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August 27, 2003

Let He Who is Without Sin...

Islamic laws, as interpreted by states who closely follow Shariah, is a frightening thing. Today, a woman in Nigeria awaits stoning for the sin of having a baby out of wedlock. Her former husband denied responsibility for the child and was acquitted, the woman, Amina Lawal, didn't have that same option.

The courts were kind enough to put off the carrying out of the sentence until the baby was weaned, but the time is coming quickly for Lawal to be killed.

An Islamic court convicted Lawal in March 2002 following the birth of her baby, more than two years after Lawal and her husband divorced.

Judges ordered her buried up to her neck in sand and stoned. While appeals continue, courts have ordered Lawal's execution postponed until her child -- now nearly 2 -- is weaned.

There is a very good chance that the sentence will not be carried out, as Nigerian courts have shown lenience in such situations before. The scary part, though, is that many countries (such as our erstwhile ally Saudi Arabia) have no qualms, whatsoever, with carrying out capital punishment in a very casual manner.

Readers of my blog will no doubt be aware that I am opposed to the death penalty in the United States. My opposition to the terrifying punishments in Shariah are even more pronounced.

With the growth of Islam's influence in Africa, this situation is likely to become somewhat commonplace. The insular and xenophobic nature of conservative Muslim nations is one of the things that has made peace in the Middle East such a difficult task; from a Western vantage point, African nations that are embracing Islam should be encouraged to move toward a more liberal, open interpretation. Even better would be to encourage liberal governments that tolerate all religious observances without codifying those religious observances as law.

Read Lawal's story.

Posted by zombyboy at 10:42 PM | Comments (0)


In the comments section of my post below, there's an interesting discussion brewing concerning the role of racism in Africa's problems. Walter Williams recently asked some similar questions:

Do you see anything wrong with that picture: world silence in the wake of millions upon millions of black lives lost on the rest of the continent but world outrage in the case of South African apartheid and 5,000 lives lost? Might it be that white Africans are held to higher standards of civility; thus their mistreatment of blacks is unacceptable, while blacks and Arabs are held to a lower standard of civility and their mistreatment of blacks is less offensive?

Go read the whole thing. He makes several provocative statements, and I'm not sure that any of them are wrong.

What do you think?

(Many thanks to Stoney for pointing this column out originally.)

Posted by at 07:16 PM | Comments (2)

Part of the Problem

I just looked it up, and I haven't posted here since the 4th of August. Not a particularly impressive record, if I do say so myself.

Why haven't I posted? The usual excuses apply. I was busy, I was working, I was nursing a sore wrist and didn't want to type. I was working on my own blog, I was talking to my boyfriend, the kitchen needed cleaning. As I said, all the usual excuses.

So why am I telling you this?

Because I am a walking, talking microcosm of a big, big problem.

We wonder why Africa doesn't get the attention it deserves. People are suffering, people are dying, and the top stories don't even hit the evening news. Those are the stories we are trying to tell here, in hopes that we and our readers can talk about them, and come together in this forum to discover solutions that just might keep those stories from being played out again and again and again.

This is important, because it seems almost natural for people to neglect Africa, even as I've been neglecting AfricaBlog.

What are our (by our, I mean our society, our country, our world) justifications for failure to try to help solve some of the problems that the people of Africa face? Look at my list above. It transliterates rather nicely to this list:

--We were busy/had other worries/had other things to do.
--We were working on our own problems.
--We have our own interests, and they must be put first.
--We have our own policy to write and argue over.
--We're busy courting our allies (who may or may not approve).
--There's way too much to do at home to worry about anywhere else.

Now, this is not to say that it is not important to look out for ourselves first. We have a war to fight, among other difficulties. And if we fail to take care of our own interests, we won't be in a position to make a positive impact, anyway. We'll be gone.

But I was struck by the similarities between the excuses that have kept me away from this endeavor and the excuses that the world uses when avoiding the problems in Africa. I have been walking around for the last week or so feeling guilty and avoiding news of that continent, lest it remind me of my failure in the commitment I made to this project. Likewise, the rest of the world seems determined to look away from the challenges, or to offer simplistic answers that may relieve the immediate sense of guilt, but do nothing to resolve the roots of the problems.

The question is, as always, one of priorities. This blog has been low on my list recently, but I am fixin' to correct that. Africa has been low on the world's list, and we need to make an effort to correct that. I know that it is easy to look away, but we can't afford to.

See you back here soon.

Posted by at 12:23 AM | Comments (5)

August 26, 2003

Rwanda Vote

Rwanda's incumbent President, Paul Kagame's, has won his country's first free election since 1994. At least if you listen to him. With nearly 8 of every 10 eligible voters turning out to do their civic duty, Kagame won over 95% of the vote.

