I have just completed an extended journey to the UK, where I attended a Private Equity conference focusing on emerging market opportunities, and to Canada for a long weekend with my two sons. Normally, this would be a bad time of year to visit, but I was lucky enough that my stay coincided with clear, warm and still autumn days. The clear weather provided me with what is probably the best view I have ever had of Essex and London on the incoming flight, looking out at a landscape shaped by humanity and its inventions. Orderly, neat, organised - even the small pockets of woodland apparently planted. The contrast between this landscape and Uganda's - indeed, most of Africa's - is considerable. Red earth, green vegetation, trees apparently scattered randomly across a landscape which bears little evidence of human activity. An occasional village, a marram road, and little more.
One of the blogs that I follow, Hollis ramblings, contained a reproduction of a piece entitled How Not To Write About Africa - in which all the cliches and stereotypes of non-Africans writing about Africa are listed with brutal accuracy. These include talking about wide and empty landscapes, huge skies, sunsets and wilderness, and so on. But the fact is that humans are yet to shape the African landscape to anything like the same extent that we see in other parts of the world. This is partly a function of a lack of large-scale mechanised agriculture, but also due to the disruptive force of nature. The absence of winters, the strong sun and heavy rain create an environment where human works breakdown far more quickly than in a colder climate - and where micro-organisms and vegetative growth flourish. The beauty of the African landscape is created by the powerlessness of man to dominate and control nature.