new internationalist
issue 249 - November 1993

The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
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Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
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Forgotten adults
Cover of the NI Issue 248 Come on. Education is for life? So where are the adults in your magazine on Education (NI 248)? We had lots of lovely photos of children in classrooms, but no mention of the many and brave initiatives being taken all over the world to teach literacy and numeracy to those adults who have been deprived of the chance to learn. Please, next time, don’t forget the grown-ups.

Susan Schneider
Glasgow, Scotland, UK


Transnational failure
Your issue on Multinationals (NI 246) failed to explain what makes these companies tick, either in terms of their internal organization or their strategies in the world’s markets. Con-sequently, it failed to say anything positive about what can be done to make these bodies accountable to the people.

I was particularly concerned at the apparent failure to appreciate that few of these corporations are genuinely ‘multinational’, the bulk of them being national companies which happen to operate in a number of different countries – hence the term ‘transnational’. I detected a tendency to identify the key problem as one of ‘globalization’ when in fact it is one of transnational capitalism (the articles on Central America and Mexico show this clearly enough). Transnational capitalism is compatible with an interstate system based on rigid national divisions, but globalization, in the sense of the development of global institutions with some independence from nation-state control, inevitably tends to undermine nationalism. Such undermining, which in my view has centuries to run, is essential if we are ever to put an end to exploitation and oppression.

Pete Somerville,
Manchester, UK

Two-way cut
The ‘new globalism’ of transnational corporations cuts both ways. By shifting investment from higher to lower wage countries, transnational corporations exert downward pressure on wages in the wealthier nations, as you yourselves point out in your issue on Multinationals (NI 246).

Despite the universally exploitative nature of early economic development, I would argue that the same corporations must also eventually place upward pressure on wages in poorer nations, once their supplies of cheap labour dry up and competing employers bid up wages. The newly-industrialized economies of South-East Asia, of which South Korea is an example, are illustrative of this process.

Higher wages in the South and lower wages in the North – what’s wrong with that?

Tim Young,
Exeter, UK

Consuming morality
I feel compelled to write in response to Lorraine Walsh’s comment (Letters NI 246) about cocoa production and consumption. The most important concept to grasp is that of the morality of employment. It should not be that women have to work in hazardous conditions for meagre pay. If these companies were boycotted en masse they would have to improve working conditions if they were to survive. If they failed to do so, surely the empty niche would be filled by a company willing and able to improve conditions?

Things like this do not happen overnight. However, we must never think of such issues as ‘no-win situations’. The way forward is to educate the consumer about his/her effect on the world.

Mandy Meikle,
West Lothian, Scotland

Anarchy not anarchy
I am used to the mainstream media, in their ignorance, equating chaos, riots and destruction with ‘anarchy’, but the NI ought to know better.

Alice, your main character in the issue on Debt (NI 243) says that the hardship and anger brought about by retro-development and World Bank loans ‘sounds like anarchy’. No. Anarchy, which literally means ‘without leaders’, is more likely to be associated with non-hierarchical organization, co-operation and communalism. Anarchism today is most often linked with feminism, anti-fascism, human and animal rights, and environmental campaigning in the lives of many people working for a better world.

Fiona Weir
Marsden, UK

cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Signs of human life
As a newly-renewed subscriber to NI I was interested to get the issue on Tourism (NI 245). In the past I have sometimes become infuriated by what I felt was a ‘holier than thou’ political correctness, and what often seemed like a complete lack of a sense of humour among any of your contributors or staff – and at times like those have eventually stopped subscribing! It’s impossible to tell from one issue but there did seem to be encouraging signs of human-ness in your issue about tourism.

Christine Bell
Bath, UK

Auden not Yeats
Firdaus Kanga (Tourism, NI 245) may indeed know more about English culture than the English, but it was not Yeats or Keats, but Auden, who pointed out that we must love one another or die.

Mary Finlay
Lahr, Germany

Delighted with Debt
I really enjoyed the issue on Debt (NI 243). I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to read articles on world-wide finance and felt completely at sea with the complicated structure set up by Western governments. But the pictures in the comic issue really helped, and I now feel that the next time I sit down to read an in-depth article I’ll have some basis for understanding. I’m now in the process of finding a more ethical bank.

Mary Ann Simmons
London, UK

Crass letter
What purpose does Letter from Lahore serve? It strikes me as an often paternalistic viewpoint of a privileged foreigner in Pakistan, making crass generalizations, and continuing the good old Western tradition of putting the lives of people in the South under a microscope, for greedy consumption by armchair travellers and sociologists. Where is the political education focus in this feature? Perhaps NI would consider running a feature written by an indigenous or black person living in the North to focus on the daily grind of dealing with living in an alien hostile society, surviving systematic racism, exposing the structural causes of oppression? But then I guess that story would lack the Eastern ‘spice’ and ‘colour’ of Letter from Lahore.

Abdul Aziz Choudry
Otautahi, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Politically correct
I find it disturbing that NI readers and writers use the term ‘politically correct’ in a derogatory manner.