The BBC's Andrew Harding says the figures prove that the former soldier has won support from across Rwanda's ethnic divide.

As a referendum on the president's rule, he says, it is an impressive result and a tribute to the stability and reconciliation which his government has promoted.

Whenever the leader wins 95+% of the vote, you have to be a little skeptical. While Andrew Harding, of the BBC, simply accepts the vote as legitimate, the rest of us might wonder.

Mr Twagiramungu, the main challenger, is a moderate Hutu former prime minister. He complained that he was unable to campaign freely.

On the eve of the poll, 12 of his supporters were arrested for allegedly planning to "co-ordinate acts of violence" in the provinces.

Oddly, even without intimidation tactics and even with a more open election process, I think it likely that Kagame would have won. His popularity does cross ethnic lines, his voice does honestly seem to be respected widely in his country.

He could have won honestly. Instead, he chose to play be very typical developing country rules: keep the opposition off balance until the election, use intimidation where necessary, and limit popular exposure for the opposition. Until the final reports on the election come in, it's hard to say just how much tampering took place and what the appropriate Western response will be.

Until we do know, though, a little skepticism would be a healthy thing.

Read the BBC story.

Posted by zombyboy at 09:55 PM | Comments (0)

Liberia Photos

Sgt. Hook has put together a photo essay on Liberia. Some absolutely brilliant pictures over there.
Check it out.

Posted by zombyboy at 06:16 PM | Comments (1)

August 25, 2003

Food as a Weapon

According to the Mail & Guardian Online, Robert Mugabe may be beginning a campaign to use international food aid as a political tool.

The Zimbabwean government this week said that it would take control of the distribution of food aid, provoking suspicion that it will be channeled to supporters of President Robert Mugabe’s party, Zanu-PF, to help secure their votes in the forthcoming local elections.

This isn't exactly a surprise, but it is an unfortunate development after Mugabe had been making very public overtures to opposition parties concerning power sharing and the future of his own presidency. What it shows is that Mugabe was not serious about those changes; that he was playing a PR game for the benefit of the West.

It has flatly denied using food aid as a political weapon, but the first-hand accounts of manipulation and intimidation are so numerous that no international agency, or the Zimbabwean public, believes that the government’s distribution is even-handed.

Earlier this month the government admitted that it would need food relief to continue, asking for 450 000 tonnes of grain between September 2003 and June 2004. The fact that Zimbabwe, formerly called “the bread basket of Southern Africa”, needs another year of aid is cited by many agricultural experts as proof that Mugabe’s land seizures have failed dismally and have left rural black Zimbabweans worse off.

In private, aid workers and diplomats reacted angrily to the government’s new rule, saying the restrictions would make them “accomplices” in starving the opposition.

If the UN and other Western sources allow this change in distribution (after such obvious manipulation last year when the government wasn't in charge of the food), then they will be complicit in the deaths that occur.

Food issues aside, what this further underscores is that the UN and the US need to be urging African leaders to take a more aggressive approach in forcing Mugabe into resignation or reform. The US in particular has taken a very soft approach in relation to Zimbabwe, allowing the South African President Thabo Mbeki's slow, diplomatic approach. The eyes of the world have turned to Zimbabwe, and the sense of success in Liberia creates an opportunity to adopt a much more interventionist philosophy if that intervention can garner material support from neighboring nations.

Now is not the time to be timid. Now is the time for a bold act of reconstruction that could serve as a template for other African intervention.

Read the story (free registration required).

Posted by zombyboy at 05:56 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2003

Idi Amin: Finally Dead

Typically, I find it best to say nothing too terribly harsh of the dead. It doesn't pay to be snarky about the deceased, not for any karmic reason, but simply because it doesn't fit into my world view of trying to stay a bare bit above the typical cheap shot.

Let us, rejoice, though, at the passing of Idi Amin.

The Guardian has what are, to my mind, the absolute best obituaries in the world. In fact, their obits are the best part of the paper.

Idi's is a gem that tells the story of Amin unflinchingly.

Amin was neither well educated nor particularly intelligent. But he had a peasant cunning which often outflanked cleverer opponents, including Uganda's civilian president Milton Obote, who was displaced in the 1971 coup.

He also possessed a kind of animal magnetism; a quality he used with sadistic skill in his dealings with people he wished to dominate. In his relations with women it brought him a succession of casual mistresses, longer-serving concubines, and six wives. Turned against men, this magnetism was used as by a snake on a rabbit; Amin soon learned how to exploit it to frighten, dominate and command. It explains the otherwise bizarre decision by his last British colonial regimental commander to select Amin as one of the first two black Ugandans to be promoted to commissioned rank, when his educational background was virtually nil.

