The truth about two-thirds of humanity


The World: A Third World Guide 1995/96
Montevideo, Uruguay: Instituto del Tercer Mundo
623 pp.
Reviewed by Chris Beale
This latest in the Guide series is the best yet. Published in the Third World, by Third World journalists, it is more than a handy reference for activists. It's fascinating reading, for anyone wanting background on two-thirds of humanity, usually given the most superficial coverage by mainstream media. Here it's in depth, and from a strong Third World perspective which includes countries and cities being given their rightful, local name. This guide's coverage and vast array of information sources have expanded yet further. An enormous array of facts, figures and socio-historical research — not easily accessible elsewhere — is here attractively presented, in easy-to-read form. Written by a global network of journalists, researchers and NGOs, these cooperatively produced compendiums are published every two years. They first appeared in Spanish and Portuguese, as supplements to a 1979 Mexican magazine focusing on Third World issues. Holland's progressive NGO, Novib, has been translating them into English since 1984. All members of the United Nations, plus occupied territories such as East Timor, are profiled in 217 country reports, covering more than 500 pages. Each profile gives a map of the country, plus a mini-world map pinpointing where the country is, bar or pie-charts showing life expectancy, literacy, health standards — and what's happening to the environment (surprise, surprise: mostly rape). Boxed summaries supply a quick run-down of who the major political forces are, supplemented by several pages of point-by-point political and historical background. The first 40 pages of the guide are introductory themes — global village/global problems, Third World demography, food, childhood, labour, housing, debt. Another 30 pages discuss transnational corporations and World Bank/IMF structural adjustment programs, trade negotiations and "security". It's a tribute to the integrity of the journalists who wrote this book, that they tell the truth here: capitalist "free market solutions" are the problem. On Third World debt, these reporters write: "Plundering of irrecoverable natural resources and relegation of the majority population to the outer fringes of society, bear eloquent witness to damage wrought by these policies". Included in these pages is an aptly titled section on the Crisis of "Globalism", focusing on last year's 50 Is Enough Campaign against those robbers of the poor, the World Bank/IMF. It's followed by New Global Order in Crisis. If you want quick background information on Bosnia, for example, here's a good place to get it. The current edition's offerings of a quick check on countries — large, smaller and tiny — about which mainstream "news" gives inaccurate, little or no background, is truly amazing. I was astounded to find so much about the tiny West African nation of the Gambia, currently being punished with massive western economic sanctions for trying its own, corruption-free, development path. Heard this story before? Past weaknesses of these guides — e.g. too much reliance sometimes on World Bank/IMF/UN data, reflecting the First World's media monopoly, even about the Third World — is reduced in this edition, or balanced by other sources. Thankfully there's nothing of such World Bank lunacies as claims that all Australians are millionaires. Instead there's an informative catalogue of how most of us — in the First and Third Worlds — have been impoverished by the millionaires' bank. The next volume could strengthen this, with more from alternative media. However, this edition already has an excellent bibliography. The periodicals section reads like a list of how to fight post-Cold War capitalist triumphalist hegemony, in as many languages as possible, courtesy of talented translators. There's Counterspy, Covert Action and Multinational Monitor from Washington, Bohemia from Havana, Tiempos Nuevos from Moscow, Berlin's long-running Lateinamerika Nachrichten, London's Latin America Weekly Report, Nicaragua's Barricada Internacional, Tanzania's New Outlook, Angola's Noticias Aliadas, Holland's Onze Wereld, Beirut's Palestine and much more. The guide's list of alternative journals is supplemented by alternative newsagencies supplying it with information — for example, Agencia Interpress-SEM's feminism from the Spanish-speaking world. Malaysia's extraordinary, Penang-based Third World Network — which continues publishing truly phenomenal volumes of anti-imperialist information, not propaganda — also "contributed ideas, documents and links with many contributors". Much of the bibliography forms a list of classic ought-to-be-read writers about, and from, the Third World. There's the English-speaking world's leading radical scholar on Africa, Basil Davidson, French revolutionary Régis Debray, Algerian revolutionary Franz Fanon, and that reporter from the "other side" — Australia's exiled Wilfred Burchett. There's an insightful section in the Japan country profile, outlining how Japan's revived East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere relies on corporate techno-imperialism increasingly copied by governments such as Australia's under the guise of Third World "aid". Here knowledge is power, and these guides empower with tools for smashing doors of deception, such as decisions-behind-closed-doors from new Australian-born World Bank president Jim Wolfensohn, who refused to meet activists during his recent visit here. Wolfensohn's bank's dry-as-dust data in this Guide provides all the evidence needed, straight from the vampire's mouth, about how World Bank-style neo-liberal policies have drained the world's poor, including the First World's growing Third World-style poor. One of the best two-page chapters in the theme section is "Cyberspace and the Disabled of the Global Village", outlining ways activists can use information technology to empower the poor. Sweden's Uppsala University — which helped spark the fire of South Africa's liberation with its lonely '60s support for Mozambique's Frelimo — has long chipped in on these guides with techno-radicalism. For those who can afford it, this latest edition is available on CD-ROM. For most of us in these hard times, the cost in book form, $70, is a hefty toll. No doubt it would cost a lot more if produced by First World publishers. Fortunately, the previous edition is only $20 from Green Books and Resistance, an absolute steal. There are few other places to access so easily such a vast powder keg of reliable information. If you're bored by Australia's fourth-rate mainstream media mediocrities, this is the book to take to our multi-cultural beaches this summer.

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