ABOUT MEEEEEEE…. for contacts and biog, search contacts and biog!

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Looking unusually relaxed and well.

I wear alot of jewellery, probably to defend myself, partly because I was given it, or it’s very sentimental, and been badly fixed by me somewhere along the way…. and each bit has a micro-story and without it I feel a bit lost. A bit undressed.

My name is Zulu and Xhosa, and yes, it’s mine, on my birth certificate, and it means trustworthy. Hopeful, patient…  those words mean a lot depending on context.

I grew up in London. South East London, near London Bridge. Before it was gentrified into an unrecogniseable blur of Kath Kitson and porsches. At 15 I started being a youth worker. In Pimlico School, and then the Montifiore Centre in Whitechapel, London E1. Behind Brick Lane, and it was largely Syhletti and there were loads of fantastic small cafes, but  very few places that me and mum could get food and not get stared at: it was very male. There was not a hipster in sight. Or on site. And the beards were hennaed, and the bikes were proper ones with gears, scratches and baskets.

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Staying at La Polana hotel in Maputo Mozamique, possibly the only time in my life, ever, I’ve spent three weeks in a five star hotel. Working on oil and gas stories.

I like listening to stories. I remember my history teacher when I was 16, who worked as a go-go dancer in Malaga in the holidays, saying “It’s all basically about stories” and I thought, everyone has their story. I wonder who’s listening though? The other history teacher, Mr Cornish, wore small round Lennon spectacles and made us think about global issues and inequality and trade deficits and dumping crappy pharmaceuticals on countries that couldn’t argue….

And then at home: lots of African music (mostly King Kong, set in Soweto, and penny whistle, and the greats of African jazz, ) and dad shouting at the tv, and granny translating West African authors (like Nawal El Sadawi into English, from French) and mum making Bobotie (an Afrikaans dish) and giving me Bell Hooks and Toni Morrison to read. So I actually thought the word ‘intellectual’ meant African writer until quite late in the day.

Childhood. South African exiles and other political refugees round the dinner table. Kaftans and bare feet and absolutely no meals without chilli or spices…. although all I desperately wanted at the time was tinned food, plain easy English meals. And to be called Katy or Elizabeth, and to feel English, which I didn’t. And to not have a house full of books and strange folk who laughed loudly, talked about Marxism, pan Africanism,  nuclear power, social justice, shitty English class prejudices, where music played ALL THE TIME.

Where’s this going I wonder? It took me not very long at all to find my way back to Africa- I knew that Nyrere (the president of Tanzania) had offered my parents refuge and exile in Tanzania, before they came to the UK in 1963, so it seemed like an obvious place to go, aged 20… and by the time I’d worked up the courage to go to South Africa, and we were unbanned (where my parents grew up, but are not really from, tribally) I had started my love affair with Tanzania.

I think my own journey of working out who I am and were we come from has informed my desire and empathy to work on telling the stories of present day refugees. Or people booted off their land.

Sculpture made out of reclaimed armaments and military hardware, Mozambique

I don’t have a tribe. I’ve always been caught between several, (Jews, Irish, Scots), always been uncertain about power, and not always had the language or concepts to explain what this is like. I’ve always been aware that my dad’s first language was Zulu, he grew up in an Afrikaans part of South Africa (near Pietermaritzberg) whilst my mother is from an illustrious clan of Jews. I’ve just found out I’m related to the UK’s chief rabbi, Sir Israel Brody, which might explain my imperious attitude and incredible confidence at times. More to the point the relatives seem to have a fine line in hatwear:



I’ve never been entirely sure what home is,  always gravitated towards the outsiders, the excluded, struggled to know where my real place is. That’s who we are, children of those that move, out of choice or force. Listening is good….My suspicion is that most people’s lives are fairly complex, as is their lineage. Farage et al wouldn’t have much of a purchase if we were honest, and imaginative about our own lives.

Bring out the banners 4

I can’t write the celebratory narrative “I’m so blessed and lucky because…” it is what it is.

I have always written- from the age of 6 kept diaries, and I am delighted and grateful  that some people pay me for this, and that I can write in many different styles: academic, broadcast, reports. For the Feminist Review, Diva, Think Africa, Al Jazeera, International Labour Organisation, Marie Claire, Theartsdesk, a PhD or for the Independent travel section. But mostly I still really like stories. Along the way I have met incredible and wonderous mentors, readers, friends. Really special.

I’m a bit randomly obsessed with over the top heels

The other stuff: I was a journalist for various bits of the BBC (TV and radio) from 1990: I started at the World Service (African Service) and hit lucky- this was the time I got paid to make features about Angelique Kidjo, travel to Burkina Faso to talk to beermakers on the side of the road or school teachers explaining the myths of the dragons of the Niger.  I’ve worked  for the BBC as a reporter all around the world: Timbuktu, Cambodia, Palestine, West Bank, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cuba, France…Brixton, Kensington. Documentaries are my thing; slow winding explorations that take months to research, with solid narratives at the core, where we’re left to work it out, and the characters and  people are three/four dimensional and contradictory.

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Working with the Director of Save the Children in Zanzibar

The most famous person I’ve ever interviewed was Nelson Mandela. And then Kylie – or maybe Paul Weller. The most fun I’ve had was a piece made for the Telegraph writing about falconry where  I tried hang gliding on devon cliffs, whilst a falcon circled above. Or maybe it was New York, writing for Diva.The most gruesome stuff I’ve done was in Rwanda, and then working in Ethiopia for a year (for the UN) which was soul-destroying and killed my hope and  idealism. I am most proud of the work I’ve done anonymously for various agencies, media and organisations, exposing some fairly shitty doings. The most interesting work I did was in South Africa, on self-policing and gangs in Mannenburg, and a week living with a Muslim family who were members of PAGAD for radio 4.

I’m writing a novel. And turning my PhD (about mobile phones, sex and women on Zanzibar, from SOAS,  2015) into a book. I’m very interested in land grabs, resources extraction, gender and LBGTQ, African arts, and less lofty things like Bridget Christie, crime novels and  how to sync my phone and laptop. If it wasn’t so dire and twee,  I really would think it’s funny that I honestly  do prefer writing in pen an ink and miss landlines. I love teaching (at universities)… and open to offers of work. But not from the Huffington Post, who can stick their unpaid offers of work where the sun don’t shine. Love is the answer, but I do get really grumpy about a lot of things.

Thank you for reading this far. If you want to find me now I’m at Thembi.Mutch@gmail.com




Information or Honesty? Life on a very isolated island

  • FEBRUARY 28, 2012 first published in Index On Censorship (hard copy only)

Over 70 per cent of East Africa’s population lives in rural communities: despite the proliferation of radio stations, weekly and daily newspapers, and television stations, in Tanzania alone there are 17 radio stations, 61 national papers and 11 state and private TV stations. In Kenya and Uganda there are even more media outlets but despite this, and even though ‘freedom of information’ is being enshrined in constitutions (in Kenya and Tanzania), there are major challenges to free speech and accessing information.

Mwalimu Asya Mgongo is one of three teachers on the island of Chole Mjini, total population 950 people. Like many East Africans lucky enough to have a job, her monthly 120,000 TZ shillings (£45) teacher’s salary supports eight family members. She is listening to her phone as she sits on ‘the harbour’: a small slab of concrete overlooking the Indian Ocean, her  headscarf covering her head — this is a 100 per cent Muslim island. “For me getting the information to teach my children really is a problem — Dar Es Salaam is over 12 hours away by boat, local bus and another bus. Books! You’re joking! They’re gold here. The government gives us text books, but there’s no postal system, and the even the newspapers arrive a day late, if they arrive, so there’s little point. I do have a radio, I listen to the BBC World Service and the German one, and I try and tell as many people as possible”. She looks out to sea a bit dreamily: “Internet, being able to get BBC news daily on the internet, I would love that.”

Her sentiments are echoed by Mama Dayema and Mama Mahogo, both cooks at the local Chole Mjini eco-lodge on the island, which, over the 20 years of its existence, has single-handedly raised the levels of education on the island by building a primary school and funding up to eleven people to go to university — a first for the island. Mama Dayema is clear about what information is missing from their lives: “We tend to rely on taxi drivers (on the sister Mafia island, a ten minute boat ride away) for information on staples like maize, rice, cooking oil. We’d really like to be able to chat to the guests in English. I am the only villager on the island with solar power, which I found out about through information from foreigners. The key is education, completely: my children need to get ahead and know how the world is, even if I don’t. We are cut off, ignored actually, by mainland government, and policies, but in some ways I don’t mind. We have abundant fruits — oranges, mangoes, and real trust here, we look after each other. On the mainland (Tanzania) there’s thieves, diseases, adulterers, bad people.”

Salma Meremeta left Mafia, for work in the capital; “Honestly we are isolated and abandoned here, the government doesn’t care about us one bit — when I come home I am shocked by the lack of information here, it’s bad.”

Certainly for tourists the island is as close to paradise as it gets, and the isolation a “feature” of the attraction. However, it’s a recognised problem that rural people, particularly women, are marginalised from the creation, circulation and consumption of information. Ironically rural people are often far more critical, and vociferous about political policy issues (water and the price of basics) because they are living so close to the breadline. Yet media houses and reporters are based in capitals like Kampala and Nairobi, and infrastructure — lack of good roads and the expense of flying — makes distribution of newspapers extremely expensive (thus impossible). It is rare for reporters to get the resources, support and incentives to report on “rural” issues.