Do yourself a favor and read the rest. You'll be entertained, I suppose. You'll certainly find out something you hadn't known before. Mostly, though, you'll find a reason to celebrate the passing of one of the world's most brutal men.

Read the obit.

Posted by zombyboy at 06:07 PM | Comments (4)

A New Hope? Part Deux UPDATE

Things in Liberia are lookin' good

"We expect the agreement to be signed at 6 PM (1800 GMT)," said Sunny Ugoh, a spokesman for the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which is brokering the peace talks.

A breakthrough was achieved on Sunday, when the country's main rebel group dropped its demand for the vice-presidency in a new government.

West African mediators had threatened to call off the talks in Ghana unless the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) gave in.

The second rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model) has also backed the deal, Mr Chambas says.

The negotiations are designed to set up a transitional government that will take over in October and lead the country to democratic elections in two years' time.

We'll have to look at Algeria or Nigeria next...

Posted by at 05:13 PM | Comments (1)

August 14, 2003

A New Hope? Part Deux

The Marines have landed, the rebels are pulling back.

"We have no reason to doubt the credibility of the Americans, and we have no reason to doubt the credibility of the peacekeepers, so we will leave as we have said," said rebel official Sekou Fofana. "I'm leaving right now."

Sure, it all happened before most people read my previous post. So what? My enhtusiasm is becoming less guarded all the time.

The next problem:

Fresh fighting south of Monrovia has already shown that getting rid of Taylor, indicted by a U.N.-backed court for his role in a savage conflict in Sierra Leone, would not be a guarantee of peace...
...The rebels are wary of Blah who is an old Taylor ally from years of bush war before the ex-president won elections in 1997. They have said that up to October is too long for him to remain in power.

There will be minor setbacks. There will be footdragging. People accustomed to using violence to reach their goals don't set down the rifle eagerly. But the first quote indicates why I'm very hopeful. We have lent enough credibility to the peacekeepers that real progress can be made.

Posted by at 01:33 PM | Comments (2)

Liberia: A New Hope?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the crisis point has passed for Liberia.

Sure, there's a distance to go before stability, and don't even think about reaching pre-Taylor levels of prosperity for a good 3-5 years.

But LURD has promised to pull out of Freeport, allowing humanitarian aid a channel into Monrovia, and their actions today indicate they will be gone tomorrow. Yeah, the looting in the port is not necessarily good (as the strongest grab more than their share of rice and water and other foodstuffs), but the LURD allowing it to happen shows that they already consider the port to be out of their possession.

More encouraging, in a similar backhanded manner, is that MODEL, the other rebel group, was trying to conduct a military advance on Monrovia. The most likely reason for this is they want to stake some sort of claim to the capital city to improve their chances for concessions in the peace talks.

Folks, if a major player is positioning itself for a better position in the endgame, it's pretty much over. The US played a ticklish gamble, but it paid off: with a minimum of intervention, we convinced all the main players that the knife was behind the back and ready to use: Taylor left, the rebels are withdrawing, and peace has a chance, all because they believed peace was unavoidable.

Yeah, the irony in "resigning to the inevitability of peace" is tragic, isn't it?

Of course, things could still blow up. Some dissidents are going to delay as much as they can, to keep options open. The leaders of LURD and MODEL would both like to be the one supersede the Interim President Blah, and conflict may arise from that. LURD is already saying that having Blah in charge until October is too long; they want a full regime now, not just Taylor gone. And, for that matter, while Taylor is gone, who knows if he might try to come back just as he implied/threatened?

But I'm feeling pretty good about things in general. In contrast to England settling Sierra Leone and France settling The Ivory Coast problems, if this works out, Liberia will stand as a success for "African Solutions to African Problems" with a bare minimum of prodding and support from the US and the West.

Posted by at 12:23 AM | Comments (3)

August 12, 2003

A Place in Line

Alec Russel of the Telegraph is jumping the gun a bit in a recent article, but his article, "Liberia is Freed from Tyranny: When is it Zimbabwe's Turn?," deserves attention and a little applause.

His original premise, that "Liberia is freed from tyranny," seems a bit premature. Certainly, Taylor has stepped down, but the situation is far from resolved, and it is still yet to be seen what the transitional presidency will look like. Yes, as he points out, a despot has been toppled, and for this we should all be thankful. Liberia, though, may or may not be freed from tyranny.

This is the only blemish in what is otherwise a brilliant article calling for African leaders to be more aggressive in dealing with nations like Zimbabwe.

