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new internationalist
issue 260 - October 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]

Blunderers or manipulators?
Cover of the NI Issue 257 You detail the disastrous policies of the World Bank and IMF (NI 257) without speculating on the motives of the members of these organizations. The reader is left with an impression of ivory towers full of well-meaning but tragically incompetent blunderers.

But another interpretation fits the facts: some influential members may actually wish to prevent world development. It is quite impossible for the whole world to ever approach consumption levels of the ‘developed’ nations – there simply are not the natural resources to do so, nor can the planet cope with the resultant pollution.

A viable plan for true development will inevitably mean that those of us in developed countries will experience a significant reduction in consumption. Is it not possible that IMF and World Bank policies are dominated by those who see world development only as a threat to their own affluence?

Such speculations are probably unprovable but the implications are immense and the circumstantial evidence of 50 years of failure overwhelming. It is time for the World Bank and the IMF to prove their good intent – not for ‘paranoids’ like myself to demonstrate that their apparent incompetent failure may, for some cruel manipulators, be competent success.

David Riebold
Lanzarote, Spain

Clear writing
I found your issue on the Media (NI 256) much more readable than most of your other issues. As a geography student I get fed up with having to study each paragraph in order to clarify exactly what it is trying to say. I do not think that ‘window dressing’ each sentence with as many unusual adjectives and analogies as possible adds anything to the descriptive value of the piece.

So please keep articles like those from Sarah Stewart (‘No Pablo, no story’) and Andrea Goodall (‘You can be sure of Shell’) coming. They are interesting, factual and clear – not simply writing for writing’s sake!

A Clements
Newbury, UK

Best of NI
I’m a slow reader, especially when I’m enthralled. Your issue on Death without weeping (NI 254) was a superb example of the best of NI. Nancy Scheper-Hughes’s humanity and sensitivity shine through and her style is captivating. I’m tempted to go for the big book itself. How long would that take me?

I’m always fond of Brick’s cartoons and illustrations, so all-in-all, NI 254 can’t be beat!

Bill Badham
Nottingham, UK

Wishful thinking
It seems to me that David Pearce (Letters NI 258) missed the whole point of doing an issue on the taboo subject of Northern Ireland. To my mind the history of the conflict was presented with clarity. Mr Pearce is correct in stating that the British Army did not commit the acts he refers to but misses a very important point, namely that when paramilitaries are caught they will be brought to justice. This is not the case with the perpetrators of British Army violence. The British Government still claims that the victims of Bloody Sunday were gunmen and bombers! There are numerous other cases where the RUC and the Army have got away with murder. I recommend a book written by Martin Dillon entitled The Dirty War.

Finally, Mr Pearce clearly infers that persons or publications that question the British role in Ireland are IRA supporters. I suppose it was a case of wishful thinking to expect this kind of attitude to become less prevalent.

Jason King,
Glasgow, Scotland, UK

Ed: we would be grateful for David Pearce’s address so that we can reply to him.

Nation of morons
Your issue on the media (NI 256) does not mention that the moguls we enrich seem to define ‘news’ as murder, mayhem, marital frolics, rape and pillage and any sort of disaster. For the past 15 years ethics has been a dirty word – even in education – so perhaps it is policy to create a nation of morons.

Recent earthquakes in San Francisco and India, and floods in Bangladesh were fully reported at the time but I still wait to learn if or how the survivors have managed to rebuild their lives.

Non-party political movements such as Charter 88 and the New Economics Foundation are never mentioned in the so-called quality press – and are not listed by you. Come to think of it I have never noticed a mention of the New Internationalist...

Arnold Fullerton
Devises, UK

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

A recent Letter from Lagos (NI 257) covered the ‘brain-drain’ from Nigeria to the UK. This extract from the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has relevance – if we are prepared to see it. It is from the Director-General of UNESCO, Professor Federico Mayor, to David Sumberg MP:

‘I realized that with our modalities of long-term scholarships we were worsening the rate of brain-drain because we were providing specialists in the developing countries with the opportunity to spend many years in developed countries. The result is that today we have in the rich countries 30,000 PhDs from sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore we realized that we had to alter our approach to development – the approach to development based on structural adjustment that has been applied with the same formula to different countries. In many cases, particularly for the poorest countries, the results were very negative.’

Harold Chamings
Sheffield, UK

Anti–Serb bias
Your article ‘Not our war’ in the issue on the Media (NI 256) had a pro-Croatian bias. I follow the conflict through the Scandinavian Guardian and the Danish paper Information, which is the only paper in Scandinavia with reporters on all sides. It is obvious that the information in the Western press is much more biased than during the Gulf War – with both the Serbs and the truth as victims. All three parties in former Yugoslavia use American PR-firms, and the Moslems and the Croats especially have good access to the Western media, to the Serbs’ disfavour.

Information had a series of articles earlier this year documenting anti-Serb lies in the Western media. Would this be an idea for the NI, to avoid bias?

Hartvig Saetra
Storslett, Norway

I have been disturbed to read letters in recent months in the NI praising vaccination. The trend from when many of the now-extinct or very rare diseases were first discovered, to when they died out, is a downward one. Vaccines were introduced toward the latter part of this trend. This would point to better sanitation and hygiene rather than vaccination as the cause of their demise.

