Book Review: “Life and Politics in Mombasa” by Hyder

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Kweli Ikidhiwri Uwongi Hujitenga – “When Truth comes, falsehood disappears” – Swahili saying.

“Life and Politics in Mombasa” is the biography of Hyder Kindy an East African Swahili political leader during the end of the British colonial period in Kenya.

Hyder, was a local African political leader who never will be mentioned in the same breath as Nkrumah, Kaunda, Kenyatta or Mandela, yet his contribution to his country was as equally as important from a local perspective, something the history books and commentators often ignore.

I came across the copy of Hyder Kindy’s memoirs as a gift which was given to me by Hyder’s grandson Soud Hyder, who is a close friend of mine. When Soud gave me the book, I initially was intrigued to understand more about Soud’s grandfather, yet at the same I did think “now when would I read a book about a Swahili figure I have never heard of?” However, because I had worked with Soud Hyder and was often told about his Kenyan Swahili and Omani heritage, I knew it would be a good read to understand something I had no knowledge of. The memoirs of Hyder Kindy would give valuable insight of life of a man of Swahili descent living under the rule of Zanzibar Sultanate during the period of the territory being a British Protectorate. Similarly, because I myself keep a journal, I am often intrigued by diaries and biographies to see how people recollect their ideas and memories which becomes a documentation of history.

Hyder’s memoirs gave a unique view of local politics during Kenya’s road to independence together with some witty anecdotes, tales and stories of success. His biography has examples of principles, humiliation, struggle, tragedy, work and civic duty. Hyder’s life provides a story against the divisions of a complexed ethnic, religious and tribal society in Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. Richard Stern who gave the foreword to the book sums up the biography by writing “Sheikh Hyder Kindy is a fine story-teller with many fascinating experiences to recount.” From the onset Kindy shows how Mombasa was a plural society yet split between African, Indians, Arabs and the British, while Kindy as a Swahili Muslim was from a community quite often perceived as Arab by the Africans and as African by the Arabs and considered to be less politically valuable for British, hence why Hyder’s had to constantly play a difficult political game to survive.

It was obvious Hyder Kindy came from a family who understood the concept of responsibility and even though he lost his father at a young age he was constantly taught the values of honour and respect from his mother, his step-father and his brothers. I liked the way Kindy would recall his stories yet show a moral purpose at each juncture of his life. For example, he had promised his mother he would pay her his first month salary when he started his job in 1925 as a legal clerk, yet as a young idealistic man he spent his money on his own, however his conscience overcame him and regretted what he had done as he wrote “ever since that time I have tried doubly hard to keep whatever promises I have made,” something which Hyder held true in his life with examples throughout the book.

In 1929 Hyder and his two associates were sentenced to nine months in jail for beating up an influential Arab who had insulted the Swahili community in an article. The case became a political one as it highlighted the differences between the Arabs and Swahili Muslims living on the coastline. Hyder for his actions become a hero for standing up for a people who quite often were made to feel inferior by the Arabs of the East African coastline. Even though with his friends he was incarcerated, Hyder showed how the principles of being honest does pays off. During an incident with a corrupt prison official where Hyder was accused of defying orders and striking the officer in retaliation, Hyder was exonerated for what took place and was rewarded for working inside the prison due to his reputation of being a trustworthy man. Even when Hyder formed various trade unions for workers an example of being a true leader was shown when he refused to take a job as a civil servant at a time when local men were looked over for professional jobs. Only when the authorities gave 75% of his members in the union allocated jobs did Hyder accept the government post. Another example of his principled stance was when he led a union for taxi drivers who were often discriminated against. Even though he led the union for better pay and equality he resigned from his post when he found out some members were violating driving laws when they were told not to.

Hyder sadly had his fair share of tragedy as his first born child Aisha and his first wife Fatma Ali Haji died within three months of each other in 1929. In 1931, Hyder found true love by marrying his second wife Fatma Soud. Hyder was a Swahili, Fatma Soud was of Arab origin, their marriage had defied social norms and structures in British colonial Kenya society as it was unthinkable for a Swahili man to marry an Arab woman. He initially had proposed to Fatma Soud through the traditional way, however as it was rejected by her father, Fatma ran away with Hyder and they both married amongst a few witnesses. A marriage borne out of love for 34 years and eleven children ended in tragedy as Fatma Soud died of heart failure living a heartbroken Hyder who wrote it was painful for him, In Fatma Soud’s honour Hyder wrote a 71 verse Swahili poem which is featured in his memoirs. Hyder also had another wife during his marriage to Fatma, but he divorced her after Fatma died. After Fatma’s death and through the insistence of his children, Hyder married Fatma Shee in 1966 as a life companion.

