In transit

April 30th, a month has gone and a third of the year 2012 is finished. 

The year of travel has proved its efficiency so far. 

In my top three: India, Liberia and Somalia. Alphabetic order.
Of course, I could not say which one has my preference; it is a matter of combination. 

I had been willing to go to India since 1998.

I was really looking forward to my first trip to West Africa.

As for Somalia, I guess, it goes back to the 1980s and the pictures we used to see on television of Somalia and Ethiopia. Then there was this great trip to Somaliland last year that I enjoyed so much.

I have also travelled to Berlin, London, Paris and Kenya of course.

Now I’m on my way to my first visit to Tunisia, my third to Ethiopia and my I-cannot-count-how-many to Nairobi, my favourite African city.

More on Mogadishu soon folks.

Cheers from JKIA.


Mogadishu, days + 2

Second day in Mogadishu.

The Ugandan contingent of the AMISOM is making our stay very welcoming.

We have been able to visit Mogadishu's stadium, University and 'Tropical Hotel' where Ugandan and Burundian forces have taken position within the past year and now say Al Shabaabs are totally out of Somalia's sector 1.

We are now planning to meet OCHA workers at some IDP camps on Saturday and to walk around the market and the beach front where Somalis are supposed to start coming back and enjoying a new 'normal' life.

So many encounters. But it is still difficult to be sure how far peace and security have won over in Mogadishu.

More soon. 


Mogadishu calling

On my way to Somalia again. After Hargeisa in 2011, Mogadishu, the capital.
I will be flying tomorrow from Paris to Nairobi then Mogadishu.
See you there.


Voting Day

After covering a few elections around the world, in the US in 2008, in Uganda in 2011, it is time to vote again myself.

My voting station was really busy this morning at 11.20 Paris time. Commentators were fearing abstention, but participation at 12.00 (28,29%) is the highest since 2007 (30,88) then 1981, according to the Interior Ministry's numbers. A good sign? Well, compared to the US and Uganda, participation and fairness are still running values in France.

I know so many people who decided not to vote though, disappointed by programmes, campaigns, candidates. I personally think it is highly important to participate. I agree with those who say the power of the people has shifted to other places that political politics, but it's not a reason, according to me, to give up a right many others in the world simple do not even have. Well, this is just my view.

So, French people all over the world and English-speakers interested in French politics, have a good first round. Personally, I'm more into the second one, on May 6.


To follow news from France in English, a few links:


The Guardian:

and on Twitter with Paris correspondent Angelique Chrisafis @achrisafis

BBC Webiste:



Introducing Noria

Noria is a network of researchers and analysts, which brings together and promotes the work of a new generation of specialists in international politics.  

Here is the link to the website:
Noria , the word come from Spanish ”noria” and Arabic “nû-ora”...

Noria is a network of researchers and analysts, which brings together and promotes the work of a new generation of specialists in international politics.

Founded in 2011, a year littered with upheaval, Noria aims at providing a pertinent and in-depth perspective on the changing nature of the international landscape and a new approach to understanding and analysing international issues. 
It brings together researchers from around the world, including Paris, Mexico, London, Istanbul, Ramallah, New York, Vienna, Cairo, and Erbil. The network comprises a series of regional teams and chiefly works on issues pertaining to conflict, mobilizations, organized crime, and the foreign policies of emerging powers.

Noria’s approach is based on three fundamental principles:

Intellectual independence, guaranteed by the diversity of Noria’s members and by the collective desire to promote an autonomous voice free of any political or economic influence.


To promote the work of a new generation of researchers specializing in international politics,

To develop a new publication platform dovetailing academic research and political analysis,

To establish an independent think-tank capable of providing high-quality expertise to public or private institutions, facilitating a greater understanding of the changing international landscape.


Follow Noria on FB:



Afua Hirsch, from The Guardian, on reporting in Africa

Appealing reflections on Africa are moving forward this month!

