Letters: Tyrants of Africa


Why the tyrants of Africa are on the march again

Sir: The events in Zimbabwe are only the latest in a series of tragedies that have dogged African peoples, in Uganda under Idi Amin, Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the DRC, Sudan and Ivory Coast, since independence. They have been ruled by presidents who double as the supreme state institution, controlling the army, police, parliament, the judiciary, state intelligence organisations and the civil service.

Without independent state institutions, not even the Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will ever establish sustainable good governance, the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law and the protection of fundamental human rights, which are so critical for poverty reduction.

A classic example is Uganda, where Lieutenant-General Museveni came to power in 1986 promising that his revolution was not a mere change of guards but a fundamental change. But 21 years on Uganda is rapidly spiralling into the dark abyss of political and social turmoil.

In the past two years, Museveni has amended the constitution, virtually making himself a life president; arrested his most credible opponent, Dr Kizza Besigye, three months before the elections and charged him with rape, terrorism and treason and conducted the first multi-party elections in 26 years under one-party rule and structure. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the elections were conducted in non-conformity with the Constitution. He has also twice in a year sent armed commandos who invaded the High Court and re-arrested opposition suspects who had been released on bail.

Museveni, Mugabe and most African leaders have blamed British colonialism for their failures. They miss the point that Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea were also colonies but are now peaceful and booming economically. The only difference between the former colonies in South East Asia and those in Africa is that the former have independent state institutions while the latter have not.



Don't blame doctors for NHS cash crisis

Sir: Doctors are only resistant to cost-cutting when it directly impairs patient care - which is the case with so many of the cuts currently hitting the NHS ("Doctors' refusal to cut costs blamed for crisis", 20 March).

The Public Accounts Committee rightly identifies that close clinical engagement in financial matters is essential for future success in the NHS. This is the only way to balance clinical and financial needs.

Hospital consultants want to be able to give their patients the best treatment. It is wrong to report that they have control over resources and access to unlimited funds. Consultants are increasingly frustrated by the lack of funds, which prevents them from giving their patients the best possible care. New services and treatments for patients are being abandoned or delayed because of a shortage of cash.

Meanwhile scarce NHS resources are being ploughed into deals with the private sector, and on centrally driven targets that do little to benefit patient care.



Sir: Does the quoted £92bn deficit of the NHS (20 March) include the £12bn spent on the NHS IT system which isn't yet working and may never work?

Does the figure include debts to PFI companies for new hospital buildings which will be a permanent weight around the necks of NHS trusts for many years to come, and might it include the many changes and reorganisations of previously satisfactory services in response to the latest government bandwagon? The latest episode of chaos is encouraging trusts to pay to hire public venues for interviews rather than use hospital meeting rooms as always happened in the past.

Forget that, just make the doctors the scapegoat.



Sir: Steve Richards (20 March) fails to explain how the introduction of co-payment into the NHS would improve the provision of healthcare - other than by reducing access to those on lower incomes.

Indeed, this has been the experience in the provision of care in the community, where co-payment has been gradually extended to the point that only those on the most limited means continue to receive care free at the point of use, leaving many to decide whether they can afford a bath every fortnight, or just once a month, while others have to sit padded up with incontinence sheets because they can't afford to pay for someone to take them to the toilet more than twice a day.

Co-payment is a further erosion of the principle that public services should be provided according to need rather than means. Wherever it is introduced it disadvantages low-income groups to the benefit of those on higher incomes, who would otherwise be required to pay more income tax. Still, on the bright side, we have a way to go before we have to find the amounts consumed by the US privatised system (estimated to reach 18 per cent of GDP by 2013), which abounds with co-payment. So we must be doing something right!



Sir: Please ask Mark Steel (21 March) not to give this government ideas about hospitals charging rent to patients for their hospital beds. Next they will want to charge junior doctors rent for their bedrooms.



Solar power could meet all our needs

Sir: At last some sense is being injected into the debate on biofuels. As David Walker says (letter, 7 March) the most efficient plants only convert 1 per cent of the sun's energy into energy that we can use, whereas photovoltaic cells can absorb up to 10 per cent of the sun's energy and convert it into electricity.

Therefore it would only require one tenth as much land to be covered with these cells to produce our energy needs. Photovoltaic cells do not need to be sited on good agricultural land. They can be sited in deserts and any barren land with a high number of sunshine hours. The best productive land could continue to grow food and the less productive could be planted with trees to help carbon sequestration.

It has been calculated that an area of photovoltaic cells the size of the Sahara desert could produce enough energy to satisfy the needs of the entire planet.



Sir: There is an important corollary to John Gribbin's reminder (letter, 19 March) that industrial pollution helped to keep down the rise in atmospheric CO2 until cleaner air became a social priority.

China is still building hundreds of new coal-fired power stations. While these are causing severe health problems in the country's cities, they must also be reducing the global warming effect of the fuel they burn. The frequently repeated alibi for the UK not taking a lead in reducing carbon emissions - that we only account for 2 per cent of the world's total, and that growth in China would offset our total annual discharges in two years - is therefore inaccurate as well as unprincipled.



