Magazine article The Spectator

Feeling at Home

Magazine article The Spectator

Feeling at Home

Article excerpt

London

This summer's big G8 Africa palaver has turned London, or at least the London I know, into a little African village. It makes it great fun for me, since even if I'm here for a few weeks usually I become homesick. I poke my lamb cutlets and dream of our flavoursome Dorper mutton. I screw up my nose at my Merlot and yearn for Tusker. I ambush Eritrcan taxi drivers en route to the Bush with questions about the latest politics in Asmara. I weep at wildlife documentaries on TV, not because of the animals so much as the background sounds of cicadas or frogs. I marvel at how you can discuss and read more about Africa in London than you can at home, but I so miss reading the Daily Nation in hard copy.

First, I went to the launch of Michael Holman's charming novel Last Orders at Harrods. Until recently Michael was Africa editor of the Financial Times. A Zimbabwean, he's still the best hack there is covering the continent. His book is about street children in Nairobi's shanty of Kibera, the biggest slum in Africa, and based on this he dreamed up a unique marketing idea. He got the UK publisher's permission to let him print 1,000 copies of the book locally in Nairobi. Michael's friend Alexander McCall Smith donated the cost of this. Then Michael recruited 20 slum kids to sell the books and keep the proceeds. I believe the children flogged most of their copies in three days. With the profits, they're buying themselves shoes rather than glue, though I suppose that's what they all say. Their original sales pitch was to approach motorists at traffic lights and announce, 'Buy this book or I shit in your car.'

The Africa Corps of hacks was at Michael's launch, together with the Kenyan former anti-corruption tsar John Githongo, who recently fled Nairobi in fear of his life. A lady from the Ethiopian embassy shouted at me about the Blair Commission for Africa and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's right to buy Sukhoi-27 ground-attack aircraft to defend the nation. The fact she lambasted me over canapés in Daunt's bookshop was surreal, but I thanked my lucky stars it wasn't in Addis Ababa, where the sound of gunfire and dying protesters has been prevalent of late. You see, London can be like the capital of all of Africa, but without any pain. …

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