Through “Life and Politics in Mombasa” Hyder presented a historical narrative of the Swahili community and where they stood amoangst Africans, Arabs and the British during that period. The Swahili were African with an inward influence of the African continent and at outward influence of Arabs and Persians, yet they were never perceived as their own by each side. Hyder demonstrated that as the Swahili people they have no choice but take their destiny into their own hands to stand up for their own rights through engagement an ideal which is so relevant for minority communities in our globalised world today.

IMG_4881.JPGIn 1951 Hyder was in London after he accepted the post of assistant lecturer at SOAS, again this period shows Hyder’s trustworthiness as it was an Arab who recommended the job for Hyder, despite objections from other Arabs, his benefactor remained defiant. The London chapter is where Hyder I feel found his political awakening. Spending time in the city of empire, London in 1951 was a dream for many colonial subjects and what London offered to them was to understand and see what the capital of the empire had to offer. Throughout British colonial history there has been an irony where leading campaigners against the British empire such as Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru and Kenyatta had spent time in London and how the city of empire was also a hotbed of ideas of change and emancipation within the liberal and metropolitan society. The duration spent in London for Hyder was a period where he met other African intellectuals and activists while he came to terms with what colonial rule had done to not only his country but other distant lands as well.

“Life and Politics in Mombasa” is a series of events and anecdotes of a man who wanted his people to be emancipated from all forms of bigotry and rule and to embrace a true African identity as Kenyans, Muslims or even Swahili. In his life Hyder ran committees, developed a radio station, ran a translation service, worked as a judicial officer, taught in academia, worked as a Mudir (Private Secretary) for an official, an organiser of gatherings, speeches and honourary banquets and a representative of a people as a Senator in the Mombasa legislative.

What “Life and Politics in Mombasa” demonstrates that for every independence leader like Jinnah, Gandhi, Kenyatta, Mandela or even Havel there are hundreds of Hyder Kindy’s who were on the streets working for the same cause locally or regionally. They may not have statues or countless biographies written about them, but their contributions were essential. I may have not have heard of Hyder Kindy and what he offered to his society, but we should seek people like Hyder Kindy out and follow their stories and struggles. My own grandfather Hasanji Patel who I was named after during the period of post partition India worked immensely hard to improve the educational and political standards of his local community. Hasanji Patel was no legislative member nor was he a teacher, yet as a community worker he set up schools and colleges in his area, he was a writer for his regional newspaper, a champion for the poor and vulnerable and a political operator who was respected and revered by many. Yet like Hyder Kindy he was a pillar who for his locality was as important if not more valuable than any national leader. Again, a valuable member of society who often are unsung heroes, yet their contributions will echo for years to come, hence why it is essential to understand them, study them and learn from them.

“Life and Politics in Mombasa” is a journey of a man who made a difference to his people on a micro level yet the legacy has lived on within his family, his locality and his community. Whatever one lives in Mombasa, Manchester or Multan, we have many Hyder Kindy’s who have worked for their community, we often hear about them, I am fortunate in reading about one such giant.

Book Review: Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit

Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of BrexitUnleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit by Craig Oliver

As someone involved in messaging, communications, strategy and PR, “Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit” was a riveting read with narratives, analogy, honest assessments and a front line seat to witness what exactly took place behind Number 10 Downing Street during on the most important period of British politics.

Craig Oliver as David Cameron’s Director of Politics and Communications documents the time from January, 2016, when Cameron renegotiated a deal with the European Union, the subsequent Referendum on Europe and the immediate aftermath of the referendum. From the onset it is obvious Oliver painted a benevolent view of Prime Minister David Cameron who is perceived as a man who wanted to ship the country to a better future and end the futile bickering of Europe. George Osborne, Cameron’s heir apparent was portrayed as a man who held conviction and put loyalty to Cameron above any political ambition. Oliver however painted Michael Gove, Chair of Leave as a Machiavellian character who may have been brilliant in being a savvy political operator but at the expense of political ambition and using any way to justify the means. Boris Johnson, the other lead Leaver was portrayed as a lost soul who may have meant well but was confused. I for one disagree about Boris and his agenda, one only has to read “Just Boris” to understand the blond ambition of the man. Although Nigel Farage is mentioned disparagingly, despite the fact that he was heard everywhere in the campaign, Oliver did ignore him at his peril throughout the book.

