Africa

Katrina Manson

On catching sight of Sudan president Omar al-Bashir, I was so intent on my head-down enterprise to keep pace with him and his heavies in an effort to secure an interview that I followed him into the bathroom.

Rather shocked on looking up, I immediately found myself ousted. But within an hour, his foreign minister Ali Karti spoke to me instead.

For this was the African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa – the high-level talking shop for the continent’s heads of state, the Davos, and then some, of Africa. It is both extraordinary and perplexing. Read more

♦ From our comment pages: “How a digital currency could transform Africa“.
♦ Pigs’ trotters are crucial to the advancement of lowly Chinese Communist party officials.
♦ Some interpreted the Westgate attack in Kenya as a sign of al-Shabaab’s weakness, but there are signs that it is regrouping and recruiting new members, becoming “an extended hand of al-Qaeda” in the words of Somalia’s president.
♦ US trade policies are driving the global obesity epidemic, even as its own citizens get healthier.
♦ The Dutch real estate market is getting a new lease of life.
♦ A Egyptian general ousted under Mohamed Morsi has been rehabilitated by his protégé Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and put in charge of the general intelligence service.
♦ South Korea is aggressively targeting US technology for its own use in a variety of Korean weapons programmes, according to Foreign Policy.
♦ Modern Korea, with its electrical power lines, is encroaching on older villages and farmland. Villagers have protested through self-immolation, demonstrations in Seoul and even a two-year sleep-in.
♦ The Afghan government attempted to form an alliance with Islamist militants in the hope of taking revenge on the Pakistani military.
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A resurgence of global terrorism?
The terrible attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi has refocused the world’s attention on the threat of urban terrorism. Gideon Rachman is joined in the studio by defence and diplomatic editor James Blitz, and down the line from Nairobi by Katrina Manson, east Africa correspondent to discuss whether we are facing a resurgence of global terror.

♦ In Egypt, at least nine people were killed in protests bigger than those seen during the country’s 2011 uprising. More than a million people demanded that president Mohamed Morsi step down.
♦ Poor public health services are fuelling Brazilian protesters’ sense of anger – the problem is so accute that Dilma Rousseff promised to import thousands of doctors from abroad to staff struggling hospitals.
Syrians are stockpiling goods, ripping up old market rules and switching away from dollar-priced imports, in an effort to combat the threat of a tumbling currency.
♦ The New Yorker looks at how Beny Steinmetz wrested control of the iron ore buried inside the mountains of Guinea. The FT reported last year on the government’s investigation into how Beny Steinmetz Group Resources secured the rights to the half of Simandou that had earlier that year been stripped from Rio Tinto.
♦ Infighting among Afghanistan’s Karzai clan is dominating the political life of Kandahar.
♦ Jeffrey Sachs vowed in 2005 to attack the root causes of poverty by establishing model villages across Africa. However, he is increasingly having to defend himself against a growing number of critics who say that methodological errors have rendered his project worthless.
♦ Sharp new limits have been imposed on fishing cod, haddock and flounder in Massachussets because of dwindling supplies, so restaurants are offerings tasty alternatives, one of which is attractively called the Blood Cockle.  Read more

By Aranya Jain

♦Hassan Rohani, the only moderate candidate left in Iran’s upcoming elections, promised reform and unveiled his past in a documentary aired on state TV.
Japan attempts to increase entrepreneurship by making taking out loans easier and encouraging innovation, but changing the system will not be easy.
♦ We are entering a new age of big data, and have yet to understand what this will mean. Our lack of privacy does not end with the NSA, as many big data companies are also able to collect our data trails, and infer things about us from them.
♦ Post-Arab Spring North Africa remains fragile, and is reminiscent of post-Communist eastern and central Europe, but what Africa needs is a role model for democracy.
♦ Snowden claims that the NSA has been hacking China and Hong Kong for years will test Sino-US ties.
♦ This website, via interactive graphics and charts, allows you to explore information about land deals, from a web of which regions are investing in each other to charts that delineate what the land is being used for.
♦ What Mandela’s legacy can leave behind – Roy Isacowitz argues that Israel should emulate Mandela to pursue peace but that it will not do so. Read more

Katrina Manson

In 2005, Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina’s seminal, satirical essay, How to Write About Africa, urged outsiders to conjure descriptions that are “romantic and evocative and unparticular”, talk of safari animals, the African light, big skies and always “treat Africa as if it were one country”.

On those criteria, new China president Xi Jinping’s cliché-heavy first speech on African turf as head of state has measured up all too well. Addressing Tanzanian dignitaries in a Chinese-built conference hall on his first trip to Africa as head of state, Xi spoke of his welcome being “as warm and as unforgettable as the sunshine in Africa” and characterised the economy as “forging ahead like a galloping African lion”.

He also spoke of the warm reception received by a Chinese television series in Tanzania and told a story about a young Chinese couple who honeymooned in the Serengeti and wrote a blogpost on their return that was a bit of a hit in China, which said: “We have completely fallen in love with Africa and our hearts will always be in this land.”

In a blow to Xi’s stated aim of treating Africans as “equals”, Wainaina said the tone of the imagery offered “cheap sentiment” that “smacks of paternalism”.

“China’s charm offensive seems to want to assume there are no serious cultural and intellectual exchanges and conversations to be had,” said Wainaina after reading excerpts of the speech. “I do not get a sense of what Africans are thinking and planning… what African thinkers mean to a growing China. If a Chinese leader cannot begin to articulate what Africa is to them with more substance, Africans should be worried.”

Such sentiments should also worry China, which seems to be failing in its efforts to sidestep allegations of neo-colonial attitudes that mar Africa’s relations the west and to deliver the “bosom” friendship Xi said he espouses. Read more

More on the island rescue

Elsewhere in the world

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Esther Bintliff

Residents welcome Malian soldiers as they enter Timbuktu on January 28, 2013 (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

Residents welcome Malian soldiers as they enter Timbuktu on January 28, 2013 (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

French and Malian troops this week took control of the historic city of Timbuktu from the jihadist militants that had taken over the city in April 2012. The adjective often used to describe the desert city is “fabled” – but what is the fable of Timbuktu?

In the 19th century, the city was considered so hard to get to that the Société de Géographie offered a 10,000 franc reward for the first person to reach the city and make it back. By the time the young Frenchman René Caillié arrived there, disguised as an Arab, the centuries-old reports of riches and splendour that had lured so many explorers had disappeared into myth. Caillié described his arrival in a book published in 1830:

Timbuktu, circa 1950 (photo by Richard Harrington/Three Lions/Getty Images)

Timbuktu circa 1950

“I now saw this capital of the Sudan, to reach which had so long been the object of my wishes…

I looked around and found that the sight before me, did not answer my expectations. I had formed a totally different idea of the grandeur and wealth of Timbuctoo. The city presented, at first view, nothing but a mass of ill-looking houses, built of earth.”

• Timbuktu’s golden age One definition of the word ‘fable’ is ‘an untruth; falsehood’. But Timbuktu did experience a golden age – Caillié was just a few centuries too late to see it. As E.J.Kahn, Jr. wrote of Timbuktu, “for a while, it was a shining city of the Empire of Mali, which early in the thirteenth century succeeded the Empire of Ghana as West Africa’s paramount nation.” The root of the city’s prosperity was its geographical location at the crossroads of a caravan route between Africa’s Arab northern regions and west Africa. Situated between the Sahara desert and the fertile banks of the Niger river, Timbuktu became a busy trading hub for merchants exchanging west African goods including gold, ivory, and salt, for Mediterranean products such as glass, ceramics, and precious stones. Read more

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