On Chole Mjini island (which is 250km south of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, 1.5 square km wide, in the middle of the Indian ocean) the main public space in the village is dominated by a television hooked up to one of the two electricity points on the island. Football results and news are the popular crowd-pleasers. Up to two hundred men at a time pay 200 TZ shillings (ten pence) to watch for the evening; for 100 TZ shillings they can also charge their phones. As Saidi, says “It’s not really ok for women to be in public watching television. But we are an oral culture, so for example things like health messages (recently the US government donated mosquito nets to the island) don’t get spread on tv on radio, but by word of mouth. Or by the Imam at the call to prayer. We’re extremely forgiving and compassionate here, as a Muslim culture, so our sick people, we have two HIV victims, they are looked after by us, they are not ostracised. If we feel our sheha’s (Chiefs) are being unreasonable or unfair, we ignore them, or get rid of them. The island is so small there’s a sort of democracy. Go to the mainland? Me! No, never, I love it here”.

Figures for east African internet useage are not entirely accurate, but according to survey group Afrobarometer Tanzania scores the lowest, with just one per cent of the population having access to internet, . On Chole Mjini no-one has a computer, thus there is no internet access.  Mama Dayema’s daughter, Mwana, is a striking, educated 24 year old with her mobile phone neatly wrapped in a flannel and tucked into her bra. She is ambivalent “Yes, I suppose part of me is interested in the fact that slavery was only abolished here in 1922, or the Shirazi Persians built palaces here in the past, but honestly I am more interested in modern things, like music and fashion from Dar Es Salaam, or football results, not history.”

One of the downsides of lack of information is the prevalence of gossip. People pick up snippets of news, but it gets mangled through the rumour mill. It’s telling that despite the lack of media in Swahili there is no concrete way to say “I am bored”.

At the Bottom of the Lake is rare earth


While the fight over ownership of Lake Nyasa, between Tanzania and Malawi does not look set to finish soon despite regional mediation efforts. But in the meantime the local Tanzanian community bordering the lake is no nearer to understanding what the conflict is about, nor why so much is at stake.

A 29,000-square-kilometre tranquil lake that is a tourist spot, source of revenue and food for the local populations, has potentially become a lucrative oil and gas source since July 2012. The discovery rekindled a border dispute between the southern African neighbours over who owned the lake.

Just outside Mbeya Region, in southwest Tanzania, members of the community bordering the lake on the Tanzanian side have been working with the national NGO HakiArdhi or the Land Rights Research and Resources Institute, to understand their water rights.

“We know that we have agreed to disagree with Malawi on this one, but these communities depend completely on fishing and the lake for their lives. There’s been no consultation at all with us about how we benefit if there is oil here, none at all. How do we gain from this? The land issue is new for us here: we have no experience,” Saad Ayoub, the organisation’s assistant programme officer, told IPS by phone. (he says we and us? Is he from the area?)

Local residents echo this feeling. Richard Kilumbo, a resident from Kyela district, which lies on Lake Nyasa, told IPS that he could not understand the reasons for the dispute.

“We have relatives from Mzuzu, Malawi and were going to attend a wedding (there). We are shocked and panicked to find we are making preparations of war against our neighbours. We do not know why this is such big thing amongst our leaders. We heard people were talking, we thought we were free to walk and enjoy life,” he said.

Aruguably the trouble started in 1890, when the treaty of Heligoland divided up the lake according to Colonial law. It was amended in 1982 by the UN. However more recently in October 2012 Malawi’s former president, Bingu wa Mutharika, awarded a contract to British Surestream Petroleum to start gas and oil exploration on the eastern part of the lake, and then a second exploration licence in December 2012 to a subsidiary of South African firm SacOil.

In July 2012, Tanzania announced plans –with Denmark’s help- to purchase a new nine million dollar ferry to cross Lake Nyasa’s waters. Malawi’s Ministry of Lands claimed they had no legal right to start operating on Lake Malawi, since the ownership and border dispute remains unresolved. In retort, Hilda Ngoye, Tanzanian member of parliament for the Mbeya Region, claimed Malawian fishing and tourist boats were encroaching on Tanzania’s waters.

Things took a decisive turn for the worse. Matters were not improved when the Tanzania’s acting Prime Minister in the National Assembly, Samuel Sitta, warned that Tanzania would not hesitate to respond to any military provocation.

To date most tactics have been employed to resolve the dispute between the neighbours: mediation using Mozambican ex-president Joaquim Chissano, hot talk of army invasions, threats to take the case to the International Criminal Court of Justice, appeals using Southern African Development Community bishops, and diplomatic talks between the prime minsters of Tanzania and Malawi. (http://thecitizen.co.tz/component/search/lake%20nyasa.html?ordering=&searchphrase=all).

But there have been criticism that the issue of the lake dispute has been used to further political careers.

“This lake should be used to improve the lot and livelihoods of local people, on both sides. The lake is a resource – instead it’s being used as part of a political game, at the higher level to further political careers,” Local environmental journalist and expert who has followed the story for many years, and writes regularly on it for Swahili newspapers and in his own blog, Felix Mwakyembe, told IPS.

“There’s no border dispute among the local community, it is a dispute among politicians, a political performance at higher levels, eying elections in Malawi in 2014 and Tanzania in 2014. Unfortunately the local communities are pawns: they lack access to information and education to understand the implications and seriousness of this,” Mwakyembe said.

Kilumbo agreed.

“There really is no trouble on the ground, none at all. Fishermen from Tanzania are carrying on as usual, and although we know it’s in the news, we’ve no idea why,” he said.

The issues of resource extraction in Lake Nyasa echo other conflicts regionally when it comes to ownership, division of spoils, allocation of licences, and who pays for capital investments. As with other areas in East Africa, such as the Albertine Rift and Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, and Virunga National Park in Rwanda, (see  http://www.academia.edu/1905560/Bring_out_the_Banners_Oil_Gas_and_Minerals_in_East_Africa) there are two main oversights in this process: disseminating the results of the Environmental Impact Assessments and comprehensively incorporating community feedback into both the planning of extractions, and the “division of the spoils”.

“I have no idea about oil plans, none at all. And no, I’ve never even heard of an Environmental Impact Asessment, and certainly not seen one,” Kilumbo said. Laughing, he adds: “It’s hard to know what the ‘wazi wazi’ (fuss) is.”

Yet so far, it does not seem local communities do understand this conflict, nor their rights in the process.

Media and advocacy manager of local rights NGO Haki Elimu (your Rights), Nyanda Shuli, told IPS that the emphasis must be on financial accountability and transparency with the flows of income and investment both towards the communities, and the profits from the lake.

“Whatever the outcomes of this current dispute: we need daring thinking to try and tackle the bigger issues of how our communities in rural areas develop, find imaginative ways for people know their rights, and what they can expect, from the poorest marginalised fishing communities around Nyasa, to other communities inland.

“At the moment decisions are taken in the capital, Dar Es Salaam, and there’s no connection or meaningful dialogue with the regions at all: it’s more complicated because the distances are so huge, and the transport, telephone networks and roads so poor,” he said.

Amidst the obscuration and disagreements, there are several things that need to be remembered: there is  “rare earth” (a colloquial name for complex and valuable minerals mostly used for engineering) below the lake, and potentially a lot oil and natural gas.

To date, there is no documentary evidence that either of the local fishing communities, on both sides, Malawi or Tanzania, stand to gain much. Instead much quibbling goes on in national and international capitals, by elites dizzy with the prospect of more oil and natural gas wealth.

But for now, Kilumbo believes there is enough to go around.

“Yes, I can say the Malawians get the bigger fish, but that’s because we Tanzanians like the smaller, younger fish. But there’s enough to go round. I have no idea about oil plans, none at all.”


South Africa: 100 years after the founding of the ANC, dissenters take to Twitter

JANUARY 13, 2012



The 8th of January 1912 saw the founding of the ANC, by key  South African intellectuals, including author Sol Plaatje, poet John Dube, and editors Pixley ka Isaka Seme and John Langalibalele,  in a small  Wesleyan Church in Bloemfontein.


All four were writers, and one of the key tenets of the ANC was intellectual and creative freedom, as well as economic, political and social equality. The ANC is well known for its strong links with the unions, the miners, and with the Umkhonto We Siswe (MK, the armed wing).


What is less known is the firm commitment to promoting education, night classes and intellectual development: Walter Sisulu, Oliver Thambo, Hugh Lewin and Nelson Mandela all studied and/or ran informal classes for other prisoners  whilst imprisoned. Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu and members of the Africa Resistance Movement also coordinated education township night classes through the struggle years. Peter Magubane (a photographer at Drum) and the Drum Magazine played a vital role in both exploring the everyday elements of apartheid, and vividly quashing the lies and misinformation of the apartheid regime.


Back the ‘80s and ‘90s, demonstrations were de rigeur. Even until the mid noughties strikes and actual demonstrations, with real people and real placards, were everyday occurences, particularly in Johannesburg.  Free speech was visible, tangible.


Tweeting is changing this it seems. This week has seen the flourishing of all sorts of celebrations in South Africa commemorating the ANC’s birth, but also a remarkable burgeoning of criticism about the ANC, and where it’s going. Tweeting, which is significantly more common in South Africa than the rest of the Southern and Eastern region, is the new demonstration.


Relationships between South African media, and the ANC have becoming increasingly strained since the Information Act was passed late last year. The act seeks to curtail investigative journalism, and is viewed by many commentators as a major blight against what was originally an incredibly pioneering and free constitution. The South African twittersphere is ablaze with critical and sardonic comment on issues from the refusal of press passes to the local media, to clampdowns on reports critical of ANC leadership.


