I wonder what happened to Edward Nkoloso? And, for that matter, the pouting, pneumatic Ms Matha Mwamba? They were last heard of in the early winter of 1964, when reporters descended upon a disused farmhouse on the outskirts of Lusaka to watch the intensive preparations for the exciting Zambian space programme. Edward was the boss of the operation, the 16-year-old Ms Mwamba one of the putative astronauts. Reporters watched as the astronauts carried out their anti-gravity training — swinging through the jungle on ropes, often upside down — and becoming acclimatised to the rigours of space travel by being pushed down a large hill inside an oil drum.
Waiting proudly on the dusty ground beside the disused farmhouse was the Zambian rocket which would, a little later, propel the Africans to the moon and, after that, if all went to plan, Mars. It was made of aluminium and copper and its means of propulsion was ahead of its time, eco-friendly, no carbon footprint. An enormous elastic band, tied to two trees. Sadly the space shot never happened; Matha Mwamba was withdrawn from the programme by her parents when, unexpectedly, she became pregnant — a consequence, they were told, of the rigorous anti-gravity training. I don’t know what happened to her, or to Edward. They haven’t been heard of since.
You are not meant to mention the Zambian space programme any more because it has connotations of racism when you do. Even if you don’t mean to be racist, it sounds racist when you tell people about it. But I think it would make a wonderful feature film, maybe with Halle Berry and Morgan Freeman in the lead roles and Colin Firth as one of the reporters.
I was reminded of the Zambian infinity-and-beyond space shot when I read that we were once again giving the Indians lots of money in foreign aid. There are plenty of objections to our largesse; the first and most immediately relevant is that India has the money to run a space programme and furthermore a space programme which is not predicated upon the efficacy of a giant catapult but is actually quite plausible and, you know, scientific. Therefore as a wealthy country it is undeserving of our money when we can’t afford a space programme ourselves. The Indian space shot costs about $1.25 billion per year; we, meanwhile, are giving them two or three hundred million quid per year to alleviate poverty. They should sort out their priorities, it is argued. Well, maybe, but my guess is that the Indians have a space programme which cuts the corners a bit on health and safety issues in a manner which we in the west can no longer do, i.e. Bacofoil spacesuits or something, and that for this reason alone we should be proud to support them.
It is also mentioned that there are far more billionaires in India than in the UK and that India itself gives quite a lot in foreign aid already to countries which it, in turn, thinks are absolutely useless, such as Afghanistan. And there is another point too, which is that India is a nuclear state. It spends its money on nuclear weapons and indeed a total of £23 billion on defence every year — so how can we justify a single penny of assistance?
This is a crucial point for me. India’s nuclear weapons are pointed at Pakistan. It is my considered opinion that you cannot have enough nuclear weapons pointed directly at Pakistan. If we had hypothecated taxes in this country I would ask that mine be devoted towards high-yield airburst nuclear weapons targeted upon Islamabad, even before we pay the wages of British nurses, teachers and those vital and talented people who work at Ofcom. At least, with India, someone is keeping a very close eye on the Pakistanis. Our foreign aid donation to India is but a fraction of what it costs the recipient country to keep the Pakistanis in check — but, as Tesco puts it, every little helps. Maybe we could just cut to the chase and directly sponsor the production of tritium or lithium deutoride, something which helps in the fusion process, so we know we will be getting a real bang for our buck.
Because who would you rather we gave our money to? Perhaps you think it should be spent on educating all those little black African children? We give somewhere in the region of a billion quid per year for ‘education in Africa’, covering 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. But as the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee made clear late last year, this has been an epic waste of money, subject to fraud on a mammoth scale, siphoned off by predatory companies and individuals.
But then so it is with almost every penny we give in overseas aid; it is either a bribe, in that we are donating the money in order to secure for ourselves favourable trade agreements, or an outright con — in that we donate to a coalition of warlords, thugs, despots and UN workers who will swallow the money up and ensure it never gets to the needy. Despite our near insolvency, and the thousands of British public sector workers soon to be laid off, our politicians continue to give money in foreign aid because they know that politically it would be suicide not to. At best the money helps to sustain one or another despot in power, at worst it continues to inculcate a culture of dependency among the client countries. So rather India than most of the rest, notwithstanding its space programme.