The endless fascination of volcanoes

Volcanoes, volcanoes, volcanoes. You wait years for a good book or a film about volcanoes to come along and then they blow up all at once. In 2022, Sara Dosa’s incredible, unmissable – incroyable! incontournable! – documentary about the eccentric French filmmakers and volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, Fire of Love, was nominated for an Oscar. It should have won. Then, last year, volcanology’s own Brian Cox, Clive Oppenheimer – professor of volcanology at the University of Cambridge and Werner Herzog’s companion and guide in his documentary film about volcanoes, Into the Inferno (2016) – published Mountains of Fire: The Secret Lives of Volcanoes. Now erupting on to the scene

Why don’t more tourists visit Ethiopia?

Standing on a cliff edge looking at where the Blue Nile is just a trickle, watched by a gelada baboon on a distant rock and staring over miles upon miles of some of the most beautiful countryside I’d ever seen, one thought struck me: why is there hardly anyone else here? Ethiopia is stunning to look at, once you get out of the capital, Addis Ababa. It offers history, culture, architecture, religion and everything in between. Yet when you tell anyone you’re going there the most common response is: ‘Really? Why?’ In a country twice the size of France and with a population of 120 million, there were times when I

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

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

Thirty years ago, I saw the rebels take Addis Ababa

Kenya The evening before the assault on Addis Ababa, my guide Girmay and I ventured into a complex stuffed with bombs, bullets and missiles that must have been booby-trapped. A few minutes into taking photos, I heard detonations, and a bunker on the hill above us exploded. We dashed away as the rumbles and bangs behind us gathered in fury and then the earth burst in an eruption of fire, sending a mushroom cloud into the sky. As we ran, rockets and shells rained down on all sides, shrapnel and earth bursting in plumes. We took cover in a dry riverbed and I worked my way through a packet of

Black African lives should matter too

The treatment of black people, particularly by law enforcement, has become a principal point of protest in the western world. But little it said about the millions of black Africans mistreated by the ruthless security forces of authoritarian African regimes. If black lives matter regardless of where they are in the world, then it’s time to challenge the immensely privileged black African ruling elite that clings to power by persecuting its often-voiceless Black African citizens. The numbers tell the story. An estimated 5.4 million people or 8 per cent of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s population died in the 1997-2003 conflict at the hands of government security forces and non-state

The roots of humanity remain obscure

To comprehend ourselves and the future of humankind we have to understand where we came from. Unlike the approximately 350,000 known species of beetles on Earth, there is just one existing species of human. It is hard to imagine how our bodies and minds might have been constructed along different design principles or generated even a fraction of such diversity. With our growing ability to manipulate human genomes using gene editing, and the emergence of technologies that may enable human genomes to be rewritten in their entirety, the question of what we might become is no longer theoretical. Should humankind decide to redesign itself, the crapshoot of design by Darwinian

Things fall apart: Ethiopia’s terrifying descent into civil war

The world’s first conflict triggered by Covid-19 exploded on 4 November in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray. Before your eyes glaze over at news of fresh African horrors — hundreds dead in battles and air strikes, ethnic massacres, civilians fleeing, charities calling for food aid — consider this frightening new reality. For the first time in modern history, wars and insecurity now ravage a continuous line of African states from Mauretania’s Atlantic shores to the Red Sea — a 6,000km Sahelian suicide belt of jihadis, state failure and starvation. Intervene too hard in this mess and you get David Cameron’s ill-conceived 2011 Libyan bombing raids. Gaddafi gets butchered in a