Richard Dowden

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Where in the world would the disappearance of more than 240 schoolgirls have been ignored by the world’s press for almost two weeks? The answer is Borno state in north-east Nigeria. Had they died in a plane crash or a sinking ferry anywhere in the world it would have been global front-page news that day.

So why wasn’t it? Because north-east Nigeria is one of the most neglected, least governed, least visited places on the planet.

Tucked in the top-right-hand corner of Nigeria, it backs on to Chad and Niger. You are unlikely to pass through it unless heading for the Sahara desert.…  Seguir leyendo »

Davos, the World Economic Forum, boasts that it is the place to meet important or influential people. That is one reason why I went to the meeting of the African chapter in Tanzania last week, but I didn’t expect to be embraced by Robert Mugabe.

He had not been invited, but happened to be in Dar es Salaam and got through the door. Klaus Schwab, who runs the organisation, pointed out that he was the first head of state to come to Davos. As his Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, and Deputy Prime Minister, Arthur Mutumbara, were there, Mr Schwab decided to have all three on the platform.…  Seguir leyendo »

I got there early to get a decent place to watch The Moment. The world had not even seen a picture of him for 27 years. What did he look like now? Would he be the dignified, brave leader who had stood in the dock of the Supreme Court on trial for his life in April 1964 and declared himself ready to die for his principles? Or a crushed old man, willing to compromise with the apartheid Government to allow him to spend the last years of his life with his family? Few knew for sure.

I spent that day, February 11, 1990, at the gates of Victor Verster prison, a few miles from Cape Town in a beautiful wine-growing valley surrounded by mountains under a brilliant blue sky.…  Seguir leyendo »

So now we know a little more. We always knew that in 2001 the British company BAE Systems sold Tanzania a £28 million air traffic control system. The World Bank and the International Civil Aviation Organisation said it was unnecessarily sophisticated and overpriced. At the time Clare Short, then Minister for International Development, claimed that bribery was involved. Some calculated that the BAE system that Tanzania bought cost four times more than the system that Tanzania needed. It was a military system but Tanzania barely has an air force. Nevertheless, Tony Blair pushed the deal.

Last week BAE paid £288 million to the courts in America and Britain for, in its own words, “conspiring to make false statements ...…  Seguir leyendo »

I once landed at a remote airstrip in southern Sudan. The pilot dropped me off and flew away, and I was alone with a long wait for the person who was to pick me up. As we flew in I had seen nothing but bush and rock; almost no sign of human habitation.

But as I sat and waited in the shade of a tree, an old man emerged from the bush. He greeted me as if I came every day and asked if I had brought any newspapers. I had not. But he did not seem to think his journey had been wasted.…  Seguir leyendo »

In 1995, after the Rwandan genocide, western leaders discussed plans for an armed force for Africa's Great Lakes region to suppress the remnant of the extremist Hutu movement that had fled across the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I asked a British military planner how many men it might need. About half a million was his reply.

He had studied the vast landscape, the size of France; thick forest, huge mountains, no roads or boundaries, only a few airstrips and little idea of how many people lived there or who they were. It is perfect guerrilla country; a few thousand fighters with nothing to lose can move unimpeded throughout the area, living off the land and recruiting as they go.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, meets African leaders at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Sharm el-Sheikh today he will look back with some satisfaction on what has happened since the great meeting in Beijing three years ago when 48 out of Africa’s 53 rulers walked up the red carpet of the Great Hall of the People to shakes hands with him and President Hu Jintao. Since that symbolic moment of friendship — or obeisance — trade with Africa has doubled from $50 billion to more than $100 billion, exceeding China’s own predictions. China may overtake the EU as Africa’s biggest trading partner before long.…  Seguir leyendo »

You need only read the heartrending Africa chapters of Dreams from My Father to realise that Barack Obama gets Africa. He struggles with his own feuding Kenyan family, where poorer members scrounge off richer ones, and he agonises over why this continent, full of smart, energetic people and rich in resources cannot get its act together. His own catchphrase, “Yes We Can”, seems to be answered by Africa’s, “But We Don’t”.

On becoming US President, Mr Obama could have done many things to put Africa high on his agenda: he could have made it his first overseas trip, arranged a dramatic appointment as head of the Africa bureau, or taken a sentimental journey to Kenya.…  Seguir leyendo »

When I was told that the head of intelligence of the African National Congress, wanted to meet me, I jumped at the chance to question one of the banned movement's top officials. But I felt some trepidation. In the 1980s the ANC was closely aligned to the Soviet Union. Some said that it was controlled by the KGB, the fearsome Soviet secret service. I had stumbled across a spy, a Ghanaian posing as a journalist who was passing secret ANC documents to the apartheid Government in South Africa. I had written the story but the ANC wanted to know more.

Jacob Zuma was the intelligence chief and flew to London from Mozambique where he lived in exile.…  Seguir leyendo »

It is clear what Robert Mugabe wants to see from the talks with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that began in South Africa on Thursday. On December 27 1987 he sat down with Joshua Nkomo, the leader of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu) and signed a unity accord. It followed seven years of sustained violence against Nkomo's party in which some 18,000 people died. The creation of a government of national unity made Nkomo vice-president. Three Zapu leaders were given cabinet posts. They might as well have been hamsters in a cage on Mugabe's desk.

This is what Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, must remember as he sits down at the talks.…  Seguir leyendo »

The next three weeks in Zimbabwe will be the most traumatic in its history. Robert Mugabe has declared war on the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), NGOs and churches to reverse the electoral defeat he suffered in March. It is a war on unarmed people. Can he win it and what would victory mean?

Scenario one: When the votes are counted after a peaceful, well-organised and credible election on June 27, President Mugabe concedes defeat, congratulates Morgan Tsvangirai, hands over the reins of power and retires. Likelihood? Zero.

The official results of the election on March 29 did not give Mr Tsvangirai more than half the votes so there must be a run-off.…  Seguir leyendo »

Shocked by pictures of death and mayhem on the streets of Kenyan towns, a Kenyan friend in Britain called me to express her shock. “But these things don't happen in Kenya!” she exclaimed, as if Kenya - or Keenya as she pronounced it - was immune from the political ills that have plagued Africa in the past 50 years.

She is wrong. Kenya has been a catastrophe waiting to happen. Every election since multiparty politics was reintroduced in 1991 has involved rigging. So far the margin of victory has always been so great that Western diplomats - keen to maintain “stability” - could claim that the cheating would not have made a difference to the result.…  Seguir leyendo »

From the outside it looks as if South Africa's miracle is over. Jacob Zuma, the former Deputy President who was charged with rape and may soon be charged with corruption, is about to become President of the African National Congress and is likely to be the next president of South Africa. Thirteen years after the peaceful handover of power, the rainbow nation is threatened with a very nasty storm.

Here we go, say some. Here comes another Mugabe, a typical African dictator who will wreck his country. They point to the corruption charges and the rape trial where Mr Zuma said that to avoid catching HIV he showered after having sex.…  Seguir leyendo »