Stuff I wrote this year…

1. A Plague of Sapphiresstory of my trip to Ilakaka, a once-booming sapphire town in southern Madagascar that’s fallen on hard times of late

2. Madagascar’s Castaway Women – an investigation into the trafficking of young Malagasy women to work in slave-like conditions in the Middle East–and the role of Western donors in their tragic fate

3. Writing About Africa: Thoughts From the Field – my reflections on getting Africa “right” following my trip to Madagascar

4. What are the Chinese up to in Africa? – my review of Howard French’s excellent China’s Second Continent

5. France in Africa: We can’t help coming back – France’s new military posture in west Africa and a new era of Francafrique 

6. Can Zambia save its environment with marijuana? – Zambia’s leading environmentalist runs for the presidency on an unusual platform

7. Botched customs upgrade cuts of Congo’s second city – technological fix for Congo’s Zambia border crossing runs into some glitches

8. Congo lends a hand to fight Ebola, urges African solidarity – amid own outbreak, Congo trains up volunteers to help afflicted west African countries

9. African rivalries weaken U.N. hand against rebels in Congo – competing agendas threaten unified action against Rwandan rebel group in east Congo

10. Mysterious killings in east Congo prompt anger at U.N. and army – shadowy overnight massacres in Beni under the nose of Congolese and U.N. soldiers fuel anger and suspicion 


Can Zambia save its environment with marijuana?

This story first appeared in The Guardian.

Green party’s presidential candidate Peter Sinkamba is promising voters to cut country’s dependency on mining – by growing and exporting marijuana 

Zambia Green Party President Peter Sinkamba
Peter Sinkamba on campaign trail in Chingola city, part of Zambia’s copperbelt. Photograph: Courtesy of The Independent Observer

For decades, Zambia has staked its economic fortunes on copper mining. But when voters in this southern African nation go to the polls in January to select a new president, at least one candidate will be looking to send that tradition up in smoke.

On Friday, Peter Sinkamba will announce his candidacy on the Green party ticket to replace the late President Michael Sata, who died on 29 October from an undisclosed illness. Sinkamba, regarded as Zambia’s leading environmentalist for his battles against the country’s big copper mines, is running on an unlikely platform, especially in this socially conservative nation: legalising marijuana.

His plan, first announced in April, calls for cannabis’ legalisation for medicinal use in Zambia, which would be a first in Africa. The surplus crop would be exported abroad, earning Zambia what Sinkamba claims could be billions of dollars.

At stake is an opportunity to diversify Zambia’s economy while beginning to clean up the environmental degradation left by close to a century of intensive opencast mining.

Continue reading…

Note: Moving to Kinshasa

A quick note that I’ll be moving to Kinshasa next week to take up the Reuters DRC post. As my output of stories will naturally increase working for a wire service, I won’t be constantly updating the blog, but for those of you with a keen interest in the Congo, keep an eye on for the latest news. I’ll still be freelancing on the side, including writing and producing the stories from my recent trip on resource boomtowns in Africa. Check back here for those in the coming weeks and months.  

France in Africa: We can’t help coming back

Cross posted from The Economist.

DURING the military intervention of France in Mali January 2013, officials in Paris were at pains to emphasise the exercise’s modest ambition. “France can intervene only in an exceptional moment, for an exceptional and limited period”, said President François Hollande, as French troops swept into the west African country to beat back a jihadist advance that was threatening Mali’s capital, Bamako. After stopping the rebels in their tracks, France, he insisted, would hand over the country’s security to African forces.

Read the rest here.

What are the Chinese up to in Africa?

Cross posted from The Spectator.

China's President Xi Jinping and Zambia's President Michael Sata

China’s President Xi Jinping and Zambia’s President Michael Sata

China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa Howard French

Alfred A. Knopf, pp.320, £22.50, ISBN: 9780307956989

Few subjects generate as much angst, or puzzlement, among Western policymakers in Africa as China’s presence on the continent. In his new book,China’s Second Continent, the American journalist Howard French recalls meeting US officials in Mali to sound them out on the matter. Instead, he finds himself barraged by questions. ‘It would really be useful for us to know what the Chinese are up to,’ one American official tells him. ‘So far we’ve been limited to speaking with them through translators. We’ve got very little idea about any of this.’

Continue reading…

The Ivory Coast: Let’s move on

Cross posted from The Economist.

A PANEL of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague confirmed on June 12th that Laurent Gbagbo, a former president of the Ivory Coast, would stand trial on charges of murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence. These were allegedly committed in his name during the six months between his defeat in a presidential election in November 2010 and his ousting by force the following April. Unless an appeal is successful, he will be the first head of state to be tried in person before the court. That means he will probably be behind bars during presidential elections slated for October next year.

Continue reading…

Football and Brazil: Intersections

Cross posted from The Economist.

Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil through Soccer.By David Goldblatt.Nation Books; 320 pages; $16.99. Published in Britain by Penguin Press as “Futebol Nation: A Footballing History of Brazil”; £9.99. Buy from

The Country of Football: Soccer and the Making of Modern Brazil.By Roger Kittleson.University of California Press; 328 pages; $26.95 and £18.95. Buy

Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Struggle for Democracy.By Dave Zirin.Haymarket Books; 246 pages; $16. Buy from,

HOLDING the World Cup in Brazil, football’s spiritual home, sparked many fantasies of samba-infused spectacle. Those illusions were shattered last June when protests swept across the country during a warm-up tournament; a year on the discontent still simmers…

Click here to read on.