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Africa Rising…

Hi… first blog and to be honest just testing the waters with this… don’t know how it’s all going to unfold or whether I’ll give it all up in a week or 2… but here goes – most of the time I warn I’ll prob vent at smthg or other (as I get older I find the list of things that seriously irritate me gets longer and longer…!).  I’ve had a quiet few months here in Cape Town at the mo doing loads of background stuff mainly associated with settling down over here (still some way to go though!) as well as finishing off the website with my stock library and printing online service.

I’m also about do a massive overland trip starting in a couple of days up to Nairobi and beyond (into Somalia and Somaliland for starters) and preparing for that has tired and overwhelmed at times to say the least…

I was meant to be traveling with another photographer but cos of money issues she had to pull out (and she shall remain anonymous as the private shame that burns in her of dumping me like that is enough I think…!)… I’ve traveled before alone and the part of the world I’ll be driving through is a well-trodden track so I’m not too worried but it’s still tiring and as I get older it all gets a bit harder to handle…

The first thing I wanted to blog about ironically has nothing to do with Africa but rather with what’s been going back in Blighty last week….

I watched in disbelief and horror as events unfolded from here in CT.  It is really surreal watching the mayhem unfold on BBC live on my comp seeing places in North London to which I am still sentimentally attached being destroyed and burnt while out of my window I looked out at an everyday Cape Town backdrop of mountain, sea and gentle rolling clouds.…

It’s a bit symbolic for me more than any other recent event of the growing feeling of a slow economic and political shift away from Europe and the US towards the emerging economies.  And for once – Africa looks set to reap the benefits of this change with rising demand for commodities acting as an engine for growth.

OK – The last time there was a commodity boom in the 70’s Africa was left not with growth and better infrastructure but with an almighty debt hangover after the often reckless spending of many governments (or rather dictators) across the Continent.

This time though it feels like it’s going to be different….  Africa looks in better shape to take advantage and by all accounts – there is a sense of renewed hope sweeping the Continent  that hasn’t been there for at least a generation.  For a start democracy – an absolute must when it comes to better governance in Africa – seems to be – albeit imperfectly – taking a hold across the Continent.  Over 20 African countries underwent elections within the last 12 months – a figure unheard of even a decade ago.

One of the downsides though of rising commodities is that the local pop’s also bear the brunt of the price hikes and there has been a lot of media coverage of unrest about rising staple and petrol prices in Africa…

But much less covered is the booming underlying economy that African countries are also enjoying.  Talking last week with my ex-wife who is struggling to find a decent flat in Nairobi at an affordable price, it left me staggered to discover that a decent 2 bedroom flat in the capital in a middle class area was now going for around KSH 18 million  (approx £120,000) – that’s almost double what I remember it in 2008.  It is common now in Nairobi to approach developers directly to buy un-built property straight off the plan to get a bargain but the downside is you have to wait maybe 2 or 3 years to actually move into the property.  When my ex went to try to buy one in this way – she was utterly bemused when the first question that the construction company asked was ‘are you paying cash or mortgage?’  Apparently the more common answer these days is ‘Oh cash of course…!’.

There are stark exceptions to this new African order that act as a reminder of the Continent of lost hope and despair.

The famine in broken Somalia – the worst in 60 years and all the images of famine -ridden children that have flashed on our TV and computer screens are a constant reminder that change on the Continent will be long, slow and painful.

But even in this most dire of situations, there is even here indications that Africa is slowly changing: From the South African broadcast co-operation’s (SABC) massive appeal for donations to the ‘Kenyans for Kenya’ Red Cross appeal to help fellow Kenyans affected by the severe drought, it is Africans who are now providing a significant source of donations for the first time in history.  It is also the 9000 strong African Union peace-keeping force – lead by Ugandan and Burundian soldiers – that has wrested control of the whole of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia – for the first time this week from Al-Shabaab .  Something that other Western forces had previously failed to do.

The African narrative is slowly but surely becoming one of hope and not one of despair and although there are sure to be massive setbacks along the way – The sea-change that seems to be gradually shifting our world order, may even – at last – embrace Africa and bring this Continent that for too long has sat out in the cold on the sidelines of development and prosperity into the international fold with all the benefits of a better life that comes with it.

Anyway…

I’m waffling and I still have to finish off packing the car and get all my cameras and equipment ready for the journey up to Kenya.. I’ve decided to travel with a set of Bowens lights and a battery pack too. I hope they last the long and hard journey up to Kenya  – As a personal project, I’ve always wanted to take the opportunity while passing through remote places to do some on location shooting in remote African villages with my studio lights.  I did a bit in a village called Sutherland in the Karoo desert in the Northern Cape last year during the World Cup as part of a series of portraits about fans and the (damned!) vuvuzela and thought the results were decent so trying to take it all a step further now…

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