Sir: Your leading article last week ended up saying ‘It is unrealistic to expect that we can achieve what China has in Africa over the past decade.’ If we were to have done that, I for one would wish to resign my British nationality. What they have done there for the past 30 years is to systematically rape and pillage the continent.
China has insidiously worked its way into Africa by establishing ‘private’ contractors who then bid for building work and underbid all local opposition by being state-funded. Many local firms were thus put out of business.
Their ‘aid’ projects — starting with the ill-fated TanZam railway — were funded not by grants but by loans accepted by weak and venal governments. One more recent such project was the complete relaying of the railway through Botswana. This was carried out using Chinese designs, Chinese engineers, Chinese machinery, Chinese labour and Chinese materials. Even the stone ballast was brought in from China. When it was completed, it was found that the lines had been laid some 100mm too high for the full 600+km length. The Botswana government then had to relay every level crossing at their own expense. The costs of these ‘aid’ projects remain as loans to be repaid by the governments, who thus become trapped in debt to China.
In Sudan, the Chinese government bought hundreds of square kilometres of arable land — a scarce resource. The Chinese then used the land to grow food using Chinese farmers, seed, fertiliser and machinery. All the produce was exported to China. None of the above provides any benefits to the general African population — only to a few corrupt leaders.
Off the rails
Sir: Christian Wolmar is right to call for a restructuring of our railways (‘The great British train wreck’, 1 September). As an employee of BR/Railtrack/Network Rail, I witnessed the creation of a system set up to fail because it pitted the three major groups in the industry against each other, with heavy financial penalties payable to the other parties for non-delivery of objectives. It also compromised safety. It was a ‘back of a fag packet’ plan for disaster.
Outright renationalisation would simply return things to the grim lack of investment and customer focus which characterised British Rail. Network Rail, the organisation created by a Labour government when it took Railtrack back into public ownership, produced the recent disastrous new timetable. Conservatives need to engage in some urgent imaginative thinking to combine private and public investment and create a railway of which the country can be proud.
Old Cleeve, Somerset
Sir: As a British citizen who lived in Delhi for seven years, I was intrigued by Peter Parker’s review of David Gilmour’s fascinating new book The British in India (Books, 1 September), in which he calls for ‘objectivity’ and ‘even-handedness’ in approaching Britain’s legacy in India. It seems that either he — or the author — are anything but even-handed in their assessment of British missionaries. From its inception, orthodox Christianity has been a missionary movement, and while mistakes have been made throughout the world, there can be no doubt that innumerable benefits resulted from the missionary movement in India. Even today, much of India’s health care is provided by mission hospitals and education by Christian schools: all the more remarkable given that Christians make up only around 2 per cent of the country’s population. Countless lives were saved by the abolition of the practice of ‘suttee’, and it was and is Christians who are at the forefront of caring for lepers and orphans. Surely an ‘even-handed’ evaluation of the legacy of William Wilberforce and those he supported in going as missionaries to India would acknowledge that it was far greater than that ‘they spread venereal disease’ by abolishing brothels.
Revd Robin Weekes
Wild about ragwort
Sir: I very much enjoyed Melissa Kite (Real life, 1 September) on the subject of her correspondence from a sanctimonious ragwort fanatic. I am also rather a fan of ragwort, whose myriad benefits there isn’t space to cover here. I would recommend reading Isabella Tree’s superb book Wilding, which is an absolute epiphany and covers ragwort in some detail. While on the topic I would also recommend Michael McCarthy’s Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo. Read the depressing latter first, and the optimistic former second, and then pray that Michael Gove has done the same.
Chocs at the Coq
Sir: Like Tanya Gold (Food, 25 August) I wouldn’t normally visit Coq d’Argent, but unlike her I did feel particularly welcome when I dropped in a couple of years ago. During a sightseeing visit to London on a chilly day, I and several other unfashionable middle-aged provincials, eager to see how the other half lives, took the lift to the roof garden of the famous Coq. We seated ourselves at a table, admired the view and opened our packed lunches. While we were eating our homemade sandwiches, a waiter approached and, concerned that we might be cold, fired up the patio heater. We basked in the warm glow, and a few minutes later the same waiter presented us with a platter of posh chocolates. Perhaps this generous welcome is extended to all or perhaps we were mistaken for wealthy bohemian eccentrics. Who knows — but we enjoyed it.