Letters: Perspectives on Sudan

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How to avoid the African trap

As a Ugandan-born British citizen who has seen too many false starts in Africa since independence from western colonial powers almost 50 years ago, I totally agree with the leading article which pointed out that "the challenge for the international community is to find a way to support a new state whose citizens believe it is richer than it is" ("Sudan's biggest test is yet to come", 8 January).

The best way for the international community to save the new Southern Sudan state from falling into the trap of "big-man" culture that has bedevilled many African countries is to start without delay to develop independent state institutions that will fight corruption without fear or favour, protect fundamental rights of all tribes and individuals and, above all, effectively manage the oil revenue to fight poverty.

In 1957, Dr Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana claimed that Africans would rather misrule themselves than be ruled by British and other European colonialists. But despite its potential wealth, the continent is today poorer than it was at independence, thanks to endemic tribal rivalries, institutional corruption, unremitting population increases and civil wars.

For Southern Sudan, the immediate danger lies in rivalries between the tribes who share nothing in common, expect their hatred for the regime in the north. Once this is gone, the tribes will find new enemies among themselves. And just as some African leaders blame western colonialists for their failures, the Southern Sudanese are also likely to find ready-made excuses in their neighbours immediately in the north.

Sam Akaki, director, Democratic Institutions for Poverty Reduction in Africa, London W3

Civil war provoked tribal conflict

The disputes over the region of Abyei in Central Sudan ("Sudan prepares to split", 15 January) is a product of the government of Sudan using the Misseriya as proxy militia throughout the north-south civil war.

This exploitation has led to the re-tribalisation of Sudan rather than allowing for a natural growth and increased prosperity in the region.

Any border committee will have its work cut out forcing either side of Sudan's middle belt to buckle under pressure.

Jamie Kirby, Newcastle Upon Tyne

Poor outlook for the 9bn humans of the future

Dominic Lawson, in his article "The population timebomb is a myth" (18 January), presents a very partial summary of a recent report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. It actually stresses the challenges presented by the world's rapidly increasing population.

Even if we accept his premise that these challenges can be met using engineering solutions, we should also consider the quality of our lives. In theory the planet could support more people if we each lived in a small cell, eating processed food and watching pictures on our low-energy screens of the now disappeared countryside and its fauna and flora. But what sort of life would that be?

Engineers will of course look for engineering solutions to problems. Others might think that it is better to avoid the problem in the first place. All the evidence is that people will willingly limit the size of their families, given the opportunity and encouragement. The mystery is why Dominic Lawson and his like find that idea so terrifying.

Nigel Long, Bristol

I wonder which planet Dominic Lawson lives on? If it is Earth, he seems to have forgotten that it extends beyond the comfortable coffee shops and restaurants of affluent London.

How can he state that "No, there are not (and never will be) too many people for the planet to feed"? Has he been to Africa lately? To the slums of Mumbai? To see the scavengers on Smokey Mountain in the Philippines, surviving on what they can salvage from other people's garbage? To Mexico City, to Rio? Does Mr Lawson know that almost a billion of the world's inhabitants survive on less than a dollar a day?

If we are not to see more people die of thirst, starvation and diseases caused by overcrowding and filth while we wait for Mr Lawson's Utopia where all 9 billion of us get 3,000 calories a day of genetically modified slush as we stand on our one square foot of ground, we must face the fact that overpopulation is a significant element in most of the environmental problems (global warming being the most pressing) facing the planet today.

I would like to think of future generations inheriting a world worth living in, one with diversity of plant and animal life, open spaces for peaceful enjoyment of nature and wildernesses for solitude. Even if Mr Lawson and the Mechanical Engineers are correct and it does become possible to keep 9 billion people alive on earth, who in their right mind would want to live there?

Katherine Scholfield, Roborough, Devon

Dominic Lawson says "Malthusians have been wrong so long, why stop now?" Of course it has long been fashionable to repeat the myth that Malthus was wrong, but a fact Lawson overlooks is that the number of people living on the edge of starvation has steadily increased as the world population has increased, exactly as Malthus predicted. (He didn't predict a sudden collapse in population as the myth-makers believe.) Today, according to the UN, that figure has reached an all-time high of around one billion people.

