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new internationalist
issue 221 - July 1991


The price of a child
Human trade in Sudan

An Anti-Slavery Society investigator pointed to a seven-year-old boy, offered to buy him and made it clear he would be taken abroad. There was no problem.

The attempted purchase of the boy - the Society of course did not go through with the sale - was conducted quite without secrecy at Safaha, a crossing point on the Bahr el Arab, which is a tributary of the White Nile. But the Bahr el Arab is more than that. It is roughly the line that divides Sudan in two. To the north are Arabs, Islam, the desert, Khartoum and political power; to the south are black Africans, Christianity, animism, unexploited oil, vegetation and rainforest.

Traditionally the Arabs have enslaved the southerners. Today the pattern is repeating itself. The Arab communities, the Rizeigat and Misseiraya, are predominantly the slavers and the black Dinka people, the largest ethnic group in the south, are usually the slaves.

By the end of 1987 several cases of enslavement had come to light but the Khartoum authorities still insisted that there was no slavery problem. The then government even refused to believe one of its own members, Aldo Ajou Deng, when he announced that 400 children had been taken into slavery from his own village south of the Bahr el Arab.

Sudan's second civil war since Independence in 1956 broke out in July 1983. It is still going on. Armed bands, drawn mainly from the Rizeigat and Misseiraya Arabs, operate in the border zones between their lands and Dinka territory. They swoop on Dinka villages, particularly when the men are away, and drive off the cattle. If the men are around they are shot. They also take the opportunity to enslave the children and younger women.

In early 1987 in a village near the important northern town of Muglad an auction of children was held: boys fetched between $200 and $300. But if prices are any guide, the free market then produced a surplus of slaves. At the beginning of 1988 prices of children averaged $100; by March that had halved to $50 and then fell further to $20. You could buy six or seven child slaves for the price of one automatic weapon.

Governments have consistently denied that slavery has re- emerged in Sudan and downplayed the significance of the militias. But a former Regional Minister of Health, Southern Region of Sudan, Dr Z Bol Deng, recently said in London: 'The Government in Khartoum has decided on a policy of extermination of whole tribes in some parts of the coun- try, beginning with the Dinka'. From stories told by ex-slaves in Khartoum, a figure of up to 7,000 has emerged for the num- ber of people enslaved.

Alan Whlttaker/Anti-Slavery Society


Health standards fall

The defeat of the Sandinista government in the Nicaraguan elections a year ago took everyone, including the successful coalition of Violeta Chamorro, by surprise. According to Dr Lionel Arguello, director of the Managua-based Center for Research and Social Development (CEPS) the result has been confusion and a reversal of many of the achievements of the Sandinista government, particularly in the field of pre- ventive health care.

When the Sandinistas came to power in 1979 there were over 100 polio cases in Nicaragua every year: since 1981 there have been no more cases. Mass immunization campaigns against other preventable diseases such as measles, malaria and dengue fever had their effect. Together with an emphasis on basic nutrition for children and the improvement of public hygiene in the towns, these simple measures brought down the infant mortality rate in Nicaragua from 124 per 1,000 live births in 1977 (one of the better pre-revolution years) to 61 in 1986 - a reduction of more than a half.

All this was achieved despite the US trade blockade which made essential drugs hard to find - Nicaragua had to buy them at high prices in Panama. It was achieved, too, at a time when the average income of Nicaraguans was actually falling, due largely to the costs of the war with the contra guerillas.

Official figures show that the infant mortality rate has now risen again, to 72 per 1,000 live births in 1990. Last year, too, measles affected 17,000 people and killed 700 of them - the worst outbreak in Nicaraguan history. Essential drugs are no longer free, so families have to choose between buying them and getting enough to eat. This discourages people from using health care facilities, as does a reversion to hierarchical management chains, in which there is much less room for individual or collective initiative and responsibility.

Dr Arguello believes that the Nicaraguan people were sold something of a 'mirage' at last year's elections - the idea that with the end of the war and of the economic blockade Nicaragua's woes would be resolved. But he is surprisingly sanguine about the future and willing to co-operate with the Chamorro government. The slogan of 'popular participation' under the Sandinistas may have been changed to 'social mobilization' under Chamorro, but the importance of the active involvement of people in their own health care, particularly in a poor country like Nicaragua, seems to him to be beyond dispute.

David Ransom

For further information contact Nicaragua Health Fund,
All Saints House, 83 Margaret Street, London W1N 7HB.
Tel (71) 580 4292 Fax (71) 436 1129


African death toll rises

Hundreds of thousands of people with AIDS in Uganda will die in the 1990s unless the disease can be cured or halted, according to the World Heath Organization (WHO). And it is a similar picture in other African countries.

WHO estimates that last year alone saw 60,000 new AIDS cases in Uganda. Between 1988 and 1989 an estimated 170,000 had died. After a shaky start, the Ugandan media is now being used extensively to publicize the Government's anti-AIDS campaign.