On Sunday (8 January)  several journalists criticized President Jacob Zuma’s speech at a local stadium in Mangaung. “The story of Mangaung so far today. Two themes. How slowly Zuma is delivering his speech and how quickly people are leaving. Sigh,” tweeted Channel 403 news anchor Iman Rappetti.  Reporting on Zuma’s speech, journalist Mandy Rossouw tweeted that “A faction in the crowd tries their best to distract Zuma, police sent in to stop them.” Zuma supporter Mthimkulu Mashiya responded, “JZ speech shaping up to be a powerful & inspirational one, must u concentrate on a few disruptive elements? C’mon now.”


Earlier, City Press Multimedia Editor Qhakaza Mthembu complained about the official decision to deny journalists access to the Wesleyan church where Zuma lit a symbolic torch. “Why would you invite the media if you gonna push us away and close church doors, I’m here to film the candle not the friggin doors,” she angrily tweeted. Mthembu then expressed her surprise at seeing an ANC spokesman lounging in the media pavilion, eliciting a sarcastic comment by @drphobophob: “Oh is Floyd Shivambu chilling in the media pavilion? I was pretty sure he hated our kind…1st rule of war=know your enemy.”


Zuma supporters were quick to retort: “All the reports I’ve seen, by both local and international media, about #ANC100 point out how the ANC has let itself go in recent years,” complained  @Mabine_Seabe. “Y is the media focusing on what ANC is not doing, instead of celebrating with them,” asked @morudilebo. “What’s so hard for Media houses just to congratulate #ANC100 and stop talking about discontents of past 17 years?” said @mokhathi.


It wasn’t just the media who were critical of the ANC.  “The #ANC pops champagne yet majority of South Africans struggle to access clean water. “tweeted @bekezeep. “At #ANC100 look out for all the dictators with murky Zuma…” tweeted @hebbiedodds. “LEADERS typically arrive in the latest range rover while the masses are ferried in belching buses,” tweeted @Ms_eazy. “Celebrating 100 years of what? Have we achieved the true victories set out in the Freedom Charter?” tweeted @SuGaRusHB. “Gotta wonder what #anc100 concert really cost us? How many houses schools or hospitals could we have built? How many kids could we have fed?” tweeted @TracyLeePurto. “Anc was started by theologians yet today its criminals that run it,” tweeted @MaqPaulM.


In a microcosm of the national debate, Zuma supporters confronted a twitterer called Hlomla Dandala for mocking the president. “Mangaung: Where tenderprenuers meet pantyprenuers,” read one of his tweets, a witty reference to corruption and sex scandals entangling several ANC leaders. Defending himself, Dandala tweeted to a handful of Zuma supporters: “In all democracies, presidents r criticised, ridiculed & mocked. That’s democracy.”


Even the National Director of Public Prosecution Menzi Simelane, couldn’t resist getting involved. Tweeting in his personal capacity, he said, “Good thing about real freedom is about making fun of your President, an elder, and a Statesman, without worrying about repercussions!” However, as the Committee for the Protection of Journalists points out, given pending criminal complaints by Zuma’s spokesman against two journalists, as well as other potential media prosecutions, repercussions against investigative reporting can be expected.

From Timbuktu to Trinidad

A giant Calypso queen called Belle looms regally over the British Library’s new show West Africa: Word, Symbol and Song. Below her, David Rudder’s Notting Hill Carnival classic Calypso Music pumps out of speakers, and footage from carnivals past can transport you back to the Portobello Road in 1993.

The exhibition celebrates the incredible complexity and diversity of West Africa’s heritage, while never side-stepping the more thorny issues of rebellion, protest and the transatlantic slave trade.

As chief curator of the African Collections Marion Wallace concedes, selecting what to include in a show that spans 2,000 years, 1,000 languages and 17 different countries (from Mauritania to Cameroon) was a massive task. “We got it down to themes and storylines,” she says. “We didn’t want an exhibition where you would just look at a book – we wanted a multi-dimensional experience”. The decision to limit the scope to West Africa was taken after many months, when it was acknowledged that there was simply too much material to explore the whole continent. Central, East and Sub-Saharan Africa shows will follow.

Divided into five sections, the show is unflinching, funny and a labour of impressive research. It involves collaborations with South London drumming groups, New York academics, West African lorry drivers, Nigerian scholars and community organisations. It gives a way to thread people, ideas and objects together – and explores African history from a non-institutional perspective.

The earliest item on show is a European engraving of Benin society from 1628, showing a reference for the social structures there – a far cry from the stereotypical “barbarous natives” narrative. There is also evidence of eleventh century writing, poetry and manuscripts from Egypt to Ethiopia, as well as a late 18th or early 19th century “saddlebag qu’ran” which was designed for reading on hoof, or camel.

Gus Casely-Hayford, chair of the advisory panel for the show, says: “Most would accept that the history of African literature and oral tradition … has lain unacknowledged and underappreciated for too long. It has been unjustifiably overlooked, and accomplishments of its key figures have been … obscured by a long history of misunderstandings, misconceptions and prejudice.”

koran saddlebag



There is a non-descript but galling diagram from the 18th century that outlines the ‘best’ way to cram slaves into the hold of a ship, meticulously illustrated with men and women lying top to toe. This is accompanied by original pamphlets, poetry, letters and even classical music scores by leading African abolitionists. (Phyllis Wheatley, Ignatious Sancho, Ottabah Cuguano).

There are some real surprises: for example, that Tuareg rebels didn’t destroy most of the famous Timbuktu manuscripts, as is often assumed. Actually, local people stashed many of them away or smuggled them out and they remain in Mali as part of the endangered archives project, run by the British Library. There are many similar manuscripts, in the exhibition, and thousands still across the continent from Mauritania to Cameroon.

Elsewhere, recordings of Christian hymns into Yoruba by Fela Kuti’s grandfather Josiah in 1922 complicate the story of white imperialism. And just around the corner, his grandson is brought to life in the film Finding Fela. The music, and a selection of fabulous record sleeves, reveal him as a polymath: the founder of Afro-beat, a radical, conscious activist, a musician. The show’s co-curator, Janet Topp Fargion, says: “Everywhere we went, people said you must include Fela Kuti! You just must!”

Some of the smallest items are the most powerful. There is an angry letter written in Arabic – “Give me back my book!” – from the 19th century. A poem from the 17th century female Islamic scholar Nana Asma’u, which proves women’s active public role in Islam.

In the section of the exhibition called ‘Speaking out: dissent and creativity in the colonial era and beyond’ are pamphlets, posters, novels and newspaper cuttings that bring to life the vibrancy and urgency of the post-colonial independence movements. As reading and writing became political tools of popular movements, colourful cloth printed with Senegal’s President Senghor’s face shows how the message went viral. Subtle digs at British intellectual snobbery, with Ghanaian MP and Journalist Mabel Dove’s parody of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘The Adventures of a Black Girl in Her Search For God’ shows the colony cleverly answering back. Where George Bernard Shaw is happy to critique the British colonial administration for outdated racism, it is Mabel Dove who shows his portrayal of African women is old-fashioned and ridiculous, and her ‘African woman’ is sporting a tennis racket and criticising the church.

Proverbs, novels, pamphlets, plays, music, poetry, religious writing, words stamped on to taxis and mammy wagons – Africa is bursting with words, wordplay, riddles and scholarly study. As Casely-Hayford says: “This is a region of deep artistic sophistication – and this is a chance to follow it across a thrilling millennium of achievement.”


Oil Exploration in East Africa is potentially a disaster

Random Mozambique (48)

Africa Arguments

In 1885 the Berlin Conference divvied up, and created rulered lines across the continent, and precipitated the Scramble for Africa. In July this year, at the  China-Africa Ministerial Conference, in in Beijing, 49 African countries and China slipped quietly under the radar, and  agreed the fortunes of oil and natural gas extraction in Africa. In the meetings it was agreed that there was a need to outline environmental objectives, regulatory frameworks and green guidelines for extraction and development in Africa. But only serious aficionados would have been wondering, or had the time to pursue, questions about the communities- the people- that live in these areas. The attention, such as it is, is on the projected gains of such valuable resources. Local media is bulging with rather Spartan press releases, parroting the (frankly obscure) rhetoric.

Real facts: where is exploration taking place? How many people are affected? How many natural parks, gazetted areas, or conservancies will be mined in? How are communities being consulted? What are the projected profits? How will these be spread out? What facilities for communities (hospitals, schools, roads and local business support) will be built where the rigs are? What are the mechanisms for keeping track of the money? What about offshore investments, who will be monitoring or policing the gains? How will national governments address their already faulty taxation systems, and make public their regional spending priorities?  All these questions are markedly absent.   Such is the obfuscation, lack of media coverage, lack of (for want of a better word) civil society, absence of non-jargonised ways to discuss what is essentially a very layered problem, that to all intents, the effects of oil and gas on real people, on communities, have been forgotten. Side-lined. Or are they being deliberately ignored?  The resource curse syndrome is well documented. Says the African Development Bank  “oil/gas price volatility, oil and gas-related social and political  conflicts and poor oil/gas revenue  management have largely eroded the significant gains from higher but  volatile export revenues”.[i]

There are over 50 million pastoralists in Africa[ii]. They occupy a good proportion of the land earmarked for oil and gas explorations. Despite having the technology to identify minute marine life at over 2km below the sea level,  or watch street lights from space, knowledge about the vulnerable livlihoods of these people who move constantly, who eschew land deeds, and who live below the poverty line is scant. Ditto for coastal  fishing communities: in UN, Sussex University and NGO circles they are  already an acknowledged ‘problem’,  in that malnutrition, social isolation, appalling mortality rates, low levels of literacy and death in childbirth are significantly higher than their city cousins. In Kenya and Tanzania coastal regions are peripheral to central government, job prospects (artesianal fish farming, boat building, cashew and sesame farming) lag way behind the rest of the region. There has been death, violence, and links to Al Shabaab and Piracy in the Coastal regions. Even before a Nigeria or Angolan disaster, the social ramifications of exploration are mind-boggling.