Oliver throughout the book recalls that he understood ‘ what the man on the street’ was thinking in relation to the Referendum, but their concerns over Immigration could not be addressed, coupled by the fact that the Remain refused to engage in Tory -on-Tory differences, which Cameron refused to engage. The economy was the selling point for The Remain Campaign, yet immigration could not be overcome, and even though the master of communication himself, Peter Mandelson repeatedly raised the prospect of Cameron addressing immigration, which was often ignored. It was obvious the issue of immigration made the difference for Brexit to win.

Oliver came out with the book before most others and gave an insider’s perspective without really going into detail of the mood the country. No doubt as more publications, diaries, analysis and history books will come out with a honest and brutal assessment of David Cameron as the man who took a gamble on the future of the country in order to calm unrest within his own party spectacularly backfired. Oliver was clearly an integral part of the inner circle and admits where he felt the campaign went wrong, however don’t expect a full analysis on why Remain lost.

I did find Oliver’s fascination with Peter Mandelson interesting as it seems the Labour PM tends to leave impressions on people across all political divides. Oliver also noted in late January David Cameron making the perceptive comment: “She could be PM in six months’ time,” the rest they say is history.

Oliver’s book highlights how important it is to have perfectly crafted and realistic messaging is essential for any organisation to succeed for any campaign or cause. However hand in hand, if one does not understand the pulse of the people of whom you are trying to convince, then expect a moment of unleashing demons coming one’s way.

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Book Review: Just Boris – A Tale of Blond Ambition

JUST BORIS: A Tale of Blond AmbitionJUST BORIS: A Tale of Blond Ambition by Sonia Purnell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Journalist Simon Heffer once wrote “Mr. (Boris) Johnson is not a politician. He is an act. For some of us the joke has worn not thin, but out. Yet many less cynical than I am find it appealing. It conceals two things: a blinding lack of attention to detail and ruthless ambition. He is pushy, he is thoughtless, he is indiscreet about his private life; none of this matters much to anyone these days, which is why he has gone so far in spite of them, and tomorrow may go further still.” Heffer wrote that in 2008 when Johnson beat ken Livingstone to be the mayor of London, however his words have struck a chord with me while I was reading Sonia Purnell’s ‘Just Boris – a Tale of Blond Ambition,’ an unauthorised biography of Johnson with a variety of sources on and it seems off the record.

Johnson, the man who voted and campaigned for Brexit, the man who pulled out of the race to succeed David Cameron as the Tory leader and Prime Minister, and widely blamed for not having a plan post referendum coupled with half-baked lies during the campaign has Heffer’s analysis spot on. Johnson supported Brexit not for the national interest but more out of blind ambition. My perspective was Johnson supported Brexit, assuming remain would win by a small margin, yet Johnson would be in a strong position to succeed Cameron as PM when he would stand aside due to his euro-sceptic credentials which he would have amassed during the Brexit campaign. Yet, as we know that was not the case as the country voted to leave the European Union, and somewhat put Johnson’s blind ambition slightly on hold.

Written before the 2012 Mayoral election, Purnell’s biography managed to get into the psyche of Boris, even though she did not speak to the man or his family at all. The New Statesman called it a ’Thorough study…sharply narrated and diligently researched.’ Standpoint called it ‘Meticulous and quietly devastating,’ while Camila Long of the Sunday Times said the book was “Filled with gems … will make uncomfortable reading for Boris.”

Purnell uses the book as a forensic examination of Boris with facts, humour and analysis backed up by quotes and recollections. She demonstrates that the man who is seen as a bumbler, buffoon and butt of jokes on Have I Got News For You does not go through Eton and Oxford, gets elected as President of the Oxford Union, works for the Daily Telegraph in Brussels, becomes editor of the Spectator and then goes into politics as MP and Mayor of London yet maintain the popular charisma and charm and the odd affair. Boris comes across as a buffoon yet Purnell shows that behind the buffoonery is a man who knows what he really wants.

