2 Dec 2010

FIFA: It's a Rich Man's World

Well done to Russia and Qatar for paying, sorry earning, the right to host the world cups of 2018 and 2022. But the nature of their 'triumph' raises more questions than answers.

The way football's governing body FIFA runs the secretive vote you half expected plumes of white smoke to emerge marking the winner. FIFA and the Vatican have plenty in common as it happens. Both of them secretive, senile autocracies who have hoarded vast concentrations of ill gotten wealth.

The decision about the world cup is largely about the ego of one man: Sepp Blatter and his Swiss-dominated quasi-dictatorship over the governing of football. And you can almost here the joyous jangling of the pockets of those bloated, sycophantic jobsworths who swim in the murky cesspit of FIFA's unaccountable millions.
So good luck to the fans travelling to enjoy those two world cups!

3 Mar 2010


Interesting article. Something to think about the next time someone in a developed country asks, or insists you give money to 'help' or 'save' an African country. The money is very likely to 'help' some people much more than others and most of us shut our eyes and ears to it. We hand over our money and go back into our own busy worlds. Not for a moment, do the vast majority of people stop to think, where exactly has our money gone to and was it really well spent?
Children at an indepenent school for deaf children in Addis Ababa, which the Ethiopian government wants to shut down. Why? Simply because it is not run by the government.

I have spent the best part of a month slogging my way around Ethiopia. In some ways it is an amazing and eye-opening country. In others it is depressing for the very large numbers of people who do little more than subsist. Hard questions need to be asked about the way the country has been governed and why it remains so wretchedly and miserably poor.

Ethiopia's population is quietly exploding. It has virtually quintupled in lass than a century. Half of the people cannot read or write. They live very primitively off the land. Schools and health services are woefully under-provided in large swathes of the country. Is that really because we in the west (poverty always seems to be about 'us' doesn't it?) have not poured in enough money? I don't think so.

Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister, seems strangely beyond criticism. But I wonder if it was wise for him to decide to spend large amounts of his country's (already slim) budget on fighting two major wars with Eritrea and interfering within Somalia instead of on schools and health services for his own people. Wars which America and Britain happily supported by the way.

'What is my president doing for me?'

There is a very intersting debate to be had (not that we are likely to have it in this country any time soon) about the consequences of shovelling large amounts of money into very poor (and very corrupt) countries. Can we be honest enough to ask ourselves, is it really a good thing?
I can assure you that the consequences are very far from favourable. In fact - and this is hard to believe but it is true - they have even been detrimental and regressive to a country like Ethiopia's development. Aid dependency and the corruption it engenders has severely hindered the lives of ordinary Ethiopians.
There is a very important and relevant discussion to be had about these aid and development issues, which I am sure I will return to another time.
But bare in mind one thing: most of the people you hear talking (or should I say lecturing) about these issues in the mainstream media have their own agendas to promote. They wear their development hats or NGO badges. It always pays to look at who pays their salary.
They are unable to be truly objective and rational in analysing the effectiveness of aid and development policy. They live a very nice and relatively comfortable life in the countries they are so earnest about saving.
For me, the biggest and most relevant challenge in reducing poverty is not about how much money we 'should' unburden ourselves with. It is reducing corruption and improving bad governance. African poverty should not be about our guilt complexes and our 'must-do-something-anything' culture. It should be about the many and deep failures of African governments to do effective things for their own people. It should be about making them more transparent and accountable to the people they govern.

Forget the coloured wristbands, the emotionally blackmailing slogans and the day trip celebrity guilt tears. We do not have a hope of making poverty history unless we are searchingly honest about understanding the real causes of it. From inside the places where it exists and is perpetuated.
So what is Saint Bob Geldof's response? 'Just keep giving money!'
Just keep giving money. Keep pouring it in. Throw enough of it at Africa and all poverty will magically dissapear and we can all ease our guilty wealthy consciences. How simple. How naive. How wonderful for Africa's corrupt leaders. How disrespectful to the people of Africa.
Give me the valuable currency of real life experiences over the cheap currency of celebrity moralising every time.
When will we learn? It's not about the money, the impressive pledges, the warm slogans or the good intentions. It must be about understanding the realities on the ground.

23 Jan 2010


Its where the two Niles meet. It has been described as the world's largest waiting room. From personal experience this is not unfair.
Nothing happens in a hurry here. The word for 'urgency' does not exist. You just keep your patience, wait and wait. Otherwise it can drive you slowly mad. Even without doing very little of note, the city seems to exhaust you and wear you down.
I got pulled over yesterday in Omdurman market by a stern plain clothed man. It was a fairly innocuous area. But he told me he was from the Tourism Police. I was not to take photos, he insisted. He demanded to see my passport. After trying hard not to laugh at his title, I had no choice but to comply. He didn't seem in a mood to argue.
Sure, I said, no more photos. I walked on down the road. After waiting until he was well out of sight, I continued taking photos. This side of the Sudanese government is unpleasant and extremely counter productive to the enjoyment of being in a fascinating country.
It is also a total contrast to the wonderful nature and generosity of the vast majority of the Sudanese people. They are several worlds away from their government in so many senses of the world. Sanctions have punished them in the same way they have punished the ordinary and poor people of Burma.
I wish more people had the capacity or initiative to take their curiosity beyond the simplistic and often misleading news headlines, to climb over the easy and lazy negative assumptions we make and solidify about countries we know so very little about from the inside.
And yet, the notoriously slow and unhurried Khartoum appears to be changing. Or at least undergoing a dramatic visual facelift. The Chinese haven't just arrived. As quietly and discreetly as they always seem to do, they have built themselves upwards and concreted their way into influence and power here.
Colonel Gaddafi has erected an outrageously attention grabbing shiney tower. Maybe he knows a thing or two about what is going to happen in this big and mysterious country.

17 Jan 2010

Inside Sudan

'Ah, you are British.' said the uniformed official as he looked me up and down with suspicion. 'You are the colonisers!'
I didn't know what to say.
Then with a big flourish he imitated a large handlebar moustache and afforded himself a chuckle.
'Welcome to Sudan!' he beamed.
I can assure you that the Republic of Sudan is not at all what you might think it to be. In fact, it could be so far away from cliched and negative perceptions that it is a mystery why we understand so little of it. Africa's largest country - 8 per cent of its the continent's total land mass even - and still one of the most closed off and well hidden.
Next door Egypt receives something like 12 million tourists every year. I would be surprised if Sudan receives more than 1,200. I've only witnessed a handful of other Westerners so far as I follow the River Nile south through the desert.
The landscapes are extraordinary. The people are luminous and warm spirited. The roads are generally good (thanks to the Chinese - more on that another time). The biggest challenge seems to be the bureaucracy. There's so much of it. Everywhere I go I have to register. Imagine that. I need permission to move from one place the next. Yet so much of the form filling and box ticking is utterly pointless and irrelevant. Often I write it out myself. I could write anything on some of the forms and the policemen would not raise an eyelid. Such is the structure of Sudan.

6 Jan 2010


Having travelled through (a very cold) Europe by train to Istanbul, and through the Middle East for a second time, I am in Egypt heading down the Nile and waiting for my Sudan visa. It might be a long and expensive wait!