'Unfair trade' no help to Africa, Hate crimes and others

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Blaming the West and 'unfair trade' is no help to Africa

Blaming the West and 'unfair trade' is no help to Africa

Sir: Cameron Duodu is wrong to claim that "Africa is being cheated by the West" (Opinion, 10 June) and that the fault lies not with corrupt and incompetent leaders but with unfair trade.

To say that Africa was poor before independence and is still poor so it cannot be the fault of its rulers overlooks the fact that the rest of the world has moved on and Africa has failed to keep up. African poverty is also often blamed on the effects of colonial occupation, artificial borders, mixed ethnic populations and wars, as well as the dependence on cash-crop commodities and unbalanced trade relations highlighted in Mr Duodu's coffee example. All these are genuine problems, yet Asia had exactly the same problems and has overcome them. In terms of GDP per head Africa was better off than Asia after the Second World War. Yet almost all of Asia is far wealthier than Africa now.

The Asian countries which have not shared in this boom are those which have turned inwards, such as Burma and North Korea. Asian rulers have been corrupt but not on the same scale as the most notorious African rulers. Asian countries have on the whole been more ready to embrace the free market, witness China's recent spectacular growth.

I agree that in times of famine such as Ethiopia in 1984-85 Africans would have been better off growing local food crops (although it is worth remembering also that in that example starvation was being used as a weapon by the government). However to stick to producing food only for local consumption is to remain locked into the same standard of living that has persisted for thousands of years. To buy items such as cars, roads, hospital equipment, tractors or computers, at some point someone needs to produce crops that can be exchanged for currency.

I agree that the producers of commodity goods in the developing world should be paid more. However it is naive to believe that the transnational corporations are making 99.8 per cent profit margins on the coffee sold in the coffee shops of the West. The £2 paid for the coffee is also used to pay the rent on the high street shop, the wages of the person who served it, the costs of processing and transporting the coffee.

To make real change we have to start by being honest and realistic about the problems we are trying to fix.



Hate crimes and images of Israel

Sir Your graphic report (16 June) on the rising incidence of anti-Semitism in the UK mirrors that of Europe generally. However, the obscene desecration of Jewish cemeteries is more usually an act of juvenile vandalism that is not, in fact, inspired by anti-Semitism. That anti-Semitism is real and rising, however, is not in question and there is an imperative for more meaningful discussion as to how to counteract such anti-Jewish feeling in the face of Israeli intransigence in the Middle East.

When olive groves belonging to Palestinian Arabs living at subsidence level are uprooted by the IDF, on the pretence of security, it immediately fuels anti-Semitic sentiment around the world. That there is a direct connection between these two should not be in question. Israel is not an obscure island and her government must be more aware of the serious consequences of her actions, in particular, to those Jewish communities overseas who, in general, support her.

Anti-Semitism - the oldest prejudice - will unfortunately never be eradicated in its entirety, but Israel has an absolute responsibility and duty to the majority of world Jewry (75 per cent) who live outside its shores and whose future is entirely dependent on the goodwill of the host countries in which they live.



Sir: Your judgement that a splash report is needed for the latest gravestone smashing anti-Semitism might trigger your reconsideration of the disingenuous manner of your reporting the Arab vendetta with Israel these last decades.

It is quite impossible to keep up a campaign against Israel that studiously does not explain that the dispute stems from Arab defiance of UN partition policy - not only of 181 in 1947, but ever since - and then expect that no social trash and no cynics will take such an atmosphere as the green light for violent words and violent misbehaviour.



Sir: In February the Labour Party published anti-semitic posters on its website and now in June, 187 Jewish gravestones in Manchester and East Ham are smashed. This is what you get when Labour, by not apologising for or even recognising the racist character of its posters, effectively sends out a message to bigots that sometimes this sort of behaviour is acceptable.



Sir: Jawid Iqbal, commenting on the proposed law against incitement to religious hatred (letters, 11 June), claims that the UK law recognises Jews and Sikhs as racial groups. I suspect that he is correct, as a few weeks ago I heard the Home Office minister Fiona McTaggart on the radio describing the terms Jew and Sikh as each representing both a race and a religion.

As Sikhism originated only a few hundred years ago Sikhs cannot possibly be a distinct race. The few thousand years of Jewish identity would be sufficient for development of a distinct race only under very special conditions of genetic isolation and extreme selective pressure, neither of which applies. The proper term to use for both groups is "tribe".

Although each of these tribes has a predominant religion, that religion is not the essential element of membership of the tribe - many "secular Jews" are as atheistic as I am. Why are we still confusing biology and culture, which may include religion?

Race is a matter of biology and racial variation is essentially superficial and, ideally, would be of no interest to anyone other than a few medics and anthropologists. There appears to be a reluctance to use the term "tribe" even though tribalism is an innate and significant characteristic of humans, and many other primates, because it had significant survival value in times past. Tribal conflict is widespread on a range of scale from street gang to nation state and the problems it presents are less likely to be tractable if biology and culture continue to be confused.



Making no excuse for weasel words

Sir: A new mantra has crept into the mouths of perfidious politicians. We became familiar with Tony Blair's inevitable response of "I make no excuse for removing a tyrant" when he was actually being questioned about his misleading Parliament and the country.

Since then his acolytes have used identical phraseology ad nauseam. We now hear Downing Street's cloned policy wonks regularly "make no excuse" for performing some tangential "motherhood and apple pie" action only vaguely linked with the question being discussed.