Please, read this article by Afua Hirsch on the Guardian: 


The west's lazy reporting of Africa

Once in a while we see a positive 'Africa season' – then western media revert to sensationalist and stereotypical coverage

"Bad stuff, obviously, happens in Africa just like everywhere else – and no one is denying that those issues should be reported, but their coverage would be greatly improved if it were led by journalists whose mentality were not shaped by the Hugh Trevor-Ropers of this world", she writes, Hugh Trevor-Ropers being an English historian who declared in 1963 that “there is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness."

She adds later on: 'Africa is not, as the New York Review of Books reported recently, "plagued by countless nasty little wars". Nor can aviation within the continent, as Condé Nast Traveller recently suggested, be summarised by a "combination of political corruption, civil wars, numerous rogue carriers, airplanes at the end of their life cycles"...'

Afua Hirsch is the Guardian's west Africa correspondent based in Ghana. She makes here a loud and clear call. 


Liberia : First article - in French

Le grand bond en avant de l'économie libérienne

Le Liberia est engagé dans un double combat de relance de l’économie et de consolidation de la paix. 

Lire ici: 


Le grand bond en avant de l'économie libérienne

Le Liberia est engagé dans un double combat de relance de l’économie et de consolidation de la paix.

Quand on traverse la forêt de Firestone, entre Monrovia, la capitale du Liberia et Buchanan, à près de 150 km au sud-est, on peut se faire une idée de ce qui constituait la base de l’économie libérienne avant la guerre, les «diamants du sang» et l'ancien président Charles Taylor. Dans cet espace, se dresse une vaste étendue d’hévéas. Le caoutchouc est, depuis des décennies, le principal produit d’exportation du pays (51% des exportations, depuis 2003). 
Mais la route est tellement mauvaise qu’il faut parfois trois heures pour se rendre jusqu’à Monrovia depuis Buchanan. A l’image de l’économie du pays, la route est actuellement en reconstruction, grâce à un grand plan ministériel et surtout aux investissements chinois.
Les chauffeurs de bus, et autres travailleurs qui empruntent cette route attendent avec impatience la fin des travaux. 
«Ce projet va tout changer pour nous, commente une mère de famille qui vit dans l’un des villages du bord de route. Déjà, avec une partie du tronçon fini, on gagne une heure pour se rendre à Monrovia et c’est plus facile d’aller s’approvisionner en nourriture et pour tout ce dont ont besoin les enfants.» 
Malgré l’alternance de piste et de bitume, les bus circulent régulièrement sur cette route.
«On a grandement besoin que cet axe soit fini, résume l’un des conducteurs, Buchanan est la troisième ville du pays en terme de population, la deuxième pour l’économie, car, c’est un grand port et la pêche nous nourrit tous.» 
Depuis la fin de la guerre civile en 2003, les Nations unies ont levé l’interdiction d’exporter minerais de fer, diamants et bois. L’exploitation des mines de fer a également repris, et le groupe Arcelor Mittal a ainsi pu effectuer un premier envoi, le 27 septembre 2011. Le groupe a investi 800 millions de dollars dans la remise en état des infrastructures routières et ferroviaires, ainsi que dans la mise à niveau du port de Buchanan, et doit investir deux milliards de dollars notamment pour la construction d’une usine de concentration du minerai.

Des progrès encore peu visibles

Mais pour la majorité des Libériens, cette reprise est encore inodore et incolore. Le chômage atteint officiellement les 15%, mais de nombreuses familles peinent à joindre les deux bouts. 
«Par rapport à la situation en 2003, les progrès sont réels, commente Alex Vines, le directeur de la division Afrique du centre britannique Chatham House, le Royal Institute of International Affairs à Londres. La pêche, la sylviculture, et le caoutchouc tire l’économie libérienne et il ne faut pas oublier que ce type de développement post-conflit ne peut qu’être lent; cela prend du temps, beaucoup de temps.» 
Le quotidien reste un calvaire dans l’un des pays les plus pauvres du monde. Selon les Nations unies, seul un pour cent des Libériens ont accès à une forme moderne de combustible, un des taux le plus bas de la planète. Et le produit national brut du pays reste très bas, autour d’un milliard de dollars (environ 765 millions d’euros), pour une population de quatre millions d’habitants, dont près de la moitié entassée à Monrovia. 
Selon le Fonds monétaire international, le revenu moyen par habitant était de 258 dollars en 2010. La capitale souffre du manque d’électricité et d’eau courante, et l’illettrisme ainsi que le chômage y sont rampants. Le salaire d’un chauffeur dans l’administration est par exemple de 120 dollars (92 euros) par mois. Winston Bestman, 35 ans, chauffeur à la radio nationale explique: 
«Il me faut vivre avec 120 dollars par mois avec mes deux enfants et ma sœur, alors que le loyer nous prend déjà 75 dollars par mois.» 

