South Sudan - Africa's newest country

Friday, 29 July 2011
Richard Dowden

By Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society

On my first visit to Sudan – more than 25 years ago – I took a bus from Khartoum down the Nile to Renk, a trip from the Islamic, Arabic-speaking north to the culturally African south which is more diverse in its variety of religious faith. Two striking things have stayed with me from the trip. Firstly there was no road between north and south. Somewhere south of Kosti the road disappeared and the driver had a choice of tracks through the bush.  The second thing was a conversation with a police chief - a senior officer. He was a tall black southerner and he told me without my asking that the south should be independent. The northerners, he said, called southerners abyid – slaves, and treated them as second class citizens. 

I was astonished to find a government official, a senior policeman, expressing his views in support of the rebels he was supposed to be fighting against. Since then I have never doubted that, if given the chance, the vast majority of southerners would vote for independence. 

Oddly however the mainly southern rebel movement, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army, was not fighting for separation. Officially they opposed it - instead they were fighting for a united, democratic, secular Sudan. The movement had come into existence when President Nimieri had made Sudan an Islamic republic. But talk to any southerner about what they were fighting for, and sooner or later they would talk about the oppressive racism of the northern Sudanese. 

That anger was certainly justified by what I had seen in Khartoum over the last few decades. The only southerners I saw there in government offices were people making tea or sweeping the floors and paths with grass brooms. There was one southern minister – a token gesture by a government made up of northern, Arabic-speaking Muslim Sudanese drawn almost exclusively from the towns on the Nile, north of the capital. They had inherited Sudan from the British as a “possession” – and that is what it really is, a conquered territory from the time of Ottoman and then Anglo Egyptian rule. And these inheritors have continued to run it like their personal fiefdom, treating the Southerners as well as other ethnic groups like the Darfurians, Bejas and others as their subjects.       

Though overwhelmingly southern in its make up, the SPLA’s ideological position brought it a lot of support among Khartoum’s intellectual middle class as well as trade unions and Communists and support from other regions fighting for more autonomy. That’s what progressive elements in the Northern Sudan will now lose – the support of the South. So the opposition to the Islamists will be hugely reduced in size. On the other hand they will be encouraged by the South’s victory and may feel that the Bashir regime is weakened by separation. 

This is now inevitable. Southerners have already voted by more than 60% for independence. The only questions now is whether there is the capacity to run and develop a state that has had no development since the 1950s – and precious little before that. And whether the disputed areas such as Abyei will result in a major war between north and south. Oil is the key. The prospect of wealth and development might prevent or cause that war. Sudan will need intense diplomatic involvement for many years to come. This is not the time for the world to say “That’s Sudan sorted” and walk away.


Considering British Airways flies to 19 destinations in Africa, its knowledge of the continent seems no better than that of George W Bush. “Africa is not a good country for prima donnas” reads one sentence in the current edition of its Highlife magazine. So next time you are flying to Nigeria and the check-in desk asks to see your visa you can show them your Kenyan one. It’s all the same.   

Mandela's Memoirs

Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Richard Dowden


Maybe we should all go and live on Robben Island for 15 years. The experience produces remarkable human beings. Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada, the man who shared a cell with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, came to the South Africa High Commission in London last week for the launch of Conversations with Myself, the new collection of Mandela’s writings.

Some of the funniest parts of the book are the recorded recollections of Kathrada, now 81, and Mandela in conversation. On Thursday night he spoke carefully, softly, savouring the ironies as he built his stories of defiance and hope. Then he signed copies of the book in a remarkably steady hand.

As he talked I felt the gentleness and compassion of Kathrada as well as the immense strength of his commitment. Three stories struck me. Firstly the time when all the top category prisoners went down with flu except Mandela and another prisoner. For a few days, the two of them collected, disposed of, then washed out and dried all their toilet buckets.

Secondly Mandela’s decision to open secret talks with the government while still a prisoner. The talks that led to the end of Apartheid were initiated by Mandela alone without even consulting his fellow prisoners. Thirdly his deep reluctance to become the ANC’s presidential candidate in 1994. Only when the ANC’s Central Committee unanimously insisted did he accept but let it be known that he would only serve one term.         

