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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Africa

Tuesday January 31 2017

Africa is big, and Africa’s rivers don’t help in cutting these huge distances down to size.

More from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography (p. 119):

Most of the continent’s rivers also pose a problem, as they begin in high land and descend in abrupt drops which thwart navigation. For example, the mighty Zambezi may be Africa’s fourth-longest river, running for 1,600 miles, and may be a stunning tourist attraction with its white-water rapids and the Victoria Falls, but as a trade route it is of little use. It flows through six countries, dropping from 4,900 feet to sea level when it reaches the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Parts of it are navigable by shallow boats, but these parts do not interconnect, thus limiting the transportation of cargo.

Unlike in Europe, which has the Danube and the Rhine, this drawback has hindered contact and trade between regions - which in turn affected economic development, and hindered the formation of large trading regions. The continent’s great rivers, the Niger, the Congo, the Zambezi, the Nile and others, don’t connect and this disconnection has a human factor.  Whereas huge areas of Russia, China and the USA speak a unifying language which helps trade, in Africa thousands of languages exist and no one culture emerged to dominate areas of similar size. Europe, on the other hand, was small enough to have a ‘lingua franca’ through which to communicate, and a landscape that encouraged interaction.

I’m guessing that Africa’s famed natural resources (although not of the mineral sort – those natural resources just suck in thieving foreigners) also helped to split the population up into lots of little enclaves, by making it possible for quite small communities to be economically self-sufficient.  Not very self-sufficient, as in rich, but sufficiently self-sufficient not to die out but instead to keep ticking over.

Sunday January 29 2017

I am reading Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall, a new name to me.  (He has also written what looks like a rather interesting book about flags.) Today I read this (pp. 116-117), about the size of Africa:

The world’s idea of African geography is flawed. Few people realise just how big it is. This is because most of us use the standard Mercator world map. This, as do other maps, depicts a sphere on a flat surface and thus distorts shapes.  Africa is far, far longer than usually portrayed, which explains what an achievement it was to round the Cape of Good Hope, and is a reminder of the importance of the Suez Canal to world trade. Making it around the Cape was a momentous achievement, but once it became unnecessary to do so, the sea journey from Western Europe to India was reduced by 6,000 miles.

If you look at a world map and mentally glue Alaska onto California, then turn the USA on its head, it appears as if it would roughly fit into Africa with a few gaps here and there.  In fact Africa is three times bigger than the USA.  Look again at the standard Mercator map and you see that Greenland appears to be the same size as Africa, and yet Africa is actually fourteen times the size of Greenland!  You could fit the USA, Greenland, India, China, Spain, France, Germany and the UK into Africa and still have room for most of Eastern Europe.  We know Africa is a massive land mass, but the maps rarely tell us how massive.

I guess that part of the reason why Africa has tended to be regarded as smaller than it is, in recent decades, is that Africa has not counted for all that much, globally, in recent decades.  We can expect to hear many repetitions of the above observation, as Africa develops economically, towards being the economic giant that it already is physically.

LATER: I see that I have written about this before, in a posting that proves what Marshall says about all the countries that will fit inside Africa.

Saturday January 07 2017

This, says 6k, is going to be fun.

And it is already.  One of the rules of toys is that a good toy starts being fun straight away.  This one has certainly passed that test:

image

That’s two 6k kids and two friends of theirs, all helpfully shielding their faces, which means I feel free to borrow it.

I have been tracking the spread of drones, and noting that most of them are in the service of those who command large spaces which they wish to photo.  Farmers and pop concert organisers, for example.  They are not commanded by those who command only tiny spaces and wish to photo other people’s spaces.  A privately owned drone, for me, in tightly packed London, in almost as tightly packed England, makes no sense, however tempted I sometimes feel to get one.

But South Africa (I was told about this last night by someone who had been there over Christmas) is a land of wide open spaces, and a privately owned drone makes sense there, provided only that you have the means to get into those wide open spaces.

I recently opined here that drones are not toys, and here, they aren’t.  But in big old Africa, they can be.

Saturday October 01 2016

The Evolution of Everything, pp. 181-184:

Evolutionary reform of education is happening. James Tooley, Professor of Education at Newcastle University, has catalogued - ‘discovered’ might be a better word - the fact that the poorest slums of cities, and the remotest villages, in countries such as India, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and even China abound in low-cost private schools. He first began studying this phenomenon for the World Bank in 2000 in Hyderabad in India, and has more recently followed it through Africa. In the cramped and sewage-infested slums of the old city of Hyderabad he stumbled upon an association of five hundred private schools catering to the poor. In one of them, the Peace High School, he found doorless classrooms with unglazed windows and stained walls, where children of rickshaw-pullers and day labourers paid sixty to a hundred rupees a month (about 90p-£1.50), depending on age, for their education. Yet the quality of the education was impressive. In another, St Maaz High School, he found a charismatic head teacher with mathematical flair who in twenty years had built up a school with nearly a thousand students, taught by a group of largely unqualified (but often graduate) teachers, on three rented sites, from which he made a reasonable profit. State schools existed, with state-certificated teachers in them, but many of Hyderabad’s parents were exasperated by the poor quality of the education they provided, and many of the private-school teachers were exasperated by the poor quality of the teacher training. ‘Government teacher training,’ one told Tooley, ‘is like learning to swim without ever going near a swimming pool.’

