Letters: Hope as well as ‘hell’ in Africa

These letters appear in the Wednesday 9th October edition of the Independent

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As a resident of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was frustrated to read Dan Snow’s 5 October article, “The Democratic Republic of Congo: Where hell is just a local call away”, with his documentary showing on television tonight (9 October).

Congo, the Congolese people and the Congolese economy have suffered from over 20 years of war. The realities that Mr Snow describes cannot be denied. However, it is time to change the narrative surrounding both the DRC and Africa more broadly. The mainstream media portrays the country, and the continent, in sensationalist terms. Congo is described by Mr Snow as “hell”.

Readers of your newspaper may be surprised to learn that, in fact, Congo is not “hell”. Despite the conflict, life continues – even here in Goma. Congolese businesses are flourishing, the economy is growing, and external investment is pouring in. Civil society is both active and engaged. Universities and schools are developing and professionalising. The DRC recently gained a BBB credit rating from Moody’s, with  8 per cent growth forecast in the next year.

It is time the Western narrative on “Africa” – as backward, stuck in a crisis, and in need of our help – changed. Despite the challenges, Africa is also a continent of opportunity and exploding development. Congo is no exception.

Tom O’Bryan, Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo

 

Help for bright children from poor families

You approve of government support for assisted places at private schools for “bright children from poorer backgrounds” (leading article, 4 October). But why only the brightest? Why not the less able? They are as deserving of support, arguably, more so.

Of course, that isn’t going to happen. The truth is that our multi-tier system is a hideous, divisive mess. Unless the authorities finally accept that, as the evidence shows, a properly run comprehensive system produces the best outcomes, we will make no progress.

Keith O’Neill, Shrewsbury

 

Government-assisted places may be long dead, but assisted places in independent schools are not. Many independent schools continue to invest heavily to ensure that their schools are accessible to all pupils of ability: King Edward’s School has over 100 pupils here for free.

Of course, there is the argument that such a scheme creams off the best from state schools, but we continue to believe that bringing able pupils together does give them the best chance of fulfilling their potential. As one of this school’s pupils wrote as he left last year to read maths at Cambridge: “Without this school, I would not have the opportunity to be exposed to people who are genuinely interested in what they want to study, as well as teachers who actively encourage students to pursue their academic interests. It is because of this environment that I am able to discover what I want to study and to do so at the university of my dreams.”

It’s a shame that government policy does not make such an education more widely available; once, 85 per cent of this school’s pupils were here for free.

John Claughton, Chief Master, King Edward’s School, Birmingham

 

The  chairman elect of The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference asserts that it is illogical to see buying a house, car or holiday as acceptable, but paying to educate a child privately as not (“Headmaster rails against stigma of private school education”, 1 October). That’s fine if education is nothing more than a commodity; but isn’t there something missing here?

Isn’t education also  about encouraging young people to become good  citizens in a society of shared values, not just consumers  out to get all the advantages  on the ladder to the top?

Anthony Blane, Nottingham

 

If the teachers in the 11-16 comprehensive school my son attended shared Martin Murray’s view (letter, 5 October) that “anyone who has taught in a comp” would know that the “dominating ethos” would prevent motivated pupils from flourishing, they were remarkably successful in disguising it.

The ethos they created was one of aspiration, opportunity, encouragement and support. The GCSE results would have been a credit to any school, and the most able pupils went on to obtain excellent A-level results at the local sixth form college before going on to university.

In my experience motivated pupils, working-class or otherwise, can and do do well in comprehensive schools.

John Till, Regional Officer, North and Mid Wales, Voice, the union for education professionals, Shrewsbury

 

Magical cure that costs nothing

If 37,000 deaths and 295,000 diabetic cases, along with 5,000 cases of bowel cancer, could be prevented by a “breakthrough” pill, potion or medical procedure that would make front-page news – and rightly so (and no doubt cost the NHS a fortune).   

But because the answer to stopping all this death and misery is walking just 2.5 hours a week and a bit of gentle exercise, something we have to do for ourselves rather than popping a pill, this story is a 200-word piece at the bottom of page 19 (7 October).

