Governments turn a blind eye to the nastier side of life in countries where they need to do business

Comment from Paula Thelwell

Emergency protest for Palestine in the Real Square..Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30901332)
Emergency protest for Palestine in the Real Square..Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30901332)

WE live in an age of global protest and demonstrations when the people – frustrated, angered or offended by whatever – take to the streets to make their voices heard.

Jersey has seen a few of its own public expressions of popular discontent recently, the latest taking place the Saturday before last.

On that occasion, those outraged by the latest outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in one of the world’s most enduring conflicts, demonstrated to ask government to cuts its ties with Israel.

Such demonstrations could easily become weekly occurrences. International trade, finance and globalism can hardly be described as being moral, fair and equitable for all.

Economic dealings between states are approached with the pragmatism of necessity to negotiate the best deal possible.

Yet who can fail to feel uneasy over dealings between the supposed enlightened liberal democracies of the ‘west’ and regimes run on totalitarian, patriarchal and repressive lines where human and equal rights are suppressed, there is no freedom of the press and demonstrations are quashed with violence?

Take two examples of questionable countries the Island is happy to do business with: Rwanda and China.

President Paul Kagame is painted as a national saviour of Rwanda, having stopped the massacre by the Hutu clan of the Tutsi minority. His more recent track record is a different story.

Since becoming president in 2000, he has modernised his country and put a cap on tribal hatred to create a state that the west wants to do business with. But at what cost to liberty?

Rwanda is also the recipient of much foreign aid yet, in 2018, it had £30m spare to fund a three-year sponsorship deal with Arsenal Football Club to promote tourism – at a time when it had received £27 million in one year from the UK’s foreign-aid budget. And which club does Kagame support? It is not Chelsea or Spurs.

Rwanda does not broker a political system where opposition or a free press is allowed to flourish – but that applies equally to many others that the west does business with or supports with foreign aid.

Kagame’s critics are reported to have been locked up, tortured and permanently silenced.

And what of China, another repressive state that the Island does business with? It stands accused of a systematic genocide of the Uyghur Muslim minority, with more than a million people detained in ‘re-education’ camps – while concurrently wiping out democracy in Hong Kong.

I could go on but I hope you get my point. In the world of realpolitik, governments turn a blind eye to the nastier side of life in countries they need to do business with to have successful economies. Sadly the voices of those who speak out and demonstrate fall on deaf ears.

How many ice cubes?

A handy tip for any reporter wishing to impart to their readers the magnitude of any newsworthy occurrence that requires quantifying is to make a comparison.

The size of a football pitch or Olympic swimming pool – and multiples thereof – are good examples.

When it comes to using a country as a measurement guide then the reader knows they are really on to something – as long, that is, as they possess an appreciation of geography.

Such analogies were flying around last week when what was declared to be the world’s largest existing iceberg broke off the continent of Antarctica.

Given the rather mundane name of A-76 by scientists, it was purported to be larger than the English county of Somerset, the island of Majorca, or four times the size of New York city.

Having been plotted by satellites, its size was given as 108 miles long, 15 miles wide and covering a surface area of 1,668 square miles. It is currently bobbing around the Weddell Sea where one of my all-time great heroes, explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, lost his ship, Endurance, but saved all the crew.

This superberg runs the risk of bumping into the previous record holder, A-23A, which covers an area of 1,305 square miles – about the size of Cornwall – which is also floating in the Weddell Sea.

However, both are overshadowed by a mega iceberg, larger than Belgium, spotted in the Southern Ocean in 1956.

Having visited or passed through Belgium on the way to somewhere else on more than a dozen occasions, I can confirm that this is a lot of ice cubes.

Here we go again?

Following years of reports, recommendations, propositions et al the current shift in Charlie Chuckle’s Laughter Factory (aka the States Assembly) has voted to reform its constituent parts for the 2022 election.

Excuse my cynicism, albeit a fine quality and necessity of being a journalist, but, given the nature of Jersey’s boomerang-style politics, what goes around has a habit of coming around.

What is the betting that, no sooner are new feet under the table, the whole saga will be revisited again – along with finding a new site for the hospital?

For what it is worth, here’s my suggestion for future government reform. Bring back the Jurats, rectors and seigneurs – or go the whole hog back to Norman times and appoint a warden or captain of all the islands.

Job done.

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