Sweden dreams of Afrika

Why do Swedes read, or at least buy, so many books? It can’t be because Swedish TV is boring – just watch Wallander. They also seem more interested in Africa than the British or the Americans. They have no colonial connections though there are strong missionary links to countries like Namibia. But I’ve never had a bigger audience than I did at the recent Goteborg Book Fair. Several hundred people turned up on the first day even though I speak not a word of Swedish. The bold title the Swedish publisher, Leopard, has given my book is Afrika Framtidens Kontinent – the Continent of the Future. I gulped when I saw it but actually I think it is right. Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles doesn’t work in Swedish apparently.

On the second day however my bubble of vanity was burst. People crowded into a rather small space where I had to give a quick 15 minute presentation. More and more kept coming as I was speaking until there were more people standing than sitting. By the time I stepped down off the platform I felt like a rock star. But then I noticed that no one moved and more people were coming in. And as I walked away, I saw Nadine Gordimer being helped onto the podium I had just vacated.  

Back to Somaliland

Sunday, 20 February 2011
Richard Dowden


The last time I was in Hargeisa, in 2001, the Maansour Hotel was surrounded by open space on a hillside overlooking the town. When I went back a couple of weeks ago it was completely surrounded by new buildings. Hargeisa is a boom town, fuelled by remittances by Somalis living outside the country but pouring money back to their families. Having rebuilt the city, they are now investing in property.


From dawn till dusk the town is on the move, “Stuck in traffic” is now the most common excuse for lateness. Hundreds of small family owned stores are open from dawn to dusk and in the middle of town a row of shops sell gold jewellery with no apparent security. There is little crime in Hargeisa. Schools are full. There are two good universities and two hospitals, one of which is very good. The potholes and rubbish in the streets are no worse than most African capitals.

20 years ago this city was in ruins, destroyed by three years of civil war. In May that year I came to the independence celebrations in the smaller town of Burcao. Hargeisa did not have a single building that could hold a meeting. I took photos from the air. It looks like a smaller version of Berlin or Hiroshima after World War II. No building had a roof. The city was the battlefield between government and rebels and the government shelled and bombed it to rubble. One night the entire surviving population gathered a few meagre belongings and walked to Ethiopia, a biblical exodus in which hundreds died. It is an epic story that is yet to be properly told.

On May 18th 1991 the new Somaliland flag was raised re-establishing the old colonial border between British-ruled Somaliland and Italian ruled Somalia. Unrecognised by the outside world but a lot more orderly and successful than many long-established African states, the region of Somalia that had suffered most from Siad Barre’s repressive rule, decided to have nothing more to do with the rest of the country. Although the northern rebels, the Somali National Movement, had fought a Somali-wide cause, they were forced by popular demand to declare the north independent.

Compared to the rest of the country, Somaliland has worked.  Its main resources are camels and blacked headed sheep which are shipped across the Red Sea from Berbera to Saudi Arabia. After brief wars to seize control of Hargeisa airport from one clan, and then the port of Berbera from another that was taking the import and export taxes, the government established its authority over the whole country and has done pretty well.

But it has enemies. The internationally recognised but utterly ineffective government that holds a mere enclave in Mogadishu still claims authority over Somaliland. Its main enemy, the hardcore Islamist movement, Al Shabaab, would also like to destabilise the north and is said to have links to Al Qaeda. The result is that more than 50% of Somaliland’s budget of a mere $60 million goes on defence in one form or another.

Its southern neighbour, Ethiopia, needs the port of Berbera (and the route to it) but it has no interest in a strong Somaliland or a united Somalia. The two countries are ancient enemies and Ethiopia would not like to see Somaliland or the rest of Somalia strong enough to control its access to the sea and the outside world. Without the support of Ethiopia and the agreement of the so-called government in Mogadishu, getting international recognition of an independent Somaliland looks impossible. In the meantime, the EU, Britain and increasingly the US, have given Somalia aid to try to keep it stable.

I asked what was the problem with non-recognition. The most immediate disadvantage is lack of insurance. I am not an expert but that does not seem to be insuperable. Any suggestions?   

