How Africa fell out of love with France

On Wednesday last week, a new Gabonese military junta installed itself, having ousted President Ali Bongo, whose family have ruled the country since 1967. Just two days earlier, the French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech to his ambassadors in which he spoke of an ‘epidemic of putschs’ in what was formerly France’s greatest sphere of post-colonial influence. Although most of these states have been independent for decades, Paris kept them firmly in the French orbit There have now been six coups d’état in francophone sub-Saharan Africa in three years – Mali, Chad, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger and now the small but wealthy nation of Gabon. France’s whole African policy

A farewell to alcohol

Laikipia Some are saved by Jesus and they are sober. For others, drunkenness is as natural as love-making, roasted meat and weekend football. In northern Kenya we brew a honey mead called muratina; then there’s a millet beer and strongest of all is a moonshine, changa’a, which you can smell from several huts away and it tastes like battery acid. Our neighbour Gilfrid produced an alcohol so pernicious the hangover hit as soon as it crossed one’s tongue Booze soaks into the corners of life in the village or the slum. I’ve been in places, on paydays for example, where the scenes resemble Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s tableaux of peasants

Progress is coming to our remote corner of Kenya

Laikipia The principal of the local polytechnic was waiting for me in the kitchen. Frequently in the kitchen there is a chief or a surveyor, or geese, or the cats Omar and Bernini, the dogs Jock, Sasi and Potatoes, foundling lambs or calves gambolling about hoping for milk, or stockmen with news of a sick cow, or armed askaris clumping in after a hard night to lay assault rifles down on the counter before slurping mugs of sugar-loaded tea. Bees try to swarm behind the fridge and one day Milka, the cook, primly announced there was a big snake coiled on the shelf of pots and pans. In her Cold

Is Cote d’Ivoire the perfect place to have an affair?

‘Côte d’Ivoire, eh?’ said the businessman in the seat next to me on the Air France flight from Paris to Abidjan, as he flicked through the wine list. ‘Perfect place to have an affair.’ Seriously? I’d had endless friends prior to my departure sniggering that I – middle-aged white female – was tragically going to West Africa as a sex tourist, to patrol the bars and beaches, barnet possibly culturally appropriated into dreadlocks, in the hope of snagging a ripped Rasta (will I get cancelled for writing all that?) or two. And Mr 7A was now indicating it was an ideal destination for a planned romantic getaway too. Crikey! I

When will the West start to deal with Africa on its own terms?

Kenya Suddenly all the great powers are courting Africa. Like emissaries to the 14th-century Malian monarch Mansa Musa in his adobe Timbuktu palaces, foreign officials from West and East compete for attention in multi-country tours across the poorest continent. Recent visitors include the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken leading caravans of Washington officials, Moscow’s Sergei Lavrov and Emmanuel Macron of France. Invitations arrive for trade summits; speeches plead forgiveness for past wrongs, pay tribute to Africa’s new influence and offer the return of artefacts looted by imperialists; while Beijing – well, the Chinese came to stay a long time ago. For Africa’s leaders, now repeatedly dry-cleaning their red carpets

The sin of neutrality

Yet again, millions of civilians across the Horn of Africa are starving. The world blames the crisis on drought and climate change, which nowadays is the way we excuse these countries for environmental mismanagement. But as ever, war is really the single greatest reason why people are killed year after year in this region. And while western countries pour billions of dollars of food aid into Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan, the weapons flooding those states originate mainly from Russia, China, Belarus – and Ukraine. In response to an article I recently wrote in The Spectator about why I think so few African governments condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I

Letters: The hard truth about soft power

Soft ground Sir: We have heard much over the years from the overseas aid lobby about the value of soft power. Now the chips are down, we see how empty those claims were. Aidan Hartley (‘Russia’s special relationship’, 16 April) outlined how African nations have lined up to support Russia rather than Ukraine or the West, exposing how wasted the UK’s investment in soft power has been. The same applies to aid given to Pakistan and India. The absurdity of an overseas aid target of 0.7 per cent (of GDP) must be abandoned and replaced by an 0.5 per cent spending ceiling, at or below which the UK’s aid objectives

