Although this blog's name is inspired by Sauti Kubwa ("Big Voice"), the late lead singer of Rumba Japan, a band that played in Nairobi in the early years of this century, it won't focus unduly on Swahili nicknames, rumba music or indeed any other African issues.


Thursday, 29 July 2010

Cameron's travels (3)

A lot of hoo-haa (much of it misplaced in my opinion) has been generated by some of Cameron's remarks in Turkey and India.

His speech in Turkey generated considerable angst from various bloggers, including the down-to-earth Iain Dale, the excitable Melanie Philips (also here) and The Economist's reflective Bagehot.

I find it hard to get agitated one way or the other about Turkey. For as long as I can remember, it has been the "next big thing" that was set to arrive on the world stage, transforming relations between Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and between the West and the Islamic world. Ankara has never lived up to these expectations and the country always seems to punch below its weight. Why should it be any different now?

Turkey certainly filled a useful role during the Cold War on NATO's southern flank, and it continues to be a stabilising counterweight to other regional players (Iran, Syria, Russia). Perhaps we're best off leaving it as a semi-detached Western ally, rather than trying to give it more significance than it deserves.

Ankara may be useful as a stick with which to tease Paris and Berlin, but if anyone gets over-excited about the prospect of Turkey as Britain's "special friend", just throw a bucket of cold water over them by mentioning:

1. Northern Cyprus.
2. Kurds.
3. Armenians.

(A pause here for a tip of the hat to Gyppo Byard for a witty Turkey-based headline.)

As for the usual Pakistani splutterings after Cameron stated the obvious about Islamabad's support for terrorism, I am - once again - reminded of Captain Renault:

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Cameron's travels (2)

Now I learn that Cameron and Hague will be visiting Turkey next week en route to India.

Relations with Ankara are another of Hague's high priorities. He mentioned "Turkey" or "Turkish" five times in his major speech on 1 July on his foreign policy objectives - the same number as India/Indian.

(He only mentioned Russia once. China/Chinese got six mentions.)

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Cameron's travels

David Cameron has two big foreign visits over the next 10 days: this week to Washington (his first White House appointment since the election), then next week to India. The assumption is that the Washington one will go well.

The India one is more interesting. As I've already noted in passing, the new government (and William Hague in particular) is keen to put relations with India at the heart of British foreign policy.

Along with Cameron and Hague, George Osborne and Vince Cable will also be on the India trip. Has there been a similar visit in recent years in which four senior members of the cabinet have taken part?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Hilarious nonsense

I don't often laugh uncontrollably, but this did it for me. The comments are even better.

DAB rage

The Murdoch PayWall prevents me from linking to his article in today's Times describing how and why he did it, but columnist Matthew Parris has destroyed his DAB radio in public by smashing it with a hammer.


Monday, 12 July 2010

Uganda, Somaliland and the UK

Politicians' statements after terrorist incidents are a challenge for them. They risk appearing callous if they say nothing, but (if they have any nous) know that whatever they do say can look formalistic and insincere.

William Hague got it about right with his statement today on last night's blasts in Kampala. Short, measured and a genuine expression of condemnation and condolence.

My only quibble is with describing the attacks as "cowardly". This is meant to highlight the fact that the attackers hit purely civilian targets at their most vulnerable - without warning and on an occasion that was meant to be a fun night out. But it risks grading terrorism. Are some attacks less cowardly?

Much happier news recently from east Africa was the presidential election in Somaliland. But would anyone guess from the official British message of congratulations to the winner - by chance, on the FCO website adjacent to Hague's condolence message - that the UK (and all other countries) do not (officially) recognize Somaliland as an independent sovereign state?


Thursday, 8 July 2010

National Anthems (2)

So, it is to be a Netherlands-Spain World Cup final.

Further to my reflections yesterday, this will add an interesting note to the last two lines of the anthem the Dutch will be singing:

den Koning van Hispanje
heb ik altijd geƫerd.

(To the king of Spain I've granted
A lifelong loyalty.)

Meanwhile, the Spanish national anthem has no lyrics at all!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

National Anthems

I'm not interest in football, or any other sports. But I've watched a few World Cup matches as some associated aspects provide an attraction.

One is the national anthems played at the start. I've long been interested in these, based on hearing so many of them on shortwave radio over four decades.

The Portuguese and Greek ones were early favourites, especially when I learnt that the former once had a line about "marching against the Britons".

The Devil certainly has some of the best tunes in national anthems. Die Stem, the anthem of apartheid South Africa, is a cracker, and a truncated version of it has been incorporated in the current SA anthem, though the apocalyptic penultimate line:

At thy will to live or perish,
O South Africa, dear land

(with, in the official SABC recording, a melodramatic drum-roll and crash of cymbals)

has been replaced by:

Let us live and strive for freedom
In South Africa our land

Other defunct dictatorial regimes with great anthems were East Germany and the USSR.

Returning to the World Cup, I'll watch tonight's match if for nothing else to hear Het Wilhelmus, I think the only national anthem sung in the first person of a long-dead monarch.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Rich and Poor

The government's decision that international aid will be one of the few areas of spending protected from cuts prompts the question: why are some countries so much poorer than others? Or to put it another way: what makes countries rich?

One answer is that rich countries are that way because they are rich. They have well developed physical infrastructures, near universal education (often to a high standard) and good levels of public health (very low rates of transmittable, high-mortality diseases). All those things are massively useful in helping them to stay rich. And if you don't have them - if you have poor roads, no railways, limited mains electricity, high levels of illiteracy, high rates of disease, low life expectancy - you struggle to advance.

Natural resources can help. The gulf sheikdoms would be among the poorest places on earth but for the oil. But it doesn't always work. When I heard that Ghana - a country I know slightly and admire considerably - was to become an oil exporter, I felt both hope and alarm. Nigeria has plenty of oil; Switzerland none.

A classic geographer's recommendation for getting rich is to avoid being landlocked. Outside Europe, there's a high correlation between being landlocked and being poor. But it's not a firm rule. Even ignoring Switzerland again (and some other landlocked but wealthy European countries), there's landlocked Botswana - one of Africa's richest states. And not being landlocked certainly doesn't automatically make you wealthy - e.g. Nigeria, again.

A view advanced in one of my geography A-level text books more than 30 years ago was climate: the debilitating heat of the tropics is not conducive to hard and productive labour - physical or mental. That sounds simplistic, almost laughable, but what about those surveys that tell employers here in the UK to keep their offices at exactly the right temperature to ensure happy and hard-working employees?

Tanzania's Julius Nyerere (a generally well-meaning fool) certainly thought climate was important. He said the extremes of summer and winter in the higher latitudes instilled a discipline in their inhabitants. It taught them to take good advantage of the summer to prepare for the winter ahead. In the tropics, such planning is not needed as much. Some food crops may grow all year round, there's no need to draught-proof your home against winter gales, the same clothes can be worn in all months.

I have two recommendations for escaping poverty: avoid violence and get a good government. There are no countries in the world that are violent and badly-run and rich.

My advice to DfID is - except in those cases where it may be possible to recolonise a violent, very badly run and very poor country to turn it around (what we are doing in Sierra Leone
) - only invest your aid in countries that are peaceful and well governed. Otherwise, it will just go to waste.