The scariest conference I've been to in a while | Whither Ethiopia?

Wednesday, 10 August 2016
Richard Dowden

Last week I was asked to speak at a gathering of Africa Auditors in Ghana. I haven’t been there for a while and I thought the conference a good opportunity to see how the country is doing as it heads into a December general election on the eve of its 60th birthday.

I was in for a shock. I assumed auditors were people who added up rows of figures and made sure that companies have added up all the numbers correctly and nothing has gone missing. But these days auditors ponder and judge the meaning of life. New US legislation which will become global has tightened up the rules of financial auditing and expanded auditing to non financial areas. Now they must study and evaluate not just the grand sum of human endeavour, but the risks going forward from climate change to politics to disease to war. Auditing means a long deep examination of every aspect of life in every country.

So we heard about climate change, terrorism, population growth, politics as well as disease and computer hacking. One speaker hacked the laptop of someone in the audience from the podium showing how easily it is done. It was the most scary conference I have been to in a long while.

Meanwhile Ghana’s two main parties are slogging it out in the lead up to the December election. Nana Akuffo Addo, son of a former president, is running for president for the third time challenging President John Mahama in the December election. It ought to be easy. Mahama’s government spent or misused (depending on who you talk to) all the oil revenues before a drop was sold. Now the price has crashed and so has Ghana’s economy. Life is tough now and this election will be intense.


Is Ethiopia also about to head into hard times? It has boasted double digit growth rates for the past few years but last year dipped below 10%. Many outside observers query those figures and everyone agrees that parts of the country are still exceedingly poor and not growing at all. The government has always been very secretive about the data collection for both the economy and the population. And while the government in Addis may accept the data, the regional governments may be feeding it cheerful but not necessarily accurate data. If it is doing so well why was there such hunger in some areas earlier this year?

The Tigrayans from the north came to power in 1991 with the help of the Eritrean rebels after decades of war. The army is still dominated by Tigrayans but they have become increasingly divided and out of touch with swathes of the highly devolved country and the huge young generation. Parliament does not have a single opposition member but the government was forced to drop plans to expand the capital Addis Ababa into Oromo territory recently. The legacy of Meles Zenawi”s smart Stalinism is fraying at the edges and, unless a new nationwide deal is made, Ethiopia may slide back into conflict.  


Mogadishu: Memory, Politics and Return

Tuesday, 6 September 2016 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm

Date & Time: Tuesday 6th September 2016, 19:00 – 20:30

Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, University of London

Dating back to the 10th century, Mogadishu has a long history as a beautiful, cosmopolitan hub for Indian Ocean trade and centre for Islam. For many, the port city was synonymous with stunning architecture, open-air cinemas and lazy beach afternoons. But after the outbreak of civil war in the early-1990s, Mogadishu experienced massive destruction and has undergone drastic change.

For those who left Somalia, what does Mogadishu mean today? And what does a Somali transnational politics look like? From London, we explore the experience of the diaspora, the politics of transnationalism, and the challenges of return. With journalist Andrew Harding, activist Adam Matan, and academics Idil Osman and Giulia Liberatore

This event will launch the book The Mayor of Mogadishu by Andrew Harding, published by Hurst, September 2016. An ‘uplifting story of survival, and a compelling examination of what it means to lose a country and then to reclaim it’ it tells the story of Mohamud ‘Tarzan’ Nur, who after spending twenty years in north London, returned to Mogadishu to become Mayor. 


This event is free and open to all, but seating is limited.
Please register your place on Eventbrite








Africa's Media Image in the 21st Century

Tuesday, 13 September 2016 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm

Date & Time: Tuesday 13th September, 19:00 - 20:30

Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre, Lower Ground Floor, SOAS, London, WC1H 0XG

This is the first book in over twenty years to examine the international media’s coverage of sub-Saharan Africa.  Moving discussion beyond traditional critiques of ‘Africa Rising’ vs ‘darkest Africa’ stereotypes, the contributors explore the news outlets, international power dynamics, and technologies that shape and reshape the contemporary image of Africa and Africans in journalism and global culture.

Case studies consider questions such as: how have new media changed whose views are represented? Do Chinese or diaspora media offer alternative perspectives for viewing the continent? How do foreign correspondents interact with their audiences in a social media age? What is the contemporary role of charity groups and PR firms in shaping news content?

To launch this book, we are joined by editors Mel Bunce and Chris Paterson, and contributors Abdullahi Tasiu Abubakar, Heba Aly and Olatunji Ogunyemi as they explore topics as diverse as the media strategies of Boko Haram, the market for humanitarian news and the image of the continent presented in African diasporic press in the UK.