Purnell succeeds in speaking to people who love and loath Boris. Reading the book brought some interesting facts and stories about Boris made me admire him for his determination, yet made me also loath him for his contempt for public service by using it as celebrity, lack of facts and lack of attention to detail.

Purnell, if she wants to could write up volume II of ‘Blond Ambition,’ exposing and analysing the second term of as mayor of London, his quest as MP, plans to usurp and hopefully replace David Cameron. Reasons for supporting Brexit, the fallout of Brexit and what the future will hold for Boris and his naked ambition to climb the greasy pole of British politics.

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Book Review: Falling Off the Edge: Globalization, World Peace and Other Lies. Alex Perry by Alex Perry

Falling Off the Edge: Globalization, World Peace and Other Lies. Alex PerryFalling Off the Edge: Globalization, World Peace and Other Lies. Alex Perry by Alex Perry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there was a book which really made me sit up and think about the world we are living in then Falling Off the Edge: Globalization, World Peace and Other Lies by Alex Perry probably is up there.

Perry paints a grim yet honest picture of globalisation mainly from a developing world perspective ranging from the dissenting workers in China’s new cities to the Maoists of Nepal and Naxalites of India hoping change will come through the barrel of a gun not just in Kathmandu and Delhi but also in New York and London. Perry highlights globalisation is not trickling down to the poor of the world and there is no real hope for success or a distribution of wealth if we continue this trend. Perry paints a real human story as he speaks to villagers in Sri Lanka, factory workers in China, tribal workers from Kenya to MEND fighters in the Niger delta who are not the beneficiaries of globalisation.

He gave extra emphasis to China and India, two countries which are in line to be the next big two in terms of economic and social success. However Perry articulates the pitfalls of their success as there are more victims rather than winners. He shows an elite who have gained so much from the free market, yet at the same time India has 40 million more destitute workers in 2006 than it had in 1993, while the city of Shenzhen has factories where staff just earn $56 a month.

Perry allowed the subjects he was writing on the chance to present their version of events, his encounters with Somali pirates and Indian I.T. workers. Perry doesn’t condone violence as he meets fighters who some may refer as “liberators” while others may say they are “terrorists,” Perry shows their stories as an economic struggle which is hidden under the guise of politics or religion. He shows how these people have witnessed an erosion of their natural resources which are pillaged or sold to fund the economic success which in turn fuels their anger and make them take back by force. For every economic winner of globalisation project, there are more losers who are born into poverty and a rut which they cannot get out of. Perry constantly shows that there is a huge proportion of the planet is falling off the edge as globalisation has not trickled down the realms of success.

For myself the book has cemented the perspective that the system we are living in is in crisis. Perry’s book was written five years ago but now as we see in the West are now falling short of the Globalisation dream. British voters decided to support BREXIT, many many say it was due to fear and blaming the EU, yet there were many working class have been left at the wayside due to forty years of de-regulation and inequality. We are also seeing in the USA the Trump factor which could even win the Presidency, again we see a revolution of regression as many working class communities are falling foul of the globalisation project.

I thoroughly enjoyed his honesty and fair portrayal of Indian industrialist, Ratan Tata who understands the importance of giving back and providing the common good. Tata, who lives a frugal life, comes across as a kind of billionaire with a conscience who has set up foundations honouring how own workers, he told Perry “how much profitable if you target the very bottom of the income pyramid – a lot of people with a little rather than a few with a lot?” His aim was through his investment and somewhat filling the void of the State he wants to make the poor into consumers.

The epilogue, written in 2010 shows that that the financial crash of 2008 has added fuel to the fire of resentment against globalisation. We are living in a prosperous times and myself who works in Qatar can see the wealth with the few while so many who are building and sustaining a city sadly may make enough to send money home for their families, but it comes at a price.

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Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan by Ahmed Rashid

Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and AfghanistanPakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan by Ahmed Rashid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you want to know what had gone on in the Af-Pak region during the US mission to kill Osama Bin Laden, the role of the Pakistani military and ISI over the Taliban and Afghanistan, and the breakdown of relations between the Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Obama administration, then this book is worth a read.