As for Africa, if Mr Mbeki and other leaders want us to believe that a page has been turned, they should now turn their attention to Zimbabwe.

When Mr Mugabe is seen in Harare flanked by his peers and delivering a valedictory speech, we will know Africa really is changing.

Absolutely true. What most of us are wondering is whether the typical political cycle will afflict Liberia wherein one "elected" leader is replaced by another who preaches reconciliation and practices oppression. Corruption is, seemingly, the only political constant throughout much of Africa.

Russel is also aware that the much touted "African solutions for African problems" may not be enough to break free of these political cycles. His call is not only for Africans, but for Westerners as well.

Only last month, George W Bush appeared to accept the Mbeki doctrine of African solutions for African problems. That is all very well, but are the African nations up to the task? The Nigerian peacekeepers are today applauded on the streets of Monrovia, but, just seven years ago, their predecessors in an earlier operation were loathed for their freebooting ways.

The neo-colonial template is all too obvious. Sierra Leone, where British troops are keeping the peace, is a success story. So, to a lesser extent, is Ivory Coast, under de facto French military control.

If Mr Bush's neo-conservative advisers are serious about their philosophy of bringing democracy to the Middle East, they could also consider expanding the vision to Africa and urging him to send in the troops who are floating off shore.

The debate on American levels of involvement in Liberia continues, and opponents of direct involvement have good arguments. But if the US truly is serious about spreading democracy throughout the more troubled portions of the world, Liberia is a good place to make a start. If Africans like South African president Thabo Mbeki are serious about policing their own back yards, then Zimbabwe would make a logical next step.

Read his story.

Posted by zombyboy at 08:46 PM | Comments (1)

Combating HIV/AIDS in Africa: A Success Story

Uganda developed the system called ABC*: Abstinence, Behavior change (monogamy), and Condom Use.

To get the full benefit of this piece, you'll have to invest the time it takes to read the articles I've linked in their entirety.

Study one
This article confirms that significant progress was made in combating HIV/AIDS in Uganda through governmental and non-governmental organizations' advocation of behavior change in the general population. However, the programs had the greatest impact on the young who had not had sexual intercourse before; those who were sexually experienced showed little response to the programs. It seems fairly balanced...

National evidence suggests that changes in all three areas that are targets of current HIV
prevention efforts in Uganda (abstinence, behavior change (monogamy) and condom use) have
likely contributed to the reduction in risk of HIV infection, and therefore to the decline in HIV

Study two
In my opinion, this study is basically an attempt to discredit any attempt to promote abstinence as a solution to HIV/AIDS. While I don't really like their assumption that the lack of confirming data means abstinence had little effect, I do have to agree with the meat of their conclusion:

One thing should be clear, however. Neither Uganda's experience nor current research from the United States on the efficacy of abstinence-only versus comprehensive sex education programs reasonably can be used to justify a single-focus, abstinence-only approach to HIV prevention--either in the United States or for overseas export.

Whether I like it or not (and I don't), I have to concede that abstinence alone cannot work. On the other hand, delaying sexual activity for even one year greatly increases the chance that the choice will be made in a more mature manner, and the lack of definitive evidence to its efficacy is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as it were.
For instance, isn't this result: "As a result, young adolescent women were less exposed to infection within marriage, but an increased proportion were exposed while unmarried" worthwhile in some manner? Marriage does have a stabilizing effect on society as a whole, so this could be a minor example of evolution in action.
Even in the conclusion, they couldn't resist taking another jab at abstinence:
...the analysis demonstrates that progress on all three fronts clearly contributed to reduced exposure to HIV--although reductions in the number of sexual partners and increased condom use may be playing a more significant role in reducing HIV risk than sexual abstinence by itself.

To me, that seems to be raising the bar for 'abstinence' much higher than the other two factors. I don't think the data supports any conclusion that minimizes any aspect of "ABC". It works, and there isn't enough data to know how it works. Dropping the "A" could result in disaster. When you have something that works, you don't monkey with it on the basis of your own social agenda.
In the same manner, anyone who points to the success of "ABC" as a success for Abstinence Only should be ignored, as well.

So, you ask, how did the reduction in HIV/AIDS actually progress? I'm glad you asked:

In Kampala, the major urban area,
HIV prevalence among antenatal clinic attendees tested increased from 11% in 1985 to 25% in 1990 and then 29.4% in 1992. Beginning in 1993,
however, HIV prevalence among antenatal clinic attendees began to decline in Kampala reaching 13.8% in 1998 and 11.25% in 2000. Median
HIV prevalence among antenatal clinic attendees outside of the major urban area has declined from 13% in 1992 to 5.9% in 2000. In 2000, HIV
prevalence from 12 sites outside Kampala ranged from 1.9% to 10%.

