issue 262 - December 1994
Heroin habit spreads in Kenya
PHOTO BY SUSAN BECKERLEG
Tima was literally climbing the walls. She had developed a heroin habit and required money to support it. So she scaled house walls, squeezed through the eaves into neighbours’ homes and took whatever she could find. She had also turned to prostitution and was scandalizing the local community.
Then she made a brave move. In Watamu, the tourist village where she lived in coastal Kenya, the heroin – ‘brown sugar’ – which had reduced her to theft and sex work was easily available and offered a continuous source of temptation. So Tima moved to a small fishing village that was largely unaffected by tourism. There she kept off ‘brown sugar’ by visiting outlying farms and getting drunk on palm wine. There may be better ways of fighting heroin dependency, but with no rehabilitation services in the area Tima was on her own.
‘Brown sugar’ has been readily available in the coastal tourist towns of Kenya since the mid-1980s. The source of the drug appears to be the Indian subcontinent – supplies arrive by sea, sometimes via Tanzania. The Kenyan ‘tourist paradise’ towns of Lamu, Malindi and Watamu all have a heroin problem which has almost overwhelmed them.
In Mombasa, Kenya’s second city and its major port, the scale of the problem is greater still. Parents do their best to care for their drug-abusing offspring but are powerless to assist them in giving up or controlling their habit. Men and women from the mosques spend hours talking with addicts, trying to persuade them to change their lifestyle.
Most ‘brown sugar’ users smoke the drug. Injecting has yet to catch on. One young man, Omari, who obtained a discarded syringe from the local health centre and used it to ‘shoot up’, died within months of making the transition to injecting. It may be only matter of time before the majority switch to syringes. ‘Drug tourists’, mostly from Italy, are teaching young people in Malindi the deadly art of injecting.
Many users want to stop. A range of approaches has been attempted, but with little or no success. Some have tried adopting the life of a strict Muslim, others have sought the services of traditional healers, or like Tima have substituted alcohol for heroin.
Now heroin users and the wider community in Watamu and Malindi want a rehabilitation service. Inspired by Islamic ideals of mutual support, self-help and discipline, they are investigating the possibility of training volunteers to offer support and advice to heroin users who want to kick their habit. It is hoped that the Omari Project – named to commemorate the first heroin user who died in Watamu – will lead the way.
The state of the American stomach
ILLUSTRATION: PROFESSOR J.DOUGLAS PORTEOUS
DEXTER TIRANTI / NEW INTERNATIONALIST
Literacy rates have fallen in 30 out of 39 sub-Saharan African countries. Average spending per pupil in the region declined from $83 per year in 1980 to $76 in 1990. New schools are not being built, while drop-out rates run as high as 45 per cent in Senegal. Enrolment in higher education is 21 students per hundred thousand inhabitants in Tanzania, compared with 5,102 in Canada. ‘Structural adjustment’ programmes demanded by the IMF and aid donors involving education spending cuts are clearly the major reason for this.
UNESCO World Education Report 1994
Struggle for independence continues
PHOTO BY ROSEMARY GILLESPIE
The smoke rising from the ashes of Moroni village is a grim reminder of the dirty war being fought over the future of one of the world’s largest copper mines. A slurry of dirt, rocks and toxic chemicals has turned the once-fertile river valleys into a moonscape. Whole forests have died, their naked branches pointing towards the sky like the fingers of a huge skeleton.
The mine, on the island of Bougainville, is controlled by Rio Tinto Zinc Australia. When Bougainville was part of a United Nations Trust Territory, Australian colonial police clubbed women – the traditional custodians of land on the island – who protested at being removed to make way for the mine. As young people grew up, watching their birthright devastated, they became more militant. In 1988 they began blowing up the power pylons supplying the mine and forced it to close. It has remained closed ever since.
The struggle to close the mine escalated into a war of independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG). The PNG Army was given a licence to ‘shoot to kill’ but was repelled and left in March 1990, imposing a military blockade on the island. Communications were cut, journalists were kept out and essential supplies such as medicines were prevented from reaching the people.
In May 1990 Bougainville declared independence and established the Bougainville Interim Government. The PNG Army returned, using Australian-supplied mortar bombs, guns, grenades, patrol boats and helicopters to attack towns and villages. Behind the wall of secrecy created by the blockade PNG soldiers were able to torture and massacre civilians. Thousands of civilians, including more than 2,000 children, died from the lack of medicines.
By August 1994 Papua New Guinea was on the verge of bankruptcy. Desperate to retake the mine the PNG Army mounted a three-pronged attack but was repulsed by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA). A ceasefire was signed in early September 1994 between Papua New Guinea, the Bougainville Interim Government and the BRA.
The people of Bougainville want to decide their own future. Women landowners are determined that the mine will stay closed for the rest of their lives. How long the guns remain silent depends upon how long the peace accord holds.
According to a recent survey, a quarter of South Koreans would object to their children marrying a foreigner or someone of a different race, while a further 46 per cent would try to talk them out of it. One half of Indonesian parents would give a suitor from the wrong race the boot. By contrast, 95 per cent of Australians claim they would accept a mixed marriage in their family.
Far Eastern Economic Review, vol 157 no 37
A group of homeless people in Johannesburg, South Africa, has launched Homeless Talk, a newspaper that aims to give people sleeping on the streets a voice and to help them earn an income by selling the paper. Similar in conception to The Big Issue in the UK and to a growing number of similar publications worldwide, the paper’s first print run of 100,000 sold out in three weeks.