Ahmed Rashid uses his variety of contacts and his understanding of the region to indulge into the whole Afghan, Pakistani, US and various groups such as the Taliban, Haqqani Network and other Jihadi entities. The book is basically an array of extended essays looking at subjects such as the US -Pakistan relationship, Afghan-US relationship, the role of the Pakistani military within Pakistan and Afghanistan, the challenges of Afghanistan and also what the future should be.

I personally found is easy to understand through Rashid’s narrative and came to the conclusion that no one side has any idea of what to do to end the stalemate in the region and that the Pakistani military can help change everything but due to insecurity, paranoia and fear refuse to do so.

One criticism of the book is that, reading it in 2016, it seems somewhat dated, however I knew that, as I intended to understand the region and Rashid’s writings achieved that for me.

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Louis Van Gaal – My review

Louis van Gaal: The BiographyLouis van Gaal: The Biography by Maarten Meijer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I started reading this book, Van Gaal’s United were in a midst of a crisis (still are). There were questions about his philosophy and processes were in doubt. Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United had spent a quarter of a million pounds and were out of the Champions League and four points from the top four. Media and ex-players along with some fans were calling for his head as his own student Jose Mourinho is waiting in the wings. The question was would Van Gaal go before I finish the book? A month on, I have learnt more about the man, and he is still in his job.

What was expected to be a fairy-tale ending between the world’s most arrogant and single-minded manager and the world’s most famous football club has not gone exactly to plan. Meijer doesn’t really write about LVG and Manchester United, as the biography is of the man and his successes and failures as a player, PE teacher, manager and individual. The book is of course unauthorised but Meijer provides enough information on LVG as a footballer from 1969 to 1987 , his insecurities at Ajax during the Cruyff era, his time in management at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), Holland, Technical Director of Ajax, AK Alkmaar, Bayern Munich, Holland and Manchester United.

He charters the public spats with fellow Dutchmen like Johaan Cruyff, Ronald Koeman, Leo Beenhaker and the Bayern hierachy. His fallout with players like Rivaldo, Lucio and Zlaatan show a man who is ruthless who believes that “no individual is allowed to do as he pleases,” and as he said: “I don’t need the eleven best. I need the best eleven”

The book shows his passion, commitment and focus and determination at all costs, yet despite Van Gaal’s successes on the pitch, the author highlights what has built Van Gaal’s character from his Catholic upbringing and the death of his father at a young age which contributed to his development as a leader who was not prepared to compromise on what he thought was right. Manchester United fans are more or less resigned to believe the Van Gaal era will end up messy and this book only cements that belief. His fallout at Ajax as Technical Director and as coach of Barcelona and Bayern demonstrates that when it falls apart it falls apart spectacularly. Van Gaal has a tendency to alienate key players, the board and large sections of the fanbase, which was the price the faithful paid for early success which ended up in failure due to his single minded arrogance and bad luck with players as was the case with Bayern.
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Nevertheless Van Gaal despite what is currently taking place at Manchester United is still at large a footballing legend who many have seen revolutionise the concept of football during his time at Ajax, laid the foundations for Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and managed to gel a group of individuals into a team of World cup semi finalists who destroyed Spain, Australia and Chile in the group stages, beat Mexico due to their spotkick failures, and used his mind games of genius to eliminate Costa Rica in the quarter final. Also current football managers like Ronald Koeman, Danny Blind, Pep Guardiola, Philip Cocu, Frank De Boer and Jose Mourinho all had played or worked under him at some stage during their professional careers. In 2010 the World Cup Semi Finals had Holland, Spain and Germany who had players from Barcelona, Ajax, AK Alzamar and Bayern Munich, again teams Van Gaal managed and had developed some young players like Muller and Xavi who went on to play for their country.

Louis Van Gaal should not be judged on his time at Manchester United. The man isn’t out of his depth at the club, but it could be the challenge of Manchester United came possibly at the twilight of his career where players are different to the likes he managed twenty years ago at Ajax, as his dealings with some big players like Di Maria were not handled well. Despite what will happen at Old Trafford, Louis Van Gaal will have laid good youth foundations at the club and help rebuild the malaise that Ferguson left for Moyes who just could not overturn it.

A must read for football fans who like strong characters, and Louis Van Gaal is one of the heavyweight European characters of football.