Un jeune homme comme Winston est même considéré comme chanceux… Ayant fui la guerre au Ghana, lorsqu’il était enfant, séparé de ses frères partis, eux, en Guinée-Conakry, il a pu revenir et trouver un emploi.   
Mais pour Alex Vines, il faut relativiser. Les conflits ont fait 250.000 morts, des milliers de réfugiés et déplacés, sur deux décennies, entraînant la création de la mission de maintien de la paix de l’ONU la plus coûteuse de l’histoire, avec ses 15.000 Casques bleus au plus fort de la crise. 
«Compte tenu de tout cela, la croissance du PIB de 6 à 7% est un chiffre plutôt respectable, surtout au sein de la Cédéao», commente-t-il. 

Le rêve des investissements étrangers

Le Liberia ne peut que s’attendre à mieux… Les ressources du pays sont énormes. Première République déclarée du continent, doté d’une histoire unique avec ses descendants d’esclaves américains libres qui ont fondé le pays et sa bannière à une étoile, le Liberia est assis sur une des plus grandes forêts primaires d’Afrique de l’Ouest et sur de vastes ressources minières, le long d’une large côte maritime. Des atouts certains qui attirent de plus en plus d’investisseurs étrangers. 
Si les Etats-Unis restent le premier partenaire diplomatique et commercial, c’est désormais la Chine qui apportent le plus d’investissements étrangersdans ce pays. Un tournant entamé avec la reconnaissance précoce de la rétrocession de Taiwan à Pékin en 2003. Et la présence de la chinoise se fait chaque jour plus visible: hôtels, écoles, routes. De nombreux projets sont financés par Pékin et mis aux couleurs de la Chine, à l’image de son immense ambassade en forme de pagode traditionnelle sur les bords de l’océan Atlantique… 
La présidente actuelle, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, réélue en octobre 2011 et lauréate du prix Nobel de la Paix, s’est donné pour but d’attirer plus d’investisseurs étrangers et surtout de les diversifier. Après la Chine, l’Europe semble suivre. 
«La Norvège, la Suède, l’Allemagne ainsi que la Grande-Bretagne s’intéressent désormais à l’industrie libérienne, explique Alex Vines de Chatham House. Mme Sirleaf a effectué une importante visite à Londres en 2011 dont a résulté un grand succès: la promesse de la réouverture de l’ambassade britannique, à l’automne 2012.» 
Même la compagnie Chevron est de la partie: le numéro deux américain du pétrole a signé un contrat en 2010 pour explorer trois sites pétroliers sous-marins dans les eaux du Liberia. Reste à espérer, pour les Libériens, que ces projets convergent avec une paix durable.

Melissa Chemam

Mélissa Chemam est journaliste indépendante, spécialiste de l'Afrique de l'Est.


Richard Dowden to the BBC: Change the global image you give of Africa

I fully endorse this text:


It is by Richard Dowden, the Director of the Royal African Society in London and addressed to BBC journalist John Humphreys to appeal for a new look upon African affairs.

Here is the letter below.


“You can’t come here with European eyes”: A letter to John Humphreys on his trip to Liberia – By Richard Dowden

Dear John,

I listened to your reports from Liberia on The Today programme this morning with growing fury. I am not angry because your reporting is bad. It is extremely good. My complaint is this: you say you have been reporting Africa for more than 45 years but why, only now, are you reporting these deeper realities? “You can’t come here with European eyes,” you say. But that is precisely what you and the rest of the British media have been doing all this time.