The agendas of concerned  NGO’s (who behind the scenes, who have been lobbying for  ‘no go zones’ for extraction purposes, and a much more rigorous and thorough approach to governance issues) are not in the public eye.  They can’t risk the wrath of litigious oil companies. Dr. Li Lin, Deputy Country Representative at WWF China says “Investing in sustainability is fundamental for both Africa and China’s long-term prosperity. It is in both China’s and Africa’s interests that high governance standards are part of the aid, trade and investment portfolio of China in Africa, positively influencing China’s footprint in the continent.” But where are the equivalent of ‘planning gains’ or  community consultations, informal or not, when it comes to governance? Where is the evidence of any of this happening?

Random Mozambique (45) 

Poverty is bad for Governance.

This is fairly self-evident: the wider the gap (geographically, economically, culturally) between those making decisions, and those affected by them, the greater the potential for misunderstandings and  problems.   What is missing, in East Africa, are the discussions, the editorials, the phone ins and the investigative programmes, the outrage, curiosity or involvement from the communities in the areas that will be affected by drilling for oil and natural gas. It is no exaggeration to say that literally, having lived for five years in Tanzania, and then finally schlepping down to some of  the regions involved, there is almost impossible lacuna of information. From interested expats, to informed regional environmental consultants,  to oil rig workers, people in the villlages on the coast and inland. All are gagging for more information.

The areas potentially affected by natural gas and oil exploration are massive[iii].  Ranging  from Somaliland in the North,  traversing West into Uganda and DRC, and right down to Mozambique (and encompassing Madagascar, the coasts of Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique) these are the most biologically rich, environmentally complicated areas in the world. In the Albertine Basin in Uganda (already flagged up by the World Resources Institute as an area of potential conflict for water and fishing resources) the media talk is on Tullow Oil’s success at renegotiating access, not of Museveni’s alleged displacement of the Acholi people there[iv]. There are few existing baseline surveys about the environmental vulnerabilities and perils, but what is categorically missing, is information networks (for both gaining and dispersing information) and co-ordinated data about the people living in these areas.

At the moment oil is but a tantalising dream. However as anyone who’s spent more than two weeks by the pool in Africa knows, most of the real stuff goes on via pavement politics. In bars, in shebeens, in the market, in the public ‘barazzas’ (terraces) and in public taxis: mutatos in Kenya, Daladalas in Tanzania, Chapas in Mozambique. It is here, plus a few opportune evenings hanging out with the Dutch, English and French working on the rigs in Mtwara and Songo Songo (both in Southern Tanzania) that the full complexity of the issues unfurl.  The riggers agree that oil is a definite. So do the environmental biologists, diving down into the corals, and so do directors of larger NGO’s. At the moment, disgruntled people living in South Tanzania complain they’re getting no work from the natural gas exploration. There are hiked property prices for the incoming workers, and pole dancing clubs in Mtwara. In Kilwa there’s electrification (due to natural gas) but confusion about why no jobs have materialised. In Dar Es Salaam logistic companies (supplying cars, hospitality, security) are having a field day, as the security issues for vulnerable (and expensive) kit and people need to be addressed.  Young and old Tanzanians, with little English, and still waiting for cashew and sesame payments from national government in Dar Es Salaam,  are both frustrated and unable to organise: whether real or imagined, the perception is that they have no voice. With anecdotal evidence of 80% unemployment, they have no way to say to Andarko, Petrobas and BG Gas (the three biggest players currently in the area) what they want, and to go through (the admittedly slow) process of community consultation.

Africa is (once again) the ‘new frontier’; the stronger, more democratic economies make investment attractive. This has kicked off, domino style, a bewildering array of developments: from Special Protected Zones (tax breaks and incentives for large factories and industrialisation- paper, sugar, breweries) in certain countries to major trans-regional projects, roads, ports, oil refineries, whole new towns, airports and landing strips. Political  uncertainty in Nigeria, Libya and Algeria where existing oil exploration is happening,  massive Chinese investment also contribute to the euphoria.

Concerned  academics,  Directors of NGOs (who by and large actively stress their desire to stay out of the limelight) environmental consultants, and local community leaders, are all  following  the  LAPSSET (Sudan pipeline) the proposed ‘development’ of the historic port of Lamu, in Kenya, the East/West Serengeti Highway, and the (as yet unrelated to natural gas exploration), threats to specific species in the Coastal regions and the emerging conflicts in Mombassa, and in Albertine region in Uganda. What is fascinating, is the piecemeal nature of the debate. Attention has tended to focus on the environmental issues. Resource analysts , rather than encompass the  much more complex and bigger social impacts of exploration, focus on geology, or the engineering. If anything does go wrong, again the emphasis is on environmental damage. However financial systems or modelling can not ‘bail out’ oil companies in the same way they can in other areas, as the risks of piracy, and civil conflict are too great in the areas concerned. And they have no risk plans atall for local communities, who are not considered an economic asset.

This is not to suggest that gas and oil extraction is a de facto bad thing. But the debates- such as they are- take place in niche trade journals, and is indicative of the parochial nature of this region, and the complexity of the issues. Governance is about how roads service communities, and small farmers,  not just the oil transporters. Governance is about asking which hospitals and schools get built alongside the the refineries. What percentage of the profits go back to the communities. If and how fishing livelihoods will be affected. Whether people understand the risk asessments and safety nets in place (it is not good enough for companies to endlessly replay computer generated scenarios on computers in HQ’s in Northern locations). It is not good enough to create the conditions for piracy and revolt, and then be surprised when it happens.

The oil companies must show us, the public, what they are doing, where, and how the incomes, profits are distributed, and how many sustainable job plans are to be put in place. As Rakesh Rajani, director of Twaweza comments: “Tanzania has undertaken a significant number of anti-corruption activities including an elaborate anti-corruption agency that has produced a strategy and plan, more investigations, and more cases in court. Yet the overwhelming feeling among citizens and experts alike is that Tanzania is losing the battle against corruption. In my view the most important reason for this is the lack of transparency.”

Rajani makes vital points: that in the planning of oil and natural gas exploration, vital components of governance are missing. For example East African governments would do well to follow the examples  of Brazil  (hospitals) or the Phillipines ( schools, www.checkmyschool.org) who  make information happen in real time, disaggregating the information, so it’s meaningful and understandable to  ordinary citizens, and  using new technologies to mash, display and transmit data, particularly via the internet and the mobile phone. This will create practical and safe opportunities for citizens to give tips, ideas, feedback and whistle-blow, in a manner that is constructive.

Of all of these perhaps the most important is the management of extractives . Says Rajani:  “Making every aspect of gas transparent — reserves, contracts,taxation, transfer pricing, accounts, environmental assessments, governance structures, etc — could enable the country to reap real benefits and to achieve key goals for present and future generations; whether we do so is uncertain but there are no signs yet to suggest that we have leadership, public pressure and imagination to get this right”.

Random Mozambique (8).jpg

Random Mozambique (47).jpgRandom Mozambique (19)



[i]http://www.afdb.org/fileadmin/uploads/afdb/Documents/Publications/Commodity%20Brief%20Oil %20and%20gas%20Final.pdf


[ii] According to the UNDP report, Southern Tanzania ranks as one of the least developed areas in the world UNDP http://hdr.undp.org/statistics/data/country_fact_sheets/cty_fs_VUT.htm


[iii] http://www.platts.com/newsfeature/2012/eastafrica/map and   http://www.platts.com/newsfeature/2012/eastafrica/index


[iv] http://blackstarnews.com/news/135/ARTICLE/7964/2012-02-12.html and http://acholitimes.com/index.php/news/acholi-news/510-pensioners-vow-to-meet-museveni-over-benefits-and-government-programmes


The first exploration took place in Mnazi Bay, in the early 1950’s, source The Citizen “Three major firms join search for oil, gas”  Tuesday, 24 January 2012 By Felix Lazaro




See The Citizen http://thecitizen.co.tz/news/4-national-news/19209-three-major-firms-join-search-for-oil-gas.html, http://www.thecitizen.co.tz/business/13-local-business/16277-petrobras-teams-with-shell-in-oil-and-gas-exploration-in-tanzania.html


Reuters:http://af.reuters.com/article/investingNews/ idAFJOE81N02W20120224; Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/ feedarticle/10163887


Cooksey, Brian, Kelsall, Tim, The political economy of the investment climate in Tanzania, DFID AFPP, 2011 Funded by DFID, available via AFFP, Africa Power and Politics Programme,. Accessed via ODI website June 24th 2012. And see    http://www.corruptiontracker.or.tz/dev/index.php?option=com_content&view =article&id=125:donors-press-tanzania-on-corruption-as-ti-reports-an-increase&catid=18:current-issues-&Itemid=51&lang=en


The East African, P8 “Poverty, What Poverty? East African elite hold US $1.3billion in Swiss Bank Accounts’ contrary to popular opinion, only 3-5% of this stems from corruption, over two thirds are multinational accounts, for the purpose of tax avoidance. Ministers from the six countries (Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Mozambique) claimed to have ‘no knowledge’ of how the monies ended up there.


