February 17, 2009

Skewz: On the Trail of Somali Pirates with David Axe

From Skewz: We had yet another amazing conversation with David Axe … [T]he Bush Administration unwittingly assisted in the expansion of pirate activity several years ago. The Islamic Courts emerged in Somalia with some popular support to provide security and stability in the war-torn country. Their appeal was similar to the Taliban’s more than a […]

February 11, 2009

New in My Kitbag

Africa may grow some of the world’s finest coffee beans but getting a decent brew on the road can be problematic. In most places Nescafe is the only thing on offer – just about passable if drunk strong and black. But – and I know this is desperately old hat for readers in places where […]

February 4, 2009

Redemption Pong

Films set in Africa have come a long way recently. Stereotyped natives and mzungu heroes have given way to more complex takes on the continent. The Last King of Scotland and Blood Diamond both captured something about the feel of the place while offering a serious look at Africa and its problems. Blood Diamond, in […]

January 14, 2009

Catching Up

Back from holiday and now trying to catch up on email, phone messages and blog posts that I missed during the past fortnight. Meskel Square offers a guide to Sudan’s year ahead The wildcards The International Criminal Court This is the only thing people are talking and thinking about in Sudan right now. What will […]

January 2, 2009

Mexican Safari

So I saw the new year in in fine style, sitting around a campfire on the beach in Baja. In theory I am helping to build an earthbag house. In reality I’ve been drinking margaritas and watery beer with a squirt of lime. Either way it’s a pretty cool place to unwind, read a few […]

December 27, 2008

Safari Soundtrack of the Year

It’s been a funny year for me music wise. I’m still struggling to keep up with what’s going on back home. I’ve bought a couple of duff albums on the back on online reviews and I’m sorry to lose The Beat on the BBC’s World Service. Anyway, here are the top 10 most played tracks […]

December 22, 2008

The Pirate-Kenya Connection

Mombasa, southern Kenya’s sweltering port town is, in many ways, the center of gravity of the piracy war. While pirates themselves are based mostly in northern Somalia, hundreds of miles from here, the repercussions of piracy — and many of the higher-order command functions on both sides — play out in Mombasa. Many of the […]

December 21, 2008

My African Predictions for 2009

This year I lost $200 in bets on the US presidential election and remain committed to swimming naked to Tuti island in the middle of the Nile on my next visit to Khartoum. That is not enough to stop me making a few more predictions of the events that will shape the African news agenda […]

December 17, 2008

The Pirate Panic Button

The ships that make the two-day run from Mombasa, Kenya, to Somalia carrying vital humanitarian supplies are frequent targets of pirate attacks — and have been for more than a decade. How have ship’s crew adapted? Same way the pirates have adapted over the years: with simple technology and no-nonsense tactics. On Wednesday, the small […]

December 16, 2008

Unemployed, by Pirates

Kennedy Mwale, 32, pictured, is a freelance tour guide in Mombasa’s old port, a claustrophobic melange of Arab and Portuguese architecture with one small stone pier. A week ago Monday, three small cargo ships were tied to the pier. Scores of shirtless stevedores lugged bags of cement and tossed them into the ships’ holds. The […]

December 12, 2008

Your African Year

A few days ago I was compiling an 800wd review of 2008 in Africa for one of my papers. I asked for help in finding a good news story to include and was inundated by readers’ ideas for things I should include. I simply didn’t have room for more than one, so I thought we […]

December 9, 2008

My African Year

So it’s that time of year when one of my clients puts together its review of the year. As usual I’m tasked with writing 800wd on the African year. As usual it’s something of a gloomfest. Here’s how it looks so far Zimbabwe – the old crocodile is still clinging firmly to power, while his […]

November 26, 2008

Sonim XP1: Does What It Says on The Tin

“Well, they did tell me it was unbreakable… and asked me to do my best to destroy it… and it has a three-year warranty.” Those were roughly the thoughts that ran through my head as my new Sonim XP1 phone described a graceful arc from the top-floor balcony. Time seemed to stand still as my […]

November 25, 2008

Africa Reading Challenge. 5. Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone

If there was ever a heyday for journalism then it must have been in the latter part of the nineteenth century. As pre-festive season memos circulate newsrooms warning that Christmas party expenses must be kept to a minimum, reading about Henry Morton Stanley’s instructions to travel the world for a year writing travel features before […]

November 12, 2008

My Kit Bag

My kit bag continues to have a fairly low-tech feel (ridiculed in some quarters) but the last thing you need in this part of the world is to be up all night trying to repair your nuclear-powered wireless nose trimmers. Anyway, there have been a few additions since the last time… Sonim XP1 – testing […]

October 30, 2008

Political Violence and the Novelist

The other day I was at a panel discussion on how the novelist should approach political violence. I blogged a review on behalf of the Complex Terrain Laboratory.

