Magazine article The Spectator

Let's Do Business

Magazine article The Spectator

Let's Do Business

Article excerpt


Here's this Chinese guy in the midday sun. Straw hat, faggy in his mouth, bright eyes, tanned face. I feel like crying. We're in the middle of nowhere and he's building this fantastic road through the Tanzanian bush. He's fit, young, staring into the future, like one of those Mao-era posters. I give him the thumbs-up. 'Keep up the good work, mate!' He ignores me and I don't blame him.

As I zoom down smooth tarmac through wide-open spaces, I think about how my family has been associated with Tanzania on and off for 81 years. My British forefathers in Africa had purpose, a devotion to duty.

Hardship or loneliness did not scare them.

They came here to advance themselves and their nation. That's what the Chinese are doing now. I admire them for it.

But today, across most of Africa, the British are finished. They associate the continent with poverty, filth and danger. They're afraid of skin cancer and malaria. They're soaked in DEET and they're worried about the food. Even if they want to, Britons can't leave home for more than two months to work in Africa because their spouses will divorce them. The most adventurous Brits are middle-aged Rochdale women visiting Mombasa to pick up beach boy prostitutes.

Frankly, you can't blame them either.

I don't mean to be arrogant. I include myself in this hesitant crowd of pathetic British has-beens - I'm just from a subtribe of post-colonials. We survive in Africa but can hardly be said to be thriving. I'd be just as afraid of Africa as metropolitan Britons if I wasn't so damn lazy. But it's not too late for Britain to avoid becoming irrelevant in Africa.

Africa is the world's Next Big Thing. The investment opportunities here are just staggering. I'm back in Tanzania, trying to start a business. Four decades ago, Julius Nyerere expropriated my family's ranches - thousands of acres and a successful beef enterprise. I wouldn't return here if I was not absolutely convinced times are changing.

But there's almost nobody else around.

Britain has invested just £230 million in Tanzania since Tony Blair won his first election. Local people take me for a Swedish aid worker, or an American priest. They are astonished when I tell them why I am really here.

In Dar es Salaam, the odour of scandal still hangs over British business because of the dodgy 2001 sale of a BAE Systems radar that Tanzania did not need. …

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