Book Reviews

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Can the Third World's energy crisis be solved? This month we look at an innovative Swedish system for saving firewood. And we offer a collection of books to give for Christmas.

Editor: Anuradha Vittachi

Fuel for the poor

Energy and Development in Kenya
by Phil O’Keefe, Paul Raskin and Steve Bernow
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Beijer Institute, Stockholm, and the Scandinavian Institute of
African Studies, P 0 Box 2126, S-750 02, Uppsala, Sweden. £7.50
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Public perceptions of Third World energy problems have altered drastically in the last few years. As recently as 1978, it was thought that Kenya used imported oil as its main energy source, and so the problem was seen as one of foreign exchange. Now it is recognised that wood is the staple of Kenyan energy use. The oil import problem is still there, but the wood resource must also be managed properly.

The Swedish study reported in this book focuses on Kenya for both fieldwork and analysis, but its implications reach out to the rest of the developing world. And because it is based on co-operation with the Kenyan Ministry of Energy as well as the work of visiting experts, it should be of more than usual interest to development professionals. The Swedish study developed a system called LEAP (LDC Energy Alternatives Planning Model), which has since been extended to handle energy use patterns in Third World countries. Its main innovative feature is that it includes land use as well as energy use: so the interactions between fuelwood production and crop production, among other variables, are usefully looked at when putting together policies.

Stark realities lie ahead. Both wood shortages and oil dependence are likely to figure increasingly in Kenya’s future, as elsewhere in the Third World. Wood requirements could grow from 20 to 50 million tonnes a year between 1980 and the end of the century. And by the year 2000 oil import costs could be 14 times present export earnings. Problems with obtaining wood increase the temptation for villagers to migrate to cities - although even there wood and charcoal are staple fuels. Cutting more wood also means risking the kind of ecological damage - especially erosion - so far associated mainly with mountainous areas like Nepal.

So what hope do the authors (in the first of a long series on energy, environment, development and Africa) offer for squaring the circle and providing enough energy at the right price? Despite the odds, a lot. In the long term, the problems cannot be overcome without also making a start on food, other natural resources, and the Kenyan economy in general. But more immediate measures can close the gap between wood need and production, reduce oil demand and restore forest cover to its present level.

The measures include better technology for wood use - many stoves are disastrously inefficient - and the mass production of more efficient devices. Wholly enclosed stoves are one useful technology.

Another wasteful process at the moment is charcoal production. If kilns for charcoal production worked better, almost half of Kenya’s charcoal could come from thinnings in managed forests rather than from forest demolition. And almost everyone - industry, power stations, transport and commerce - could use oil more efficiently. What price the West funding these kind of developments instead of selling another power station?

Martin Ince

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Martin Ince
writes and broadcasts extensively on science
and technology. A former editor of ‘New Technology’ magazine,
he was also an expert witness at the Sizewell nuclear power station
enquiry and author of the ‘Sizewell Report’ (Pluto Press. 1984).

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In brief...

John Schmid’s book The Kenya Magic (hbk: £9.95) is a labour of love. He wrote the text, took the pictures and blew his life savings on printing it himself. The book is not politically sharp, but the affection Schmid feels for Kenya is indisputably genuine and that’s reflected in the direct, amiable text. The pictures are sometimes stunning, generally vivid. A book of photographs that would make a welcome Christmas present for a Kenya-lover. It’s available from Breachwood Publications, 2 Lower Road, Breachwood Green, Hitchin, Herts, UK.

Help! I’ve got a teenager! A survival guide for desperate parents (hbk: £6.95 Exley) has a cover as jokey as the title. But the contents are solid and well worth reading. The authors have not only parented five children themselves, but been counsellors to hundreds of other teenagers and parents. The advice they give is based on serious, and frequently subtle, psychotherapeutic principles - a far cry from the glib answers of agony columns. Jean and Robert Bayard’s style is conversational and approachable - no therapy jargon - and they manage the hard trick of inviting the readers to look at their own responses as well as those of the apparently offending teenager without sounding patronising or threatening. I found my adolescent daughter reading it avidly. The book is based on First World experiences, but the principles should stand firm anywhere - and, indeed; in any situation where one group stands in a position of responsibility and power in relation to another group that is beginning to asserts its independence.