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Book Review: The Thunder That Roars

91ys5goXaZL._SL1500_“The Young journalist has an exceptional grasp of world affairs, which he attribute to his hyphenated identity. He says. ‘Well I sometimes wonder. Am I South African? Am I an Indian? Am I a Muslim? Rather, more wonderfully, am I all these things blended into one and created for a purpose? I have been obsessed with these issues, Middle Eastern politics, migration, social justice, for long as I remember. It could be all because I am a a baby of the new South Africa. We were born into a miracle and an ideal, at the same time as our country reinvented itself and soothed the painful scars of racial oppression.” You would think Imran Garda was writing about himself?  However, in this case they are the words of Yusuf Carrim, the protagonist in The Thunder That Roars, the debut novel by Garda.

A book I managed to read in two days, Garda brings his descriptive magic, wit, current affairs, identity, religion, travelling monologue and short bursts of African and Indian heritage and eccentricities into a seismic mix of intrigue and what happens next mode.

The characters in the book are full of flavour, from Barack the Somali refugee to Sukuzukuduma the Zimbabwean veteran patriach. Garda relates their stories intertwined into events and moments that any student of current affairs can relate to.

As someone who has worked in a newsroom there were instances in novel where I thought, damn, why couldn’t live the professional life of Carrim, at times his experiences were too good to be true (but of course not with the emotional baggage related to his new found heritage), but nevertheless, who wouldn’t want to be a famous international journalist jet setting the world and managing to deliver the odd Juma Khutbah?.

Garda, in my opinion strikes it gold by weaving the story of Carrim into the narratives of the Arab Spring, South African Indian Islam, racism, migrant workers and immigration coupled with a thorough description of life and surroundings of New York, Johannesburg, Bulawayo and Lampedusa. Similarly the characters of Yusuf, Jack, Fehmida and Naazim can be related to any man of Gujarati descent. I enjoyed studying these characters and their experiences, whether it was the realism of Yusuf, the panache and guilt of Jack, the unfulfilled yet material life of Fehmida and the ‘son I never had’ character of Naazim. I understood their complexities and mindsets as I for one felt I not only knew them but may have met their types in Sandton, Birmingham and Toronto.

If you are someone who has an understanding of identity politics, African society and a passion for international affairs coupled into a story of fiction where it is not related to a middle class European narrative then this book is the one for you. The Thunder That Roars is not only a debut novel for Imran Garda, but an inspiration for many current and former journalists that a career in literature writing can be achieved. I just can’t wait for his second book.

Book Review: 18 Days Al Jazeera English and the Egyptian Revolution

18_jazeera_feature-770x47218 days from 25 January to 11 February 2011 had not changed the Arab streets due to revolution but also changed the way the world judged and saw how Al Jazeera English was not just an ordinary news channel. The network channel known by some right wing commentators as “Terror TV” was part of the wider Al Jazeera Media Network where once in 2003 the Arabic channel was famously remarked by Hosni Mubarak as a “tiny matchbox,” had overnight become a trusted and reliable news source which controlled the news agenda for the best part of 2011.

18 Days: Al Jazeera English and the Egyptian Revolution studies the account of the channel during the 18 days of the Egyptian revolution in 2011. Authored by Scott Bridges who had worked at the channel on two occasions the book gives a blow by blow account of the relationship between the newsroom, the journalists reporting in Egypt and the lives of the people they were reporting on from the streets of Egypt as change was sweeping the Arab world’s most populous country.  Bridges uses his own experience from working for the cosmopolitian newsroom providing abehind the scene account portraying a deep analysis of how this news channel based in the desert city of Doha became the most sought news source both on TV and online. Bridges highlights the powress during that time of the channel’s  unlimited resources of newsgathering, risk taking journalism and sharp editorial judgement in leadership which transformed the media landscape. However Bridges also uses the opportunity to examine Al Jazeera English and its relationship with its Qatari benefactors, its role within the world and the challenges the channel now faces after its ‘CNN moment’ in 2011.

The book is a day to day journey of what really took place at the channel trying to report the facts as correspondents Sherine Tadros, Ayman Mohyedin and Rawya Rageh along with their colleagues were beaming the revolution into the homes of millions of people, to the behind the scene conversations in the gallery when presenters Adrian Finigan or Kamahl Santamaria were guiding the audience to the plethora of events.

