new internationalist
issue 224 - October 1991



The world’s largest church
In the 1950s Yamoussoukro was just a quiet village with about 500 residents. But as the birthplace of Ivory Coast's President-for-life Félix Houphouët-Boigny it has undergone a few changes over the years. It is now a glittering, if rather empty, metropolis which formally replaced Abidjan as the country's capital in 1983.

Yet even that was not enough – Yamoussoukro's crowning glory was to be its cathedral, slavishly modelled on St Peter's in Rome. It took 24 French and Italian companies and 1,500 African workmen just three years to realise the plans of Pierre Fakhoury, an Ivoirean architect of Lebanese descent. A golden cross now soars 168 metres above the savanna; the dome below is twice the height of Notre Dame in Paris and crowns a vast nave with 36 thirty-metre-high stained-glass windows. In 1990 the President gave the basilica to the Vatican and, amid growing civil unrest, Pope John-Paul rather uneasily consecrated it as the world’s largest church.

Even with its current population of 100,000, Yamoussoukro is unlikely to supply enough church-going people to fill the cathedral’s 7,000 air-conditioned seats or its standing room for 12,000 more, let alone the open-air piazza built to hold a congregation of 350,000 – which is greater than the number of Catholics in this mainly Muslim or animist country.

So it’s difficult to justify the basilica of Notre Dame de la Paix. Some have tried, like the Ivoirean working on the basilica who asked ‘When they built St Peter’s, were there no hungry people in Rome? When Britain after the Great Fire built St Paul’s, were there no poor and homeless in London?’ But Ivoireans are more likely to ask how Houphouët-Boigny has amassed the vast personal fortune he has spent on the cathedral when so many Ivoireans are dying from disease, when immunization programmes are wilting for want of cash and when some of the worst malnutrition in West Africa affects the northern part of the country.

Source: World Magazine, No 51

A recent letter to Nature details the findings of a zoologist who went for a mile-long stroll along the shore of Acadia, an island in the Ducie Atoll. It is uninhabited, with the nearest scarcely- inhabited place being the Pitcairn Islands, 293 miles away. It is thousands of miles to the nearest major landmass. But despite this isolation 953 manufactured objects were washed up.

The findings included: 179 buoys and fragments thereof, 171 glass bottles (over a third of them having once contained whiskey), 7 food and drink cans, 6 fluorescent light bulbs and 8 standard, 25 shoes, and an asthma inhaler. The asthma inhaler was empty but a canned meat pie was in one piece, albeit a bit soggy. There were also 268 miscellaneous pieces of plastic, including two Biro tops. All this does not say much for the state of the oceans or the tidiness of the ships that sail them. Is there a message in this flotsam and jetsam?

Source: The Economist, Vol 320, No 7715 1991

[image, unknown] Walls of death
Driftnet fishing in the North Pacific, the ‘walls of death’ according to a recent report, are killing more than 500,000 seabirds a year, as well as tens of thousands of dolphins, seals and porpoises. It is the most compelling evidence yet of the indiscriminate slaughter involved in driftnet fishing on the high seas. The figures, taken from fisheries officers on board Japanese ships, are estimated to represent barely five per cent of the overall driftnet catch in the region, where Korean and Taiwanese vessels also operate.

The information should help groups seeking the eventual outlawing of driftnetting in the North Pacific. And it might help those concerned about Japan’s and Taiwan’s eagerness to restart driftnetting in the South Pacific.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 20.6.91

‘I did a deal
with God and you
wouldn’t expect me to discuss God’s
business in public,
would you?’


Félix Houphouët-Boigny,
President of the Ivory Coast,
on his funding of the $150 million basilica.



‘Quebec libre’ brouhaha
French secessionist moves contested in Canada

[image, unknown] For centuries the French Quebecois have claimed independence for their province. But recently moves for more autonomy from Ottawa have sharpened. Now there’s a new – or rather old – wrinkle to the picture. The province’s 50,000 native people say they have a prior claim to most of Quebec’s territory.

In the south the Mohawks say 75,000 square kilometres of land belong to them. In the north the Cree claim a land mass roughly the size of France. In total 85 per cent of Quebec is claimed by native groups, who reserve the right to decide for themselves whether to stay in Canada, leave with Quebec (if it does separate) or even break away from both.

