New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 263

new internationalist
issue 263 - January 1995

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

Dual thinking
Cover of the NI Issue 261 I must take to task Vanessa Baird in her keynote article on the Arms Trade (NI 261) when she says ‘the arms trade cannot be blamed for starting the conflicts in Bosnia, Angola, Sudan, Burma or Turkey’.

I’m afraid that anyone who is involved in the manufacture or trade of arms is responsible for all wars and conflicts throughout the globe. To think otherwise is to continue the dualistic thinking that creates all the exploitation, greed and suffering that NI portrays every month.

Peace starts and ends in every one of our hearts and when we realize this, we can begin to create a civilized society.

David Hughes
Merseyside, UK

The Baltic States
Your issue on IMF/World Bank (NI 257) was on target. However, there was little reportage on the new victims of the former Soviet Union. By 1992 the new republics were free from what they once considered to be their economic chains. The Bretton Woods organizations rubbed their hands. Loans and their conditions were established and deflation was promised.

Things turned out a little different. Against the established tried-and-tested and mass-marketed foreign commodities both public and private local industry are having a hard time. The IMF representative to the Baltic States, Adalbert Knobl, jumped when in July the Lithuanian Government imposed high customs duties for agricultural imports in an effort to allow domestic production to compete, at least on home ground. In September the Government announced a reduction of 10 per cent in import tariffs. Such erratic changes are due solely to IMF manipulation; they made it known that further ‘aid’, including an imminent $200 million loan, would only be contracted if imports were given a generous welcome.

Lithuania and its neighbours are not part of the Third World. But how long will it be before the IMF dumps them into the same ‘Third World’ pile?

Howard Jarvis
Lithuanian Weekly, Kent, UK

Prison writing
As expected when you published my articles in your Endpiece (NI 259 and NI 260), I received several letters and cards thanking me for the insights into prison life. I was glad to get these responses but sad that with the exception of two letters none of the communications bore return addresses.

In fact one letter writer wrote: ‘The treatment you described in prison must change. I shan’t give you my address because I am scared to do so...’ Alas, that attitude and theme came through loud and clear in almost every letter. It made me weep.

What a sad contradiction… the very people who sought to acknowledge my humanity with their sympathetic words of support quite literally dehumanized me in their fear of placing an address on the letter. I am afraid that much of society has a long way to go in terms of learning how to treat prisoners.

Those among you whose sympathetic words are supported with courage instead of fear. I respectfully urge and encourage you to explore and discover my humanity. I have much to share with you, not least of which is my friendship. Write.

Brandon Astor Jones,
G2-51, EF-122216, GDCC;
PO Box 3877, Jackson, Georgia 30233, US.

Bottoms down
In support of your wonderful magazine I suggest a new basis on which you could promote NI. I have been an avid reader for many years, but seem to find no time in my life to read it. So I have a special magazine rack next to the toilet. While attending to nature’s call I can snatch a few moments to read. And I have discovered that it takes almost exactly a month to read NI by this method, leaving me ready to tackle each subsequent issue by the same plan of attack.

I don’t know whether you determine the length of the NI on this basis, but it is certainly an asset you could capitalize on. You could appeal to the more New-Age-oriented reader with a call to ‘wholeness’ and ‘body-mind integration’. You could point out that while their bottoms were engaged in a universal human ritual, their minds could, at the same time, be connecting with other cultures and peoples around the world.

For your next subscription drive, I propose that you take an organically-oriented approach. I can imagine some good jingles… and perhaps a few testimonials like mine…

Stephen Gunther
Lismore, New South Wales, Australia

VIV QUILLIN cartoon
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Inconsistencies
Your issue on Race (NI 260) contained many inconsistencies. The ‘true or false’ quiz berates Hinduism for the way it treats the lower castes, but lets Islam off the hook for its mistreatment of women. You suggest that the US Government should provide housing and electricity for native Americans, while criticizing Western interference in the lifestyles of other aboriginal peoples.

The problem arises from our tendency to regard Western liberal values as universal, while at the same time desiring to safeguard other cultures which subscribe to different values. To encourage the adoption of education, Western medicine, electricity, ‘comfortable’ housing, let alone promote anti-racism and women’s rights in non-Western society is perhaps an example of Western cultural imperialism.

The question is whether such cultural imperialism is necessarily wrong. Many societies have been eager to adopt Western culture and should surely be free to do so. However, where there is resistance, it is important to respect (if not to accept) the values of those whose attitudes are inimical to our own.

N Ansell
Cambridge, UK

Defending vaccines
I was disturbed to read a letter in NI 260 (Race) from Robert Sier denouncing vaccination as a part of a public health policy. He is quite simply wrong. His view is regrettably fashionable amongst the privileged who take for granted the relative freedom we enjoy from lethal childhood diseases as a result of successful immunization.

The idea that improved living standards are solely responsible for the decline of infectious disease is possibly true in the case of BCG immunization for TB. It certainly does not apply with other illnesses – as the rise in whooping cough (and deaths) which followed public scares about the safety of the vaccine demonstrates. Whooping cough is not, incidentally, a ‘curable’ disease, but one which can and does kill previously healthy well-nourished infants in the industrialized world and causes lasting damage to many more.