The mainstream media has scornfully named ‘politically correct’ those who advocate male-female or racial equality, gay rights, or the right to wear and eat what one chooses. To be an anti-racist is not the same as to ban Enid Blyton books as sexist and racist. The media, by terming both actions as ‘politically correct’ would have us think so.

Why not have an issue on political correctness? Come to think of it, you’ve had many.

Sheila O’Reilly
Guelph, Ontario, Canada

New alphabet
After a great many years (I am now 93), I have developed a simplification of the English language (having a phonetic alphabet) which I suggest would be suitable as the language of the world. A lecturer in phonetics said that it was ‘the best possible compromise’. It would co-exist with all other languages – ideally everyone would be bilingual.

The problems of the world, we know, cannot be solved at national level. I contemplate a world ethical civilization and complete participation in world democracy using a common language. If anyone is interested, they are welcome to contact me.

Jori Nelson
Box 340, Thame, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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

Letter from Lagos

What’s in a name?
What a baby is called reflects not only its place in the family,
but also the circumstances in which it is born. Elizabeth Obadina
reports on changing names in changing times.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY My newest neighbour, little Oluwatosin, was named yesterday on the seventh day of her short life. Like most Nigerians she will grow up answering to a much shorter name, Tosin, but to her parents she will always be ‘Oluwatosin’, meaning ‘God is worth worshipping’.

Unlike her brothers and sisters, all born in easier circumstances over 10 years ago, Tosin was the product of a troubled pregnancy. Her first breath was drawn not in the well-equipped private hospital where her siblings first saw the light of day, but in the local general hospital where a lack of drugs, dressings and equipment are the norm. Luckily for Tosin and her forty-something mum, God had heard the family’s prayers for safe childbirth: hence the new-born’s heartfelt name.

Africa is a land where names mean something and parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles will all bless the new child with names appropriate to the circumstances of her or his birth. Tosin’s brothers and sister were born in a comfortable era, before the Nigerian middle class was annihilated by the reforms wrought by an economic restructuring programme. Their names are celebratory. The first-born son’s name, Olumide, proclaims that ‘God has arrived’ to bless the newly-married couple. His sister’s name, Olajoke, means ‘an adorable girl bringing wealth’. Then came Biodun, the ‘festival child’, born in the Christmas season.

After this my neighbours felt too ‘sapped’ – Nigeria’s IMF-approved economic reforms rejoice in the name of the Structural Adjustment Programme, or SAP – to have any more children. So did I. I ignored the constant hinting from my mother-in-law.

‘Ah Mummy,’ I would frequently explain, ‘Times are changing. People can’t afford big families anymore. Look at Mama Olu next door. She also stopped at three.’

‘I suppose it’s sensible,’ my mother-in-law would sigh. ‘Everything needs so much money nowadays. School fees, hospital bills, food, transport... I don’t know how anyone manages at all.’ Indeed since Mama Olu and I had our first-borns the value of the naira has slipped from one naira being worth 80 UK pence, to one UK pound exchanging for nearly 60 naira. The resultant inflation has done more to promote the case of family planning in Africa’s most populous nation than any amount of moralizing over the perils of over-population. Nowadays the average family size amongst the Yorubas is six children. A decade ago it was nearly nine.

Then Mama Olu dropped her bombshell. Little Tosin was on the way. What with biological clocks ticking away and winding down, next door went for their ‘quota’. Four children is the officially recommended maximum family size for Nigerians. Mother-in-law and sundry aunties fired a few more salvoes in my direction.

‘It’s not too late for you either,’ they chorused. But what to call a 1993 child?

My eldest, Adenike, grew into her name, ‘one needing petting and constant care’. Nike developed diabetes when she was eleven years old. She has a quicksilver temper arising from a finely-honed sense of justice. There was little choice about Babajide, my middle child’s name. He was the first son to be born into the family following his grandfather’s death. He was ‘father who had woken up’.

Today’s babies’ names carry more pointed messages. Ireti, ‘Hope’, is enjoying a revival, but more common are names which combine prayer tinged with desperation such as Oluyomi ‘God save me’, or Oluwasanmi ‘Maybe God will favour me’.

Little Tosin’s naming ceremony was a simple affair. Nowadays guest lists are pared to the bare bone; spring water replaces alcoholic drinks freely offered to guests a decade ago, and a goat is killed instead of a cow. But at least Tosin’s arrival and naming was celebrated.

As I crossed the gorge separating our estate from Lagos’ five-star Sheraton Hotel last week I stopped, always nosy, to investigate the cause of a large crowd gazing over the bridge into the bush below. Two young men were bringing up a baby someone had noticed dumped with the rubbish. She was alive and seemed well. Amid the murmurs of concern and voices raised in indignation that Nigeria has come to such a pass that mothers throw away such ‘fine babies’, the little girl had a most unorthodox naming ceremony. One stout matron insisted, ‘Such a child can only bear one name. She must be called Ebunolu’.

It means ‘gift from God’.

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

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