No one knows how many people live in Somaliland. Some say 3 million. There is a constant flow of coming and going. Somalis’ nomadic roots mean they have no fear of journeys. I would like to be able to say that the Somaliland diaspora is playing a huge role in rebuilding the country but Somalis’ bitterly funny cynicism extends to themselves and their country. They call returning diaspora “Dhaqan Celis” – don’t ask me to pronounce it. At one level it means coming home to be reintegrated into the culture but it also implies “You’re a failure. You couldn’t hack it in the big wide world and you’ve had to come back to this dump”.  This is a nasty knock to my thesis that Africa’s returning diaspora will play a huge role in Africa’s future development. But Somalis are not typical of anyone except themselves.

I made this visit for the Africa Educational Trust, which I am on the board of. A small but very effective organisation, it provides education in edgy places like Somalia, northern Uganda and Sudan. In Somalia we do this through schools and universities – yes Somaliland has two universities – but also through an outreach literacy and numeracy programme broadcast by the BBC Somali Service which is then taped and replayed in small centres throughout the country. There is also an outreach to the nomadic pastoralists. I spent a morning under a thorn tree with four classes of different ages learning literacy off separate blackboards around the tree trunk.

Apart from the books, buildings, exam systems and all the other basic elements of education, AET is finding innovative solutions, particularly for girls. Fewer girls than boys go to school for lots of reasons but one reason is that once they reach 13 or 14, girls are shy of going to the toilet and get mocked and teased by the boys. AET has started to build small separate girls-only sitting-rooms in schools and behind them a walled yard and four toilets. Known as Girl Friendly Spaces, they allow the girls to retreat in privacy. Numbers of girls in schools that have them are rocketing up.

AET also organised a nationwide quiz, a knockout competition for girls based on the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire formula with teams of three girls from each school. The winners were from Somaliland’s top private school but the close runners up were from a state school and the show was broadcast – and rebroadcast on Somaliland television (yes the non-state has a TV station). The President’s wife gave away the prizes and certificates. It has been hugely popular.

I was saddened to see just how far the Saudi Wahabi puritanism has infected Somali culture. Traditional Somali women’s garb was a long dress with bare arms and hair uncovered. For celebrations they wore voluminous, full-length brightly coloured dresses with a shawl. That is all gone for the Saudi style covering and lots of girls now cover their faces with the niqab. I wondered whether the suffering of more than twenty years of war and destruction has given the Somalis a feeling that they must have offended God and need to become rigidly religious. But this does not seem to be the case.  There seemed no correlation between wearing the niqab and attending classes teaching modern (western) education. No one said that this was enforced by parents or that it represented a religious revival. Some said it was a rebellion against the previous generation that had wrecked the country, others that it was a fashion statement – or just an opportunity for girls to be anonymous and avoid the attentions of young men.

Cote d’Ivoire: a model electoral mess

Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Richard Dowden


Here we go again.
After Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe in 2008 and Mwai Kibaki in Kenya in the same year, now Laurent Gbagbo inCote d’Ivoire is trying to defy an election result. It’s becoming a pattern: sitting president reluctantly holds an election. Deludes himself into thinking he will win. No one would dare tell him he might lose. He loses. There must be some mistake. Someone must have cheated. The truth is that the ruling party has cheated, but clearly not enough. Recounts are held – sometimes for days. Who will dare bring the president the bad news? The electoral commission is cowed.  

In Zimbabwe President Violence Mugabe unleashed the green bombers on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. There is going to be no Orange revolution there. In Kenya the opposition deliberately chose Orange as the colour and the name of its party. And they had their thugs ready to go too. But Kibaki’s Mungiki thugs were better armed and appeared to have immunity. 

In each case violence followed by intense international negotiation led to a compromise. The Presidents who lost the election stayed on in office with a monopoly of violence but had to concede places in government for the opposition. Violence paid.  

In the case of Cote d’Ivoire this outcome will be difficult because the Electoral Commission had already declared Gbagbo’s opponent, Alassane Ouattara, the winner by a margin of eight points. Ecowas and the African Union have endorsed his victory and are unlikely to change their minds.

