New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 257

new internationalist
issue 257 - July 1994

Letters
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : ni@newint.org

Colony and class
Cover of the NI Issue 255 One important question that you did not deal with in adequate depth in your useful issue on Northern Ireland (NI 255) was about Ireland as a British colony. This was not just about economic exploitation but was also a way of diffusing pressure for social change in England. For example, Oliver Cromwell’s Irish massacres were a conscious means of taking the radicalism within his army out of the country.

The continuous promotion of colonialism and imperialism thereafter succeeded in preserving the power of an ancient ruling élite in England. It also laid the foundations for the modern international capitalist system. Had the Revolution in England succeeded, it might have brought about a very different culture. As the historian Christopher Hill put it: ‘Rejecting private property for communism, religion for a rationalistic pantheism, mechanical philosophy for dialectical science, asceticism for unashamed enjoyment of the good things of the flesh...its ideal would have been economic self-sufficiency, not world trade or world domination.’

We need to become conscious of the social and psychological perversion that has been perpetrated and to exorcise it; not only in order to create a better society but because the world economic system has little more time to run before it destroys the physical and ecological basis both of its own existence and of any possible happy resolution to the human condition.

Adrian Atkinson
London, UK

Addicted to killing
The thing that depresses me most is the pleasure people take in killing each other. Whether in Rwanda or Bosnia, Ulster or Palestine, Somalia or Brick Lane in London, the preferred way of settling a dispute is to kill someone.

Your issue on Northern Ireland (NI 255) brought this to mind. There is no longer in that province any issue that cannot be resolved by argument or that is worth a single human life – but the IRA and the UDF are now so addicted to killing that they neither can nor will stop. What it comes to is that the ethic of tribal war is deep-rooted in the human psyche and I despair of ever eradicating it.

Charles Phillips
Bromley, UK

Not very brave
Your letter from Anon. of Gloucestershire (NI 254) was nothing more than a threat from a man to women. He states that ‘a crackdown on pornography that worked would simply drive a minority of very tense, frustrated men into rape, indecent exposure and abuse’. So all women should accept the use of women’s bodies as images to be abused to stop people like him raping us?

Every time women try to change the world to make it a more equal place we are threatened (apparently gaining the vote was going to make us grow lots of facial hair!). If people always gave in to the threats of those who try to dominate none of us would get anywhere. If this man and others feel they are incapable of controlling themselves then they should seek help. They are the ones with the problem.

Rape is not about erotic pleasure; it is about hurting and dominating. I don’t think people should be threatened into accepting pornography when they feel it is destructive to the safety and rights of women. And I don’t think writing anonymous letters about your misogynist views is very brave.

Dahlian Kirby
Leeds, UK

Exporting poverty
I am concerned about a matter which rarely seems to get publicized: the export by Western companies of their more labour-intensive, often production-based work to developing countries. This ‘shift’ takes several different forms, from setting up a branch factory to simply contracting out or even hiring staff in ‘developing’ nations to work in the West.

I have personally experienced the latter situation while working on a ship in the North Sea crewed by Filipinos. My current company is starting to contract out labour-intensive computer-operator work to companies in Poland and India. And a recent television programme highlighted the problems caused to the local community in Detroit caused by General Motors’ decision to shift its production factory to Mexico.

Can anyone tell me if the benefits of international trade actually reach the workers in developing nations in terms of acceptable working conditions, wage rates, workers’ rights etc? Are there union regulations?

It is all too easy to pretend we are benefiting developing economies and their people while at the same time causing exploitation on a huge scale.

John Maslen
Edinburgh, Scotland

VIV QUILLIN cartoon
photo by VIV QUILLIN

Expert articles
I agree with Nicholas Gillett – Letters NI 254 – that issues like East Timor (NI 253) draw attention to a problem without suggesting a solution. In that particular case the leaders of two countries (the US and Australia) agreed to the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia, an act which resulted in the death and genocide of 200,000 people. Clearly the Security Council should set up a tribunal to try those guilty of genocide, decide how the present situation should be dealt with and be prepared to enforce its decisions with sanctions and if necessary with military action. All this should be discussed in articles by experts on the region. The same is true of a lot of other issues – Latin America, Tibet, Angola and so on.

Having decided what should be done, those concerned with these particular issues should put their case to Heads of State, the Security Council and ambassadors to the UN – not by writing letters to local MPs.

Dr T Lukes
London, UK

Editor: we feel that action needs to be taken at all levels – including lobbying local MPs.

Polio vaccines
Your Update (NI 253) on polio quoted some interesting statistics. Readers might like to know that in 1985 the World Health Organization and national governments got together with the Rotary Foundation and set up a Polio-plus programme with the aim of eliminating the polio virus worldwide by the year 2000.

By mid-1993, worldwide, 500 million children had been vaccinated; grants had been made to 98 countries of over $US 181 million and up to 1992 no cases of polio had been reported in 132 countries.