Apart from the traditional opposition of the Roman Catholic Church to the use of contraceptives, there is the deeper cultural attitude that regards the condom as the symbol of promiscuity. It is virtually impossible to buy condoms over the counter in pharmacies.

In Tanzania over 40,000 people now have full-blown AIDS and one medical centre in Dar es Salaam has recorded that over 12 per cent of all patients admitted are suffering from it.

In Bukoba, on the shores of Lake Victoria, a third of the 47,000 population are HIV-positive, and the local authorities are finding it hard to cope. In the two years up to 1989, the Town Council had buried the unclaimed bodies of 1,272 people who had died of AIDS.

But despite government support, AIDS warning posters put up in bars and guest houses are usually torn down because owners fear customers may blacklist their establishment as an AIDS zone.

South Africa, too, is now facing up to its AIDS problem. Johannesburg's director of community health, Nicky Padayachee, estimates that between 317,000 and 446,000 black South Africans will be HIV-positive by the end of this year. About 1,000 white people are thought to be infected. Apartheid has played a key role in the AIDS epidemic by promoting migrant labour which separates families for long periods, encouraging casual sex.

Nizar Visram, Edward
Lwanga/Newslink Africa
Richard Tebere/Gemini
Sue Armstrong/New Scientist



First tango
Cult singer commemorated

The tango is a fast, sensual and 'disreputable' Argentinian dance. It grew out of Spanish roots, borrowing on the way from Cuba's equally stylized habanero dance. About now - no one is quite sure of the exact date - is the 100th anniversary of the legendary idol of the tango, Carlos Gardel, who died in a mysterious Colombian plane crash 55 years ago. Gardel was a cult figure. and recently his followers descended on Mexico for a World Gardeliano Congress.

They argued about his birthdate and place (he said only that he 'was born in Buenos Aires at the age of two and a half'), the authenticity of the 679 singles released under his name, his love life (he never married), his political views and the clouded circumstances of his death. A statue was unveiled, the Carlos Gardel Handicap horse race was run and there were nightly exhibitions of the melodramatic dance the suave Argentinean made famous.

Gardel sold newspapers in brothels and sang for coins to help his mother make ends meet. His ingratiating smile and sweet, melancholic voice captivated the immigrant population. By the 1920s Gardel and the tango had achieved middle-class respectability on the stage and in the studios of a burgeoning Argentinian recording industry. Internationally, Maurice Chevalier and Charlie Chaplin became ardent fans and Bing Crosby once said that he had never heard a lovelier voice.

The circumstances of his death remain hotly contested. Some blamed an overloaded aircraft. Others suggested a gun battle with the co-pilot. Thousands of Medellin citizens immediately descended on the tiny airfield where the crash occurred. Mobs greeted his coffin as it made stops in New York and Rio. The largest crowds ever to gather in Buenos Aires followed the cortège to Chacarita cemetary. Today fresh daisies are still laid on the tomb each morning and a newly-lit cigarette placed between the fingers of the bronze image that tops the grave.

The Mexico City conference was attended by 100 fast-talking, chain-smoking Gardel fanatics. Many Argentinian exiles had tears in their eyes. Whether they were the result of nostalgia or the Mexican capital's record- breaking winter pollution was, like Carlos Gardel himself, shrouded in mystery.

John Ross/Gemini



Narmada protests continue

Tribal people have still not given up the right to their land.
P H Body / Survival International

Proposals for a 3,000-dam complex on the Narmada river, which will submerge some 250 villages and 400 square kilometres of land, continue to meet fierce resistance.

Twelve people were arrested recently for surrounding the chairman of the construction company, Narmada Nigam Ltd. On Christmas Day 1990 over 5,000 people set off to march the length of the river. The march was brought to an abrupt halt by police. Some of the marchers went on a lengthy hunger strike and many others were arrested.

The dams have become the focus for a growing environmental movement in India and highlighted the right of India's tribal people to land where they have lived for generations. Some 60,000 tribal people are under threat from the dams.

On 9 April this year 250 tribal people were arrested for protesting against the construction of another dam, the Icha, part of the Subarnarekha Project in Bihar, east India. The dam will displace nearly 30,000 people in 61 villages, a majority of them belonging to the Ho tribe.

Incredibly enough, the World Bank continues to fund these projects, despite the withdrawal of Japanese funding from the Narmada project in May 1990. The Bank's own environmental conditions have not been met by the Indian Government.

The Narmada dams are billed as a cure for drought in western India. But many of the drought-prone areas will get little or no water. Most of the benefits will not go to the people affected by the project, but to industrial cities and, of course, the construction companies. Studies have shown that small dams and wells would be a far more effective means of providing water for the local population.

Actress Julie Christie, touring India last December, said: 'Tribal people are being coerced, protesters are being violently repressed. Tribal people will be displaced to alien environments. The World Bank's financing of the vast project reveals the emptiness of their promises to finance only environmentally responsible projects.

Survival International

For information, contact Survival International, 310 Edgeware Road, London W2 1 DY. Tel (71) 723 5535

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New Internationalist issue 221 magazine cover This article is from the July 1991 issue of New Internationalist.
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