In Zimbabwe the competition for power was not simply ethnic. Both Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai are from the same group, the Shona. Mugabe and Zanu-PF believed they own Zimbabwe because they won it through war. They will not allow regime change through the ballot box. In Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire it is ethnic. “We” cannot lose power. “They” shall not rule. In Cote D’Ivoire it is also religious. Most of Ouattara’s northern supporters are Muslim. Gbagbo and his Southern supporters, Christian.

In Zimbabwe a power-sharing agreement was signed but Mugabe has kept power, control of the security forces and immunity from the law. In Kenya the competing politicians realised the trough was big enough for all of them and so they made peace and have enjoyed “eating” ever since. The last thing they want now is an election and for the people to have a say. 

The ruling southern elite in Cote d’Ivoire, Catholic, well-educated, sophisticatedly French and as bigoted and racist anyone in France’s National Front, have chosen war again. That is the most likely outcome unless President Thabo Mbeki can make a compromise. But the resignation of Guillaume Soro, the northern leader who has served as Gbagbo’s cabinet as Prime Minister, makes that scenario unlikely. 

Mbeki – whose reputation as a peacemaker was not helped by his Zimbabwe fudge and the lack of follow up to enforce what was agreed – cannot leave Gbagbo in power. He or his party may be given seats in a Ouattara cabinet but there can be no compromise over who won this election and who should have the top job. 

Zimbabwe, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa’s transition all point to one simple truth: first past the post, winner-takes-all multi party democracy is not appropriate for Africa’s nation states. These new states overlay old and very diverse societies which, after 50 years of independence, still attract more loyalty than the states. But can someone please devise a constitution which takes account of this and creates a system that is democratic, inclusive and representative, and which can hold the government to account. At the same time it should not leave the losing candidate in an election at best redundant and irrelevant, at worst an enemy of the state.   


Last week I spoke at a huge investment conference in Cairo. It was a very upbeat but realistic gathering. I would have loved to know how much the participants’ combined portfolio came to. All of it now seeking investment opportunities in Africa. As the conference began Barclays in London announced that Africa will be“the centre of its growth strategy”, and a story in the FT quoted a banker as saying: “Africa is the flavour of the day. People who have a vision of it say it’s like China 20 years ago and if you don’t get in now, you’ll regret it.”

Bob Geldof gave the closing speech. He began by berating someone - expletives not deleted - for texting on his mobile while He was speaking. I’ll say this for the grumpy old rocker, he has lost none of his passion and glowering fury but he has updated his song. He still says “just give us the effing money”. Then it was to feed the starving. Now it’s for investment in Africa. 

Cairo retains its extraordinary, chaotic character, a dynamic mixture of Islam and Western culture. Despite its politically repressive government, socially it feels very open with women walking and working freely, very self-assured. You feel safe on the streets – at least in the area I was in, and people are open and friendly. But I took three taxis and each one had the radio tuned to a station chanting the Koran. Is this new? Or are Cairene taxi drivers all members of the Muslim Brotherhood?                           

Raila's Perfect Storm

Thursday, 23 December 2010
Richard Dowden


What an extraordinary series of events in Kenya this month. First on December 10th the American Ambassador’s brutally frank analysis of Kenyan was revealed by Wikileaks: every single member of the 41-strong cabinet is corrupt, said Michael Ranneberger. And he pledged US support for a new generation to replace the ruling elite.


Next the Kenya parliament produced a report on the 1990 murder of Robert Ouku, Kenya’s foreign minister, which stated that he had been murdered in State House and named Nicholas Biwott, President Moi’s right hand man, as a suspect. It also named the current Internal Security Minister, George Saitoti, as receiving kickbacks in a deal which was one motive for the murder of Ouko.


On December 13th a small group led by Eugene Wamalwa MP tried to test Kenya’s wonderful new constitution which guarantees all sorts of freedoms including the freedom to assemble. They called a youth rally at Kamukunji, the field near the centre of Nairobi which has always been the opposition’s meeting place going back to pre-independence days. The night before the rally the government banned the event – quite illegally under the new constitution. I went along to watch and as the organisers tried to enter the field they were met by heavily armed police who fired tear gas and broke up the rally. The new constitution has failed its first test.