Dr Rob Ahearne, Lecturer East London University, UK PhD subject “oil and gas, citizenship, modernity and change in Southern Tanzania,” personal conversations, 27th, 28th June 2012, Mtwara, Tanzania.


http://www.undp.org/dpa/publications/AfricanStockMarkets.pdf accessed Oct 26th 2007



UNDP Website http://www.undp.org/dpa/publications/AfricanStockMarkets.pdf accessed Oct 26th 2007, it has also dropped down in its transparency rating, according to Transparency International, and for the first time actually lept ahead of Kenya in its corruption ratings.


Discussion with UNDP/USAID consultant Fiona Flintan, Arusha, June 2012


Cooksey, Brian, Kelsall, Tim, The political economy of the investment climate in Tanzania, DFID AFPP, 2011 Funded by DFID, available via AFFP, Africa Power and Politics Programme,. Accessed via ODI website.


Ernst and Young, International Energy Agency, Business Review, Oil Review Magazine.








List of all 45 oil, gas and pipeline projects underway in Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Chad, DRC, Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya  http://www.mbendi.com/a_sndmsg/proj_list.asp?P=1&C=1&R=0


Conversations with Carolyn Waltenberg (Tanga Association of Tourism investors), Fiona Flintan, Jo Anderson, Dr. Carlos Da Silva,  Professor Marc Kochzius, Jaques Cousteau, IP, MR, Dr Rob Ahearne, Prof Wolfgang H Thome.

Bring out the Banners, Oil and gas: it’s not all it’s cracked up to be

It’s happened. The oil/gas/mineral rush is on. Bring out the banners and bunting. Industrialisation and wealth have arrived! Africa’s problems are over!

After a stop-start journey in the last five years, the big players have arrived: BG group, KPMG,  Royal Dutch Shell, Anadarko, Petrobras, Ophir, Origin Oil, Total, BP and Aminex. Even the ‘security firms’ such as Cenkos, which previously regarded East Africa (and the Congo)  as too swamped in piracy, conflict and uncertainty,  said in November last year “East Africa is high risk and hugely expensive. It is also exceptionally rewarding if exploration is successful.”  With only 500 oil wells drilled so far (compared to West and North Africa’s 35,000), the estimated value of the gas reserves alone are 100 trillion cubic feet.  Petroleum reserves are estimated at 600,000 barrels a day.[i]  The factors that have tipped East Africa into the big game, are these.

Ease of Business and smoother democracies

First of all the creation of the East African Community has theoretically opened up trade borders and lessened tariffs. Secondly there have been technological advances both in mapping seismic faults and geographical areas that were previously unreachable, the economic  risks of drilling have reduced.   Thirdly, there is a concerted and obvious effort by East and Central African governments to sort out internal conflicts and engage more rigorously with the West, whose escalating oil prices have forced them to be more compliant. For the Mozamibiquan, Kenyan, Tanzanian, Sudanese, Somali, Puntland and Ugandan governments, the potential gains from oil,  gas and mineral exploration are huge incentives to come to the table, and to seriously address the ongoing issues of piracy.

Bring out the banners 5

Wads of Cash

But most importantly, there are skads of cash.  £US 2.1 trillion are needed for investment in African oil and gas supply infrastructure  (refineries, roads, whole towns, ports,) between 2010-2035. [ii]  This is where Africa’s burgeoning love affair with China becomes important. Previously smaller ‘wildcat’ oil explorers had the skills, but not the funds to take it to the next stage. Since the Africa  Oil Week in South Africa in November  last year, there have been a succession of buyouts of these smaller firms. China has proved its technical expertise in major projects all over Africa, from airports to the recent LAPSSET developments, and has proved itself cheap, fast, reliable. China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC)has pledged to invest, although exact figures are impossible to locate. As establishment and US darling Oxford economist Professor Paul Collier remarks: “Future discoveries and resulting exports of resources including oil and gas will be around five times their current levels, based on what remains unexplored in Africa versus currently known sub-soil assets.”[iii]   His sentiments are echoed by Adrian Heavey, CEO of Tullow, a prominent name in East African exploration: “This is a vital step towards the development of the Lake Albert Rift Basin and the oil and gas industry in Uganda and East Africa. I look forward to working in partnership with the Government of Uganda and CNOOC and Total as we progress this world-class asset.”[iv]


MYOPIA: People, Resources and Marine Ecosystems
Yet there is a staggering amount of myopia and short-sightedness.  Have we learnt nothing from Ghana, Angola and Nigeria, where bitter battles,  inconsistent petroleum regulation, weak civil society, existing conflicts exasperbated by oil, and  deaths (and losses to shareholders) have shown it’s impossible to invest in oil/gas/mineral exploitation without ‘exploring local capacity’ as the jargon goes?  In other words making sure the people that already live in the area are consulted, and have a share in decision making and profits. And being mindful of existing conservation stresses, and potential ecological problems.

It’s hard to know where to start. Most of East Africa has no regulatory frameworks in place for oil and mineral resources exploitation. Or if they have, there is  an abject lack of willpower to implement them. Selous in Tanzania,  the Albertine Rift and  Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda,  and Virunga National Park in Rwanda have all had Environmental  Assessments or management plans which have not been adhered to or implemented.[v] This is something which international marine organizations OCEANA and the WWF would like to rectify. So at the moment, unlike USA, Europe and some of the Pacific, there is no obligation to implement detailed environmental impact surveys.

The coastal regions (from Somaliland in the North to Mozambique) are acknowledged to be some of the most vulnerable sea areas in the world. WWF and UNEP is already concerned about  myriad of issues: from coastal mangroves, to turtles, whale sharks, porpoises, dolphins, rays, over 400 types of corals,  seagrass, to overfishing.  Says Dr Amani Ngusaru of the WWF “The resources of coastal East Africa are coming more and more under threat from rapid population growth, increased resource exploitation, unplanned development and climate change, burgeoning cities such as Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Durban are threatening the very resource base that sustains them.”

The perils of oil spills are visible and high profile, in fact it is the planned building around the ports, which will cause the most damage. Oil spills upon marine environments are dwarfed by those of pollutants introduced from other sources (including domestic sewage, industrial discharges, leakages from waste tips, urban and industrial run-off, accidents, spillage, explosions, sea dumping operations, oil production, mining, agriculture nutrients and pesticides, waste heat sources, and radioactive discharges). Land based sources are estimated to account for around 44 percent of the pollutants entering the sea and atmospheric inputs account for an estimated 33 percent. By contrast, maritime transport accounts only for around 12 percent[vi].

Bring out the banners 4

Accidents will Happen

In Jan 2012 Exxon Mobile – announced its staggering annual profits of $41.1 billion, yet no plans are in place to either enforce action plans or responses for oil spills, in any of the areas allocated for deep or shallow water drilling. Yet last week, the oil giant BP agreed to pay $7.8bn to settle claims from an estimated 110,000 victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Mexico Gulf. In the last six years there have been four major oil spills, resulting in an estimated 100 billion gallons of oil into the sea.

Oceana, the largest international global ocean advocacy group says that currently,  as well as relying on financial insurances,  companies can pass along much of their cleanup costs to the domestic taxpayer when faced with disaster. Talking about the recent BP spill, Says Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director at Oceana. “Taking the lives of 11 people, injuring many more, destroying tourism and fisheries industries, spilling 200 million gallons of oil and killing hundreds of turtles, dolphins and other ocean life is not, and should never be, considered a normal cost of doing business. It is bad business, and not what was intended when the tax write-off was established.” Given the poor record of citizen engagement in African countries, and the dubious taxing situation (allegedly 85% of Africa’s taxes remain unpaid)[vii]  and the weak media, it is highly unlikely the mechanisms will be in place to protect the populations of the coastal regions, who are already politically, economically and socially marginalised.

Even when data is forthcoming,  it is so daunting, it is a huge task to tackle it. According to the WIOMSA/UNEP  ‘Science 2008 Marine Survey.’ 40% The amount of the ocean heavily affected by environmental mismanagement, 50% Amount of coral reefs heavily damaged, and  0.5% (850,000 square miles) of the ocean floor are very heavily affected.  Only 4% of the entire ocean shows no traces  of human impact.”[viii]


On Shakey Ground

On terra firma there are also problems. In Uganda three British firms, Tullow, Tower and Dominion are all exploring the Albertine  Rift, a lake area.2- 2.5 billion barrels of oil have already been discovered. This is a vulnerable area of skirmishs with DRC rebels: over 100 people have been kidnapped in this area in attacks linked to fights over ransoms, minerals and oil. The most recent attack on the border town Mutungo on 2 August 2011 by the Mai-Mai militia displaced 70,000 residents[ix].  At a local level, villagers are concerned.  Florence  Landsberg of the World Resources Institute explains: “The fish stock is already at risk, because there is more catching of fish that are not mature. The upgrade of the roads has allowed for more fish to be exported. The restocking of the fish is not going to happen if there is no intervention”. Says Peter Viet, also of WRI “ Many scientists will tell you that the Albertine Rift is the most biologically diverse area in all of Africa. There are national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, forest reserves, and there already is some impact on these protected areas. For example, there is drilling in Murchison Falls National Park, even though many public interest environmental lawyers in Uganda will tell you that the law does not allow that. Kenneth Kakuru of Greenwatch has filed a pleading in the High Court over extractive resource industries in national parks. (His case was recently rejected). There was already discussion of de-gazetting one of the parks to make way for an oil refinery. There is also talk of a pipeline that would take the oil to Mombassa that would have effects on biodiversity. And there is evidence  oil workers  are poaching inside protected areas[x]. He adds that Achioli and Bunyoro people, local to the area, are selling up fast, at below market prices, scared that the government will not recompense them adequately.