While I would agree whole-heartedly that inequitable distribution of wealth is the most important factor affecting the health of the world’s people, it is at best plain silly to disregard those technological measures which still prevent literally thousands of deaths each year – among rich and poor alike.

Dr Robert Wheatley
Stoke-on-Trent, UK

Inflated classes
The new middle classes in India have become the focus of the media and overseas business. With their inflation-proofed salaries, they zoom around in their fancy cars and ignore the suffering of the majority of their fellow citizens.

The Indian Finance Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, is now preoccupied with the introduction of Value Added Tax. No prizes for guessing who will end up with the burden. Not the middle classes but the poor, the same people who are hit very hard by inflation because they are on fixed incomes (or no income at all). But the Finance Minister does not seem to have heard of inflation.

Anand Apte
Bombay, India

Thanks for Timor
This is a late thanks for your issue on East Timor (NI 253). It continues to be a great resource for us, and a reference point for new members looking for background on East Timor – an issue marginalized here by the mainstream press.

Stephen Langford
Australia-East Timor Association
Paddington, New South Wales, Australia

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

Letter from Lagos

Consuming poisons
Elizabeth Obadina tells a cautionary tale of fakes and fraudsters.

Illustration by ALISON MORTON We were celebrating the return from America of some very old friends. It was the third bottle of wine that caused someone to comment: ‘Maybe I’ve had too much to drink or perhaps it is just my eyesight but this Liebfraumilch looks decidedly green.’

‘No. It’s just the reflection of Ade’s green shirt through the glass,’ someone else said hopefully.

By now everyone was concentrating myopically on their glasses. The bottle was taken to the daylight and under the familiar but rather badly-printed picture of a madonna-type person was the small print: ‘Bottled for the Nigerian market by…’ Certainly this was a vintage of the German wine it would be almost impossible to find in Germany. Probably the only German thing about it was its copied trademark, ‘Liebfraumilch’. We looked again. The label didn’t actually say ‘Liebfraumilch’, it said ‘Liebfrauschatz’. It was an entirely different wine. Genuine Liebfraumilch is clear. ‘Liebfrauschatz’ seemed to have particles of a German snowstorm floating up and down in it.

Later that night volcanic activity in my stomach sent me leaping from my bed in some considerable pain and heading for the bathroom where I scorched my throat returning my supper to the outside world. I blamed the green wine for I was not alone in my agony. The other green-wine drinkers also suffered.

I suppose we were luckier than the man who went home to the village for Christmas bearing a bottle of ‘imported’ gin for his father which sent the old man to an early grave.

Some six years ago I wrote an article on fake products for a consumer magazine. Little has changed since then except that the Nigerian Standards Organization (NSO) has changed its name to the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) to avoid confusion with another NSO, the Nigerian Security Organization. Presumably the latter also disliked being mistaken for the toothless consumer body, for they beefed up their acronym to become the State Security Services (SSS), the scourge of all opposition to Nigeria’s military rulers.

Over the past six years the consumers’ situation in Nigeria has worsened. The price of all imported products and reputable locally-manufactured goods has escalated way beyond the means of most people. But like consumers the world over, customers retain brand loyalty. It’s the traders’ rule to give the consumer what they want. Or at least what they think they want. What they often get is decidedly not what they really want.

My last purchase of Colgate toothpaste brought forth howls of foaming protest from my children. ‘Ah Mum, this is fake. Full of grit,’ spluttered my daughter. ‘419! 419! 419!’ chanted my sons. Nowadays every kid’s vocabulary includes ‘419’ meaning dubious, criminal or fake. It refers to the Nigerian penal code which deals with fraud.

Actually the Colgate probably wasn’t ‘fake’. It was simply a product of ‘Sunshine Cosmetics Ltd’, Hyderabad, India. Certainly not the product we were used to buying. Has Colgate become yet another of the multinational brand names to have disinvested from Nigeria? I couldn’t find out in time for this letter. But it would hardly be news if it had.

The list of household products closing down in Nigeria is very long but consumers still want to buy the products so they are either faked or imported. Local ex-franchise holders also continue to produce familiar products, without the quality control imposed by the parent multinational company. This runs the risk of a copyright or patent prosecution from the brand name’s owner but in Nigeria no-one making money worries much about being taken to court.

Nowadays the smart trader interested in making ‘real money’ takes a round trip to Hong Kong where he or she buys up a container-load or two of ‘fairly used’ electronic, electrical and mechanical brand-name items which are shipped back to Nigeria, smartened up and sold ‘as new’ to unsuspecting consumers.

I could laugh about the ‘genuine’ American sheets that turned out to be all the cloth droppings from the machine-room floor painstakingly sewn together. Only my pocket was hurt. Sadly for those who don’t return home with the genuine article the consequences can be more tragic. Pity the many parents a couple of years ago who bought their sick children fake paracetamol syrup which killed.

There must be better ways for Nigerians to expend energy than constantly going into battle against fakes and duplicity.

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

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