Every year, people of talent and goodwill come to Bristol, UK, to honour the memory of Ernst Schumacher, author of Small is Beautiful by giving talks which address the issues of peace, ecology, anthropology and education. The lecture hall overflows, so the prolific Satish Kumar, Chairman of the Schumacher Society and editor of Resurgence magazine, collects up and edits the words for those of us who couldn’t squeeze in. The speakers in the Schumacher Lectures (Vol. II), (hbk: £8.95 Muller, Blond & White) includes Johan Galtung, Professor of Peace Research at the University of Oslo, Petra Kelly of Green Party fame, Russell Means of the American Indian Movement, feminist poet and philosopher Susan Griffin and Rupert Sheldrake, the Cambridge biochemist who shocked the scientific world by suggesting there was some mystical element in the development of living creatures. Particularly interesting was Colin Wilson’s lecture on alienation and purposefulness. The first volume of the series (£6.95) included contributions from Ivan Illich, Amory Lovins, R D Laing and Fritjof Capra.

Anuradha Vittachi


Black Like Me
...being the book that put a
white man in a black man’s skin

TWO NIGHTS AGO, I had an appointment in an unfamiliar part of London. I had just got out of the car when my ears were assaulted by a violent shrieking.

I turned around to see a large white woman, her face distorted with hate, screaming at me. For a second I was too shocked to move. Then I realised the words were racist obscentities. I gathered my coat tighter around me and walked quickly on. She followed me, still shrieking. I glanced down a sidestreet. Two young men lounged near a closed cafe. Were they safe - or was her racism catching? I felt a breath of panic rise and subside in me: one I could cope with, three I couldn’t. I turned into the sidestreet and made my escape.

The friend I was meeting was concerned for me but had no means of sharing my experience: ‘It’s not something a white middle-class male tends to come across. And how could I explain? The woman hadn’t physically harmed me. Intellectually, I could cope - I felt sorry, if anything, for the poor crazy woman screaming at her supposed enemies in the street. But much deeper down, the damage was done.

Already fragile roots were torn still more, the sense of not belonging intensified. I realised next day that I’d kept glancing anxiously at the mirror that evening, seeing myself as unpresentable. The racism had been catching after all - it had caught me.

John Howard Griffin would have understood my reactions, despite being a white middle-class male. For Griffin had had the extraordinary experience of being temporarily black in the Southern states of segregated America. In Black Like Me he records his strange adventure.

It happened in 1959, when Martin Luther King was just beginning to make his mark. Griffin reads a news item that the suicide rate among Southern blacks is rising - and decides it is time for him to stop being an ‘expert’ on race issues and find out what it actually feels like to be on the receiving end of persecution.

So with a doctor’s help he doses himself on medication usually given to victims of vitiligo (a disease that causes white spots to appear on the skin), followed by exposure to ultraviolet rays. Then he shaves his head and grinds in skin stain. Leaving behind his wife and children, Griffin moves around different cities - New Orleans, Montgomery, Hattiesburg - travelling by bus or hitching rides, sleeping in cheap rooms in ghetto areas. He tastes the life of a poor black, and finds it bitter.

Several encounters spark off a new political awareness, and Griffin begins to

see how the ‘blaming the victim’ pattern operates against blacks. For example, a redneck farmer - pillar of the citizenry - boasts salaciously to Griffin that he has forced all the black girls in his hire to have sex with him. Can’t they refuse? asks Griffin. ‘Not if they want to eat - or feed their kids’ is the menacing reply. And then the girls are vilified for being sexually immoral.

But Griffin’s most frequent experience is of a deepening depression. The poverty and futility wear him down; the repeated humiliations drain him of energy. And there is simple fatigue. Sometimes he must walk miles before he can stop: a Negro may only rest or use the lavatory or get a drink of water in special places - and these are few and far between. A thousand daily reminders rub it in that he is unwelcome, inferior, rootless - superfluous. No wonder the suicide rate was rising.

And there is the hate stare. ‘Nothing,’ writes Griffin. ‘can describe the horror of this. You feel lost, sick at heart before such unmasked hatred. It shows humans in such an inhuman light. You see a kind of insanity...’

The book is full of revealing encounters, written mostly in a raw and racyjournalistic style - occasionally altering to an evangelical fervour. Griffin is a Catholic and his message is that love, in the end, is the force that must conquer. He admires King’s nonviolent approach, with its combination of love and dignified action. He wants action, now, before things turn nastier. He’d lived in France when World War II broke out - he’d helped victims of Nazism to escape - and he knew how monstrous such collective racism could be.

But for me that most striking revelation of all was one that Griffin may not have intended, though in his honesty he offers it. When he first shaves his head and stains his skin, he looks in the mirror and sees a fierce, bald Negro glaring at him from the glass. ‘The transformation,’ he writes. ‘was total and shocking. I had expected to see myself disguised, but this was something else. I was imprisoned in the flesh of an utter stranger, an unsympathetic one with whom I felt no kinship.’

Griffin, our hero, saviour’ of the persecuted, has come face to face with the racism within himself.

Anuradha Vittachi

Black Like Me
by John Howard Griffin (1962)
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Panther (pbk) UK: £1.95 / Aus: $6.95
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