Then on December 15th Luis Moreno Ocampo, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, revealed the names of six people accused of funding or encouraging the violence that followed the 2007 election in which 1500 Kenyans died and some 350,000 were made homeless. Since the names included two presidential hopefuls, the head of the civil service and the head of the police, Ocampo was clearly not going after small fry.


On Monday, raising the temperature even higher, two people were killed in the centre of Nairobi when a bomb exploded at a bus stop detonated apparently by a suicide bomber targeting a Kampala bound bus. Presumably this was aimed at Uganda for its contribution to the force protecting the Somali government in Mogadishu.


Kenya is used to rough politics, full of deceit, greed and violence. Its politicians regularly use violent racist, sexist and tribalist hate speech to stir up their followers. I was in Nairobi last week and you could feel the temperature rising by the hour but most Kenyans are pretty tolerant and patient and with Christmas coming up there was no sense in taking to the streets. As usual at this time of year Kenya’s chattering classes head home to their villages or to the coast for Christmas and apart from a lot of debate and a few noisy but small demonstrations, the country stayed quiet. But these events will not disappear. They will be very much on the conversation menu at Christmas lunch.


At present the hottest topic is the naming of the six suspects by the ICC. To end Kenya’s almost civil war in 2008, the two sides agreed to form a coalition and their leaders have enjoyed unchecked access to Kenya’s public money. All sides have had their snouts in the trough – hence the comment by the American Ambassador. But while they have been “eating”, the ICC has been digging and targeting those who organised and promoted the violence in 2008.


The list of ICC suspects announced so far creates a fascinating pattern which, intriguingly, fits the political template that allows President Mwai Kibaki to retire next year at the end of his presidential term and gives the prime minister, Raila Odinga, a clear run at the presidency. What a coincidence Mr Ocampo.


The battles that followed the 2007 election took place in three main areas: Western province, the upper Rift Valley and the slums of Nairobi. The power struggle was between supporters of the sitting president, Kibaki, a Kikuyu, and an opposition alliance led by Raila Odinga, a Luo and William Ruto, a Kalenjin (the ethnic group of the previous president, Daniel arap Moi).


The violence erupted in Western province as Luo supporters of Odinga took to the streets in protest at the theft of the election by Kibaki. Most of those killed here died from bullets fired by the police. Hence the naming of the former police chief, Mohammed Hussein Ali. But no Luos were named – their gangs harassed the few Kikuyus in Luo territory, mostly shopkeepers who had their stores looted and burnt, but there were no massacres.


In the Rift Valley the “indigenous” Kalenjin murdered the “foreigner” Kikuyus and their families with machetes, knives or fire. Hence the naming of Mr William Ruto and Henry Kosgei, the two most prominent Kalenjin politicians and a radio journalist, Joshua Arap Sang, who is accused of encouraging his fellow Kalenjin to take up arms. Originally Kalenjin territory, this part of the Rift Valley was colonised by British settlers, whose farms were taken over by the state at independence and handed out by President Kenyatta to his Kikuyu supporters. The ethnic cleansing, which incidentally has occurred at every election since the early 90s, was aimed at restoring that part of Kenya to its “original” inhabitants.  The Kikuyu fought back, led by Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the first president and currently Finance Minister. He is the leading Kikuyu candidate to replace President Kibaki but Kibaki does not support him. So he is on Ocampo’s list.


Both these battles were mirrored in fighting between Luo, Kalenjin and Kikuyu in the Nairobi slums like Kibera which are divided between different ethnic areas. The different groups went to war to avenge what was going on back home in the Rift Valley or Western Province. President Kibaki could not allow his Kikuyu people to be slaughtered and gangs were organised but the head of the civil service, Francis Muthaura, another powerful Kikuyu has been named by Ocampo, accused of encouraging the police to use force against the opposition.