As an individual who watched Al Jazeera during that period as an audience member rather than as a journalist the book offers a great narrative during the events ranging the last minute heated tensions off air or problems with the B-Gan’ which forced correspondent Jamal ElShayyal to look at alternatives to get his content beamed from Alexandra to Doha.

Salah Negm, the channel’s Director of News was quoted by Bridges as saying: “Once you have a big news story, you focus on it, you own it, concentrate on it; make yourself the point of interest,” during the 18 days of the revolution Al Jazeera did exactly that. As editorial staff by default were focusing on the Tunisian revolution, management decided to send correspondent Rawya Rageh to capture the mood in Cairo outside the Tunisian embassy where a dozen protesters had gathered. Even though Raweh along with many colleagues were not convinced anything may blow into a full blown revolution, her closing lines in the package was: ” Whike it’s not clear if these limited protests could gain enough traction to replicate what happened in Tunisia, the sentiment is clear; change is coming, Tunisia is the inspiration,” yet as Rageh told Bridges in her mind she was not convinced that anything remotely on the scale of what to come was about to happen. Rawya didn’t believe that change would come, but then like her colleagues her sentiments were that nobody had an inkling of what was to come.

Bridges goes into detail on how events on the 25th January changed the the editorial debates in Doha which prompted Mohammed Nanabhay the head of online at the time to take the call to place Egypt ahead of the Palestine Papers story, which was scheduled for the day of the protests, even though Al Jazeera had one eye of the 25th January protests it didn’t mean Al Jazeera were not prepared, Bridges shows with examples how during the day on the 25th the wheels started in motion to focus more on Egypt with staff, news gathering and resources.

Despite TV having the resources and were leading the content discourse, Nanabhay and his online team played a central role in the development of the story from the streets of Egypt with the use of social media and constant updates on the site together with the live streaming of the news. The importance of the online character was demonstrated when during the course of the 18 days there was a 2500% increase on website traffic which placed aljazeera.com above the New York Times as a news source.

Bridges uses anecdotal examples of failing equipment, rolling news and near death experiences draws the reader to not just understand the editorial nuances but the emotional and physical dealings journalists had to endure as history was being made.

Bridges offers a perspective on why Al Jazeera the new kid on the block shook the media landscape and brought into journalism the “Al Jazeera DNA,” something Al Anstey the Managing Director always refer to. Despite the constant scrutiny and challenges the channel is currently facing, 18 Days shows how the channel answers their critics not by rhetoric but by its content. Even though the channel has dispelled the myths of being a “Terror TV” station, the channel has new challenges, most notably to campaign for the release of its three arrested journalists in Egypt and the constant questions on editorial independence and bias. Yet the enormity of the channel’s reputation which it has itself cultivated had brought goodwill support from competitors, world governments and human rights group in their calls to free their colleagues, while the integrity and respect for good honest journalism through its news and programmes has won many plaudits from their peers and beyond. Bridges in the words of the blogger Grayson Hamilton highlights the network’s philosophy: “Deliver the facts, give them context, and serve the public,” something which has served the channel well for the past nine years and not just 18 days in the early days of 2011.

Book Review: Talk of the Devil

Idi Amin, Jean Bedel Bokassa, Wojciech Jaruzelski, Mrs Hoxha, Baby Doc Duvalier, Colonel Mengistu and Mira Milosevic (wife of Slobodan), all once leaders of countries who had fallen from grace through coups, revolutions or through the downfall of the Soviet Union’s patronage.

‘Talk of the Devil, encounters with seven dictators’ by the Italian journalist Riccardo Orizio shows how the end of the cold war had meant there was an increase of  a few out of job dictators who once reigned through the realms of fear.  Yet, after they were desposed of from power, they were now more focussed on satellites dishes in the case of Amin, or fighting legal issues, as was the case of some former Eastern European dictators.

Orizio shows how the likes of Bokassa, Mengistu and Jaruzelski had felt let down by the Soviet Union and in particular Mikhael Gorbachev. But he also created an understanding how these fallen leaders were so deluded in understanding the dynamics of the new world order and political status quo.