European eyes however have always dictated the global image of Africa. Trying to get a news editor interested in the story behind Africa’s famines and wars was always difficult. It is always easier to show an aid worker saving an African child overlaid by a tragic-voiced reporter. That was why most journalists were sent there. I was. But I was also lucky. I worked for three news outlets, The Times, The Independent and The Economist which allowed me to stay a little longer than other journalists. And out of the corner of my eye on the way back from the interview, the starvation camp or the front line, I saw things that might explain why Africa is the way it is. I caught glimpses of the deference of educated young people towards their unschooled elders. Or the aid agency that sent an expensive computer to a school without electricity. Or a bright girl taken out of school to serve her brothers at home. If you talk to Africans, these are the things they tell you about.

But getting some of these deeper insights into a newspaper article or onto the radio or TV was extremely difficult. The British media’s news values did not include a mission to explain, to dig a little deeper. The editors are only interested in dramatic news from Africa: coups, wars, hunger, disease and Robert Mugabe.

You describe the Liberian hospital with mammograms that no one knows how to operate, the potholes in the roads, the child who can barely speak English who wants to be a doctor. But John, you report these with astonishment, as if you were seeing and hearing this for the first time. Is this true? Or is it merely a journalistic technique to catch the listener’s ear? I hope it is the latter. This untold story has been obvious to reporters who go there, but have rarely appeared in the mainstream media. The BBC chose not to broadcast it. And since it is a major creator, perhaps The Creator, of the world’s news agenda, this is a tragic omission. Until quite recently, the world has been served an unremitting picture of Africa as a place of war, famine and disease.

In 2005 the BBC signed up, with little consideration, to Tony Blair’s Africa agenda. With praise singers like Bob Geldof and Bono (plus other celebrities), and backed by the aid industry, that agenda needs only pictures of helpless, hopeless Africa that western countries have to save. They simply were not interested in the causes.

At the time, I welcomed the Commission for Africa Report because it drew attention to the continent, but its treatment of the causes was superficial and purely external – what the rest of the world did to Africa, nothing about Africa itself. Now I realise it was another attempt to change Africa. There was no attempt to engage, no comprehension of another world out there, no respect for Africa. That aid-led solution is now trickling away into irrelevance.

For the past ten years many African countries have been growing at rates we in the West can only dream about – thanks largely to an emerging middle class, mobile phones and China’s demand for its raw materials. Now our businesses are following the Chinese into Africa looking for its fabled wealth. Africa is now a place for investment. Liberia may not be the best example of this, but wherever you go you will find “old” Africa and “new” Africa close by. As Mali heads into civil war, its neighbour Senegal holds a good election and changes its president. But our news editors cannot comprehend that complexity of Africa – that it can be both poor and disease-ridden and rich and dynamic at the same time, sometimes in the same village. To be a proper news story and fit into the outdated news agenda, it has to be one or the other.

If “new” Africa has become important and the BBC is sincere about its attempt to report Africa as it is, surely the best strategy is to have good reporters in each African country who have been there long enough to understand it. But, on the contrary, your organisation seems to be cutting back on correspondents as fast as it can. That may be the government’s fault as much as yours. Little do they understand that the BBC is the only connection to the rest of the planet for millions of Africans. Help our government – and your bosses – to understand that £1 spent on a good BBC World Service does more for development in Africa and than £100 spent on aid.

If you can get that message across, as well as re-forge the agenda for Africa coverage, I will back you to win Journalist of the Year.

Grumpily yours,
Richard Dowden – Director, Royal African Society

Kony 2012 vs Anonymous and others

For those who care about Uganda, the Lord Resistance Army (LRA), Africa and the whole Kony 2012 appeal, here is a video reminding a few facts, by the movement Anonymous:

Anonymous - Kony 2012 The facts

"We are Anonymous.
we do not forgive.
we do not forget.
Expect us".

This dates from March 2012 but can still be eye-opening.

While Invisible Children has produced a second video and launched an appeal for mobilisation against Kony on April 20, it seems useful to read and listen to as much as possible about Uganda and the LRA. 