There is further controversy in the area, according to a recent article on Pambazuka; “ A vicious land grab,’ Allimadi writes, ‘is being carried out in Uganda, pairing the country’s dictator with an ‘investor,’ and the targets are the Acholi, genocide survivors who live in the northern part of the East African country, on abundant, fertile and mineral-rich land.’[xi]

Existing Lack of Resources for Citizens:

None of the existing plans to extract oil, gas and petroleum  come with concrete systematic plans to provide for the communities in the area, beyond some references to providing local jobs in some cases.   The threats to forests (due to charcoal and firewood exploitation) and erratic provision of electricity are well known in East Africa.  Drilling down to basics, Erica Mackey, Co-Founder of Off-Grid Electric in Tanznia, says “Generally, people in Africa suffer from an expensive electrical grid, an unreliable grid, or have no electrical grid at all.  Increasing the amount of raw materials extracted from the continent is not going to automatically increase infrastructure access, decrease transportation costs or ultimately extend the electrical grid to the 90% of East Africans who live without a connection.” She goes onto add: “If the goal of energy exploration is to actually increase energy access in Africa rather than the developed world, than the focus has to shift to include renewables.  In addition to exploring the continent for oil, gas and coal, international investors should look at ways to finance business models that provide clean power  as a key component to the future of Africa’s power provision”.

(Mostly) Angry locals- lack of consultation

Despite high tech imaging of geological deposits, pictures of the sea from space, the reality is we don’t have an accurate record of the approximately 50 million pastoralists and 200 million who depend on the sea and land for their livlihoods in Africa. There is no documented record of contacting these communities in the regions mentioned for their views on oil and gas exploration[xii].

Thousands of miles away, on the Kenya coast of Mombassa, tucked between the new port of Lamu and Tanga, there is considerable trouble brewing:  The Mombassa Republican Council, a secessionist movement, wants autonomy from Kenya. They are popular in the area, where there is high illiteracy rates, the presence of Al Shabaab,  low rates of enrolment in schools and universities, and a sense they have been abandoned by Nairobi. Land tenure is ambiguous or is not officially recognised. More than 60 per cent of indigenous coastal people do not possess title deeds to their land. Others have entered into a kind of quasi squatter-tenant agreement with land owners.  The problems of local fishermen and farmers have been well documented by local NGO’s, as they compete with trawler fishing, and larger super-boats that can pinpoint shoals, leaving fishermen with paddles in dug out canoes, floundering.

Their situation, despite riots and four deaths in December 2011, goes unreported in national media. Ditto the situation  in North Kenya: hours away from the capital Nairobi, where news editors  and reporters, constrained by tiny budgets and  tight deadlines, are unable to go and see for themselves. There  are rumours presently circulating that valuable archeological deposits in Turkana, North Kenya, have been already destroyed through oil exploration.  However no organisations want to be identified with ‘squealing’ so the situation remains unreported in local press: a local journalist was murdered in Loliondo, reporting on land grabs two years ago.


A glimmer of hope

Many of the issues these people  in the East African Coastal regions face are similar to those in Puntland, Somalia, where resources are seized upon, in a dearth of opportunities.

In Puntland, local leaders under the Transitional Government are bucking the trend. Aware that no mechanisms exist to make sure money flows into the region, they are however, in an optimistic mood. In an Irin article, Farah Hassan Atosh, a traditional elder and resident of Armo town, 28km northwest of an oil field, said: “We are expecting great things. It will change our lives for the better. Insh’Allah [God willing] we will never depend on others to give us food again.” He said that change was already happening in Armo town (population 25,000). “You can see many more people arriving every day and it can only add to the development of the town.”  Drilling for oil began in January 2012. Said Atosh,”We not only support it, we will defend it from anyone who wants to stop it.” He said the project was also contributing to peace-building in the area. “They are employing many young men who would have been idle and easy prey for recruitment into militias.”


Lack of Financial accountability: have we learned nothing?

In Tanzania, there are mechanisms in place to regulate, but according to regional environmental consultants,  (who prefer to remain unnamed) there is little will power to implement them and ministers rapidly forget about their commitments. Track records of environmental investigations in Selous,  Stiegler’s Gorge dam, Kidunda dam and Mkuju River uranium mine and oil exploration do not bode well: they are dusty reports on shelves somewhere. Pweza, Chewa and Chaza wells have been drilled in deepwater  in the northern part of the Ruvuma Basin and the Mafia Deep Offshore Basin held by BG and Ophir Energy. The Chinese government is providing Tanzania with a $1.06-billion loan to construct new infrastructure, which includes a new gas pipeline, feeder roads and telecoms. All these areas are deemed ecologically vulnerable, and there is no public record of community consultation or mechanisms to ensure profits flow back into community development.

One of the main problems is tracking the money: the investments, and ways to prevent a small elite benefiting.  Again, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda have poor records. In East Africa, only companies registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (in the USA) are required to submit financial reports. Even then as in Uganda, local ministers and judges ensure disclosure of documents relating to oil is kept out of the public sphere[xiii].

Meanwhile, the Mara River is an international river, shared between Kenya and Tanzania. The mining areas will impinge upon the dwindling  Mara River Basin and draw valuable and scarce water. The basin  is about 13,750 km2, of which about 65% is located in Kenya and 35% in Tanzania. The Mara River runs through the Masai Mara Game Reserve on the Kenyan side and the Serengeti National Park on the Tanzanian side, both of global conservation significance and of great economic importance for tourism.  “Over 80% of Africa’s lions have been displaced due to environmental changes” says Richard Anderson in an article on the BBC in November 2010.

A recent, (Oct 2010)  UNEP report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb), put the damage done to the natural world by human activity in 2008 at between $2tn (£1.3tn) and $4.5tn. A second study, for the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), puts the costs at $6.6tn, or 11% of global economic output. [xiv]

It looks like we are no way reversing the trend.

END 2500 words copyright Thembi Mutch

[i] Allafrica.com/stories/2011111100232.htm

[ii] Sources: Ernst and Young, International Energy Agency, Business Review, Oil Review Magazine. http://www.wri.org/project/equity-poverty-environment;

[iii] The Plundered Planet, Why We Must, and How We Can, Manage Global Prosperity. 2012 Collier P. 2010 Oxford University Press, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/may/08/plundered-planet-paul-collier-review

[iv] Feb 3 2012 press release http://www.tullowoil.com/index.asp?pageid=137&category=&year=Latest&month=&tags= &newsid=727

[v] Personal discussion with environmental consultant who prefers to remain anonymous. March 16 2012

[vi] Source http://www.greenpeace.org

[vii] Tax Justice Network

[viii] File;Ecologist/Report%20on%20Coastal%20regions%20UNEP%202008.html

[ix] Hannah Wadlove Uganda the Key in East Africa’s Oil-Driven Energy Revolution, 7.11. 2011 http://allafrica.com/stories/201111080815.html

[x] Q&A: Avoiding the Resource Curse in Uganda By Peter Veit and Florence Landsberg on Oct 19 2010 http://www.wri.org/stories/2011/04/qa-avoiding-resource-curse-uganda

[xi] Milton Allimadi, Black Star, Pambazuka, Feb 12 2012

[xii] http://www.wri.org/project/equity-poverty-environment

[xiii] http://www.wri.org/stories/2010/10/avoiding-resource-curse-spotlight-uganda-oil

[xiv] Source http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11495812

China in East Africa: why it’s better than we give it credit for

  • Thembi Mutch


“ Look, they work really hard, really fast, they’re a fantastic example and inspiration to us, and at last we have what we need, a road!” hotel owner Emelda Nzungu on the nearly completed Chinese built by-pass outside Nairobi is enthusiastic. And Shh, whisper it, she’s not alone.

It’s a conundrum: East Africa has resources (gold, copper, diamonds, coltan- the key component for computer chips and mobile phones.) It has cheap labour. It has a desperate need for infrastructure and trade  (primarily macadamed roads to link urban capitals) hospitals and homes. But despite this, for large projects, it has a very poor investment climate, according to the IMF. Problem areas highlighted are ‘burdensome licensing procedures, reflected in high start-up costs, insufficient access to credit, restrictive labour regulations, difficulties in registering property and poor property rights, and very poor infrastructure’ (IMF, 2006: 9).The World Bank’s 2011 Doing Business report ranked Tanzania 128th out of 174 countries surveyed in the ease of doing business. Malawi, Kenya and Uganda also scored equally poorly[i]

Chinese Investment

China stands out as being an investor that is prepared to take risks on large projects in Africa. As of this week, the Chinese government is providing Tanzania with a $1.06-billion loan to construct ‘new infrastructure’ (the wording is deliberately vague), which includes the port developments at Lamu and Tanga, and a new gas pipeline stretching across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, as part of the LAPSSET developments. Chinese involvement in Africa is very undocumented and difficult to trace: however the omniscient China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has a presence in Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Somaliland, Chad, DRC, Congo and Angola[ii].   Recent figures suggest  Chinese/African trade is worth over $100 billion US in Africa, an aggregate of investment of loans, trade, aid and flows of capital[iii].

According to Standard Bank Group Ltd, Chinese investment in Africa may grow by 70 per cent to $570 billion by 2015 from 2009, while bilateral trade will double to $300 billion by 2015[iv]. However these figures are unreliable, partly due to Chinese reticence, and to the hot potato nature of the debate.  As construction manager Bernard Muthara* a Tanzania resident comments: “They give us loans, with few conditions, and no interest rates. Witness the massive affordable  house building plans afoot in Arusha (to the tune of $7.2 million), the  Pan Africa Kenya- Tanzania highway (Chinese built), the new Zanzibar airport (rumoured to cost $17 million)”.

