Say It Ain't So, Roy


Brendan O'Neill talks with Roy Innis, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Who's the legendary civil rights champion doing battle with now? Environmentalists, whose policies on GM foods and DDT are strangling Africa and killing black babies:

Innis has seen for himself the devastation caused by malaria. At Christmas his nephew, also a CORE activist, returned to a school in Uganda that he sponsors and found that 50 of the 500 children had died from malaria in a 12-month period. 'What a waste of human life', says Innis. 'What an avoidable tragedy.' He says the reason the malaria thing makes him so angry is that even in the poorest parts of Africa this disease can be stopped by a simple application of DDT. 'You just spray a small amount, twice a year, on the walls of homes and it keeps 90 per cent of mosquitoes from coming in. It irritates those that do come in, which means they rarely bite. Every African home that needs it should have DDT sprayed on the walls.'

It isn't only the restrictions on DDT that anger Innis. He also champions the development of genetically modified crops, arguing that they could massively benefit African farmers. 'Lots of people in America and Europe panic about GM, but I've spoken to Africans who want it', he says. 'We don't want Africa to be left behind again and to lose out on this scientific revolution. GM could increase yields and ensure a good quality of nutrition.' And he isn't very impressed by arguments for sustainable development, claiming that it 'stagnates real development, which is what Africa needs'.

Innis recognises that most green activists mean well. 'They want to do right, but they are so wrong on some things', he says. His main concern is that environmentalist thinking has been elevated into an official dogma, taking centre stage in numerous debates about the developing world at the UN and the EU. He goes so far as to claim that green thinking about the Third World is 'like a new form of colonialism'; he talks of 'eco-imperialism'. 'It is a colonialist mentality', he says. 'Making decisions for other people from one's own perspective rather than from the perspective of the people being affected—that is my definition of a colonialist mentality and that is the approach taken by some officials and green activists to the Third World.'

This may not be as shocking as Brendan thinks. Innis famously moved to the right in the eighties. Environmentalists have been keeping dossiers on him for some time, and there are civil rights oldsters who say he was a COINTELPRO plant all along. (Come to think of it, isn't that the bold Innis line I detect in the Black Panther Coloring Book?)

Innis addresses the Uncle Tom accusations in the interview. I'd be interested in hearing what environmentalists have to say in response to claims that green policies are hurting Africa. Ron Bailey attacked European biotech policies for starving the world's poor, and got sprayed by DDT haters when he suggested bringing the insecticide back into action. Yet it's always nature bunnies like Jim Bob Moffett who get accused of environmental racism. Has any green group ever responded to the argument that environmental policies hurt developing countries? A quick search suggests not, but if anybody knows of an example…