Another useful read on the issue I came across this week  is US Senator John Kerry's column in the Huffington Post:

 "It's not easy or obvious and it may not sound like much, but one thing I know we can do to strengthen our hand is to take a model that's been successful in other countries and apply it to the hunt for Kony and the LRA", he write. 

And therefore Kerry announces that : "Next month I'm introducing legislation to expand the War Crimes Rewards Program to target Kony -- to take what's currently a rewards program designed to secure arrests and convictions of terrorists and those trafficking in narcotics but expand it to target the war criminals of today".

He also adds this point that desserves to be underlined accoording to me: "It's always easier to watch a video and feel something in your gut about right and wrong than it is to focus even for a minute on dry legislation or countries that many have never heard about". 

So can Kony 2012 generate some change for Central Africa?


Another major concern and critic is also made against the Charity 'Invisible Children', which produced the Kony 2012 video.

Invisible Children apparently provided intelligence information to Uganda's security services leading to arrests of several suspected regime opponents, at least according to U.S. embassy cables posted by WikiLeaks. 

Here is an article summarising:

"The San Diego-based group has since 2008 acted in concert with the Ugandan government in coordinating public relations campaigns to promote a military solution against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), while keeping the U.S. administration informed", it explains.

And "Kony2012 was viewed more than 100 million times", concludes the article, "yet it now turns out that Invisible Children may have duped a global audience by hiding the fact that it's been working closely with the Museveni regime all along, to the extent that it even shared intelligence leading to arrests of perceived or alleged regime opponents". 

Another major criticism...

And last but not least the BBC World reports from Northern Uganda by my colleague based in Nairobi, Will Ross:


Finally the best summary of the Kony 2012 campaign according to me is this one:

It is an eye-opening article in which BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding wrote in March 2012: "The outside world has a role to play, but it is patronising and above all cripplingly counter-productive to believe we have all the answers."

I'll conclude by quotiding Eric Vachon, an account executive for evolve24, a market intelligence company, who underlined that before the Kony 2012 video "there were millions of people who didn't know who Joseph Kony was, and today they do, there's value in that."


Stay concerned!


Presenting 'The Suit' at the Bouffes du Nord (Paris) and soon the Young Vic (London)

A young beautiful bride, a romantic husband and a tiny flat overlooking Sophiatown...We are in South Africa, in the 1950's.

Sophiatown was a legendary black cultural hub in Johannesburg that was destroyed under the apartheid. It was finally rebuilt under the name of Triomf, and in 2006 officially returned to its original name. 

But in the 1940s and 50s, it was a source of hope. Despite the violence and poverty in Black South African neighbourhoods, it was the epicentre of politics, jazz and blues. And it did produce some of South Africa's most famous writers, musicians, politicians and artists.

Among them Daniel Canodoce "Can" Themba (1924-1968), a short-story writer who wrote 'The Suit' in 1960s, inspired by Sophiatown but the text was forbidden for years and only published in South Africa in the 1990s. In 1966, Can Themba had to flee to Swaziland because of the discrimination he was facing and Sophiatown was destroyed...


In the play Peter Brook is readapting from his first version in French from 1999 ('Le Costume'), Sophiatown comes alive again. Alive through three amazing actors playing wonderfully the main characters and more. Alive through a great rhythm and inspired singing mainly due to the role the South African singer Nonhlanhla Kheswa holds.

She is 'Tilly', Matilda, the main character's wife. At the beginning, Tilly sings while alone in her apartment, bored and left lonely by a hard-working husband, Philemon (William Nadylam). The young worker leaves early every morning in order to catch one of the overcrowded busses of Jo'burg and arrive on time for his demanding White boss.

But one day, he returns home early and finds his beloved wife in bed with another lover... The latter manages to escape, but he leaves behind his suit...

With this play, Peter Brook reaches a peak of freedom, mixing laughter and melancholy, history and private drama, music and theatre, stage and audience above the theatre's traditional boundaries. An absolute delight, the play will be touring Europe the next couple of months, via Madrid, London (at the Young Vic Theatre in May and June) an Luxembourg in 2013. Don't miss it.


