issue 174 - August 1987
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First in the developing countries and now in the core capitalist and Communist countries the term 'informality' (NI 173) has been used to describe economic activities that are unregistered, illegal, small-of-scale and often so lacking in profitability that they are mere survival mechanisms.
But by encouraging the proliferation of terms - shadow, informal, second, hidden, marginal, unstructured, unregulated, black - we lose sight of the forces to which people are being required to adapt. This leads to confusion about how best to remedy the situation.
Policy makers begin to think of formalizing the informal, exposing the hidden or structuring the unstructured. Commentators offer advice on how the worst excesses of this phase of industrialization - child labour, sweatshops, bureaucratic corruption, health hazards and increased poverty - can be mitigated. Philosophers begin to praise the liberating effects of the economic crisis and the impetus it gives to self-employment and informality.
Suggestions as to how governments can 'help' the informal sector are misleading. We need to avert our eyes from the characteristics and focus on the fundamental causes of economic recession, unemployment, under-employment, famine, disease and poverty.
Swansea University, UK
With an arrogance typical of many Christians, John Garvey (Letters NI 173) denies the role Western cultural imperialism has had, and still has, in the spread of Christianity in the Third World.
Wherever imperial penetration has taken place the forerunners were the religious missionaries. Napoleon knew how to make use of them when he stated: 'The religious missions may be very useful to me in Asia, Africa and America. The sanctity of their dress will not only protect them but serve to conceal their political and commercial investigations'.
The destruction of tribal cultures goes on today. Recently a missionary in search of the elusive 'Pig People' of Paraguay declared, 'I want to give the Pig People the chance to hear the Bible, 'cause if they don't they go to hell and suffer eternal damnation.'
The time has come for Christians to put an end to this tragedy and disgrace: to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the poor and oppressed and to finally concede that Christianity does not have exclusive possession of the truth.
Much thought has gone into devising expensive ways of exploiting the area. The Falls Hotel - a relic from the 'old world' - even offers its own tribal dancing. When I attended it was compared by a local white woman in stiletto heels and a pink trouser suit, who fondly referred to the dancers - some of whom were elderly men - as 'my boys'. Then there was the 'booze cruise' at sunset down the Zambesi river, where everyone got so drunk that any elephants or hippos one might have hoped to see were frightened away.
Overlooking the Falls is a statue of Livingstone, the man who 'discovered' them. But there is no mention of the local tribespeople who showed him the way. Nor of their name for the Falls - Mosi oa Tunya - the smoke that thunders.
Victoria Falls is a sickening example of how international tourism cheapens and ultimately destroys any natural beauty a place and its people may possess.
You appear to start with the premise that capitalism is bad, international capitalism is necessarily worse and a successful Unilever (NI 172) must be the worst. Under a name like New Internationalist you might more sensibly have claimed that capitalism is bad but a state of democratic capitalism is better than nothing.
Internationalism is good and anything that fosters it is worth considering sympathetically. My 30 years' experience of international trade at a mere middle-management level with Unilever, gave me the opportunity to observe it with a critical eye.
Socialism, as I was brought up to understand it, will follow the creation of one world. NI should be very wary of knocking international institutions just for the sake of it.
Your issue on the Green Party (NI 171) was truly excellent. But we need to come away from the idea that voting is all about putting an X on a piece of paper every four years. We vote every day of our lives by our actions. If we buy free-range eggs we are voting against battery-hen farming. By our actions we vote and affect every single policy on this planet.
Maybe the title of this issue should have been 'What if the Greens don't achieve power?' What then?
High Wycombe, UK
Lappe and Collins' book World Hunger - Twelve Myths sounds excellent, but the review's first sentence (NI 171) is inaccurate: 18-20 million annual deaths from hunger is not double but about half the total fatalities of World War II according to Ruth Sivard's World Military and Social Expenditures 1986.
Your comment that 'there is some truth' in the image of 'Greens as woolly-headed dreamers with nothing realistic to offer' (Keynote NI 171) is an invidious one. I joined the Green Party precisely because I realized that it is a dream to believe that the conventional idea of maximizing economic growth as the way to solve our social problems is compatible with a healthy environment at home and is anything less than destructive to the Third World environment and its rural communities. It is not realistic to think that spending yet more money on weapons (whether nuclear or conventional) is the way to build a stable, peaceful world.
While I was working as a volunteer in West Africa, a local farmer friend of mine applied for a job as a teacher in the local secondary school. He told me he had a degree from an American University but had lost his certificate and asked me to write to the university on his behalf for a duplicate. I believed him and wrote to this address: The Regency, 8753 Windom Street, St Louis, MO 63114, enclosing a $75 fee for having the diploma reproduced.
When the diploma arrived a month later it certainly looked impressive. I helped my friend secure a teaching position and did not become suspicious until I started receiving brochures in the mail for University Press, 8050 S. Main Street, Houston, Texas 77025 and Associated Enterprises, 6326 Outlan Drive, Jacksonville, Florida 32210 advertising any and every type of certificate to 'fool your friends'. From the fact that my request came from the Third World and the way in which I worded my letter, Regency Enterprises must have known that my intentions were serious.