This came from a cool report with lots of graphs and pictures. Spend some time looking at it yourself.

This article is interesting in that it clearly states what the most problematic populations are:

Uganda's program "resists an ideological label" because it emphasizes abstinence and monogamy and works with religious organizations but also promotes condom usage and is "non-judgmental" in its work with high-risk groups, including prostitutes and gay men, Rosenberg says.
I find this fascinating since homosexual advocacy groups and individuals always hasten to point out that it is not a gay disease. They forget to recognize that it isn't now, but originally...? ...and the juxtaposition of homosexuality with prostitution is even more interesting to me. I may investigate this at my own blog soon...

This opinion piece is more about persuasion through emotional appeal than about analysis of raw data. The writer has an agenda, or a bias toward Islam at the very least. But the facts he does cite are difficult to dismiss:

Fred De Sam Lazaro of PBS observed that in Senegal the rate of HIV infection is barely one percent. The country is 95% Muslim and they are mostly devout. Homosexuality and marital infidelity are outlawed by Islamic law. Islam does not allow taking liberties with one's sex life. It was foretold by Prophet Muhammad that people who have adulterous relationships will suffer consequences, like incurable diseases. The Koran teaches us: "Do not approach adultery. It is an obscenity and has evil consequences." 17:32. While not condemning people with HIV, we should seriously consider educating people about the practicality of religious teachings in correcting people's sexual behaviour.

The most interesting aspect of this article is that it details three "success" stories (please note the use of Reuters "quotes"), but when you actually read the article, the standard of measure is rather skewed. Two, Uganda and Senegal, are clearly success stories. But the third, Botswana, has done nothing more than institute a broad, expensive drug program that amounts to socialized medicine: just what liberals usually want. Let's face the facts here, most medicines do nothing to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS, but actually help the spread and the development of drug-resistant strains. The earlier studies show that behavior doesn't change significantly after a person has sexual experience; thus, life-extending drugs merely provide an illusion of safety. If there is one thing I've learned from this research, it is that the only possible solution is to prevent people from contracting the virus in the first place. From where I stand, I can see that both conservatives and liberals have their own agenda to promote. The conservatives want to promote Abstinence Only, which is not enough to solve the problem. Liberals want to promote universal, free drug coverage, and they want US taxpayers and pharmeceutical companies to pay for it. While both positions are equally dangerous in their naivete and lack of efficacy, the current predominance of liberal thinking makes their advocacy all the more diabolical: it would appear that they would rather millions of people contract HIV and die before they would admit that the only proven way to effectively curtail the transmission of HIV/AIDS in any nation or population is through altering behavior to be more moral: abstain from sex until marriage, remain monogamous, and use a condom. These guidelines have a common theme: sexual activity demands responsible thought and behavior. The liberal opposition to these three aspects also has a common theme: sexual pleasure is too important to place any restrictions on its expressions. Obviously, not all liberals, but enough...

All partisan sniping aside, advancing agendas at the risk of the health and life of whole peoples is ridiculous and evil. We know what works: Abstinence, Being Monogamous, and Condom Use. Let's stick with this and implement it both in Africa and here in the US. It works. And if it works, what possible argument is there against it?

Finally, Here are some general facts about HIV/AIDS in Africa.

*Also known as "Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condom Use". How that translates into Ugandan, I have no idea. I suspect it isn't half so clever.

Posted by at 06:33 AM | Comments (2)

August 11, 2003

Post-Taylor Liberia: Any Real Difference?

Will a post-Taylor Liberia really be any different than it was before he resigned?

While we all watch the spectacle of him stepping down (and blaming the US and UK for not supporting him properly), our eyes have been diverted from the real goal: a peaceful government that accurately represents the people. Taylor stepping down is simply a piece of that larger goal.

Unfortunately, Taylor has hand-picked his own successor, and that choice leaves a grave doubt that the regime change will truly bring about peace in the country. Already, the Liberian rebels have stated that they will not accept the new leader, Moses Blah.

The questions that remain are these:

  1. While Blah's presidency is supposed to be a transitionary position, will Blah actually accept the transition? Blah is one of Liberia's military leaders who trained in Libya in the '80's, and was one of the first in battle of the Liberian rebels who toppled the government of Samuel Doe. He very strongly fits the mold of the typical African military leader who grabs control of his country's government and won't let go until a coup unseats him.
  2. Even assuming that Blah and Taylor are being straight-forward in this transition, will the rebels hold fire while waiting for the transition government to give up power? More likely, the rebels will soon resume fighting, and the token peace keeping force now present in the country will be of minimal use. Their skepticism is fueled by a strong distrust of both Taylor and the military.