Adaptation, direction and music by Peter Brook, Marie-Hélène Estienne and Franck Krawczyk
Light Philippe Vialatte
Costumes Oria Puppo
Assistant direction Rikki Henry
With Nonhlanhla Kheswa, Jared McNeill, William Nadylam
Musicians Arthur Astier, Raphael Cambouvet, David Dupuis


Remembering Liberia, in pictures

I am a terrible photographer. I just like images a lot, I have a deep passion for photography but I dare, every time I travel, taking those straightforward snapshots just as a reminder. Of people and places.

Here is a collection of pictures from Liberia, my most recent trip.

I apologise in advance to real photographers...


Monrovia, the Chinese Hotel...

We were lodged in a hotel next to the Tv station that showed us right away the Chinese influence in Monrovia.

LBS, Liberia Broadcasting System, coming to a new life

Liberia has not been able to broadcast its own TV news programmes since 1990...

But a new team is ready and is working to make it happen this year.

A reporting trip to Buchanan

The reporters filmed a lot of feature stories in Monrovia and also decided to report out of the capital, in the main port city, Buchanan, where fishing activities are slowed down by sand erosion and a rising sea level.


Trying to build a television news programme

I was part of the training team sent from France to prepare LBS's new TV news bulletin, LNTV News.

It was an amazingly lovely and hard-working team. I wish them all the best for their coming work.



PS. I am currently writing an article about Liberia's economic future. Stay posted if interested.

Kony 2012 - Part II

Here is the new video made by Invisible Children on Kony, Uganda, Congo and Central African Republic and the LRA:


Call for action on April 20...


Nairobi, Kenya and NGOs

I am finally writing this articles about the UN agencies and the NGOs / international organisations in Nairobi and how they changed the city and made it a humanitarian capital for Africa.

I have met and interviewed so many NGO and UN workers on the issue over the past year, but I still feel like taking more views on this one.

Feel free to share your thoughts! Thanks.


Kenya's mystery murals...

I literally love it!

In pictures: Kenya's mystery murals (BBC)


Anonymous activists have been spraying political graffiti across Nairobi in an underground campaign denouncing Kenya's politicians, ahead of next year's elections.

Many Kenyans have been shocked by the murals, which depict the country's politicians as vultures who exploit their position to enrich themselves whatever the cost to others.

This mural, near the city's main market, is the biggest mural so far... organisers say more are planned.

More here:


On Zadie Smith, part II

I have this big crush on Zadie Smith, for her books, her writing, the topics she deals with but also simply for her personality, her talent, intelligence and her style.
I have been able to get closer to the copy of 'On Beauty' I had left in my Paris flat, and I have now purchased 'White Teeth' at the lovely Shakespeare and Co, the Paris 5th arrondissement bookstore.
I am still reading Andre Brink's breathtaking 'The Other Side of Silence', but 'White Teeth' is definitely next on my reading list.  
- -
Meanwhile, any interview from Zadie or article about her work is an inspiration for the moment.
Here is a quote of her interview on literature in the very promising 'Tale of Three Cities' review:
''To me, being a writer is more like being an aerial, than being, well, an 'Ariel'. Things reach this momentum - the amount of books you read and the experiences you've had and the things you know - and the writing is a sort of transmission of that", on her style.

"As sometimes happens, being away intensifies my feeling for the place", on writing NW on Willesden from New York City.
As for the writer's latest news, her new novel 'NW' will be published in London in September. It is apparently set in Willesden, North West London, where Zadie Smith grew up, which explains the title referring to the area's postcode. NW is also where I was recently leaving in London; a little more north tan Willesden, in Golders Green. One more reason why I cannot wait to read it!
More details:

On Kenya, Martha Karua and MP's salaries....

Narc-Kenya party leader Martha Karua has vowed that she won’t accept any salary after December 2012 if Parliament will not have been dissolved to pave the way for polls, the Daily Nation writes.

Read here:



On strangers and strangeness

In W. Somerset Maugham's words...

“I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.” 

― W. Somerset Maugham