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.


Wednesday, 22 September 2010


A message from a solicitor today referred to my "lady wife". Normally, I would regard such a phrase - especially coming from a professional man - as embarrassingly twee or excessively formal, and certainly insincere and therefore irritating.

But the solicitor is Asian and so I found it mildly touching. I like the way some other cultures have retained an easy and genuine formality that we have lost.

Some years ago, a Somali junior colleague would routinely address me as "sir". From a Brit, this would have been jocular, mocking, facetious or grovelling. But it wasn't any of those things. It certainly wasn't grovelling; I've never met a Somali who didn't have a quiet assurance and self-confidence that allowed them to deal with almost anyone as an equal.

The westernised sections of Kenyan society broadly follow a British standard in these matters; perhaps favouring a slightly more formal style, for example in the dress code for the business sector.

But in Ghana, I was flummoxed for a while as they seemed to have only two modes - extreme formality and uninhibited, exuberant informality - and the same individual could switch between the two states very easily and quickly.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Many congratulations to my wife!!

Many congratulations to my dear wife, Sauti Kali ("Fierce Voice")!

Today she passed the "Life in the UK Test".

Next step: indefinite leave to remain in the UK. And then, eventually, UK citizenship.

Hongera, sauti yangu! Nakupenda sana, maisha yangu.

And thanks to the efficient staff at the test centre in Maidenhead Library.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Congratulations to Ghana!!

As I've briefly mentioned before, Ghana is a country I know slightly and admire considerably.

Now comes reason for celebration: it's set to become the first country in Africa to halve poverty and hunger before 2015.

The key has been two-fold: concentrate on practical measures to help farmers, and have good overall governance.

Well done Ghana!

Celebrate with some traditional highlife music:

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Shoddy journalism from The Guardian

On 7 September, the Guardian reported - as its lead story - that, to quote the headline, "BBC World Service broadcasts in Burma face axe".

As it turned out, no they don't.

Several things about the report immediately struck me as odd. It quoted a "diplomatic source" as saying that the BBC Burmese service "is very expensive and has relatively few listeners. The 'human rights' argument doesn't hold much sway with the new Foreign Office."

Neither of those specific claims about the Burmese service is true, something that any half-decent Guardian journalist assigned to write the paper's top story that day should have been able to determine. The Burmese radio service is one of the World Service's more modest sections: on the air for less than two hours a day, compared to, say, the Chinese service (five hours a day) or Arabic (18 hours a day on radio, plus a separate TV channel) and with a suitably modest budget. And, as the article noted briefly later, the BBC has a Burmese audience of an impressive 8.5 million.

The following day, the Guardian ran a further story, headlined: "World Service will face budget cuts – but risk to BBC Burma is 'small'".

This said (my emphasis):

Hague told the Commons foreign affairs committee that he would soon be telling the World Service what he thought it could achieve as a "contribution" to the spending review. But he said the BBC Burma service "does not cost very much" and closing it "probably wouldn't be a very good way of saving money".

"Here am I as someone who in opposition has appeared on platforms with Burmese human rights activists, launched books with Burmese human rights activists and been on the World Service talking about Burma and the importance of communicating into it.
The chances that I'm then going to sit in my office and say, 'let's close the World Service into Burma' are correspondingly small."

So, the paper's story the previous day was nonsense. It was a lame attempt by someone to make a shroud-waving story out of nothing. They knew that Guardianistas would be horrified to think of the Burmese service being cut by the nasty Tories, so they built a story out of a quote from a "diplomatic source" - probably quite a junior FCO staffer who wanted to grind a personal axe and bad-mouth both the current government and the BBC. (Some FCO staff - not the whole organization - dislike the World Service simply because it's "not invented here" and resent the money spent on it from the FCO's budget.)

The Guardian and the "source" knew that the line about "The 'human rights' argument doesn't hold much sway with the new Foreign Office" would be another easy button to push to outrage the Guardianistas. But, for all I know, William Hague has done more for human rights in Burma than Robin Cook, Jack Straw, Margaret Beckett or David Miliband.

Here's the truth: speculation about which bits of the World Service will be cut are just that - speculation. We won't know for certain until after the formal announcement on 20 October of the whole government's spending review. Sure, some parts of the WS will be cut, and some parts more than others. Services, like the Burmese one, that deliver a big audience for a modest outlay, and meet an obvious need, have every chance of surviving with little or no cutback. Other areas, including some of Bush House's sacred cows, will likely get the chop.

Meanwhile, treat all Guardian stories about any public sector cuts as unreliable

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Cyril Smith

When I heard he'd died, I had that brief, disconcerting feeling you get when you learn such news of someone you hadn't thought had still been alive.

I think that's because he was a quintessentially 1970s figure (although he was an MP throughout the Thatcher years, not leaving the Commons until 1992).

He stood out as an authentic working-class Liberal.

He was also that other rare thing: a prominent politician with a Lancashire accent. Why aren't there more of them? (I mean genuine Lancastrian - not the subtly different Manchester.) The only other one I can think of was Rhodes Boyson.

Some odd conjunctions and non sequiturs in the BBC obituary:

despite being a Liberal, he... was firmly anti-establishment

while he was all for having a nuclear deterrent, he was strongly against unions having a closed-shop arrangement...

Thursday, 2 September 2010

William Hague's personal statement

I accept his statement. But I'm puzzled about why he was sharing hotel rooms (more than once) with Christopher Myers.

If someone's not a family member, and you're not planning to have sex with them, there are only two reasons to share a hotel room with them:

1. Necessity (only one room available at the inn). This sounds implausible. Someone of Hague's position has staff to plan and book his accommodation in advance, and to make alternative arrangements if need be.

2. Economy. Often a very good reason, but surely unlikely in this case. Even in the current age of austerity, we don't think it an unreasonable luxury for our politicians to have their own hotel room. And Hague is a very wealthy man - he could easily afford to pay for separate rooms for Myers and himself out of his own pocket.

Apart from propriety, there's also a very good reason for not sharing a hotel room. Even if you're used to sharing a bed (or a bedroom), you'll both almost certainly get a better night's rest on your own. Even twin beds don't eliminate snoring, talking in your sleep, tossing and turning, getting up to pee and other disturbances for the other person.

So, all rather odd.