Rob Crilly


March 31, 2008

Only in Khartoum

Al Siir, Khartoum’s best fixer Al Siir is something of a legend among journalists visiting Khartoum. He has been imprisoned alongside a Financial Times reporter and been the subject of a feature in Newsweek. As far as I am concerned he is the best fixer by far in a city where few taxi drivers speak […]


March 29, 2008

A Load of Rooibos

The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is not my cup of tea, Rooibos or otherwise. And it seems most British TV critics felt much the same way. As Stephen Pile in The Telegraph put it… The whole production was generous to a fault and the fault was this: it was like a blacked-up Vicar of Dibley. […]


March 28, 2008

Breakfast in Khartoum

The coffee tastes like coffee, the croissants are flaky on the outside and soft on the inside, and the wifi is running at the speed of light. But this isn’t breakfast in Kenya – where the coffee was probably grown and which is setting itself up to be an internet hub for East Africa. This […]


March 24, 2008

I Hope It Was Worth It

So, 1500 people died and some 600,000 people were displaced in violence after rigged elections that denied Raila Odinga his chance to become (what his campaign promised would be) the People’s President. He never really specified exactly what the People’s President would do. But the feeling was that he would ensure the dark days of […]


March 21, 2008

Don’t Call It Cattle Rustling

While the love-in between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga continues, so too does the killing. Another 25 deaths in “cattle rustling” incidents in the Rift Valley this week underlining the fact that a political deal between Kenya’s rivals for president has had little impact on long-standing tribal resentments over land and power. As François Grignon, […]


March 19, 2008

Interest in Africa Suspended

The best thing about writing from Africa is that editors leave you to your own devices. In Washington, Baghdad or Moscow you can bet on a phone call each morning asking what that day’s line will be. In Nairobi, there is no daily grind. You can disappear for a week. Maybe work on a feature, […]


March 17, 2008

Portrait of Darfur

General Rokero commands Jebel Mara for the Abdul Wahid faction of the Sudan Liberation Army Opheera McDoom, the Reuters correspondent in Khartoum, wrote recently of her frustration at the lack of progress towards peace in Darfur. “I have been writing on Darfur for 4 1/2 years. More than ever, I am wondering how much difference […]


March 11, 2008

The Pickup

On Friday I stopped. After two months haring around Kenya, diving in out of slums and driving throuugh the Rift Valley I simply stopped. And went to Lamu for the weekend. My body responded by making me sleep for long periods of time and then making me vomit. Anyway, I managed to polish off the […]


March 6, 2008

When a Spade is a Long-Handled Digging Implement

Reporters Without Borders has reopened the debate on how best to cover the issue of tribe and tribalism during Kenya’s election violence. Its verdict on the Kenyan media is bizarrely damning: …the Kenyan media failed in its duty to report fully on the political crisis and violence that followed last 27 December’s presidential election because […]


March 5, 2008

Africa Reading Challenge

Siphoning Off A Few Thoughts is hosting an Africa Reading Challenge. The idea is to read six books this year which are about Africa, set in Africa, written by an African etc and then post reviews. I wish I had a few more imaginative books sitting in my unread pile: Elizabeth David’s Provincial Nile Cuisine, […]


March 4, 2008

They’re Not Getting Around

So I finally got something right. Last week I was panicking because colleagues in Joburg had begun calling me to find out if the gentle scent of teargas was once again wafting around Nairobi. This was a concern because my folks had just arrived on holiday. And they had travelled largely because I had reassured […]


March 3, 2008

Teacher Faces Jail in Ethiopia after Exposing Paedophile

So you work tirelessly to expose paedophiles working in a children’s charity village in Ethiopia. Your work helps convict one British sex abuser. And for your trouble you face being sent to prison on Friday, possibly for six months because the charity involved has sued you for defamation rather than welcome your work in blowing […]


March 2, 2008

How Not to Write About Africa

It’s difficult to know where to begin with an NPR correspondent’s recent justification for using the term “Dark Continent” in a preview of George W’s trip to Africa. “I had no idea the term would be found offensive,” said Cochran, who joined NPR in 1981. “I will concede antiquated but I was unaware it was […]