Reserve your seat on Eventbrite Please note - we are oversubscribed for this event so seats will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis from 18:50. 

Copies of the book will be on sale: Africa’s Media Image in the 21st Century: From the “Heart of Darkness” to “Africa Rising” (2016) Edited by Mel Bunce, Suzanne Franks, and Chris Paterson. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-138-96231-6



RIP Abbas Idriss, the Somali Brit

Thursday, 28 July 2016
Richard Dowden

The remarkable John Drysdale was almost completely unknown in Britain but a national hero in Somalia, where he was known as Abbas Idriss. A short man with pebble glasses, he looked more like an old professor than a soldier-turned-activist. Last month he was given a state funeral in Hargeisa attended by the great and good of Somaliland where he spent the last years of his life (see photo above).

He first went to the Somalia during the Second World War in 1943 as a British army officer with the Somaliland regiment which fought the Japanese in Burma and Singapore. He stayed on in the region and wrote about Singapore and South East Asia and became an expert on the region, in particular on its ancient porcelain. 

He returned to Britain and joined the colonial administration and served in Ghana. But he was not a typical colonial officer. He sided more with the people he was supposed to be ruling than the imperial rulers. After Ghana’s independence, he became adviser to three Somali Prime Ministers in post independence Somalia. Drysdale spoke fluent Somali and wrote two books about the country, its people and their history and culture.

I first met him in Modagadishu in 1992, shortly after the fall of Siad Barre, when the UN and then the United States became involved in trying to impose peace between the clan warlords. He became adviser to the Americans after they had invaded the country in December 1992. He tried to bring together the clan leaders as well as warlords like General Mohammed Aideed. But the Americans would not listen to his advice. They decided that there were good guys and bad guys. Anyone like General Aideed who did not do what they wanted was a bad guy. They put a price on his head.

Aideed went into hiding but his fighters still attacked the American troops. Drysdale offered to go and talk to him and the Americans agreed. But every time he tried to meet the general he found he was being followed. This game went on for days and Drysdale got angrier and angrier and felt personally slighted and betrayed. In a typically Somali act he simply changed sides and became Aideed’s advisor.

The Americans were finally forced to declare a truce in October 1993 when Aideed’s fighters war shot down two US helicopters in the infamous Blackhawk Down incident. Aideed came out of hiding and the Americans announced their withdrawal. Had they listened to Drysdale the history of Somalia might have been very different.  

He returned to Somaliland in the 1990s as an adviser to the government and set himself the complicated, dull but vital task of conducting a survey and mapping the farm boundaries of Somaliland in order to prevent land disputes. 

Richard Dowden is director of RAS.

#HowToFixNigeria: Dismantling Patriarchy

Wednesday, 31 August 2016 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm


Date & Time: Wednesday, 31st August, 6:30-8PM

Venue:  The Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall

A special Africa Utopia edition of our popular #HowToFixNigeria panel series with Fatimah Kelleher, Dorcas Erskine and Elnathan John.    

Chaired by Funmi Iyanda – producer, broadcaster and CEO of Oya Media – this event discusses gender inequality in Nigeria, and looks at the ways in which women and men are fighting sexism and patriarchal oppression.  

Has the focus on gender in development projects made any progress towards dismantling the country’s patriarchy? What are the hopes, approaches and challenges that have defined the movement to empower Nigerian women? And what can we learn from Nigeria about the struggle for gender equality across the continent as a whole? 

This event is presented in partnership with Oya Media as part of the Africa Utopia festival.

This event is free and open to all - no prior registration is required



RAS Business Breakfast on Japan’s new relationship with Africa

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

This morning, The Royal African Society (RAS) hosted a business breakfast entitled “Japan & Africa: A new kind of relationship?”, in association with the Government of Japan. The event was a pre-cursor to the 6th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI), which will be held in Nairobi, Kenya from 27-28 August – the first ever TICAD summit to be held in Africa.

Today’s event moderated by our director Richard Dowden, featured renowned practitioners and academics in the field of international development, discussing the future of Japan-Africa relations; Professor Akihiko Tanaka, University of Tokyo and former President of JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), Charles O. Boamah, CFO and Vice President of the African Development Bank & Dr. Kweku Ampiah, Associate Professor of Japanese Studies, University of Leeds.

The discussion highlighted the role of Japan in African developmental priorities such as improving human capacity, developing infrastructure and tackling energy deficit, and encouraging private sector engagement. 

This event took place as part of the RAS Business Programme for corporate members. To find out more about joining click here.