When Tooley told these stories to his colleagues at the World Bank, he was told that he had uncovered examples of businessmen ripping off the poor, or that most of the private schools were creaming off the wealthier parents in a district, which was bad for those left behind. But this proved demonstrably untrue: the Peace High School in Hyderabad gave concessions, or even free tuition, to the children of extremely poor and illiterate people: one parent was a cleaner in a mosque earning less than £10 a month. Why would such people send their children to private schools rather than to the free state schools, which provided uniforms, books and even some free food? Because, Tooley was told by parents, in the state schools teachers did not show up, or taught badly when they did. He visited some state schools and confirmed the truth of these allegations.

Tooley soon realised that the existence of these low-cost private schools in poor neighbourhoods was not unknown, but that it was largely ignored by the establishment, which continued to argue that only an expansion of state education could help the poor. The inadequate state of public education in low-income countries is well recognised; but the answer that everybody agrees on is more money, rather than a different approach. Amartya Sen, for instance, called for more government spending and dismissed private education as the preserve of the elite, while elsewhere in the same paper admitting that the poor were increasingly sending their children to private schools, ‘especially in areas where public schools are in bad shape’. This bad shape, he thought, was due to the siphoning off of the vocal middle classes by private schools - rather than the fact that teachers were accountable to bureaucrats, and not to parents. Yet the poor were deserting the state sector at least as much as the middle class. The lesson that schooling can be encouraged to emerge from below was ignored in favour of the theory that it must be imposed from above.

India was just the start for Tooley. He visited country after country, always being assured that there were no low-cost private schools there, always finding the opposite. In Ghana he found a teacher who had built up a school with four branches teaching 3,400 children, charging $50 a term, with scholarships for those who could not afford it. In Somaliland he found a city with no water supply, paved roads or street lights, but two private schools for every state one. In Lagos, where government officials and the representatives of Western aid agencies all but denied the existence of low-cost private schools, he found that 75 per cent of all schoolchildren in the poor areas of Lagos state were in private schools, many not registered with the government. In all the areas he visited, both urban and rural, in India and Africa, Tooley found that low-cost private schools enrolled more students than state schools, and that people were spending 5-10 per cent of their earnings on educating their children. When he asked a British government aid agency official why his agency could not consider supporting these schools with loans instead of pouring money into the official educational bureaucracy in Ghana, he was told that money could not go to for-profit institutions.

Suppose you are the parent of a child in a Lagos slum. The teacher at the school she attends is often absent, frequently asleep during lessons, and provides a poor standard when awake. This being a public-sector school, however, withdrawing your child goes unnoticed. Your only other redress is to complain to the teacher’s boss, who is a distant official in a part of the city you do not often visit; or you can wait for the next election and vote for a politician who will appoint officials who will do a better job of sending inspectors to check on the attendance and quality of teachers, and then do something about it. Good luck with that. A World Bank report cited by Tooley states despairingly that pay-for-performance cannot work in public-sector schools, and ‘dysfunctional bureaucracies cascade into a morass of corruption, as upward payments from those at lower levels buy good assignments or ratings from superiors’.

If your teacher is in a private, for-profit school, however, and you withdraw your child, then the owner of the school will quickly feel the effect in his pocket, and the bad teacher will be fired. In a free system the parent, the consumer, is the boss. Tooley found that private-school proprietors constantly monitor their teachers and follow up parents’ complaints. His team visited classrooms in various parts of India and Africa, and found teachers actually teaching in fewer of the government classrooms they visited than in private classrooms – sometimes little more than half as many.  Despite having no public funds or aid money, the unrecognised private schools had better facilities such as toilets, electricity and blackboards.  Their pupils also get better results, especially in English and mathematics.

Friday July 08 2016

When cute wildlife kills other cute wildlife, it has to be handled delicately:

‘We ask that members of the public exercise patience during this time. The City hopes to trap the caracal, collar the animal with a radio tracking device and to move it away from the penguin colony, but still within its current home range. …’

That’s 6k quoting from this.  Says 6k:

Wouldn’t get that in the Kruger National Park, now would you?

I’m guessing: not.

Until today, I had no idea what a caracal was.  Blog and learn.  You mean you still don’t know?  Here you go.  Basically, it’s a big cat (or a small lion-coloured leopard) with big pointy ears.

Latin name of caracal: caracal caracal.

