Category Archives: UK

Africa in primetime: What is the BBC telling the British public?

Two months ago, there was David Attenborough’s wildlife documentary series, Africa. Two weeks ago was a Comic Relief film set largely in South Africa and Mozambique. And last week there was the Top Gear Africa special, in Uganda and Tanzania. Three BBC shows, all firmly in the mainstream of UK media, bringing Africa to a mass popular audience in primetime slots – these were not obscure and worthy BBC4 documentaries. So how did they portray the continent?

The trailer for David Attenborough’s latest series had stunning landscapes, beautifully shot and teeming with wildlife. And, at the end, a three-word voice-over: “This is Africa.”

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Obama the Mamba – delightfully surprising

I treated myself to a trip to the theatre this week, to see Obama the Mamba, at the Lowry Theatre in Salford Quays. And a treat it was, sensitive, thought-provoking and surprisingly gripping for a show with only the bare bones of a plot.

For those who don’t speak Swahili, the title needs explaining – what is a “mamba”? – and is likely to lack punch as a result. But to the Swahili speaker the title hits home immediately, throwing up a very different question in the process: why is Obama being called a crocodile? The answer is that this not about the Obama you know, the US President, but rather about his half brother, George, and his life in Nairobi. George was given the street name “Mamba”, because of his quick aggressiveness as a member of a criminal gang in the Huruma neighbourhood of Nairobi. He has written a book that tells his story, the inspiration for this play.
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The power of “we”

BAD 2012Today is Blog Action Day, and this year’s theme is the power of “we”. So I thought I would throw a few observations out there.

About how Jimmy Savile got away with his abuses for so long, at least in part by denying his victims the power of “we”. They were isolated individuals, lacking the confidence that they would be taken seriously if they spoke up. Now, when the first accusations came out, the trickle quickly became a flood, with each person speaking out giving more and more confidence to other victims, making it easier for them to do the same. This is what can happen when people are denied the power of “we”. Continue reading

Witchcraft and witch-hunts in England and Tanzania

“Trial of Witches, 1612”, by Fred Kirk Shaw in 1913.

In the year 1612, in the northern English county of Lancaster, a famous trial took place – the trial of the “Pendle witches”. Twelve so-called witches were involved in the case – ten women and two men – most from the bleak and inhospitable Pendle hill. They were charged with murdering ten people through witchcraft, and accused of much more besides – causing paralysis, “turning beer sour”, killing a horse – all through witchcraft. One died in custody and one was acquitted, but the other 10 were found guilty and hanged.

400 years later, in the northern Tanzanian town of Kahama, a pair of owls flew into a crowded schoolroom. A political meeting was taking place and tensions were high. The local branch of Tanzania’s ruling CCM party was electing its representative to the party’s National Executive Committee. So when the owls flew in and settled on the table in front of the local MP and regional party chairman, suspicions were raised that someone was using witchcraft to influence the election. Allegations flew. After all, as anyone in Tanzania knows, owls are bringers of death. Continue reading

From TPLACs to “a necklace made of ears”

“You’ve got to be as hungry as a fucking Hutu in the fucking jungle with a big machete. You’ve got to go hacking through the fucking opposition, with a big fucking belt full of hands and a necklace made of ears. Can you do that? Can you wear a necklace made of ears?”

“I can be a Hutu. I can wear fucking finger-nail bracelets.”

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BAE payment to Tanzania undermines justice and accountability

BAE’s £29.5m for education is an unsatisfactory conclusion to a case with much wider significance for the people of Tanzania

So BAE has finally paid out £29.5m for education projects in Tanzania. The payment was agreed two years ago, as part of a settlement with theSerious Fraud Office (SFO) that brought to an end the SFO’s investigation into a sale in 2002 of a $40m (£25m) military radar to the Tanzanian government. BAE admitted a failure to keep proper accounting records, relating in particular to a $12.4m payment to a Tanzanian middleman for “marketing” purposes, but avoided any admission of corruption.

The case has been closed, with some accountability for BAE and some reparations for Tanzania. But for many Tanzanians it leaves a bitter taste. Continue reading