October 21, 2008

Gissa Job

So I know no-one wants to read yet another post about the future of journalism but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. In particular the future of one particular journalist. After four years reporting on this part of the world it has come to my attention – and possibly the reader of […]

September 29, 2008

Our next door neighbours are foreign countries

[video:youtube:nokTjEdaUGg] I didn’t want to post this here… but I have to. If there’s one thing that impacts the work of foreign correspondents and war reporters more than any other it is US foreign policy. Should the Republican party win the US election in November Sarah Palin will become Vice President. She got her first […]

September 22, 2008

Mark Mardell in hostile environments

Mark Mardell heads into hostile territory for the BBC, but this is just make believe. The BBC’s Europe Editor found it increasingly daft that he was missing out on stories because he hadn’t done the requisite hostile environment training course, Why am I here if I don’t want to get close to gunfire? Well, I […]

September 6, 2008

Daman District

Went out to Daman district (Kandahar still) yesterday evening for a walk in the countryside. Shoran Dam is an area that has almost total sympathy with the Taliban, so we didn’t stay too long, but long enough to enjoy the peace of being outside the city. The days are getting longer, all the more so […]

September 3, 2008

Ramazan Grape Trip

Went out of town this afternoon to get some grapes. Not that you can’t buy them in town, but actually driving 45 minutes into the districts to pick them yourself is always more fulfilling (and more interesting). So we headed to the land of a friend in Dand district. He has about 50,000 grapevines on […]

August 4, 2008

Phone 4 Me

Has anyone tried the Sonim XP1 phone, which Time seems to be claiming as a “tough gadget”? My current Samsung U600 is pretty wrecked after four months. Its screen is scratched to pieces after a couple of trips to Sudan, a week in the DRC and a lot of battering in my pocket. Battery life […]

July 30, 2008

Hermaphrodites or Mercenaries

Have picked the final book for my Africa Reading Challenge. In the end it was a toss-up between Sydney Brenner’s My Life in Science and Horn Of Africa by Philip Caputo. At one stage in my life I knew more about the vulva of the nematode worm than is healthy. Specificially, I knew more about […]

July 15, 2008

Forgotten film season at the Frontline Club

The Forgotten season starts at the Frontline Club from 4 August. The season consists of nine documentary films from some of the world’s forgotten stories, Ranging from female soldiers in Sri Lanka to a forgotten war in Nagorno Karabakh, a covered up massacre in Uzbekistan to conscientious objection in the US Army – these films […]

July 12, 2008

Them and Us

Nick Parker of The Sun in Burma Blogging seems to be doing something strange to the relationship between journalists and press officers. Once upon a time a press officer might help a reporter with a story – providing a quote, setting up an interview, forwarding a policy paper and so on – and the reporter […]

July 4, 2008

Those left behind in the jungle

The rescue of 15 hostages from the clutches of Farc guerrillas is probably the most important event in years in Colombia. It’s also probably the biggest political triumph of President Uribe’s six years in power. Colombia is rejoicing and enjoying a rare respite from its ugly and unrelenting conflict. The next couple of weeks will […]

July 2, 2008

Sun City Rockers Whinge All the Way to the Bank

At the risk of getting boring… Queen guitarist Brian May has hit out a British TV network for not broadcasting the group’s performance at Nelson Mandela’s recent 90th birthday concert in London. The band, along with vocalist Paul Rodgers, were the final act to take the stage at the gig in Hyde Park on Friday, […]

June 30, 2008

Balmy Chad Siesta

It’s hot here. So hot that by 11:00 in the morning it’s getting hard to move. I lie in my cot in my tent, snoozing in brief spurts – and, between naps, pouring bottled water on my head. It’s the temperature of half-hour-old coffee, but it’s cool as it evaporates, which it does in seconds. […]

June 25, 2008

Runaway Tent!

Fair access to water and firewood are big motivators in rebellions in Chad, Central African Republic and the Darfur region of Sudan, according to Alain Lapierre, a manager with aid group CARE International. Indeed, these two things are never far from the minds of the 18,000 North Darfuri refugees in Iridima and the original residents […]

June 21, 2008


It started with singing. I was in my sweltering hovel – I mean, typical Chadian room – at a guest house in Abeche in eastern Chad on Friday evening when I heard the women’s voice harmonizing. My photographer Anne bustled over. “Do you hear it? I think it’s a wedding.” We hopped the fence, audio […]