The Christian Science Monitory is already questioning the government transition, noting that the resignation of Taylor was handled in a way contrary to the nation's constitution.

But this facade of legitimacy may be rapidly crumbling. On Thursday, Taylor called a joint session of the Liberian Congress to name his successor. Only 33 of the 90 representatives attended. They sat clustered in one corner of the country's House of Representatives while looters carried out sofas and air conditioners from nearby offices.

This does little to bolster the idea that the transition will be carried out as promised. In fact, CSM also wonders if Taylor intends to leave the country or if he intends to simply stay and rule through a puppet president.

The question remains, then, what should the US do to help the process along to an acceptable conclusion? Or, as some have suggested, is this beyond the realm of what we should be involved in?

My thought is that in order to prevent Liberia from becoming another haven for international terrorist, and in order to support stable constitutional democracies in the region, the US most certainly should be involved.

A peacekeeping force in Liberia would not need to be particularly large, but the commitment would need to be long term. This is not a situation where you talk about exit strategies, but understand that the only acceptable exit is when the democracy has been restored and the new government is on its feet.

Do we have an obligation in Liberia? I'm going to jovially dodge that question while simply noting that we have an obligation to our own interests. In Liberia, it's my belief that an ounce of prevention now will keep us from the proverbial pound of cure. Make no mistake: the US absolutely needs stable African countries. Otherwise, Africa will become the Middle East of our future--a breeding ground for terrorists that strike out at American interests around the globe in an attempt to bully us into giving in to their causes.

Any comparison to Somalia, though, is overblown. There is a path to a stable government, there is no existing power vacuum, and there is wide support in the country for US and UN intervention. We have it in our power to do something good and to, hopefully, help prevent Liberia's descent into a lawlessness that leaves the country as another Somalia. Or, worse, another Afghanistan.Read the Christian Science Monitor article.

Read about Moses Blah.

Posted by zombyboy at 05:51 PM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2003

Liberia Update

Liberia's congress has approved Charles Taylor's resignation. Keep an eye on the news on Monday...

Read the story.

Update: The original link is not working and I can't locate the article on The following link goes to a story that covers the same ground. Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 03:31 AM | Comments (1)

August 06, 2003

Potentially Good News for Liberia

Liberian President Charles Taylor is promising to step down on Monday, according to news reports. This would make peacekeepers jobs much easier and open the way to political reform that will placate rebel leaders. It's a nice story.

Taylor, though, has promised on and off to quit his position and has found excuses to put off his exile. There were also stories earlier in the day with Taylor refusing the offer of exile in Nigeria--an offer that this story claims he will be accepting.

As I said, it's a good story, but I'll believe it when he actually steps down.

"President Taylor will leave Liberia after the installation of that vice-president on Monday," Mbeki told reporters after meeting visiting Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki in Pretoria.

If the story is correct, though, it leads to an important development. Whereas critics have been up in arms about the fact that American troops have thus far not been deployed in Liberia, it is much better that this task fall to Western African countries than to America and Europe.

For Africa to be self-sufficient, it must also at some point be self-policing. If Arab countries had stepped up and rid the world of Saddam Hussein, had worked independently or under the guidance of the UN, to achieve regime change, the taint of a new colonialism wouldn't be facing the new regime. Unfortunately, the Iraqi people were incapable of gaining their own freedom and surrounding countries incapable and unwilling of applying the kind of pressure it would have taken to remove Hussein.

I still contend that American-led intervention was the right response, but that an Arab solution would have been preferable.

In Liberia, there is the chance to see an African solution to an African problem. With help and aid from the UN and Western countries, change can occur without the strong claim of colonialism. An African solution also keeps the US from further extending already thin troops.

All in all, there is the potential for a template for further African peacekeeping efforts and the potential for solutions not imposed by the West.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 03:36 AM | Comments (5)


Anthony Daniels has a good (albeit short) article in the August 11 issue of National Review ("Big Men, Big Corruption") in which he, among other things, agrees with my assertion that current borders should be maintained:

Countries whose borders approximate social and ethnic realities, such as Burundi and Rwanda, have not exactly been beacons to the rest of the continent. The manifold problems of Africa could not be settled, therefore, by a little judicious redrawing of the maps - on the contrary, the Organisation of African Unity, recognizing the endless violent disputes to which such redrawing might give rise, wisely decided at its inception to accept the boundaries bequeathed by colonialism. Post-colonial Africa has had more civil wars than wars between states.