But the Quebec Government is not likely to settle for what’s left – the St Lawrence valley from Quebec City to Montreal. At stake are the rich natural resources of the North – important for the economy of an independent Quebec.

A major bone of contention will be the James Bay project, a vast hydro-electric power plant the province has been building since the 1970s. It lies on the territory claimed by the Cree. Law suits are pending in the Federal Court of Canada and the Quebec Superior Court. Native leaders promise that if Quebec separates boundary disputes will ensue.

In the middle of all this is the Federal Government, trying to keep the country from splintering apart. Following last summer’s failed constitutional talks, Quebec is more determined than ever to obtain as much autonomy as possible – if not outright independence from Ottawa. Native groups, not only in Quebec but across Canada, are fighting for much the same goals.

These groups, however, have not even gotten to the bargaining table. One of their demands is representation and equal status, alongside the 10 provincial premiers, in any future constitutional negotiations. Ottawa is currently seeking native (as well as public) input into the constitutional debate, but that is all.

Despite these troubles, native leaders are confident their goals will be reached eventually. ‘The dynamics of constitutional change will work in our favour,’ says Ovide Mercredi, elected national chief of the Assembly of First Nations in June. If the French make gains in Quebec, ‘it will be somewhat impossible not to have gains for aboriginal people… It would show a double standard that is contrary to the basic value of fairness in Canadian society.’

Nancy Clark

Uganda’s plague
More than 1.5 million Ugandans out of the population of 17 million are now HIV positive. If the current trend continues, this will rise to seven million by the year 2010. It will mean that AIDS would claim more lives in Uganda than the 58 wars fought in sub-Saharan Africa over the last 200 years.

To control the spread of the disease, the United States Agency for International Development has given the largest ever country-specific grant – of $12 million – to Ugandan non-governmental organizations. It will be used to expand the testing and counselling services outside Kampala, the capital city.

Source: The Experiment in International Living

Gaza – turn of the screw
The realities of daily life in the Gaza Strip for nearly half a million Palestinians are grim. Before the outbreak of the intifada, some 80,000 Gaza residents worked in Israel. Yet by July 1991, Israel had reduced the number of work permits issued to people from Gaza to just 40,000.

To work in Israel, a Gaza Palestinian must have a red identity card, a special computerized card (similar in appearance to a credit card) and a special work permit. These work permits are given only to people who have paid all their taxes, telephone bills and municipal rates and have received special security clearance.

Gazans are not allowed to go to Israel in their private cars. Most of them travel by car or taxi to the Erez checkpoint at the northern end of the Gaza Strip and leave their vehicles there during the day, taking buses to their work destinations. And these are the lucky ones with jobs...


Gulf War casualties
The recent war has wrought near-apocalyptic results upon the infrastructure of Iraq, which until January 1991 had been an urbanized and mechanized society. Now most means of modern life have been destroyed. For some time to come the country will be relegated to a pre-industrial age but with all the disabilities of a post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology. Here are some immediate, cautious estimates of the Gulf War casualties:

Military: 100,000-150,000 Iraqi dead, many more missing plus an unquantifiable number injured. 343 Coalition dead.
Civilian: 5,000-15,000 Iraqi dead but estimates are suspected as far too low.

• 30,000 refugees dead
• 4,000-16,000 other civilian dead
• Deaths from battle injuries unquantifiable but substantial due to lack of medical facilities
• 1.8 million refugees.

Source: The Pacifist, Vol 29, No 4 1991.

In Africa AIDS is spreading at an alarming rate. Already there are nearly six million African adults who have been infected by the human nting at an alarming rate. Already there are nearly six million African adults who have been infected by the human immune deficiency virus (HIV). Unlike other regions women make up nearly half of those infected, meaning that the disease is transmitted to the newly born. There are already 900,000 HIV infections amongst babies and small children of the continent.

[image, unknown]


Hard times for rebels on blockaded island

JIM BEATSON Rimmed by the misty jungles of the Panguna mountains, Bougainville Copper Limited’s mine stands silent under the beating sun. The silence is broken only by the sounds of soldiers from the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) making rifles from water pipes in the mine’s workshops.