The prospects for the Indian tiger may be even worse than was feared. In Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh, official figures from Project Tiger say that 93 tigers remain, but locals insist the number is much lower, perhaps as low as 20. A new threat has been added to continued human intrusion, flooding and the depletion of edible undergrowth. Local farmers have taken to using cheap electrified wires to keep animals from their fields and many have been electrocuted.
India Today, 15 September 1994
A day is being set aside in January to monitor and assess international media coverage of women. The Global Media Monitoring Project will compile information on sexism and stereotyping sent in from organizations and individuals around the world and release it at the UN Conference on Women in Beijing next September. The objective is to improve media ‘literacy’ on women’s issues and to build solidarity between women in different countries.
For more information contact Media Watch, 517 Wellington Street West, Suite 204, Toronto, Canada M5V 1G1
Vietnam has asked the United Nations to help protect the rights of ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia. A new immigration law passed by the Phnom Penh Government could lead to the arbitrary expulsion from the country of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese who live there. Vietnam claims the new law contravenes international conventions on human rights. In another development, newspaper editor Nuon Chan, an outspoken critic of the Cambodian Government, has been shot dead in Phnom Penh by gunmen on motorbikes. The five-year-old daughter of a UN human-rights official has also been shot in the leg.
Far Eastern Economic Review vol 157 nos 37 and 38
Coffee producers get organized in Peru
‘It’s trial by fire,’ says Luzmila Loayza. She’s the young, bright Export Manager for a group of coffee-producing co-operatives in northern Peru.
The trial she’s referring to is, however, somewhat unexpected. Some recent problems for her group have come not so much from the past few years, when international coffee prices have sunk to levels not seen since the 1930s, but from their current sharp rise.
Her employer, the Central de Co-operativas Agrícolas Nor Oriente (Cecooag Nor), finds it that much harder now to buy all the coffee it would like from the 4,300 small producers who belong to the group. Local traders offer cash in advance against the commitment from the farmer to sell their crop. This is hard to resist, particularly if producers are impoverished. The sums being offered increase as prices rise but still don’t reflect the true market value of the coffee. The profits taken by these traders leave small producers reduced to life at subsistence level.
So it’s crucial to the success of Cecooag Nor that the standard of living of its members improves and they become less vulnerable to the hated local traders, the intermediarios, who have traditionally offered the only source of credit.
Since Cecooag Nor began dealing with international ‘fair trade’ organizations in 1991 its central office has developed a fund that pays for doctors, teachers and technical assistants in each of the nine different co-operative unions that make up the group. The central office in Chiclayo also operates a sophisticated grading plant for all its members.
‘What we’re trying to establish here,’ says Luzmila, ‘is a fair-trading market that looks to the longer term and follows neither the peaks nor the troughs of coffee prices. These can – and usually do – ruin small producers. We want our producers to be able to escape from a life of mere subsistence. We want to encourage our customers abroad to pay a fairer price for high quality – particularly our organic coffee. That’s the deal. The problem with local traders is that they take the money they make away from our community. And when the money leaves, so do the people.’
Luzmila has good reason to know this. Her grandparents once cultivated land in Chiclayo and nearly starved before selling up and fleeing to Lima. Her father returned when Luzmila was four years old. She became a student of foreign trade and eventually, three years ago, the only woman manager in Cecooag Nor. Although she could earn a lot more working for a private company, she’s glad to have the chance to learn how her grandparents lived. ‘Though it’s hard to live on a small wage in Peru I’m quite happy to be neither rich nor living on the streets,’ she says.
Now she has travelled to Europe to help launch a freeze-dried (‘instant’) version of the Cafédirect brand. This is sold widely in the UK under the Fairtrade Mark, which when applied to any product assures the consumer that producers are getting a fairer deal. In the one year that Cafédirect ground coffee has been available in the UK’s major supermarkets it has surpassed expectations and taken 2.85 per cent of the market, according to independent research findings. Two similar companies are doing well in the North American ‘gourmet’ market and the pioneering Max Havelaar in the Netherlands continues to expand.
Such fair-trade initiatives and the principles behind them are, however, completely absent from international trade negotiations.
Maureen Tolfree thought her brother, Brian Peters, had been killed ‘in the crossfire’ between rival groups in East Timor in 1975. That is what she was told at the time by the British Foreign Office. Her brother was a member of a crew working for Australian TV that was reporting on intrusions into East Timor prior to the Indonesian invasion later that year.
All of the crew were savagely murdered: all of the evidence clearly pointed to Indonesian complicity. Only as a result of recent publicity about East Timor did Maureen discover she had been deceived. She says that the Foreign Office told journalists not to contact her and deliberately kept her in the dark. She has travelled to New York to present her case to the UN and has asked them to investigate. As for British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, he says: ‘It is difficult to see what benefit those directly involved could derive from reopening this issue so long after the event.’ Perhaps he should listen more carefully to Maureen Tolfree and enlightenment will follow.
‘If marble can get cancer, you can imagine the plight of children in the area.’
Mahesh Chandra, a New Delhi lawyer who has been fighting a case against pollution
from factories and refineries for ten years - it received international publicity
only when the Taj Mahal began to turn yellow.
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