The article makes more important points than borders, however. Daniels posits the financial aid the west has recklessly thrown into Africa has actually prolonged strife and war in many instances, because the no-strings-attached policies accompanying this aid has merely funded the kleptocrats.

Daniels furthers the point by stating that only Botswana and Uganda have taken up the offer of a German pharmaceutical company to provide free neviraparine, the drug that prevents transmission of HIV from mother to infant during childbirth. Why? The company insisted on controlling the drug, so the kleptocrats could not deny it for political purposes or resell it.

The overarching tenor of the article is that the Bush aid package could provide unprecedented funds to warlords and agenda-seekers at the fatal expense of the people.

Posted by at 01:06 AM | Comments (1)

August 04, 2003

More Than Meets the Eye

If you aren't reading the comments, you're missing some of the best content on this blog. Curious? Read through these comments.

Posted by zombyboy at 11:47 PM | Comments (0)

Should Colonial Borders Be Maintained?

A Reaction To Ground Rules

This question really applies to nearly every part of the globe, not just Africa.
It is the question of representation, and how it relates to racial/ethnic subdivisions. It is the question of the rights of lower governmental tiers (i.e., states' rights). I’m not sure someone raised in the West can make an effective assessment on the issue.

In Western society, we have a worldview that is heavily influenced by landmarks that occurred only in the Western experience: the Magna Carta, The Treaty of Westphalia, the struggle between the Catholics and Protestants, etc. We have certain assumptions about nation states based on these events. And these events came about after something like three centuries of near constant warfare that raged all across Europe. It seems clear, to me at least, that the loyalty to nation-states and adherence to national borders is the result of lessons learned; that Westerners committed to the concept in self-defense, because the alternative was bloody warfare.

Africa has different experiences, a different history, and that has resulted in different assumptions. They haven’t had the same forces pulling in different directions. They haven’t had the centuries of continental warfare. To the best of my knowledge, warfare is usually local, inter-tribal, and the concept of wars of conquest between nations is a rather recent occurrence.

It does seem to be the case, however, that all current leaders and most people in Africa accept the current set of national borders, and it makes sense that the longer they remain in their present form, the more the idea becomes entrenched in the minds of the citizens. I’m certainly not trying to say that anyone should attempt to redraw any borders on the basis of ethnicity or other characteristic. But I also do not see any overwhelming objective imperative to maintain the borders as they are. It might be necessary to help stabilize the nations as they are, allow regions to split off as they wish, then encourage the re-formation of new nation-states based on the now-tested confluence of interests.

This isn’t really a well-researched opinion. I know that some regions of Nigeria already tried to split off, and weren’t allowed, and most people seemed to agree that it was better that they didn’t split off. I accept that the problems of Burundi and Rwanda wouldn’t be resolved by just letting the Tutsi’s split off into a smaller nation. But I would be interested in hearing why I’m wrong to think this way; the process of educating me on this issue might help others learn more about the problems and circumstances faced by the various tribes/nations/people of Africa.

To clarify, I'm not advocating a deliberate redrawing of boundaries. The only body that could do that would be the UN, which is composed of mainly outsiders and would redraw based on Outsider agendas. I'm offering a compromise somewhere between "redraw" and "enforce the status quo". I'm saying that social stability should be the goal, not necessarily a political stability that benefits only those in power. Some upheaval may be necessary to achieve a greater stability, and so I'm saying that we should not discourage secessions from existing states, if a tribe or group of tribes wishes to withdraw from a given nation-state.
The result, in the near-term, could be a division into 100+ nations in Africa. They may stay that way, or they may learn the hard way that it can be better to find strength in unity of numbers. In any case, the maintenance or dissolution of the current nation-states should be driven by the needs and will of the people of Africa, not well-meaning outsiders.

Posted by at 10:06 PM | Comments (4)

The Blame Game

I've been doing an incredible amount of reading tonight in the effort to put together a coherent post on some of the issues that have arisen over genetically modified foods in Africa. What I saw while I was reading, though, is a much, much bigger problem, and one that seems to apply to every attempt to provide real aid to Africa.

It's the blame game.

Our President blames the European Union for preventing the United States from helping. The European Union counters that the U.S. doesn't provide as much aid as Europe does. Others say that subsidies to our own farmers are to blame.

A U.N. Envoy was reported to be angry that we spend money on wars rather fighting HIV/AIDS. Apparenly he hasn't heard about the 15 billion dollars the U.S. has dedicated to doing just that. And, of course, there are others who say it doesn't matter, because it isn't enough.

