new internationalist
issue 258 - August 1994

The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : [email protected]

No human interest
Cover of the NI Issue 256 Sarah Stewart’s article ‘No Pablo, no story’ in your issue on the Media (NI 256) highlights the fact that despite the techno-logy of the super-information highway, the view of world events through the mainstream media remains unable to focus on human-rights atrocities.

Natural disasters are of course a different matter. An earthquake that kills 70 Colombians and leaves hundreds missing in subsequent landslides is deemed – quite rightly – a ‘human interest’ story and therefore newsworthy. But the 20,000 Colombians killed or ‘disappeared’ since 1986 are ignored. Their story is spiked!

As long as the international media continue to see human rights as outside their remit, international governments will continue exploiting economic opportunities in countries with repressive governments. These governments will in turn continue to disregard human rights.

Jim Caunter
London, UK

Landmines action
I was very pleased to see the piece ‘Deadly Legacy’ on landmines in Updates (NI 256). CAFOD, the Catholic Relief and Development agency, would like to see a worldwide ban on the production, stock-piling, trade and use of anti-personnel landmines.

A UN Review Conference will take place in September 1995 but it appears that it will only be concerned with steps to govern the use of landmines, not their eradication. The existing Landmines Protocol is a complete failure and has been routinely ignored by both governments and rebel armies. Landmines do not discriminate between the foot of a solider and the foot of a child. If even a small percentage of the landmines laid in a field fail to self-destruct, that field cannot be used safely.

The group of non-governmental organizations which forms the International Campaign to ban Landmines recently renewed their call for a total ban. NI readers interested in becoming involved in the CAFOD landmines action can contact me.

Linda R Jones
CAFOD, Romero Close,
Stockwell Road, London SW9 9TY
Tel: 071-733-7900

Base calumnies
The week your Northern Ireland issue (NI 255) dropped through my letterbox, paramilitaries murdered nine people in Ulster. Such base calumnies did not merit much mention in your magazine, where the villains of the ‘Irish question’ were clearly the British army and the British Government.

Neither of these are responsible for such despicable acts as the Enniskillen and Shankill Road bombings or the killing of two children in Warrington.

However, I am sure that your issue will be avidly read as it circulates around the Irish bars of Boston and Chicago together with the Noraid collection tins.

David Pearce
Kent, England

Not alone
On behalf of the Lubicon Lake Nation I would like to express our deep appreciation for the $4,000 contribution presented to us by the New Internationalist from the sales profits of your Native American cards.

As a small society surrounded by powerful, unprincipled enemies it’s easy to get isolated and alone. In addition to the badly-needed money, your continuing support sends an important message to our people that we are not alone – that there are people in the outside world who still care what happens to us.

Chief Bernard Ominayak
Lubicon Lake Indian Nation,
Alberta, Canada

True nature
I was impressed by the openness in your issue on Northern Ireland (NI 255). I think Chris Brazier’s keynote was the first time I found a British person coming to grips with their true nature. His point on the British tendency to divide ‘people who we do not see as “one of us” into “tribes”,’ is the legacy of Britain’s colonial history. I was particularly glad because he did not display the British supremacy that many people still seem to feel today about the British past.

The colonial background of this division into ‘tribes’ is equally true in Africa. A close look at many African countries where there is strife shows that the British were either the first or the last colonial masters before independence. They divided people from one ‘tribe’ into different regional groups, while at the same time mixing up irreconcilable ‘tribes’.

I am not in the least saying that everything British is bad, but that their ‘divide and rule’ or ‘indirect rule’ was. A solution can be found to the Northern Irish problem by simply granting the people there their freedom.

N I Samwini
Birmingham, UK

Consider the Kurds
I read with interest the article on the Kurds in Turkey in Updates (NI 255). I think it would be very useful to have a whole magazine on the subject. The existence of a people 30 million strong, without their own state and subject to continual repression (currently at its worst in Turkey) deserves bringing to the attention of readers concerned about ‘Third World’ problems. The fate of the Kurds is politically as well as geographically central to many of the issues in the Middle East. Given the involvement of Western governments in Turkey and northern Iraq it is vital that public opinion in Europe and North America is better informed about the background to the Kurdish question.

Alan Brooke
Huddersfield, UK

As a woman I felt more patronized by Stephen Hill’s image of the female ‘prize’ card-board cut-out (Endpiece, NI 256), than by the stereotypical thought-patterns which I expect I was supposed to find abrasive.

Not all women are aesthetic monomaniacs: certainly the present so-called ‘cat-walk grunge’ may be interpreted as a reaction by women against compromising personality and intellect for sexuality. I also feel the author failed to convey the extent to which some women tease men with their sexuality: they are not playing ‘Barbie’ because there is a background aim of a sexual coup d’état, one which men perhaps only subconsciously acknowledge when they sordidly resort to rape and sexual harassment.