D C W Cook
Rotary Club of Girvan Barr, Scotland

Lame excuses
John Pilger is quite right to deride statements by British ministers in your issue on East Timor (NI 253) that, for example, the British Aerospace Hawk aircraft supplied to Indonesia could only be used ‘for training’. Anyone capable of reading a specification can see that the basic aircraft is designed and built to carry a whole variety of weapons – bombs, rockets, cannons and napalm.

After World War Two, Allied war crimes investigators were told by some of the German firms that made gas-chamber equipment for the Nazi death-camps, that they ‘didn’t know’ what it would be used for, or that their companies needed the business, or even that ‘if we hadn’t supplied the equipment, our competitors would have done so’.

Are these not remarkably similar excuses to those being offered now by the British Government for selling anti-civilian weapons to almost anyone with the money to pay for them? No-one likes to see good workers out of a job. But if instead of weapons for mass-murder, Britain’s government and industry would concentrate on the huge demand for consumer goods in the vast markets of the East, weapons exports might be reduced with no threat to jobs.

Len Clarke
Uxbridge, UK

Petra Kelly
I was moved by a BBC programme on Petra Kelly, showing that the murdered Green activist is now almost forgotten in her own country. Would interested readers write to me with constructive ideas on how Petra Kelly’s memory and work could be kept alive?

Annette White
10, Beresford Dale, Madeley,
Crewe, CW3 9ET

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from Lagos

Home and Abroad
Nigerians are leaving their country in droves in search of a better life ‘over there’.
Elizabeth Obadina is determined not to follow them.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY I must be the only person I know who felt glad to come home to Nigeria after the Easter holidays. There was no electricity, still no petrol, the phone had been cut and the house smelt mouldy and damp. All my friends were profoundly depressed and couldn’t understand why I hadn’t stayed with my kids ‘over there’. ‘At least your kids would get the chance to go to halfway-decent schools,’ my friend Aji said. Last year, in desperation, she had bundled her eldest off to live with her godmother and acquire a clutch of A-levels.

‘Maybe later,’ I replied. We’ve had this discussion many times and this holiday my kids lost yet more of their classmates to ‘over there’. They are now scattered around the world: Texas, Edinburgh, Washing-tonpDC, Bahrain, London. In some cases they followed a parent who had moved to a better job. In others they went alone to stay with grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends to continue their secondary schooling.

But we haven’t quite reached the secondary examination or university years and our jobs are here in Lagos, so for as long as possible we hang on in together, whilst all around us other families are peeling apart.

Besides, Easter in the UK had brought me six hospital visits to different relatives around the country and the sorting out of a funeral. Old friends had been made redundant and my brother complained bitterly about tax increases. I borrowed my mother’s car and it was stolen. The children bickered because I refused to buy fifty-pound computer games and designer-label boots and clothes. I couldn’t honestly say that life was better ‘over there’. I’d had a dreadful time and was glad to be home.

Perhaps in a year’s time, or perhaps sooner, I’ll be singing a different tune. Different people have different breaking points. For Nurse Lawal it had been the realization that even a junior hospital nurse was earning 15 times more than she was as the matron of a small hospital in Abeokuta, a provincial town 60 miles north of Lagos. Nike, my daughter, met Nurse Lawal in the casualty department of a large hospital in north London. It was Nike’s first trip to the UK on her own with her brothers, and her diabetes had been one of my main worries when shipping her off. The day after she arrived, she blacked out in Finsbury Park. She wasn’t wearing her ID bracelet nor was she carrying emergency sugar. ‘But,’ she happily told me later, ‘I was never worried because I knew I was in England and people would know how to help me. If it had happened in Lagos I’d have panicked for sure.’ The irony of being rushed to hospital by a Nigerian taxi-driver and being tended to by a Nigerian nurse was completely lost on her.

I don’t know what that particular mini-cab driver’s story is but my own family counts two London mini-cab drivers in its ranks; young men with Masters’ degrees in animal husbandry and civil engineering. They both left Nigeria rather than face continuing unemployment at home. They are not alone. Nigerian teaching hospitals and universities have lost all their best brains to foreign countries. An early 1993 BBC staff magazine was waiting for me when I got home – having taken a year to meander through the Nigerian postal system – and I read of a technological breakthrough made by two BBC engineers. One was a Nigerian.

There is a siege mentality developing amongst Nigerians left at home. Most have long ago foregone all hope of job satisfaction and are concentrating on day-to-day survival. Everyone knows there are problems ‘over there’ as well, but what could be worse than those at home? Last year Nigeria’s military destroyed the political hopes of the nation and co-opted its erstwhile civilian political opponents. Now the name of the game is ‘everyone for themselves’. And for anyone with the wherewithal to leave, ‘over there’ seems to present a much better bet than ‘over here’.

Elizabeth Obadina is a freelance writer and journalist living in Lagos.

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