March 1, 2008

Geldof Shines a Light on Africa

Great piece by Bob Geldof in this week’s Time on George W’s Africa policy. It starts with a slightly terse exchange between the two… I gave the President my book. He raised an eyebrow. “Who wrote this for ya, Geldof?” he said without looking up from the cover. Very dry. “Who will you get to […]


February 29, 2008

A New Type of Kenyan Politician

Barack Obama with his Kenyan relatives. Granny Sarah is second from right, front row Barack Obama’s twin messages of “hope” and “change” are playing pretty well in the US. They’re playing even better in Kenya where his relatives are praying for peace. Here, the allure is simple. After years of misrule by politicians whose only […]


February 28, 2008

What Happens When Kofi Goes Home?

So we have a deal to end Kenya’s bloodshed. Great. And it waters down the power of the president, which is an important step to ending Kenya’s winner-takes-all politics of tribalism. But why was Raila Odinga, the opposition leader soon to be installed in the new post of Prime Minister, looking hatchet faced throughout the […]


February 28, 2008

The Great Pastry Crisis

Deeply disturbing news arrives from Sudan. President Bashir has ordered a boycott of all things Danish in response to those cartoons of the prophet Mohammed being republished in newspapers over there. I suspect the Danish bacon industry will be unconcerned. But wait. What about the pastries served at Ozone, possibly the best coffeeshop in the […]


February 26, 2008

Waiting and Seeing

The storm clouds have been gathering for a few days. Last week the opposition ODM said they would hold “peaceful” demonstrations on Thursday. Meanwhile, Kofi Annan has been looking increasingly like someone who thought he would have been back in time to be guest of honour at the African Cup of Nations final. His rather […]


February 25, 2008

Tom Cholmondeley was back in court today. This time it’s for the latest appeal hearing as his defence team try to overturn the trial judge’s order to hand over their list of witnesses to the prosecution. Like most people I thought that to shoot one person dead was unfortunate, but to be accused of murder […]


February 23, 2008

Lights in Tunnels aren’t Always Good

Kofi Annan. Source: Ricardo Stuckert/ABr On Thursday the endlessly upbeat Kofi Annan, who is mediating Kenya’s peace talks, said he was beginning to see “light at the end of the tunnel”. Well it’s starting to look as if the light at the end of the tunnel is actually the light of an oncoming train. (With […]


February 22, 2008

White Elephants and Windfalls

As African airports go, Eldoret International Airport is one of the finest. The taps in the toilets all work, its runway is long enough for a 747 and there are no queues at check-in. All as it should be for an airport that opened barely 10 years ago and cost $49m. It’s a darn sight […]


February 21, 2008

Things I’d Like to Believe But Can’t

The road from the airport home was mercifully empty tonight. I arrived back in Nairobi at about 7-15pm just when you expect roads to be clogged with cars, matatus and trucks. But apart from three police checkpoints and the inevitable accident (the law requires drivers to leave their vehicles in situ until a police officer […]


February 17, 2008

The Point of Poetry

Call me a Philistine, but I’ve never much seen the point of poetry. Sure the War Poets did some good stuff. But when you are capable of stringing together sentences into a few coherent paragraphs why bother chopping it into lines and verses? It seems a bit, well, contrived. Maybe it takes a war? Whatever. […]


February 16, 2008

Kenya’s Aid Irony

Nairobi is the aid hub for East Africa and the Horn. The city is filled with charity workers flitting to Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and so on. Its vast United Nations complex is reckoned to be one of the biggest contributors to the city’s economy. But when it comes to tackling a […]


February 12, 2008

Can You Give Me A Receipt – Oh and What’s Your Tribe?

Muindi is Kamba. Frank is Taita. And the two Johns are Kikuyu. The tribal identity of my taxi drivers in Nairobi never used to matter much. It would make for an interesting diversion to discuss stereotypes on long journeys: who is the faster out of Kamba and Kalenjin, or why exactly do Kikuyus confuse their […]