Its latest outing was from the mouth of a junior education minister on the Today programme, self-righteously "making no excuse" for improving the education of under-privileged children, when she was actually being questioned about the government policy of privatising education and creating a two-tier system

So, you will understand why I "make no excuse" for supporting the local economy, providing work for underemployed painters and decorators, by hurling my radio at the wall whenever I hear these perfidious words uttered by a government minister.



Secret agenda of Darling's road tax

Sir: "Have I missed something?" asks Petrina Sevens (letter, 13 June), who wonders why motoring cannot be taxed by fuel duty alone. Logically, no.

Unless Alistair Darling plans to build underground rail systems in every town and city, we will still have to drive to and from work in the rush-hour, with most of our weekly mileage being charged at the urban congestion rate of £1.34 a mile. As there is virtually no "market" in road use at rush-hour times, there is less environmental justification for this measure than for fuel duties or anti-gas-guzzler tax disc rates.

But if the new tax will fail in its ostensible purpose of environmental protection, its actual operating motivations will be amply satisfied. The tax will enable the government to award huge IT, security and systems maintenance contracts; and it will create the infrastructure which will allow pan-European monitoring of all citizens. The Government can confidently say it has no plans to do this as, once the system is in place, no advance planning will be needed. A future government can be relied upon to "discover" and implement its monitoring potential.

There is one benefit to Alistair Darling's tax, however: the school "Kelly hours" scheme will be largely self-financing. With employers requiring mothers to use the hours, hundreds of thousands of school-run mums will be tipped straight into the rush hour at maximum charge. At three miles per "run" or work-route diversion via school, this would amount to £40 per week per car for the Government. Heaven help any mother who does not like driving in heavy traffic after dark in the winter.



Clarke denies the right to protest

Sir: I was appalled to learn that Charles Clarke has approved the plans to ban protesters from demonstrating within a kilometre of of the Houses of Parliament.

The Independent has done an excellent job in showing what contempt Tony Blair's government has for the campaign for voting reform. The Home Secretary's approval of the restrictions on protest also shows the disregard this government has for the basic democratic and human right to protest.

Protesters being able to gather outside the Palace of Westminster is a historic and fundamental part of British democracy. Banning such protests is an affront to the British people.



Sir: Visiting Brighton last Saturday we were surprised to see many police cars patrolling. Then, in the North Laines, we saw demonstators assembling to protest against a local bomb-parts factory. Eventually they set off.

There must have been all of 200 peaceniks, yet they were entirely hemmed in by police. A double row of constables in the front, one line walking backwards, allowed these threatening people to move no faster than a snail, while two more police people were filming the mob - though how they could see them clearly through the lines of officers I don't know. This weird little scene was completed by no fewer than six riot vehicles crawling along behind.

We were not the only onlookers outraged by the ridiculous behaviour of the Sussex Constabulary in a supposedly free country. There are those who are looking forward to the police state that is growing in our once free land. They need not worry. We're just about there.



Sad decline into respectability

Sir: In your profile of Pink Floyd (14 June) you refer to the band as "respectable counter-culturalists". For me that says it all: surely it is axiomatic that no counter-cultural movement should ever be "respectable". What's the point of such an animal?

Although my salad days are a long distant memory, my heart still sinks every time I see reference to "Sir" Paul McCartney, "Sir" Mick Jagger and "Sir" Elton John.

A few weeks ago, I was having a drink in a pub a few doors from the Albert Hall when in walked a large gaggle of Cream fans who had been to one of that band's reunion concerts. To a man they were paunchy, bald, sallow and prosperous and drank nothing but G&Ts, but still seemed to regard themselves as the coolest thing on the block. How depressing.



English apathy

Sir: As a PR supporter I was naturally interested in your front page report (15 June) showing a correlation between voter turnout and voting systems. However, on looking at the chart I realised that there was another relationship. All the countries on the low turnout end of the chart, including Ireland which has PR, are Anglophone - the others aren't. So we have a solution to the voter turnout problem.



German humour

Sir: Miles Kington (16 June) says that the film Dinner for One has never been shown on British television. This may be so, but the satellite television receiver I purchased in the Nineties received 10 or 15 German stations. Sure enough, each New Year's Eve every station showed the film. This film, almost 20 minutes long, is nearly all in English. At the start a man comes on and introduces the sketch and explains all the jokes in German. The rest of the film is in English, including all the lines repeated by Mr Kington.



Cheaper houses

Sir: As a prospective first-time buyer I agree that things are looking brighter, but not for the reasons outlined in your article "Things look brighter for first-timers" (15 June). Where we are looking (Gloucestershire), houses have recently dropped in price by £10-20,000 and are still not selling. We don't need schemes to own half a house at an extortionate price, or to be offered mortgages that are dangerously more than our earnings; we need property prices to become affordable. And it looks like it is happening - the country should celebrate house prices returning to normality.



Armani man goes north

Sir: I'm afraid Armani man has moved even further north. I encountered him on the M6 at Knutsford services. He asked me directions, and I was so delighted to have a chance to use my Italian that we chatted for a while. As a result, his heart wasn't really in it when he tried to sell me several black leather jackets. I bade the unhappy man farewell.



Hope for us all

Sir: Johann Hari reports (Opinion, 15 June) that a generation of Tanzanian children has been given the power of literacy through the provision of primary education. If they can do it then so can we.