New year new ideas as we woke up on Monday morning to find ourselves in Lagos with Evan Davies trying to convince us that Nigeria really is undergoing an economic earthquake. It’s part of a week-long campaign by Radio 4 to make us believe that the next economic leaders among world nations will be Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey. These new Mint countries are destined, we are told, to take over from the Bric countries, now deemed passé after just a decade in the limelight generated by the economist fashionistas. It’s stimulating stuff for this hibernating time of year. Bulletins and programmes high on optimism and imbued with the belief that in certain parts of the world at least poverty is being overtaken by progress while corruption is being suppressed by a mixture of creative enterprise and demographic reality.
Evan was joined by Nkem Ifejika from the World Service in his pop-up reports for the Today programme as they toured factories, the nascent Nollywood film industry, the markets of Lagos and the Eko Atlantic project, which is creating a huge new city out of reclaimed land from the ocean. They were looking for hard evidence that the Nigerian economy is really beginning to boom.
Evan was not his usual enthusiastic self. There were hints of doubt, of him not finding it easy to be full-hearted about his brief. This was especially evident when he talked with Jim O’Neill, the former asset manager at Goldman Sachs who takes the credit for naming the Bric countries and who now says that it’s the Mint countries we should be looking towards as the new beacons of progress. Evan remarked that on his travels he had met with both optimism and an ambivalence about these assertions of growth. He had seen too many Bentleys and bottlenecks on his way into Lagos; too many shacks and poverty-struck children. How far will this new money trickle down into the lower reaches of Nigerian society? Mr O’Neill retaliated by saying that he had spent rather longer than Evan in the country and so was better placed to judge what was happening there. ‘I saw a lot more people,’ he told us. ‘I spent eight days there.’
Eight days seems remarkably little time to gather enough data for such huge assertions — that by 2050 Nigeria will be outperforming the USA. At the moment life expectancy there is reckoned at 52 years and more than 60 per cent of the population exist on less than $1 a day. But Mr O’Neill’s enthusiasm is catching. On Monday morning he began his four-part series, Mint — The Next Economic Giants (Radio 4), with a profile of Mexico. He reckons it’s on the way up (in spite of the violence, the drug wars, the exploitation of workers) because of its youthful population, its oil reserves (deep in the Gulf of Mexico) and its geographical position, poised between North and South America. In fact, next time you buy a toilet brush, take a look at where it was made. Ten years ago it would have been China; now it’s probably Mexico.
Over on Radio 3, Pat Barker was this week’s guest on Michael Berkeley’s perennial, Private Passions, as part of the Corporation’s cross-channel commemoration of the first world war. The novelist, as Berkeley reminded us, perhaps more than any other writer in our time, has explored the full impact of the war and its terrible losses, especially with her Regeneration trilogy. As a young girl, she told us, she used to watch her grandfather every Friday night washing himself in the kitchen sink, stripped to the waist, before going out for his British Legion meeting. If she was lucky, she was allowed to poke her finger into the very long and very deep scar in his side. Later she discovered it was from a bayonet wound. Her grandfather had fought in the trenches and only survived because his officer had shot the German soldier before he tried to withdraw the bayonet. It was the twisting that caused the catastrophic injuries, explained Barker.
We are only in the first week of this four-year project to remember the events of 1914–18, but Barker has already given us perhaps the most graphic image — that bayonet wound and her little girl’s finger prodding it with fascination and revulsion. She also gave us a vivid illustration of how we have changed in the way we look back at those events. At the National Memorial Arboretum, she told us, blank spaces have been left for the names of those soldiers who will be killed in future wars. Yet take a look at any local war memorial and you will find the names of those killed in the second world war squashed into the little remaining space at the bottom. This is because no space was left for more names when the memorials were put up after 1918, because there was not supposed to be another war, ever. As Barker asserts, ‘war has once again become an accepted instrument of policy’. That’s why ‘the act of remembering is necessary’.