If there is such a thing as a modern Malthusian (whether belonging to Lawson's "Malthusian claque" or not), it must be someone who believes that when population levels are stabilised, economic and technological progress will finally raise everyone out of poverty. History is on the side of that view. Otherwise why, following 200 years of technological and economic progress, has Malthus's prediction proved so uncannily accurate?

Chris Padley, Lincoln

Dominic Lawson's argument that the world can support higher and higher populations – and the implication that therefore we should continue to breed like flies – is only likely to be persuasive to those who care about no other species apart from Homo sapiens.

A glance at the worldwide data on declining biodiversity will be enough to convince intelligent readers of The Independent that such arguments are deeply irresponsible. No amount of engineering can prevent human beings and domesticated animals and plants from becoming monocultures if we persist in occupying more and more of the world's surface.

Giles Watson, Uffington, Oxfordshire

No room for gays at the B&B

In the case of the Christian B&B owners and the gay couple the old principle "Be you ever so high the law is above you" seems to have been reinterpreted to "Be you ever so small the law is above you."

Most small family-run businesses like this B&B are individualistic and distinctive, which is part of their charm. We really need to ask whether the full force of the law on discrimination, health and safety and employment should be applied to small businesses, or whether there should be a small-business exemption.

Business organisations recently pointed out that small businesses can be virtually held to ransom by tribunal claims. The same in this case where the gay couple were having their legal fees paid by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – hardly a fair fight.

Neil Addison (Barrister), National Director, Thomas More Legal Centre, Warrington

Two lessons from the case of the hoteliers and the gay couple. People of conscience and principle are the new "criminals". And people who have none – as shown by their criminalising two clean-living senior citizens – are the new judiciary. O brave new morality!

Dr Christopher Shell, Hounslow, Middlesex

I wonder how devout Christian hoteliers would respond if a couple called Joseph and Mary sought a room one December night, but confessed that Joseph was not the biological father of Mary's child.

Pete Dorey, Bath

British anger against bankers

Oh dear, it seems it's not just bankers who don't get; it's journalists too. David Prosser's analysis of "Why are Britons crosser about bankers' bonuses than anyone else?" (Business, 19 January) misses some of the central points.

This is about fairness, justice, social conscience, a willingness to shoulder responsibility and make restitution for mistakes. It could apply to any institution which behaves in the way much of the banking industry has.

If a robber were to be caught red-handed and was then given a ticking off by the police, but allowed to walk off with the swag, free to commit a similar crime at any time of his choosing, and leaving the victim destitute, most Britons would be pretty cross. The amount of the swag is not the issue. The British people tend not to take this kind of injustice lying down, even if their government seems ready to let it pass.

By contrast, the people who have suffered most from the American financial meltdown are those cruelly deceived into a brief opportunity of home ownership, now knocked back into living at a level of poverty unknown in this country. Their voices are rarely heard, and they are too disempowered and exhausted by the struggle to survive to mount an effective campaign. The rich can simply afford to move on in pursuit of the American dream, but for many, this is not so easy. The protests may just be slower in coming. The banks are hoping they can simply ride this out. Let's hope they're wrong on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sierra Hutton-Wilson, Evercreech, Somerset

The argument goes that, in the financial sector, big bonuses are necessary to attract the right calibre of employee. This is nonsense.

I worked in the City before leaving to become a teacher. I worked in mortgage indemnity. Most of my colleagues were functionally innumerate. Some of them looked the part – minor private school, sharp suits, – but the job called for at least an average level of numeracy. They lacked it and so many mistakes were made in basic calculations.

Further, I observed that when outside consultants come into companies, the ethos changes. The "outsiders" are mainly interested in networking: they end up recruiting their friends to totally redundant positions. The aim is to store up favours for the future. Previously lean projects finish up with massive overemployment and duplication of functions.

The recession has been caused by greed and incompetence.

Anthony McCarthy, Oxford

Steve Richards (13 January) draws a useful parallel between the "greedy bankers" and the "greedy unions" of the 1970s, when in despair the people eventually turned to Margaret Thatcher, who knew what needed doing.