Sara Starkey, Tonbridge, Kent

 

Last April, your health correspondent reported that halving your salt intake would prevent death, and now we read that walking 2.5 hours per week (remember, that’s 2.5, not 2.4 or 2.6) could prevent 37,000 deaths (remember, that’s 37,000, not 36,000 or 38,000).

So when you decide to get your stopwatch out and walk for 2.5 hours next week, remember to take your tomato sandwiches with you, but don’t add salt!

Dr Nick Maurice

Marlborough, Wiltshire

 

Wind farms in  the wrong places

Stuart Bowles in his letter, headed “Wind of change from Denmark” (4 October), highlights what a disastrous policy we have in this country when the siting of wind farms is left to the energy companies, whose only real interest is making even more profit.

Hundreds of thousands of people in a rural areas have witnessed the dirty tricks used to gain planning permission, and complete contempt for local residents’ wishes.

If the Government were to cut the obscene subsidies energy companies receive for building wind turbines, I am convinced few applications would be submitted, as many would not be profitable, because of inappropriate siting.

Successive governments are at fault, although the Lib Dems’ solid backing on this even at local council level probably makes them the worst offenders, as in their dash to highlight their green credentials they have allowed energy companies to litter rural landscapes with inappropriate sitings of these goliath machines.

Michael W Cook

Soulbury, Buckinghamshire

 

No reasoning with the nasty party

Andy Thornton and Colin Crilly (letters, 4 October) both protest and despair at the unjust and destructive policies of our government.

Nothing new has happened: events are following their natural course. We have allowed our government to fall into the hands of a right-wing party, and they are just doing what all right-wing parties do – paying lip-service to democratic ideals while working deviously and often witlessly on behalf of the elites.

There in no point in complaining or trying to reason with them. Working on behalf of the elites is their rôle, and that is what they will do until they are removed. The sooner that is, the less they will destroy of the fabric of our lives.

Dennis Leachman, Reading

 

I note that Theresa May is “sending a very clear message to judges” because she doesn’t like the way they interpret human rights law. This follows her threat to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (thus putting us on a par with Belarus, the “last dictatorship in Europe”, as the only countries not to be party to it), and her decision to send anti-illegal-immigrant vans into areas with high ethnic minority populations.

Is this the same Theresa May who in 2002 warned the Conservatives about being the “nasty” party?

Michael Bennie, Newton Abbot, Devon

 

The science  of climate

Mike Park (letter, 8 October), cynically attacks the scientific organisations supporting the recent IPCC report because their raison d’être depends on the existence of global warming.

Presumably then, if a panel of philologists, butchers, independent financial advisers, dancers, poets, vicars and gamekeepers came up with the same answer as the IPCC report, this might convince him.

Ian Quayle, Fownhope, Herefordshire

 

I was dismayed by the tone of the letter from Mike Park. It is not for me to defend those accused of bias or worse; I am sure they are capable of doing so for themselves, or perhaps ignoring the cheap slurs.

I would suggest to your discerning readers that a report cannot be dismissed as a conspiracy when it arises from discussion between 800 scientists around the world considering over 9,000 scientific papers.

Any scientist who allows preconceived ideas or self-interest to bias, let alone falsify, their conclusions can be certain that invalid results will soon be discovered and would force retraction and consequent professional disgrace.

Scientists are the true sceptics and will not accept any results that cannot be independently reproduced and critically verified.

Roger Knight, Swansea

 

Prohibition causes crime

Peter Hitchens is a poor student of human history (letter, 1 October). When all drugs were legal in the US, prior to 1913, and Bayer heroin sold for about the same price as Bayer aspirin, the term “drug-related crime” did not exist in the English language.

Prohibition has given us the crime, death and destroyed lives as a side-effect of a misguided effort to control what people put into their own bodies.

Dave Lane

Santa Cruz, California, USA

Windsor not

If my fellow Windsorian Stan Labovitch (letter, 8 October) believes that the majority of people of his white, middle-class “milieu” don’t want re-nationalisation of energy companies, I can assure him that he is wrong and should probably get out and socialise a bit more to gain a balanced opinion based on the views of the majority.

Adam Tunstall

Windsor

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