Why so many African leaders support Putin

The Russian atrocities against civilians in Ukraine have been met with silence from Dar es Salaam, Harare and Juba. Not a word from Addis Ababa, Maputo or Khartoum. On Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the Ugandan President’s son, lieutenant general Muhoozi Kainerugaba, is clear: ‘Putin is absolutely right!’ Nearly half of Africa’s 54 nations refused to vote against Russia at the United Nations last month. Not only African governments but multitudes of Africans, even in countries that opposed Russia, such as Kenya, enthusiastically support Vladimir Putin. And the curious thing is that it’s the very countries that have historically received the most western aid that seem most in favour of him.

Has Putin outplayed Macron in Africa?

While the world is focused on Ukraine, Emmanuel Macron has withdrawn all French forces from Mali. Last weekend, thousands of soldiers were flown out of the former French colony after nine years of fighting Islamist insurgents in the Sahel. Malian protesters bid the French soldiers farewell by shouting ‘Shit to France’ at the departing planes. Following a military coup in May, Mali’s ‘interim President’ Colonel Assimi Goïta began to tire of the French and their calls for free elections. There were also lingering doubts over France’s motivation, stoked by a Russian disinformation campaign. So Goïta began looking for allies who could provide him with muscle to fight the Islamist insurgency

What’s to become of Africa’s teeming youth?

Demographers are attached to their theories. The field’s most enduring is the ‘demographic transition’, whereby modernisation inexorably lowers a society’s once-high fertility to replacement rate. Unfortunately, reality is obstreperous and doesn’t always obey the rules. The United Nations Population Division bases population projections on the assumption that all countries will eventually follow the pattern of plummeting birth rates first observed across the West. Edward Paice’s Youthquake addresses the exception so far: Africa. The continent is hardly a minor asterisk. Although for many regions demographic forecasts for this century have been ratcheting downwards, in the past 20 years the UNPD has had to revise its median-variant forecast for Africa by 2050 upwards

My ocean voyage from hell

Kenya Wondering what this year will bring, at dawn this morning I stood in the waves in front of our beach house and watched two Swahili sailing dhows battling through monsoon surf, heading out to the fishing grounds. For 1,500 years mariners off our East African coast have voyaged in these lovely boats and now, just in the past couple of years, fibreglass hulls have started to replace teak planking, and outboard motors instead of lateen sails propel men across the ocean. I was looking at the end of a long history. In my life I’ve enjoyed wonderful sea safaris on dhows, hunting for tuna and ambergris and waves to

The universal appeal of the African savanna

My wife and I were lucky to escape for a long-delayed birdwatching holiday in Kenya over Christmas. To have been warm, sunlit and free while so many in Britain were not won’t endear me to most readers, I realise. Nairobi was rife with Covid and Christmas cancellations devastated the tourism industry. So we had the extraordinary Elephant Watch Camp run by Saba Douglas-Hamilton in the Samburu National Reserve almost to ourselves. Baboons and vervet monkeys wandered freely through the camp, and in the night the river flash-flooded after a storm in the hills to the west, but the tents were safe. Elephants were everywhere, feasting on fresh vegetation after a

The problem with ‘vaccine equity’

‘A stain on our soul’. That was how Gordon Brown, in his latest missive on the subject, described the failure of the west to ensure that the whole world is vaccinated. In a previous attack on western policy — at the end of November, just as Omicron was emerging — he wrote of “hoarding” and ‘vaccine nationalism’. Take Africa: it is certainly true that vaccination rates in many countries are very low. While the UK has managed to deliver 195 doses per 100 people, Nigeria has only managed seven, Ethiopia and Somalia nine, and Chad and South Sudan two. Can all this be blamed on the failure of western nations to donate

