had grown naturally, organically – in contrast to Africa’s imposed borders. That I thought was a major reason for Africa’s weak states and small local wars. Then I read up on the post World War One settlement and discovered that Europe’s borders had been reset by three... more
Tuesday, 4 March 2014
Written by Richard Dowden
  Uganda’s war over homosexuality threatens to spread to other African countries and has further damaged the increasingly strained relationship between Africa and Western donors. For the donors it is a matter of human rights for minorities – a corner stone of democracy. For Africa it is part of the push back against the Western donors and the assertion of an African agenda. In Africa’s very religious – Christian or Muslim – societies, it is a matter of... more
The monastery at Debre Damo, Northern Ethiopia No wonder the monastery at Debre Damo has survived unmolested for some 900 years among the vast Tigrayan Mountains of Northern Ethiopia. Getting to it is arduous – the last stretch is achieved via an 80 foot rope. A few feet from the top my arms gave out and I couldn’t move. I dangled desperately searching for a foothold. There wasn’t one. The drop was dizzying. After what seemed like an hour, I felt the second rope, made of... more
Its birth was Caesarean, sliced out of the Republic of Sudan by American surgeons.  Reacting to an extraordinary coalition of African Americans and right wing Christian evangelicals, ambitious young US politicians got the governments of both George Bush and Barrack Obama to support the idea of a separate south Sudan and forced the government of Khartoum to a ten year transition to independence. This weird coalition was possible because of two words that cropped up in the reports from... more