Jean-Claude Duvalier desposed of in Haiti, was perched in a Paris cafe with his European female companion and three chins lighter used his interview to show that his rule was one of compassion and in the interests of his people, but failed to acknowledge the murders and death squads under his rule. Duvalier, like all interviewed in the book showed his aloofness by saying ‘I had to do what I had for the interests of the country.’

Orizio shows through his journalism an insight into the minds of these people, but for Hoxha and Milosevic he adds in conversations and personal experiences of the victims and perpetrators of the regime in order to bring an understanding what life was really like in a post Hoxha Albania or why Bosnian Serbs acted with barbarism during the Bosnian war.

The comparisons from the book were also interesting. Each fallen leader apart from Amin were more interested in current affairs, rather than dream of going back home. Each leader, however blamed their enemies, foreign agents and former loved ones for their demise. Quotes such as  the “brutality of regime were invented by enemies, ” “people loved me,” or “I was brought down by treachery,”  and most common of all was the “country is  worse off now”.

Orizio provided a simple narrative adding with how his journey to meet some of the former despots included bribes, conversations with taxi drivers, a night in a police cell and countless visits to random homes.

Orizio painted a picture of their lives, how they had fallen from grace together with the many questions in their mind “if they only had stayed in power.”

Bokassa remembered when the Pope had proclaimed him as the 13th apostle and how he was the emperor of Central Africa, yet now he had to rely on his children. Mengistu in a funny incident he denied how he was a cannibal and that while living in Zimbabwe he wished he had a bigger home.

These once leaders who either were feared or loved showed how their rule, which was  connected with misery and terror were now living out their own lives in misery and in fear of death.

Overall a good book to read for those who may want to find out what had happened to Idi Amin, Jean Bedel Bokassa, Wojciech Jaruzelski, Mrs Hoxha, Baby Doc Duvalier, Colonel Mengistu and Mira Milosevic.

And God Created Cricket by Simon Hughes: Review

Any book that is published to provide a definition and analysis in the historical context about a sport tends to be heavy with statistics, narrative and could be used as a weapon due to its size.

Simon Hughes, the former Middlesex bowler and now cricket analyst provides a witty and factual case for the ‘greatest game on earth.’

Hughes gives a breezy whirlwind tour of  400 years of cricket with profiles on players past as present, rescuing from the shadows  neglected English heroes such as Wilfred Rhodes, the slow left-armer who took  4,204 first-class wickets who managed a 1,000 runs and 100
wickets in a season 16 times.

Hughes highlights that throughout history commentators and newspaper hacks would comment on the decline of cricket when there was a new innovation and a player who was performing in a unique way. In the 1930’s the legendary Australian Donald Bradman was seen as a symptom of how cricket had declined into a single-minded, too purposeful and selfish, (as a modern-day Andy Murray), but seventy years on he is described as the greatest.

Hughes shows how cricket through changes to the game and  the characters who played the sport has ultimately provided survival to a game which is up there as sport of great influence. He shows how reactionary forces in cricket have always been there to suppress change and thus, ensuring change occurs slightly later than expected, whether through the introduction of professionalism, reform of the county cricket scene, introduction of overseas players, one-day cricket and T20.

Unashamed, Hughes believes change in cricket only comes about when the batsman will benefit over the expense of the bowler. He shows how cricket has always provided prosperity to the batsman who were always defined as the the original gentlemen, who would defend against the hoardes of bowlers representing the working man.

Hughes provides a glittering analysis of players throughout the game, from the likes of WG Grace, Hobbs, Hammond, Boycott, Botham and modern-day heroes like Warne, Flintoft, Tendulkar and Murali. Wally Hammond was called the David Beckham of his day, while  Bradman the Pete Sampras.

Hughes uses his own experience of playing the sport to give his own perspective of the game since the late seventies when Geoff Boycott would stay at the crease to the recent triumphs of England in the Ashes. He is also hilarious at times, such as when Phil Tufnell,   whom he recalls one day coming into the Middlesex dressing room and  announcing that his wife had popped out for a pint of milk three weeks   before and not returned. “Christ, are you managing OK?” he was asked.   ‘‘Yeah, I’m using the powdered version for the moment.”

Hughes is an innovator of the sport and his book shows he is greeted by the same old  rhetoric: the game isn’t what it used to be, the fact is it isn’t, but cricket at the pace of the New Zealand test batting line-up moves at a slow pace with the times.