On  a broader stage,  Large scale structural projects, often accompanied by a soft loan, are proposed to African countries rich in natural resources (for example Angola, for copper rights).   This results in moving natural resources back to China, or loans in exchange for future mineral or drilling rights. While relations are mainly conducted through diplomacy and trade, military support is also a major component, such as the provision of arms and weapon systems to countries throughout the African continent.  China now has a military presence in six African countries, and in 1990 their troops joined the UN peacekeeping forces.

Driving through Nairobi in his taxi, John Kihera remarks: “look, the bottom line is service delivery, with our new government we’ve been impressed with the house building, the bridges, and the Chinese frankly do the job better, and more efficiently than our people have in the past. At least we trust the job will be done, and the money won’t disappear into someone’s pocket!”  New Kenyan  businesses that flank the new roadside agree- Chinese are a good thing. Evidently others in the region agree: in December 2011 the first Chinese delegation visited Rwanda to investigate large scale road building.

Chinese investors are quick to defend their presence. Says David Quiang, a long term Chinese resident of East Africa, “Since 1975 and the gang of four, in China we’ve embraced capitalism. We’re in a capitalist world, if America and Europe are constantly drawing attention to our poor human rights record, it’s because they are losing the race. We’re cheaper, more efficient. We get the job done! This is a competitive process, remember.”

Historical and Cultural Chinese Presence

There are other cultural and historic reasons why Chinese do well in East Africa.  For a start China has a long history in Africa: which many care to forget. There are traces of Chinese activity in Africa dating back as far back as the Tang Dynasty. Chinese porcelain has been found along the coasts of Egypt in North Africa. Chinese coins, dated 9th century, have been discovered in Kenya, Zanzibar, and Somalia. The Song Dynasty established maritime trade with East Africa (now Tanzania, Zimbabwe) in the mid-12th century.  Later, in 1955 the Bandung Conference was key in inspiring (both theoretically and actually) the  countries outside of the Cold War antagonisms, which led the formation of the Non-Aligned movement. China shared with the NAM countries a ‘victim background’: China at the hands of imperialist Japan, Africa at the hands of Europe and America.  Deborah Brautigam[v] argues that Chinas approach centres on  offering Africa an olive branch for development.   China is eager to share, and teach, African states the lessons of China’s own developmental experiences,  and create partnerships that are generally beneficial to both parties; Africa gets prospects for development through knowledge transfer, Economic Protection Zones (sometimes referred to as Economic Special Zones) and large-scale Chinese investments. China meanwhile  gains access to new markets, natural resources, and acquires political currency in the continent.

Whilst co-operation exists at a government-government level, and business to business level, there are also scores of Chinese people in Africa running small business- hospitals, restaurants and electrical enterprises. And even the occasional safari company. Chinese tourists to East Africa are on the rise, they are the new target market. Yet definite numbers of Chinese in East Africa are impossible to gauge. The Tanzania- Zambia (TANZAM) railroad, completed in 1976 employed over 50,000 Chinese people, many of whom stayed on, complimenting the estimated 100,000 Chinese who were already resident, legal or not. Sino-African marriages are common, and apparently successful.

Additionally, Chinese doctors, engineers and teachers played a strong role in supporting East African countries- particularly Tanzania and Uganda since the independence in the fifties. Academically China has several established and respected African departments in the larger universities, and has been generous in its support of African students and bursaries.  These days  Beijing encourages its firms to ‘go out’ (zou chuqu) in a manner reminiscent of a bird finally encouraging its offspring to tentatively leave the nest. As (construction) Site Manager Mr Li says “When I left China in the eighties it was a new thing, my family thought I was mad, and brave. These days it’s normal, there’s just so much opportunity. Although I still send my daughter to school in China. She must learn her culture.”

The Tanzam railway station in Dar Es Salaam is a  grand architectural and symbolic statement, and so will the new (highly criticised) port in Lamu, Kenya be too. Logistically these are complex projects, and evidently Kenyan and Tanzanian governments trust the Chinese, although they refused to comment for this article. Generally Chinese involvement is more low key: witness the Sudanese oil pipelines, or the influx of every conceivable form of nick nack in African markets; from umbrellas to padlocks to pants. This was initiated first by the Chinese diaspora who reactivated their  familial connections to import low-priced goods such cups, forks, and bowls to Africa. These days, aspirant citizens of East africa have a screaming need for low-cost goods in large quantities. This  has dovetailed neatly with the Chinese ability to produce everything more cheaply than most African manufacturers can, and with better quality. Cheap Chinese clothes, and cars, motorbikes, generators and washing up bowls, at half the price of western-produced ones, have  allowed African customers to suddenly raise up the purchasing power and consume.

in As Mr Jie, a large construction manager who has managed projects in Kenya and Tanzania for over 26 years, says “We have a common history. Our parents too were peasants, we understand what it is to be poor. We do not approach the Africans as servants, but as people who, like us, want to better themselves, who understand hardship.” This tacit reference to colonialism belies a much stronger truth: there is nothing paternal about the Chinese approach to business. Adds Mr Jie, “Yes, there is corruption, yes there is inefficiency doing business here, but the bottom line is we factor this into the costing, and we work round that.”
Cheap Chinese Work
Much to the chagrin of local road builders, who are missing out on the tenders for larger projects. Jasper Mrosso, an East African road builder comments “I am not sure how they (the Chinese) do it: they consistently undercut our bids, they bring in all their own JCB’s , gravel, tools, everything from China, which cost a quarter of what our heavy machinery costs. We just can’t compete.”

There are many, often legitimate criticisms of Chinese involvement in Africa: poor business practices, corrupt bosses, kickbacks, the lack of regulations, minimum wage standards and contracts. Indeed the rumour in Kenya and Tanzania is that it is Chinese convicts building the roads at present. Chinese companies have aggravated local unions (witness the deaths, turbulence and strikes in the mining sectors in  Zimbabwe, Zambia[vi] and South Africa, the hostile villagers attacking oil explorations in South Sudan and the  Chinese threats to Nigerian textile factories). There are growlings from the environmental lobby in East Africa who say that Chinese presence has bumped up the trade for animal parts for traditional Chinese medicine – particularly Rhino horn.  A letter in the local newspaper  The East African expresses a popular view, “Oh — they are building a port in Lamu, bigger than Mombasa. They will use all local labour and companies… BUT bring  with them, everyone they need, even the cement.”

Arguably the concerns raised by labour analysts, trade unions and the environmental lobby would be pertinent with any port construction project of this size. And China is making moves to address the criticisms. Over 30% of firms in China are now private, and increasingly are governed by the dictates of a market economy, and while notionally state-owned, China is grappling with the problems of  regulating its own provinces and corporations overseas. Even the major players of China’s global strategy such as Sinopec and CNPC,  often seen as extensions of the Chinese state itself, are conducting their operations on the requirements of a reasonable degree of freedom from state interference. Brautigan is clear that the sino-african balance sheet has been seriously skewed to downplay the positive elements of the relationship. Academic and commentator on African/Chinese relationships Xiao Yuhua thinks China takes all criticisms very seriously. He believes the way forward is greater co-operation and dialogue between civil society organizations in China and Africa, an opinion that so far has not been disseminated in the Western media.

[i] World Bank, Doing Business in Tanzania, 2011 accessed Aug 27th http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/fpdkm/doing%20business/documents/profiles/country/db11/tza.pdf

* Names have been changed.

[ii] Sources: All Africa,  Ernst & Young; African Business magazine; Oil Review magazine; International Energy Agency, http://www.polity.org.za/article/is-east-africa-the-new-frontier-for-oil-and-gas-exploration-opportunities-2012-02-20, Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Africa Watch Unit

[iii] Chinese and  African Perspectives on China in Africa, Eds Harneit Sievers A, Marks S, Naidu S, Pambazuka 2010

[iv] Quoted on http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/China+targets+Rwanda+infrastructure+projects/-/2558/1229816/-/12a2jurz/-/index.html

[v] Brautigan, D, ‘The Dragons Gift’ Review: The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa

[vi] Rethinking China in Africa “The Chinese have diverse interests in Africa, but the risk of abuses must be addressed by the government.” 4 JULY 2011 – 10:43AM | BY THOMAS MOODY

Assorted Articles The East African Newspaper including ‘China targets Rwanda infrastructure projects’ September 5th 2011


Cattle plague: A killer in the fold

30 April 2005

  • First published in The New Scientist Print Edition. Subscribe and get 4 free issues.
  • Thembi Mutch



Inguni Cow - stock photo


DON’T say there’s rinderpest in Somalia,” says Tim Leyland. “You’ll have armed gangs of Somali warlords turning up at your door.” He’s only half joking. As a rinderpest expert with the African Union in Nairobi, Kenya, he is all too aware of local sensitivities. Just talking about the disease makes many Somalis uncomfortable, because the repercussions for trade are so serious. It’s not easy doing scientific research on a deadly cattle plague when some of the major stakeholders are armed warlords who own thousands of cows.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that, if rinderpest remains anywhere on the planet, it is in Somalia. A global eradication campaign, waged for more than 50 years, has all but succeeded. In the past few years, former strongholds such as Pakistan, Yemen and Sudan have declared themselves rinderpest-free. The only area where the virus that causes rinderpest may be holed up is a pocket of arid land straddling the Kenya-Somalia border, known as the southern Somali pastoral ecosystem.

Working out whether it’s there – and stamping it out – ought to be relatively simple: follow the tried-and-tested combination of vaccination and surveillance that has been so successful elsewhere. The prize would be to eradicate a disease for only the second time in human history.