Africa-UK trade & investment agreements after Brexit

Wednesday, 20 July 2016 - 4:45pm to 6:00pm


The Africa All Party Parliamentary Group & Royal African Society parliamentary panel meeting to discuss-

Africa-UK trade & investment agreements after Brexit


Chair: Chi Onwurah MP




Edwin Laurent- Director of the Ramphal Institute


Liz May- Head of Policy at Traidcraft


Dr. Eka Ikpe- African Leadership Centre, Kings College London


Following the Brexit vote on the 23rd June, the Africa APPG is carrying out an inquiry into the future of trade & investment agreements between the UK and African states.
This is an initial exploratory meeting to begin reflecting on the EU Economic Partnership Agreements with African Regional Economic Areas and the UK's Bilateral Investment Treaties with African countries. What lessons can be learnt from their negotiation and implementation to date? Does Brexit provide an opportunity for bettering our trade and investment relationships with African countries?

Submitting questions for Q&A
Due to limited time and to ensure informative discussion, where possible, could interested parliamentary members please submit questions for the panel in advance to and no later than Friday 15th June.
Members of the public are also invited to submit questions, although priority will be given to questions from parliamentarians.
Wednesday, 20 July 2016 from 16:45 to 18:00 (BST)
Boothroyd Room - Portcullis House, House of Commons, London, SW1A 2LW
Register via Eventbite here

Mining for Prosperity - Kayode Fayemi at RAS Business Breakfast

Thursday, 30 June 2016
Site Editor

This morning, The Royal African Society hosted His Excellency Kayode Fayemi, Minister for Solid Minerals. He addressed RAS members on 'Mining for Prosperity' and on his ministry's objective of increasing the mining industry’s contribution to Nigeria’s GDP. Among the key highlights of his address were: his ministry’s completion of a revalidation process to remove dormant license holders and opening up access to new and eager prospectors; Nigeria’s investment in infrastructure to support the mining value chain – and the ministry’s incentivisation plan for new entrants into the sector. The breakfast was chaired by Zeinab Badawi, Chair of the RAS. 

This event took place as part of the RAS Business Programme for corporate members. To find out more about joining click here

What will Brexit mean for Africa?

Friday, 24 June 2016
Richard Dowden

Sometimes turkeys do vote for Christmas. Just over half British voters have just done so. Brexit is national suicide. The tribes of Britain will now be at war with each other. The Scots will demand another referendum and will vote to leave. Northern Ireland will be vulnerable to civil war again. Are they really going to build a fence along the border? Sinn Fein will go back to war if they do. And the Welsh will not be slow to realise they do not want to be tied to an impoverished England. 

Already the world's capital markets have shown their reaction and the fear that Britain is no longer a global leader in finance and international connections. I wonder if all those building sites in the City will remain building sites while other gleaming towers of steel and glass may soon bear "vacant" signs. 
What does it mean for Africa? All reports I have seen show a strong African belief in Britain staying in the EU. It saw Britain as an important voice for Africa in Brussels and at the UN in New York. Now England and Wales - outside the EU - and led by little Englanders will see British influence in the world diminish further. Could Britain even find itself squeezed off the UN Security Council? You can be sure that aid budget will be slashed. I am not a great fan of aid but I think it did represent Britain's commitment to the poor of the world and especially to struggling African countries. Will David Cameron's brave attempt to raise the issue of global corruption be shelved? Britain's weight in the world will be so diminished that few will take it seriously anyway.  
The exit will feed racism in Britain. There is little doubt that many of the Leave voters, frightened by immigration, want to stop foreigners coming to Britain. Africans - more visible than Europeans - will no doubt be targeted. The new government - presumably led by Boris Johnson - will stop foreigners coming to Britain and be far less willing to accept refugees under the UN Convention. Our universities will suffer as foreign students will find it difficult to get visas and many will turn to America or European alternatives. I also predict there will be a rise in racist attacks on Africans and other "aliens". 
For centuries, for good and ill, Britain has played a major role in world affairs and particularly in Africa. It is the most international country in the world and for centuries has been open to refugees and migrants generally - not least because they brought expertise, new ideas and ambition which broke through Britain's class barriers. Now it seems doomed to become an impoverished island off Europe. And when the Brexiters - fed false figures and lies by Britain's right wing press - realise they have made a dreadful mistake, it will be too late. 
Richard Dowden is director of RAS.
The Africa All Party Parliamentary Group together with the Royal African Society is holding an event on the 20th July exploring Africa-UK Trade & Investment Agreements after Brexit. For information and to register please see here.