Bougainville, a lush tropical island, lies 700 kilometres north-east of Papua New Guinea (PNG). Its 160,000 black-skinned people are ethnically and culturally distinct from the people of PNG who governed Bougainville until a revolution last year.

Granted independence by Australia in 1975, PNG derived 17 per cent of government revenues and 45 per cent of its foreign exchange from the mine. Anger over compensation payments and pollution – which reduced cocoa crops and killed fish in local rivers – led to the formation of the BRA in 1988.

For six months the BRA attacked the mine until mining was stopped on 15 May 1989. Secessionist sentiments hardened when 1,600 PNG troops were sent to crush the BRA guerrillas. Frustrated by an elusive and popular enemy, the PNG troops burned down 1,000 houses. Rape, torture and murder became commonplace. In March 1990 Prime Minister Rabbie Namaliu withdrew the discredited troops. Francis Ona, co-founder of the BRA, promptly declared Bougainville a Republic and himself its President. The next day, Namaliu cut Bougainville’s telephone lines, withdrew all public servants and blockaded the island.

Shops are now empty. Petrol stations, the radio station, telephone exchange and airport were burned down during the war. Sewerage and town water systems lack fuel to run them. ‘Plentiful rivers and good rainfall are a blessing,’ says Martin Miriori, Co-ordinator of the Republic’s Interim Government, ‘but we lack the things that go with them: soap, detergent, toilet paper.’ There has been no new clothing for the 5,000 babies born since the revolution, and islanders report that corpses have been exhumed to retrieve clothing. An immunization programme in one of the world’s high-risk areas for contracting malaria, tuberculosis, tropical ulcers and dysentery is stalled for want of electricity to refrigerate ampules.

‘A shortage of basic medicines is not our biggest problem – it’s the lack of fuel,’ says Charles Loubai, head of the Bougainville Red Cross and one of four doctors left on the island. He says 5,000 people have died from normally preventable diseases.

Recently Colonel Leo Nuia, who commanded PNG’s troops during the year-long battle, admitted on Australian TV that his soldiers threw the bodies of five Bougainville civilians to the sharks from a helicopter on loan from the Australian Army and flown by a contract pilot from Aotearoa/New Zealand. The victims were a United Church pastor and members of his congregation who were suspected of being BRA members. The governments of Australia and Aotearoa are now sending in emergency medical supplies to the island, but Australia continues to supply military aid to PNG without strings.

Jim Beatson

Jams, more jams, jammed-up
Bangkok’s traffic jams are set to become worse as on 3 July, the Government reduced import duties on cars. Cheaper, more affordable cars will mean more on the roads. Until now the Thai car market has been protected so that second-hand cars tend to appreciate in value.

Import duties on cars over 2,300 cc which were 300 per cent have been cut to 100 per cent, on car kits assembled in Thailand from 112 per cent to 20 per cent.

This could be interesting for the capital. Last year 400 new cars and pickups a day joined the city’s snarled-up streets. Over the year average traffic speed at peak hours has slowed from four miles an hour to two and a half miles an hour. School runs begin as early as 5.30 am – and some parents have converted their pick-ups into bedrooms so their children can sleep and eat breakfast on the way to school.

Source: The Economist, Vol 320 No 7714, 1991


An investigation into the Los Angeles Police Department has uncovered brutality and racism. White officers clubbed an unemployed black construction worker 56 times in the early hours of March 3. They had been videotaped by a bystander. Within days TV stations across the US were replaying the grisly images. An investigation established 23 police were at the scene of the clubbing. It also looked at communications by police between their patrol cars and here are some of the comments they noted between police officers over their car radios:

‘A full moon and a full gun makes for a night of fun.’

‘Did you arrest the 85-year-old lady (or) just beat her up?’

‘We just slapped her a bit … she’s getting m/t (medical treatment) right now.’

‘(It) was fun … but no chance to bust heads … sorry.’

‘Oh well … maybe next time.’

‘I would love to drive down Slavson (a black neighbourhood)
with a flame thrower ... We would have a barbecue.’

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New Internationalist issue 224 magazine cover This article is from the October 1991 issue of New Internationalist.
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