Vaccination has serious consequences, some of which take a long time to develop. We appear to have decreased the incidence of curable diseases such as whooping cough, mumps and rubella, merely to replace them with the incurables – cancer, arthritis and AIDS.

The basis of vaccination originates from the findings of Louis Pasteur. His contemporary, Antoine Beauchamp, produced a completely different theory, the basis of which is that the health of individuals is the main factor in the development of disease, and not the action of bacteria.

Vaccinations are certainly not as safe as orthodox medical practitioners via multinational drug companies would have us believe.

Robert Sier
Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, UK

Real guy
Discovery! I had never heard of NI until the other day when, staying overnight with the Columban Fathers in their house in Manila, I found a copy of the issue on Mexico (NI 251) in my room.

Reading the editorial, I said to myself: ‘This guy’s for real!’ Next day, reading the rest of the magazine, I had the same sense of people involved with reality. And tough and unpleasant as it may be, we all want to live in the real world.

Rev George Carlin
Holy Hearts House of Prayer
Manila, Philippines

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

Letter from Lagos

The ethnic card is being played by those in power in Nigeria. Elizabeth Obadina
holds her breath and prays that this does not herald another Biafra.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY As an academic, as a journalist, and as a foreigner, I have commented on difficult situations with an ethnic dimension. I have met with people who for one reason or another are deeply afraid. Sometimes I cried and felt sick – but I would edit out the tears from a broadcasting package or written despatch. I never internalized those outrages – they weren’t my problem. I could only ape Solomon and attempt balanced and unprejudiced comment, often coming down firmly on one side or another after weighing up all the facts.

Recent events in Nigeria have changed me. They have given me the unpleasant experience of being a player rather than a mere spectator. At the time of writing nothing too terrible, measured on the scale of human dreadfulness, has happened. For a military regime the Nigerian Government’s reaction to week upon week of pro-democracy strikes and demonstrations has been quite mild. In the south a handful of demonstrators have died in scattered protests. Some opposition leaders have been imprisoned but most were quickly released. The Nigerian ‘soldier-boys’ seem not to be cast from the same mould as Latin American military dictators or sergeants-turned-despots like Idi Amin, Bokassa and Samuel Doe.

Both the northern Hausa-backed military élite and the largely southern-based pro-democracy campaigners appear to be mindful of the Biafran war. It is nearly 30 years now since that conflict claimed a million Nigerian lives and introduced the world to the now-familiar imagery of starving African refugees and children. No-one wants to commit the first atrocity, to risk a repeat of that terrible ethnic bloodbath.

In late July, the ethnic card was played. Moshood Abiola, the Yoruba winner of last year’s cancelled presidential elections, was arrested by the police. It was a time of shadow-boxing for most Nigerians. Lagos’s six million inhabitants held their breath expecting the worst, but no catastrophe occurred.

Last year, when the military annulled the elections, everyone dashed fearfully back to their ‘ethnic’ home areas. This year they sat tight. ‘Who has the money to go home for holidays, let alone to pack out and pack back every time there is trouble?’, said my friend Noney who comes from the eastern Igbo city Emugu. For myself, I felt profound relief that my husband’s veins are half-full of Yoruba blood and my children’s therefore a quarter-full. Most importantly in Nigeria, as that blood is paternally inherited and therefore significant, they are considered to be entirely Yoruba. Lagos is a Yoruba city and so they are safe, ethnically secure.

Ethnic security has become a factor to be dealt with in our family life. I could never rest easy if my children should choose to go to school or university or to work in Northern Nigeria. Ironic really since my first love for Nigeria was born in its northern states in 1974 where I worked as an expatriate foreigner. I loved the whole area. My husband too, after years of living in London, preferred to holiday in the North with Hausa friends rather than face the drastic pleasures of his Lagos home.

Now an evil ethnic wedge is being forced between Nigeria’s 200-odd ethnic groups. Ties of inter-ethnic friendship, preferences for environments other than your ancestral ones, and the urge to better your employment wherever the job may be, are being perverted by ethnicity.

Unfortunately this is partly due to some well-intentioned Government schemes to provide equal educational opportunities throughout Nigeria. Public services and government-sponsored employment are ethnically balanced. This has nurtured ethnic sensibilities which might otherwise have been subsumed by a wider identity as a ‘Nigerian citizen’.

At the root of current concern for ethnic identity lies, inevitably, the desire for power and money. Political power in Nigeria was vested by British colonialists in the hands of the feudal northern aristocracy and 90 per cent of Government income comes from southern oil sales. It is an explosive combination exacerbated by worsening poverty. No ruler wants to lose their hold on the purse strings. Every poverty-stricken area feels hard-done by. Ethnic blame is easy to apportion. But as greedy politicians and generals heighten ethnic awareness, Nigeria’s 90 million ordinary citizens quake in their shoes.

Bello, the technician at my husband Tunde’s workplace, discarded his Hausa-style clothes in late July. He now sports Western or Yoruba-style dress. When teased about this, he replies: ‘You may laugh but this may become a life-or-death-issue – sooner rather than later’.

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

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New Internationalist issue 260 magazine cover This article is from the October 1994 issue of New Internationalist.
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