SOUTH Sudan is on the brink of a human disaster. Yes, another human disaster. After months of on-off conflict between factions of the government of the newly independent country, another man-made famine is looming in East Africa.
Of the 10 countries that have the world’s fastest birth rates, nine of them are in Africa – and most of those are in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the next few decades, the continent will be the world’s biggest source of young people. And what does that mean for Africa? It could mean a massive boost to the sub-Saharan economy, as young populations are usually associated with faster growth. Or could it mean an equally massive disappointment, as millions of young people wanting education and jobs come up against poverty and disappointment – and make their feelings known in a wave of unrest?
I JUST sat through a corporate presentation at a business conference. It was the graveyard shift – last presentation of the day – the one everyone tries to skip –and amazingly enough it was terrific. There were no PowerPoint graphs, there were no diagrams, and there was no introduction. Just 18 minutes of rapid-fire spoken entertainment from a man who seemed to like the job he was doing. You actually wanted it to go on longer (how often does that happen?). Two things about that session are worth noting. First, it was unusual. Second, it was not as difficult as you might think.
WHEN I worked in Africa as a schoolteacher I found that I spent quite a lot of time thinking about money. Not because I was short of money – on the contrary I had what seemed like a lot, the pink Sudanese fifty-pound notes piling up uselessly in my desk drawer. We were not paid very much, but in our village there was very little to buy. But for many others around me money was a monster that ruled their lives.
THE continent of Africa represents what is probably the biggest continental mining resource in the world. Africa is the second biggest continent, and even on the basis of known reserves it has about 30% of global mineral reserves. Africa has 40% of the world’s gold reserves, 60% of the world’s cobalt, and 90% of the world’s ‘platinum group’ of metals, plus half of the world’s chromite, half of all natural diamonds, and almost half of the world’s manganese. So why aren’t mining companies making money in Africa?
BOOK REVIEWING is a beautiful game that can quickly lead to bankruptcy. It’s a time-is-money kind of a problem: to review a book you have to read it, reading books takes time, and at normal speed reviewing books is an occupation that attracts well below the national minimum wage. So the question of the day is, how to speed up? How can you speed up not just reading, and writing, but also selecting books for review from the thousands on offer? How can you get really good at judging a book by its cover?
WHAT determines the way a country is run? Is it policy, or ideas, or people? Or is it money? Economists and business people always tend to make big claims for the importance of what they do. But in Africa, where an increasing number of nations are in transition from poverty to wealth, and from autocracy to democracy, there is some evidence they may be right.
WHAT a library is YouTube! When I first saw it I thought, great – old clips of Johnny Cash! Now I begin to see that the library is more Alexandrian than it is special interest. The Man In Black does have a place, but so does The Woman In White, and every shade in between – and yes, that does include cult philosophers of language and linguistics …
Book Review: The Letters of Noel Coward edited by Barry Day
NOEL Coward was far and away the most successful dramatist of his day. He dominated the English-speaking stage on both sides of the Atlantic. Aged only 24 he became a star virtually overnight with the production of his 1923 play The Vortex – a work which characteristically he wrote, directed, and starred in – and he continued to excite and dazzle audiences for most of the following quarter century with works that earned him the reputation of being the most versatile (and best paid) author of his time.
Book Review: Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin
ROGER Deakin, who died prematurely in 2006, played a large part in the current revival of writing about nature and landscape in Britain. He did not publish much during his life – a book about trees and their spiritual significance called Wildwood, and another about the culture of unofficial swimming, Waterlog. Yet those two books (both unexpected if minor commercial successes) managed to draw the attention of readers towards some things that were either new or neglected – the spell that the natural world can cast on the urban imagination, the teeming variety of the modest English countryside, and the oddly unexplored landscape of Deakin’s home territory, the eastern part of England known as East Anglia.