Unlike von Sternberg, the writer obviously failed to appreciate the complexity of women.

Catherine M Hine
Nottingham, UK

One-sided logic
Michael Leydon Letters (NI 256) has one-sided logic. ‘Abortion kills the unborn... they have no choice.’ Of course the unborn have no choice of any sort, including no choice to survive or not to do so. That is precisely why it is appropriate for the final choice to be made by the one who actually has the chance to choose – the woman carrying the unborn potential person. To what extent the woman’s choice should be restricted or free is a matter of legitimate debate, but to talk about choice on the part an entity that simply cannot exercise it one way or the other – the foetus – is to confuse a very complex and emotive issue.

Eric Stockton
Orkney, Scotland

Repeating pattern
Your issues on Mexico (NI 251) and East Timor (NI 253) show a repetition of the same old pattern. From Chiapas, Mexico, to the far reaches of the Indonesian archipelago we see the absolutes of profit and empire causing the genocide of First Peoples; the alliance of the rich and the military against the working poor; the most exploited of the exploited regarded as dispensable and the policy of usurpation of lands, attrition, intimidation and terror enforcing the inequality.

Jim Christoff
Toronto, Canada

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

Letter from Lagos

Your money or your bank
Saving in Nigeria is a hazardous business. Elizabeth Obadina joins the crush
of angry savers unable to get their money out.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY It is 8.30 am and the air over the breakfast-table is blue with domestic tension. My husband has delayed me and he knew I had set aside today to go to the bank. Now it’s too late. Unless I join the small army of customers waiting for the bank gates to swing open at eight sharp I have no chance of withdrawing any money in less than an hour. By 8.30 am the banking hall is full and not even soldiers from the local army cantonment, who bring all the military menace they can to bear upon the bank cashiers, can cash their pay cheques in much less than three hours.

We bank at one of the ‘old’ banks. You can count their number on the fingers of one hand. But our money is as safe with them as anybody’s money can be safe in this crumbling economy. If they fail the country is truly finished.

A few years ago the antiquated methods of our bank drove us to open a new account with a ‘second generation’ bank. In 1986 the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) meant financial deregulation which led to a host of new banks. With their computers, marble counters and canned classical music, these were like a breath of fresh air to those of us tired and fed-up with the old ones. Here were banks where you weren’t forced to forge intimate physical relationships with other hapless customers wedged into the scrummage round each cashier’s post. Here were banks which didn’t exchange your cheque for a plastic disc which, hours later, at the bank’s conven-ience, you could exchange for cash – assuming the man with the keys to the bank vault had turned up for work.

The post-SAP banks were lovely. Clean, cool, short orderly queues, no discs and smiling staff. The new banks were also mainly for the rich. They demanded opening balances far beyond the means of the ordinary men or women who were still forced to spend hour upon hour in the savings halls of the old banks.

Major banks aren’t interested in small savers and the Government, under pressure from various international development agencies, has fostered the establishment of ‘people’s banks’ and ‘community banks’ to serve the poor with varying degrees of success.

But let me not deviate into the role banks could play in nurturing development. This is Nigeria. What other role could there be for banks in Nigeria if not to allow important bankers to lead a ‘London today, New York tomorrow’ lifestyle? Ever-alive to the possibil-ities of realizing easy access to the international jet-set, Nigerians took to the newly-deregulated banking environment like ducks to water. International monetary experts pronounced the nation ‘underbanked’. True. And busy as the proverbial beavers, Nigerians set about remedying the situation.

Over 200 new banks were set up during the seven years of SAP. Intended to spread the reach of banking to all of Nigeria’s nearly 90 million citizens and to release long-term loans for national development, Nigeria’s new banks did nothing of the sort. Many were one-branch operations concentrated along particular streets in Lagos. All of them were looking for quick returns on their capital. Some, it was said, were just fronts for laundering illicitly-gained money. They fought for depositors by offering 20, 30 and sometimes even higher percentage-rates on savings. They raked in the money and speculated heavily in short-term investments, mainly foreign-exchange trading. They had a ball.

Then the 1994 budget re-regulated the foreign exchange market and interest rates were pegged at 12 per cent for savers and 21 per cent for borrowers. Inflation galloped away at 100 per cent. Suddenly depositors wanted their money back from the new banks, which had to face the prospect of collapse.

My friend Aji has been to her new-breed ‘merchant’ bank every day this year in a vain attempt to claw back a fixed deposit. Inside their prime-site headquarters the pot plants have died. The chrome fittings have tarnished, the carpets are muddied and the haze of sweaty palm-prints over the glass separating cashiers from their angry customers shows all-too-clearly that the modern banking-party is over. Going to the bank in Nigeria was, is and seems set always to be an unmitigated nightmare. And Tunde and I have still to settle our domestic dispute.

Elizabeth Obadina is a freelance writer and journalist who lives in Lagos.

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