The Omicron variant: what we know so far

Will the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19, be the black swan that pulls the world back — just when the pandemic seemed to be fading? Global markets certainly seem to think so, with sharp falls on Asian and European trading this morning. But what do we know about the new variant? The variant — otherwise known as B.1.1.529 — was only identified in Botswana on Tuesday. We have had numerous variants emerge this year, few of which have succeeded in establishing themselves as a real concern. But what is worrying virologists about Omicron is that it has an unusually high number of mutations — 50, according to South

When it comes to Africa, the media look away

Kenya We were flown around the country, hovering low over mobs using machetes to hack each other up Each time I sit in St Bride’s on Fleet Street during the memorial of another friend, I look around at the crowds they’ve been able to pull in and feel terribly envious. Riffling through the order of service and then the church’s book of correspondents to find the faces of old comrades, I’m like a man wondering if any guests will bother turning up to one’s own hastily arranged bring-a-bottle party. Our 1990s generation of Nairobi hacks has been severely depleted. While we survivors are not a distillation of complete bastards, it’s

Sudan: coup, what coup?

Sudan’s army has just dissolved the government, dismissed the prime minister and declared a state of emergency. That certainly sounds like a coup — but it’s not, unless you count the army taking over from itself as a coup. The two uniformed power brokers who effectively controlled Sudan last week (a regular soldier called General Burhan and an opportunistic warlord lieutenant general Hamdan) still control the country this week. My Oxford English Dictionary defines a coup as a ‘sudden and decisive stroke of state policy’ and also as ‘a finishing stroke.’ Sudan’s coup that is not a coup was neither sudden nor decisive. The mood of end-game impatience with the

Africa’s empty vastness has vanished under the concrete of the present day

Kenya   When I was a child in Kenya, the road from the Indian Ocean up to Nairobi was still a dirt track, with the way frequently blocked by a rhino or large herds of elephant. A few decades later, the route has two railways and the road is an unbroken column of lorries heading all the way to the Congo. Africa is growing so fast that older people like me feel a kind of existential jetlag — or a sort of phantom limb syndrome, in which our eyes still see empty wilderness, plains and forests of a recent past that have vanished under the concrete of the present day.

Wrapped up in satire, a serious lesson about the fine line between success and scandal

Have you heard of champing? Neither had I. Turns out it’s camping in a field beside a deserted church. When it rains, you abandon your flimsy tent and instead bed down in the hushed aisles. At the beginning of Ferdinand Mount’s new novel, Making Nice, Dickie Pentecost and his wife Jane, together with their daughters Flo and Lucy, are doing just that. In the morning they meet fellow champer Ethel, short for Ethelbert, a bewitching man with stony eyes and sticking-up hair. ‘Ethel,’ says Dickie. ‘I suppose they could have shortened it to Bert instead.’ After losing his job as the diplomatic editor of a national newspaper (‘Who needs diplomatic

Our farm is a haven for lost souls

Laikipia He was turned out in a crisp bush ranger’s uniform and handled his assault rifle like a man hardened in the field for years to take on bandits and elephant poachers. ‘Ah Mario, what a pleasure it is to meet you again after all this time,’ I said. His severe military face collapsed into a beaming smile as he snapped to attention and slope-armed his weapon. He then relaxed and we chatted for a while on the roadside in our farming district, where I’ve been around so long now that I frequently encounter people whom I’ve known all their lives. Some, like Mario, even have a few wrinkles, greying

The Nobel truth

I suspect that there are no people in the world quite so right-on as the Nobel prize committee members. A bunch of affirmative-action hand-wringing Scandies, desperate to prove that they are woker than thou. This mindset brought the Nobel peace prize to Barack Obama before he had actually done anything, if you remember. He later brought peace to nowhere. The scarcely less risible award of the literature prize to Bob Dylan followed shortly after, presumably for lines such as: ‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood / When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud.’ Bob’s award reminded me of the BBC turning paroxysms