London's empty Olympic boast

Sir: Jo Valentine (letter, 21 March) asserts that London is the only British city that could have won the Olympic games. Since she is the chief executive of London First this is perhaps not surprising. But take a moment to consider the extraordinary nature of this claim.

The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a member of the G8 and one of the five biggest economies in the world. If it is true that such a country has only one city capable of hosting such an event then surely this is a matter for national shame. In fact, I believe Ms Valentine is mistaken; I feel confident that any one of Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle or Sheffield could put on a creditable Olympics.

If Barcelona, the second city in what is, in economic terms, a second-rank power can host the games with great success then why not, say, Leeds? Does anybody suppose that the French or Germans or any other country would so casually denigrate the many great cities in their country?



Sir: In response to Steven Reeves's letter on the Olympics (21 March), Sydney had the 2000 Games and we were told the same as you - that everything would be great: new stadia would be built; it wouldn't cost the taxpayer anything, and we'd enjoy ourselves. Seven years down the track most Olympic venues are "white elephants", the infrastructure of the city has deteriorated, health and schools were sacrificed so Juan Antonio Samaranch could call Sydney "the best games ever". Write another letter in 2017 and tell us if the Games were worth it, Mr Reeves.



Airlines let off in a pale green Budget

Sir: The lamentable efforts of the Chancellor to address climate change in his Budget prove only that the Government really has not engaged with this issue beyond the level of rhetoric. Some fuel rises and taxes on cars, but no penalties for the biggest contributor to global warming, namely the airlines.

The public want to go green, yet what help do they get? The Chancellor provides a miserly increase from £6m to £12m for the scheme to give grants to homeowners for solar panels and wind turbines. The monthly amount given for these loans was recently exhausted within hours.

Sadly, this budget proves only that the Government has failed to read the mood of the country on climate change. It is living on rhetoric and not taking the crucial decisions needed to address the biggest threat to humanity today.



Sir: The announcement in the budget of an extra £800m of new money for the International Environmental Transformation Fund - for poverty reduction and environmental protection - seems great news.

WWF congratulates the Chancellor for recognising the importance of the link between poverty and the environment. However the Government needs to ensure that this really is new money and won't be taken from the funds pledged to increase international aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP by 2013. If this isn't the case it would be robbing Peter to pay Paul and could tarnish the UK's credibility as a leading global player in the fight to eliminate poverty and save the environment.

The budget also states that the money from the Fund will flow through governments and development banks. WWF believes that much of this money should also go to local communities to manage the consequences of climate change.



Sir: We have had for many years a voluntary tax on dreams, in the form of the lottery. By doubling the starting rate of income tax from 10 per cent to 20 per cent, while acknowledging that many low-paid workers are foolish enough not to claim tax credits, Gordon Brown has knowingly levied a compulsory tax on stupidity.



Sir: Is this the first time that a Stalinist has presented a Tory Budget?



Wales to Hollywood

Sir: So Ioan Gruffudd is "Wales's second most successful Hollywood export, behind Catherine Zeta-Jones" (Pandora, 21 March)? What about Sir Anthony Hopkins? If dead Welshman are also allowed, then I would place Richard Burton and Ivor Novello ahead of Ioan.



Quiet wedding

Sir: Catherine Townsend suggests that the non-wearing of a wedding ring by a married man is tantamount to "false advertising" (22 March). Neither I nor any of my three brothers, each of us married to our wives for over 50 years with no hint of wandering eyes, ever wore wedding bands. In those days we thought it inappropriate for men to wear jewellery of any sort. Perhaps this is a generation difference but is it not ironic that an increasing prevalence of men's wearing wedding bands should coincide with an increasing prevalence of marriage break-ups?



Aggressive war

Sir: Keith Gilmour writes sarcastically about what would have happened in Iraq had we not planned and waged aggressive war against that nation (letter, 21 March). The anti-war movement does not suggest that all would have been hunky-dory had Saddam Hussein been left in power. Our argument is simply that it is always wrong to plan and wage aggressive war. It is in fact the supreme international crime.



Radio ventriloquist

Sir: According to Ciar Byrne (21 March) inviting ventriloquists to appear on radio "has not been done before and should not be attempted again". She is obviously far too young to remember Educating Archie, which featured Peter Brough, a ventriloquist, and his dummy Archie Andrews, a programme which was on the radio every week during the Fifties.



Package holiday

Sir: Some companies manage to keep packaging to a minimum. Congratulations to PZ Cussons, who pack four unwrapped tablets of their new Moisture Imperial Leather soap in one cardboard box with no external plastic.




Sir: I would like to add to your collection of ambiguous advice from railways. Outside a station once I saw a sign with an arrow saying "Pedestrian Diversion". Standing nearby, in the direction of the arrow, was a not very talented busker.



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