Someone told me that May has been officially declared the coldest month in Britain since records began. I didn’t hear it on the radio, but last month, I certainly heard the weatherman say that April was one of the warmest. Strange isn’t it, things seem to be upside down.
A while back, I read the book ‘Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace’ By Gore Vidal. Had someone else written the stuff he wrote, they’d have been laughed off as a stirrer, a hotheaded youth with looney ideas. But This is not a young man; he’s a highly respected essayist, approaching his 80th year.
He wrote of how publishers wouldn’t touch his book because of his controversial
ideas. Fortunately for him, it became a bestseller after it was published in Italy. He wrote of being interviewed in one of America’s top news shows, around the time Timothy Mcveigh was executed. You will remember that Mcveigh was convicted of the Oklahoma bombing. When Vidal challenged the received wisdom (that Mcveigh acted alone) the anchorman said they’d lost the sound feed. A soundman who was with Vidal said there was no problem with the feed.
His main argument in that book was that in the last century, the United States was by far the most militarily aggressive country in the world. However, what was more worrying was his assertion that in domestic and foreign policy, various US administrations (and allied interest groups) used a mixture of force and distortion to maintain this position. So, the news corporation which suddenly developed a non-existent sound feed problem was part of the conspiracy, and so were the publishers who wouldn’t publish his works. I told you that if anyone else had written that, you’d have wondered about his sanity.
So, is that true? And if it is, then why? In my limited experience, people conceal, lie and use force to protect something they are most afraid to lose.
I went to my Ph.D with an open mind, then found that there were closed issues. There were presumptions; where did they come from? They came from received wisdom, from the declarations of political leaders. I once spoke to a lady who worked for an organisation which monitors and campaigns against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I asked her about Iraq’s weapons, and she gave me the usual information about how dangerous it would be for the world if Iraq had nuclear weapons. So I asked why five countries are openly flaunting their advanced nuclear weapons and saying that Iraq should not have any. I suggested that we might also consider a campaign against the nuclear weapons of these five states. Her response was that these five states should be allowed to keep theirs, … not Iraq, but she didn’t advance any real reason for her position. Well, Pakistan and India don’t share her views, nor do all the other countries secretly developing their capacity.
Although I’m constantly praying for peace, I’m not a member of the campaign for nuclear disarmament. And maybe it’s heretical to suggest that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. Maybe some states are destined not to have nuclear weapons, just because they don’t belong to the big five, just as some are destined to be poor, just because they’re in Africa. How about this for avoiding discontentment; either carry the argument of freedom to its logical conclusion and allow all to have nuclear weapons, or take restriction to its ultimate and work towards eventual nuclear disarmament. Of course it wouldn’t work; even I know that. If anyone finds an important treasure, we don’t want to let go, and we are afraid that others might get or steal it. I don’t want Iraq to have nuclear weapons, but I’m not sure I want Britain to have them either. I don’t know how much I can trust any country that has such destructive powers.
But as usual, I digress. . I don’t agree with everything Gore Vidal stands for, but his argument was very persuasive. I’ve read something like that before; it was also clearly demonstrated in Farrenheight 911 and other writings of Michael Moore. He too said that nobody would publish his books. In fact, didn’t I hear that his latest film may get him into trouble for taking some Americans to Cuba for treatment? I haven’t seen the film, only a select few who went to Cannes film festival have. But if his point is that Americans can be safely treated in Cuba and that it is cheaper than the treatment they’d receive in America …?
I digress again! Nnot long ago, I heard a play on BBC radio 4. It was based on an article in the London Review of Books, written by Eliot Weinberger and entitled ‘What I heard about Iraq’.
Of course I was interested. I wrote my thesis on Iraq. So I read the article. I learned many new things, but I was reminded of those news stories. Of things I’d heard, which I was later told I hadn’t heard. Of things that were obviously untrue, even as they were spoken by political leaders, and of how people accepted them without question. Of how we were told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in 2003, even after the UN stated that it didn’t, and of how everyone rallied to the banner and supported the invasion of Iraq on those grounds, only to discover that there were no such weapons. Having read that much on Iraq, I would never have voted for Saddam Hussein in any fair election, but I couldn’t have supported the invasion of any country, based on a lie, and on a serious case of forgetfulness. Experts had said in 1991 that it would be a serious mistake to invade Iraq. As far as I knew, their reasons had not changed; but their views had been conveniently forgotten.
About two weeks ago, BBC Iraq correspondent Jim Muir spoke of how he’d wanted to write to George Bush in 2003 to warn him on the invasion of Iraq.
Dai Davies is a really interesting man. I can’t really say he lives in Wales, because he spends a substantial part of his life traveling. And not to those exotic holiday centres. He’s an expert on West Africa. He doesn’t work for a university, a think tank or a development agency. In fact, I don’t think he has ever had the backing of any organization. But as far as I know, wherever he goes, he commands the respect of the indigens.
Dai is a development worker, but not your average aid worker. In the past few years, he’s been working in the Niger Delta. I don’t think there are many foreign aid workers in that region, despite its well documented problems. In fact, he’s been made a traditional chief in the Urhobo area of the Niger Delta. Now, if he were Urhobo, that would be a high enough honour, but it’s an even greater one for a Welshman. He’s back in Europe for a while, but he’s restless to get back. He’s organizing a project that should see him back soon.
Dai is a fascinating character. Every time I speak to him, I don’t want to put the phone down. The thing about Dai is his ability to be intellectual and practical at the same time. He’s got a whole raft of theories which I’ve never heard of, perhaps because I’ve not studied international development. But I don’t get the impression that he has much time for reading. When I suggested that he could write his thoughts down, he said he’d been thinking about it but had never found the time.
He once told me that in the Delta area of Nigeria, he sees a lot of expatriate workers, and he watches them return to their guarded compounds. While he can happily chat with them, he finds that they have no idea of the country. How could they, from their shelters. He, on the other hand can go to the Niger Delta villages. How come nobody has yet kidnapped him?
The answer seems to be quite simple. Kidnappers know the rich oil workers, or at least those who can be mistaken for wealthy foreigners. He’s not one of them; he can even speak like a Nigerian, eat local food, drink the local beer. When he talks to the traditional rulers, it’s not about how much money he can give them, but how they can help themselves.
I’ve no problems listening to Dai tell me about the failings of the Nigerian government. He doesn’t sound patronizing. He once told me something he calls the ‘big pie little pie syndrome’. Apparently, there’s corruption all over the world. However, in advanced countries, there’s a big pie and those who can are taking little pieces, while in countries like Nigeria, the pie is small, but people are taking huge chunks. That’s why we feel it more. He has a lot more to say, you’d need to speak to him to hear it all, as he’s not planning to write his first book just yet.
With all the running around, Dai doesn’t seem to stop thinking of innovative ideas. Sometimes, he doesn’t even have the technical knowledge to implement them, but that doesn’t mean that his ideas are just pie in the sky. He’s talked intelligently about projects to use local crops as sources of renewable energy, encouraging disabled people, … the list is endless! It’s not just that they’re great ideas, it’s also that he’s looking for collaborators … University research facilities, Nigerians in diaspora, etc.
Maybe one day, Dai will start writing his ideas up, the practical ones and the new theories of development studies. Look out for them.