But today it is not the bankers alone that are the problem. It is the entire upper echelon of British society, from the boardrooms of business to the town halls of our cities, who have led the field in overpaying themselves for years.

A society that allows its top people to indulge their greed, while throwing thousands out on the streets to balance the budget, is just asking for trouble. Once again the people will have to find a leader with the necessary vision and will.

Robert Blair, Mannings Heath, West Sussex

Don't fence off our forests

I would be more impressed by Caroline Spelman's assurance that millions will still be able to enjoy the woods (letter, 12 January) if I had not seen the results of previous sales by the Forestry Commission.

The car park has been closed, the land fenced off and the gate locked at Riggwood, sold in Cumbria last year, and this is fairly typical. Canny Hill (6.12 acres), near Newby Bridge has been sold recently and three more woods totalling 426 acres are being advertised for sale in Cumbria at present.

It is no good suggesting that some of this government land will be sold to conservation charities, as we will in effect be donating to a charity to buy land that we already own.

Some private owners have managed their land in an exemplary manner and provide alternative landscape interest and high-quality public benefits. This is no justification for increased privatisation as despite Forestry Commission efforts many other private woods remain in a moribund condition.

We need an active private sector, balanced by a strong national forest service. Each needs the other. We need a guarantee that the forests will continue to be well managed, with democratic local input, and that our land is protected in perpetuity.

Roger N Cartwright, Carnforth, Lancashire

Gaps in Chinese way of learning

Reading the article on "Chinese" parenting styles (11 January), I was reminded of my own visit to a Chinese boarding school on an exchange trip in October. Chinese students applying to the most prestigious universities have an extended syllabus; I was surprised to find this had several topics included in the Physics A-level I am currently studying. I asked what further study the Chinese had to do for history, which I had applied for in Britain, and was presented with a well-thumbed, relatively thin paperback book titled The History of the World.

In preparation for my History AS and Oxford interview I read over a dozen history books – this was average compared with my friends also applying to Oxbridge (none Chinese). My parents were happy that I stopped playing the violin at grade three, and only offered minimal academic encouragement. I received a conditional offer.

Amy Chua advocates going way too far, and could perhaps learn from the West. Instilling self-confidence and ambition is enough; the child or teenager must voluntarily put in the effort – after all, any viewpoint held through coercion is less valuable than one reached through conscious decision.

Russell Black, Birmingham

Tunisia needs our help now

The UK government advocates democratic government around the world, and now has an excellent opportunity to do something practical to support Tunisia.

The credit rating agencies are about to downgrade Tunisian bonds; in Switzerland vigilant Tunisians intercepted an apparatchik of the old regime trying to empty bank accounts; the family of the ex-President went on a huge looting spree before they fled.

If Tunisia runs out of cash its teachers, nurses, soldiers and civil servants cannot be paid, unrest will grow more severe, and Tunisia will not have the breathing space it needs to sort out its own affairs and elect a new government.

Will the UK please buy Tunisian bonds and encourage other EU states to do the same? Will it also take steps to ensure Tunisian assets in the UK cannot be stolen from under our noses and whisked off to Jeddah to add to the huge pile the ex-dictator has amassed? Tunisia needs practical help, not homilies on calm and order.

Alastair McCapra, London W3

Mother knows best

I was very taken with Christina Patterson's (15 January) insistence that we should thank Tania Garwood, the mother of 18-year-old Edward Woollard, for persuading her son to give himself up as the person responsible for throwing a fire extinguisher off the roof of Conservative Party headquarters during the demonstrations against tuition fees. Maybe she's right.

I recall that during the same demonstrations a young man with cerebral palsy was dragged from his wheelchair and across the road by two (rather older) men in police uniform. We are apparently still waiting for the mothers of these men to make their move.

Stephen Wagg, Leicester

The next leak?

The refusal by Gus O'Donnell to allow the publication of the Blair-Bush notes pertinent – possibly central – to the Iraq inquiry makes one rather grateful, despite its shortcomings, for the existence of an organisation such as WikiLeaks.

Ian Bartlett, east Molesey, Surrey