So the political pattern is that the Kalenjin who ruled Kenya from 1978 to 2002 have been decapitated. The leading Kikuyu candidate for that election, Kenyatta, has also been removed but the heads of the civil service and the police, carry the can for Kibaki, though it is unbelievable that they acted without political direction. It will be interesting to see if they are prepared to go down without naming those who gave the orders.


No Luo has been named so far, leaving Raila Odinga in pole position for the 2012 election.

Radio Propaganda and the Broadcasting of Hatred

Tuesday, 23 October 2012 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm

Radio Propaganda and the Broadcasting of Hatred charts the development of propaganda and the incitement of hatred from the ancient world to the present, examining the use of atrocity stories, racism, myths and fear to reinforce the propaganda message. The main focus of this study is on radio and how this medium became such a successful instrument of propaganda and how the broadcasting of the spoken word could be used to develop, heighten and mobilize hatred of "the other". The book uses cases studies of the Rwandan Genocide and the Kenyan Post-Election Violence, as well as of Nazi Germany and the Balkans, to demonstrate and analyse the way in which the spoken and broadcast word can be such a powerful weapon in the armoury of regimes propagating hatred.

About the Author

Keith Somerville is a journalist, academic and writer on Africa, journalism and propaganda.  He teaches in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent and is founder and editor of the Africa News and Analysis website  In over 30 years as a journalist and academic, he has worked for the BBC World Service as a producer, editor and documentary maker - specializing in African political and military affairs – and he has written widely on Africa (publishing books on Angola, Burkina Faso, military intervention, and relations between the southern African liberation movements and the Soviet Union). In recent years, he has moved more into academic research on the media and conflict, and particularly media coverage of and the media's role in the Kenyan post-election violence. From this emerged the seeds of his new book on Radio Propaganda and Hate Broadcasting. He continues to write on current developments in Africa and is a regular contributor to the RAS's African Arguments news and analysis blog.Keith is now researching South African external broadcasting and propaganda under apartheid.

Faces Change At DfID, But Does Aid To Africa Really Matter Any More?

Monday, 24 September 2012
Richard Dowden


As the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals approaches what is happening to the UK Government’s aid ministry and its impact on Africa?

An overseas aid ministry is an anomaly. How does a government account for taxpayers’ money spent on non voters, non citizens? The mandate is a vague wish among voters that “something must be done” when pictures of hunger and starvation are shown on television. British people are consistently among the most generous in the world when famine or disaster strikes in some distant land. But it is one thing to click off £10 for a starving African child shown on the Nine O’Clock News, quite another to spend £7 Billion – soon to be £11 Billion – to ensure that those pictures are never repeated.

The two extremes of the aid dilemma were starkly contrasted in the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade, the Conservative Government, keen to show “value for money” for the taxpayer, used aid to build a dubious dam in Malaysia in order to secure an arms deal with the Malaysian government and contracts for a British construction company. Lynda Chalker, whose Overseas Development Administration came under Foreign Office control, always had to justify aid in terms of benefit to Britain. In reaction, the Labour government later that decade declared development – and therefore aid – a human right, vastly increased the amount, committed 0.7 percent of our GDP to aid and created the Department for International Development, an independent ministry. I do not remember Clare Short, the Labour Minister for aid, ever mentioning British interests. She even refused to label anything given as British aid.

When the Conservatives took office in 2010, they reaffirmed the 0.7 percent commitment although the economic crash and subsequent cuts in public expenditure has made it politically difficult to maintain that commitment. Andrew Mitchell, the recently departed aid minister, spoke in terms of “value for money”. It sounded sensible at first but led to the false notion that the problems can be fixed quickly – real progress to show the voters before the next election. Some of the deepest developments take a generation to flower. For example, while declaring a regional approach to aid essential, DfID closed its offices in Burundi, an integral but highly unstable part of East Africa. This was very short-sighted. The government also spent money in interesting ways, for example funding the Metropolitan Police to pursue corruption money and funds stolen from governments in countries supported by UK aid – a very good use of aid. It also funded the Pope’s visit to Britain. Incomprehensible.

Personally – and I have interviewed every aid minister going back to Judith Hart in the 1970s – I divide them into those who cared and those who were seeking a politically more important job. Whatever their ideology, successes or mistakes, Chalker, Short and Mitchell cared.