Are companies acting illegally in printing these bogus certificates, knowing full well they are being used legally? Is there much of this happening in other countries? I wish this could be brought to someone's attention and something be done about it.
Name and address not supplied
In Briefly NI 171 you mention Chernobyl milk in Thailand. We have just set up a women's knitting and health project in Nepal amid government scandals over the dumping of contaminated Chernobyl milk on markets and in small shops throughout the Kathmandu valley. It was alleged that the Nepalese Minister of Agriculture and the Director of Dairies knowingly allowed this contaminated milk to go on sale. But whenever we asked people in the area where we were working if they had ever heard of Chernobyl, or even about radioactivity, no-one had.
God forbid, but if this importation results in illness or death, the formula answer will be that it was an illness determined by 'karma'. How many multinationals on this earth have become co-conspirators with 'karma'?
Be warned - the 'Big Brother' approach to Kiwiland does not work. We Maori and Pakeha have had the name New Zealand foisted upon us. Aotearoa symbolizes an entirely different concept important to a small minority of our people and it is wrong to apply it to the majority who have no understanding of it
It is also an affront to all New Zealanders to find our name arbitrarily changed by a bunch of arrogant foreigners.
NI comments: The name change was at the request not only of our Christchurch editorial and distribution office but also of the overseas aid agencies who have supported the NI in Aotearoa from the beginning.
I was surprised to read in the Country Profile of Gabon (NI 170) that 'internal communication is limited to air travel'. In December I went from Congo to Libreville and on to Cameroon by road without too many problems, and the railway, though limited, is among the better ones in Africa. I think you would find that the vast majority of Gabonais have never set foot on an aeroplane.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Margaret St Clare has been living and working in the Zimbabwe
Tuesday was World Health Day. For several weeks there have been fund-raising meetings and school choirs and village health workers have been rehearsing to prepare for the great day. It cost two dollars a head if you wanted to be fed (unless you were an official visitor) and there was free mahewu - a traditional lemonade of delicious half-fermented grain - for the children.
I was in town the night before and one of the many local dignitaries who had been invited to the celebration promised me a lift out. However, when I went to his office in the morning I found that he had gone to Bulawayo. After waiting two hours for a lift with a lorry due to deliver, road-building materials, I arrived about half way through the proceedings.
The atmosphere among the hundreds of people in the school grounds was relaxed and festive. Local leaders were seated in the shade of a half-built classroom, while parents sat at rows of desks in the sun and the schoolchildren crowded in a circle around the performers. The school choir was singing a beautiful chorus about health and nutrition written by their teacher, who stood in front of them swaying and dancing as he conducted them. The students' song lasted a good quarter of an hour and was received with appreciative whistles from the boys and ululations behind cupped hands from the women.
Only one official from town had bothered to attend. He read a long speech in English (a mistake) of which I caught only a few infant mortality statistics and the phrase 'unnecessary deaths'.
This is the rhythm of these events: song and dance - speech - drama song and dance - speech. It is alternating entertainment and exhortation, enjoyment and boredom; a method I could have put to good use in the classroom.
By arriving late I had missed the village health workers' song and dance about the need to immunize children to prevent disease as well as the teachers' dramatic piece on the importance of good nutrition and early education of young children. The most successful act I caught was by a group of n'angas (traditional healers, both men and women) who drummed, danced and sang about health with fantastic energy, humour and style despite all of them being well over 45.
By 2:30 the speeches and performances were over and the feeding began. We 'two-dollar' people were ushered into a classroom where the desks had been arranged, amazingly, with each long row one behind another. Crates of fizzy soft drinks were distributed to us by the health workers (all women) who were responsible for the catering. Then bowls of water for washing hands were brought along the rows. A necessary, hygienic and graceful ritual in rural homes, this communal handwashing is of dubious benefit in a crowded room where there is a tap outside. However custom is stronger than argument - and not only in Zimbabwe. Then we were fed sadza (stiff maize-meal porridge) and beef cut from a whole beast bought the day before from the nationalized Cold Storage Commission.
Afterwards I went back to town on my way home to Scotland on leave and was lucky enough to be picked up by the same visiting official in his temperamental old car. He had been very impressed by the organization at our gathering compared with the celebrations run by other communities. The message had been spread: people were learning about immunization, proper diet and keeping their homes clean. Most of all, the level of participation showed how involved are people in the Government's efforts to improve rural health.
It is staggering to imagine the amount of time and energy that rural people and officials, all over Africa and elsewhere, put into World Health Day. Whereas we in the West might watch half a documentary or drop a coin in a box to mark the event, these people, like the song tells us, 'put their whole selves in and shake it all about'. Maybe they could give us lessons in how to improve our health through whole-hearted celebrations? After all, 'that's what it's all about - hey!'