But with success tantalisingly close, the drive to eliminate rinderpest is faltering, a victim of scientific disagreements, infighting, funding crises and the inevitable logistical problems of working in one of the hottest and least developed places on Earth. Failure would have severe global consequences. If the virus breaks out of its Somali bolt-hole, it could reinfect cattle across the Horn of Africa and beyond – including a reintroduction into Asia and Europe via the Arabian peninsular.

It is hard to overstate what a disaster that would be. Rinderpest has arguably caused more misery and deprivation than most human diseases, and has the potential to do so again. Since it was first described in China more than 3000 years ago, rinderpest epidemics have swept across the Old World on a regular basis, leaving death and destitution in their wake. As the UN noted in 1992, rinderpest is one of a select group of diseases that have changed the course of human history. It contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire, Charlemagne’s conquest of Europe, the French Revolution, the impoverishment of Russia and the colonisation of Africa.

The disease is caused by a morbillivirus, the same family as measles. It infects cattle, yaks and buffaloes and many of their wild and domesticated relatives including antelopes and giraffes. Different strains of the virus vary greatly in their virulence, and some mild forms can pass unnoticed. But in its “classic” form rinderpest is a swift and ruthless killer. The virus causes a high fever, discharges from the nose and eyes, abscesses on the gums, bloody diarrhoea and death within days. Because animals stay infectious for two weeks and the virus requires only minimal contact to be transmitted, classic rinderpest can sweep through herds, killing up to 90 per cent of those it infects.

Cat-and-mouse game

Rinderpest is a particular problem in the Horn of Africa, where cattle are a way of life and milk is often more readily available than water. This part of Africa is home to more than 100 million cattle that provide a livelihood for several million nomadic farmers. In Somalia, more than 80 per cent of the population are dependent on cattle, and trading is worth $4 million a year. Cattle mean status, wealth and security. In many cases marriage cannot occur without the exchange of cattle, and when the rains fail, which is often, many people trade cattle for grain. In times of famine, the death of a cow is often considered more of a disaster than that of a female family member.

For these reasons, eradicating rinderpest has been a major goal of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) since its inception in 1945. The effort intensified in 1992 with the establishment of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP), which set 2010 as the target for eradication.

To stamp out the virus requires a combination of surveillance and vaccination. First you identify areas where rinderpest is circulating and carry out a mass vaccination campaign. Then you stop vaccinating, watch, and wait. If there is an outbreak of the disease or antibodies against the virus turn up in blood samples from unvaccinated animals, you pounce on the area and blitz it with vaccine. Then you enter another period of “wait and see”. If neither disease nor antibodies are seen for two years then the area can be declared disease-free. It’s a cat-and-mouse game that can take up to 10 years.

GREP has been remarkably successful. “We have made great progress,” says Peter Roeder, who leads the programme from the FAO offices in Rome. As recently as 20 years ago, rinderpest regularly wreaked havoc across large swathes of Asia and Africa (see Maps). Now it has been eradicated almost everywhere, except – maybe – southern Somalia, where rinderpest antibodies were last found in cattle in 2002. The priority now is to ensure that southern Somalia, too, is rinderpest free. Yet the endgame is fraught with so many problems it is hard to know where to start.

The main problem is that no one really knows what’s going on in southern Somalia. The consensus is that rinderpest of some kind is circulating there, but its nature and extent are contentious.

In 2002, herders in southwest Somalia reported that some cattle were showing symptoms of rinderpest. Antibodies to the virus were found in blood samples from 17 per cent of unvaccinated cattle aged 1 to 3 years. But there is disagreement over what the results mean. According to epidemiologist Henry Wamwahi of Terra Nuova, an Italian NGO that runs the Somali eradication programme, some labs concluded that the antibodies were evidence of “classic” rinderpest, others that it was a previously unknown, mild strain. It’s not clear how the discrepancy arose, but there have been allegations that some labs deliberately botched the results to fit the expectations of their paymasters. One senior source, who asked not to be named, said: “Some players simply won’t believe the results from certain labs. Without trust it really is impossible to rely on the labs.”

Reports of rinderpest in wildlife only add to the confusion. In 2001 there was an outbreak in buffaloes in the Meru National Park in Kenya, 300 kilometres from the Somali border. There is also antibody evidence that wildlife in eastern Kenya have been repeatedly reinfected, though no reports of disease. Some scientists believe that this shows there is a reservoir of virus in wildlife. Others, however, argue that it means a strain of rinderpest is still circulating among cows, which in turn are infecting wildlife. The disease usually dies out in wildlife once it has been eradicated from cattle.

Ego problems

If, as some scientists believe, classic rinderpest is still circulating widely in the Somali ecosystem then a mass vaccination campaign is called for. But if rinderpest infection is negligible, then surveillance is the best option. The two sides are locked in an acrimonious debate. As the same anonymous source said: “The science involved really is not rocket science. The difficulty is people management. When we really don’t know what the best answer is, those with strong opinions and strong egos are the ones who win.”

Terra Nuova wants to mass-vaccinate. It has maps showing where antibody-positive cattle have been found and a team of trained vets on standby. It says the antibodies are evidence that classic rinderpest is circulating – the only other explanation for the antibodies would be a recent vaccination campaign, and there hasn’t been one. It believes that if it vaccinates now the country can be rinderpest-free in five to six years. And a major GREP funder, the European Union, is on its side.

Many experts, however, strongly disagree. For one thing mass vaccination is time-consuming and extremely expensive: ensuring the vaccine is kept chilled means hiring four-wheel drives or aeroplanes, and training lots of people.

Mass vaccination could even be counterproductive, according to Leyland and his colleague Andy Catley of the African Union’s International Bureau for Animal Resources in Nairobi, which runs the eradication programme in Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia. That’s because it potentially conceals the disease. It is logistically impossible to vaccinate all the cattle in the southern Somali ecosystem, so pockets of disease would remain in cattle populations that were assumed to be disease-free. Herders would be lulled into a false sense of security by vaccination and drop their guard against rinderpest symptoms, allowing the disease to emerge again.

Leyland and Catley argue that surveillance is the only answer. As the architects of systems that helped eradicate rinderpest in Sudan, Afghanistan and Ethiopia, they know what works. “This approach is slower and more difficult than vaccination, but we absolutely know it works, with appropriate modifications for southern Somalia,” says Catley.

Roeder, the acknowledged world expert on rinderpest, agrees. “If we stop, watch and wait, we see if there is disease in the population that re-emerges,” he says. “By keeping the cattle unvaccinated we allow the disease to surface, if it is going to, then vaccinate in the infected areas.” And in any case, Roeder points out, mass vaccination only works if it is followed by a period of surveillance.

But surveillance isn’t easy, as it relies on building a community-based network of trained people on the ground who can spot symptoms and report them. That’s a daunting prospect in Somalia. The country has been gripped by civil war for more than 20 years, there is no functioning government and civil society has all but broken down. For surveillance campaigns to work, neighbouring communities must work together, not attack one another and steal each other’s cattle. And a leaky surveillance system is as good as useless. “Unless we’re able to sustain surveillance programmes, the epidemic will get going again and it will become a pandemic,” says Roeder.

Surveillance is also a hard sell. Past experience in the Horn of Africa has shown that it takes years to convince herders that vaccination is not the answer. They want quick solutions and don’t like being asked to wait for the disease to break cover. “Getting people to stop vaccinating always takes some persuading,” says Roeder.

But once a network has been established, surveillance definitely works. Despite facing similar problems to Somalia, southern Sudan looks to have eliminated rinderpest using a community-based approach, says Bryony Jones of Vétérinaires Sans Frontières. Somalia could emulate that success, she says – though she is under no illusion about the difficulties. “We have to insist our vets can swim, and animal health workers may need to walk for up to six days to investigate and deliver rinderpest reports as there are no phones, planes, or faxes. When the rivers are flooded, or in the hot dry season, these are serious treks.”

Whatever option is eventually pursued, it will be difficult. Organising surveillance or vaccination programmes is notoriously difficult in Africa. Somalia is on the eastern fringe of a 9 million square kilometre swathe of sub-Saharan Africa where 32 of the world’s poorest countries survive by keeping livestock. No one keeps written records of their cattle, the animals are rarely fenced in and rustling is common. Herders are hard people to keep tabs on. Their movements, already notoriously unpredictable, are becoming more so – as the climate behaves in erratic ways, and civil wars cut off certain areas, herders and livestock are forced to move to unusual, inaccessible places.

Funding is also an issue. So far GREP has consumed ¬270 million and no one is prepared to put a figure on how much more is needed. The International Bureau for Animal Resources has to rely on a variety of donors, who typically fund in one or two-year cycles and often dictate the direction of the programme. Yet everyone agrees that to eradicate rinderpest will take at least five years.

What’s needed, says Roeder, is a long-term funding commitment so the job can be completed. Otherwise GREP risks going the way of the first project to eradicate rinderpest from Africa, which started in 1962. By 1977, rinderpest was confined to two small enclaves in Africa, one on the Sudan-Ethiopia border and the other in Mali. But the final surveillance phase faltered, and with cattle in rinderpest-free areas no longer being vaccinated, the virus began spreading again. The result was the great African rinderpest pandemic of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Facing destitution, many herders committed suicide.

The fear is that if GREP goes the same way, the eradication programme will be stalled for good. “If this one fails, it is unlikely that the international community will ever again be disposed to consider funding another attempt,” says Roeder.

The consequences of failure are grave. Rinderpest in Africa equals famine, poverty, disease and political instability. Failure will mean human misery for years to come. As Peter Kisopia, director of Oxfam’s pastoralist programme in Nairobi, says: “Up to 2 million pastoralists in Kenya are squatting in slums in towns because of what rinderpest did to them over a decade ago. They don’t recover quickly from rinderpest.”