Thursday June 30 2016

6k writes about the long journey from journeyman amateur snapper to Artist:

I don’t pretend to be a photo ninja. I can point, and I can shoot, and sometimes the results can be pretty good. Very occasionally, they can be startlingly good, but only very occasionally. I need to work more at not just pointing and shooting to increase the percentage of those startlingly good shots. We’ll get there.

There follows a picture of a bird spreading its wings.  In other words, the capture of a fleeting moment.

6k photos his family quite a bit, as they do things like explore the spectacularly beautiful coastline near where he lives, in South Africa.  Photoing your loved ones is also a matter of capturing the exact right moment.

With me, I think I get nearest to Art when I’m lining things up with each other.  I have a mental list of things I like, and a picture counts double in my head, if I can line a couple, or maybe even more, of these things.  The most characteristic of such alignments over the years have typically involved a digital photographer, with a London Big Thing in the background.

Here are a couple of efforts I might pick out to enter a competition, if someone told me I had to do that:

imageimageimage

In these two cases, there is also an element of me waiting for the right moment, or more accurately me snapping lots of promising looking moments and picking out the best one.

Those two are from this huge collection of unrecognisable photographers, which I doubt many of you scrutinised in its entirety.  So there are two of them again.  I particularly like the one with the blue balloon.

And here is another exercise in lining things up, captured just a few days ago.  This time, the object at the front is a plastic water bottle, resting on the anti-pigeon netting in the courtyard outside and above my kitchen window.  Behind the bottle is a thing that regulars here will know that I like a lot, namely: scaffolding!  This being the scaffolding at the top of the big conversion job that’s being done across the courtyard from me:

image

That picture involves something I don’t usually like to do, which is cropping.  The original snap was rather bigger.

I don’t know what exactly I’ve got against cropping, but it feels to me like only one or two notches up from cheating.  Maybe I take rather excessive pride in (the Art of) getting the snap I want to emerge straight from the camera, no muss, no fuss, no photoshop.  The truth, of course, is that cropping is itself very much an Art.  But because I don’t do cropping that much, I probably could have cropped this photo a whole lot better than I actually did.

Friday June 17 2016

And I’m back to trivia-mongering.  Any day now, I’ll be back to opinion-mongering too:

image

It’s the first picture of these.

Engineer Thomas Selig, 28, set up his camera on a tripod 100 metres away from a cluster of female lions and cubs in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. He then retreated to a safari vehicle to take pictures with a remote control. A lioness decided to make off with his camera, and proceeded to chew it!

Lucky someone had a second camera, to show what happened to the first camera.

Actually, according to what I am now reading, a lot of people never stopped opinion-mongering.

Friday April 01 2016

What do you suppose this is?:

image

Just looking at that, I can’t tell.  A bit of pink string or wool?  A vapour trail in the sunset?  Clue: This is Friday here at BMdotcom and living creatures are involved.

But click on it, getting the bigger picture, and it all becomes clearer.

However, I submit that this clarity is not because of the picture being slightly bigger.  It is because we see where this strange Thin Thing is to be seen.  We don’t so much see what it is as deduce it.  We?  Maybe it was not like that for you.  Maybe you have a better screen than I do.  But this was how I worked it out.

The picture is one of these.  6K called it “The thin pink line”, so I’m guessing he realised how it might be cropped.  By, e.g., me.

Context
Sports thorts
Pochards and Ibises
Mechanical giraffes
Cat and cubs
A busy day and a collection of Big Things
I slept right through it
Blue sky
Enjoy it when you can
Matt Ridley on how culture leads where genes follow
The culling of the Northern Hemisphere
Early thoughts on the Rugby World Cup
Ships on a roof
Loadshedding?
Sign with sarcastic sneer quotes
Well that’s a relief
Amusing cats versus important people
Ashes Lag recovery continues
Games lovely games
6k quota photo of sea
Mercedes-Benz W123
Michael Jennings photoes Cape Bojador
Comrade Blimp
TIL
Corrie Chipps pictures the Zimbabwe inflation
I love it that the parents are called Susan and Freddie
Birds
Lion steals camera
Multilingual signage
Signs from the Frenchosphere
Quota photo by someone else
“There is electricity and water, but there’s no phone line …”
Defeating Islam (2): Conversion to Christianity will trump higher birth rates in Islamic countries
Another world cup photo of photographers
Photoing the World Cup
Samizdata and Zimbabwe both on the up and up?
Correction
Was it Sweeney?  And what else were they trying to suppress?
Death to all who try to tiptoe past our guards while wearing giant baby costumes!
Another Samizdata piece
Africa is big
What a lot of circles
Bowled Harmison bowled Harmison
Kings Cross gasometer sunset travels 6000 miles
Nothing there
Billion Monkeys on Table Mountain!
Adriana and Ivan in Addis
Lots of links
An improbable England win in the Six Nations
Leon Louw talks about the habits of highly effective countries
Sssssssss!!!! White man!  Take my photo!!
Other Billion Monkeys at the Globalisation Institute party!
The latest Brian and Antoine elections around the world mp3