How does it look from Africa? Two things matter for African presidents and ministers. They like to establish personal relationships and trust in face to face talks with the same people over a long period. Secondly they like to deal with people who know something about their country’s history. They do not like ministers who talk down to them (as Mitchell did) or those who just read a brief on the plane as they fly in (as Douglas Alexander did).

The recent reshuffle ignores these aspects and casts doubt over how much this government cares about development and its relations with Africa. The new minister, Justine Greening, seems to have been moved from Transport because she was opposed to a third runway at Heathrow when Prime Minister Cameron may have changed his mind about this.

Greening is an accountant by profession with little experience of Africa or other developing parts of the world covered by DfID. She talks of a line by line investigation to ensure value for money which sounds good, but is actually nonsense. How can someone with no experience of development, with an annual accounts mentality, judge the value of long term development projects? At least Greening seems to see international development as much about trade and other issues than just aid.

She may also come under pressure to cut back on consultants, or at least find some competent ones in-country. The Daily Mail, not known as a supporter of aid, ran an excellent story last week about UK or offshore based DfID consultants taking home six figure salaries and massive bonuses. This should encourage DfID to look for more African consultants – either in Africa or here among the diaspora.

The story that caught the headlines was that when Greening was offered – or perhaps ‘sent to’ – DfID, she is reported to have said something along the lines of “I did not bloody well come into politics to distribute money to people in poor countries”. Government spokesman have refused to deny this. If true, that makes the two top people at DfID reluctant ministers. Alan Duncan, the number two, said in 2010 that he would have had another ministry if he hadn’t been caught on camera making comments about MPs expenses. Officials keep stressing the commitment of the new ministers to 0.7 percent but that, ironically, is now Mitchells’s baby as Chief Whip, holding the line against the Conservatives’ nasty party tendency.

The best DfID minister was the number three, Stephen O’Brien, who was born and lived in East Africa and instinctively respected the continent and its people. He knew how to conduct conversations and negotiations there. In keeping with DfID’s new ideology, he had a business background. No reason for his dismissal has been given so I assume he was moved to create a vacancy for someone else – Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat, in order to fulfil that quota and make the government look more gender balanced.

Henry Bellingham has also been dropped as Africa Minister at the Foreign Office. I have to admit when I first met him I was not impressed. He seemed narrowly focussed on Africa as a business destination for Britain with little interest in or understanding of the complexities of African politics and Britain’s overall approach. You only have to read Chris Mullin’s diaries to understand what a frustrating and thankless task being Africa Minister can be – though Mullin enjoyed it and always saw the funny side. Bellingham became more and more impressive in his grasp of the issues, his quiet, firm style and good manners. He has been replaced by Mark Simmonds who was very active on Africa as an opposition spokesman on international development, but is actually better know for his work on Latin America. Knowing how much travelling is involved with Africa political relations it is worrying that he lists spending time with his family as his number one priority.

People develop and change. So although the indications are not propitious for a dynamic team working creatively to help get Africa nearer to the MDG targets in the next three years, I will not write off any of these appointments. But they look more like internal political expediency than what Africa and the rest of the developing world needs right now. Meanwhile, Africa’s exciting new growth rates, only indirectly or remotely affected by aid, are transforming poor countries faster than almost all the experts predicted.

Film Africa 2012

Thursday, 1 November 2012 - 6:00pm to Sunday, 11 November 2012 - 11:30pm
The Royal African Society and SOAS

Film Africa, the UK’s largest annual festival of African cinema and culture, is back in November 2012 with 10 days of 70 amazing African films, 35 leading filmmakers offering Q&As, free professional workshops, and 9 African music nights.

After the huge success of Film Africa 2011, this year’s festival is even bigger and better, with a whole range of new exciting educational, family, and arts events alongside the main film programme. And this year, in addition to continuing our Silver Baobab Award for Best Short African Film and The Distribution Forum, we will also be inaugurating the Film Africa Audience Award and the Picha House, an alternative cinema venue with free screenings throughout the festival.