Then there are those who believe that we should hand over our technology, and those who believe that it's all about profits for U.S. companies. The FAO says we've focused on the wrong crops.

Now, I'm enough of a realist to know that politics plays into every attempt to help. I understand that every interest group wants it all and wants it now. I know that it is almost insane to expect folks to tone down the rhetoric and settle down to finding a pragmatic solution to the problems Africa faces.

Examining the source of a problem is a vital step towards the goal of finding a solution to that problem. But the blame game can't continue indefinitely. At some point, we have to stop saying that the problem shouldn't exist, that if only Country A had done this and Country B had done that, there would be no problem.

The resources we have to work with are finite. Rather than accusing Country C of not giving enough, we should be using what they do give effectively. Rather than insisting that Company D shouldn't be allowed to play if they make any money off the deal, we should take what they can offer towards the larger goal, if it does indeed contribute to reaching that goal.

At some point, we have to stop pointing fingers, and get down to business.

When we can do that, we will have taken the first big step toward finding true solutions.

Posted by at 06:17 AM | Comments (0)

The Politics of Denial: AIDS, South Africa, and the Struggle for Survival

part one

In the port city of Durban, the nation of South Africa seeks a way to combat the growing AIDS crisis by holding its first International Conference on AIDS and HIV-related illnesses since the end of Apartheid. While one’s initial reaction to such news would be to congratulate the government on its progressive concerns, understand first and foremost that the government of South Africa is and has been in the grip of denial about the cause-and-effect relationship of AIDS/HIV for many years. South Africa has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the world. An estimated 600 people die from the disease each day there, while the national government prefers to offer a population already suffering from AIDS infection “prevention methods” - such as eating garlic, olive oil, and potatoes - leaving virtually no hope for those already suffering, already dying from the disease.

It is fact that the Mbeki government of South Africa has officially stressed cost-free nutrition-based AIDS prevention methods, supposedly designed to boost the immune system, while providing no real program of AIDS/HIV education to its citizens. Local “customs” can be rife with superstition; many people in South Africa believe that AIDS drugs are poison to kill you faster or make one into a mindless slave. Other mistaken beliefs that help to spread the virus include the brutally cruel rumor that having sex with a virgin can cleanse a man of AIDS or HIV; the incidence of child-rape – of babies under a year to adolescents, of both sexes - is at an all-time high.

The administration has repeatedly questioned the efficacy of anti-retroviral drugs for treatment, while simultaneously complaining of the expense of the anti-retroviral medications. Public-sector hospitals there are forbidden to administer anti-retrovirals, currently the only treatment for infection with AIDS currently exists. Bizarrely, South Africa has also rejected multiple offers from individual Western drug companies, willing to provide them with the drugs at little to, in some cases, no cost at all.

Repeatedly, cost has been the issue over which the most concern has been expressed by the current South African administration. Yet, as the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa stated in her speech to the conference, South Africa ranks higher on both the HPI (Human Poverty Index) and the HDI (Human Development Index) than do many other countries in Africa that already offer modern AIDS treatments. South Africans also live on more money per day, stated the Special Envoy, than do the populations of many of the other countries in Africa offering comprehensive treatment.

Yet as lately as this week, the Mbeki government refused to extend approval for public access to the AIDS drug Nevirapine (one dose of which to both mother and child before and after delivery has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the mother-to-child transmission rate by 50%) citing its doubt over the research that proved the drug was effective in the first place.

What drives the South African government to such a depth of denial, such a refusal to look at AIDS as the threat that it absolutely is? To refute data from many, many international sources with regard to the deadliness of AIDS, and the best procedures for its treatment? To ignore the potential economic and humanitarian crisis that AIDS poses to that nation –as few as seven to ten years from now – instead preferring to encourage its citizens to fight a deadly retrovirus with some garlic, like a vampire in a story of old? Why can’t they see that through their inaction, they are complicit in the murder – perhaps the genocide – of their own people?

As the conference opened yesterday, activists jeered South African Minister of Health as she spoke at the conference opening. South Africans are rightfully angry; they are tired of hearing that the government is “soberly considering” the use of AIDS medicines. They are now literally begging for their lives.

At AfricaBlog I know we are seeking answers. When I first read about the crisis in South Africa I thought that the solution was the bounty of drug companies, banding together to help cure the nation. Then I heard that this solution had been rejected. I thought a possible solution could lie in a bit of laissez-faire by the pharmaceutical industry - they could permit cheaper, unpatented "generics" to slip quietly into South Africa, while still charging "rich" nations full price for the name-brand drugs. But it appears that the government doesn't believe the drugs will help treat the ill, anyway.

In short, the only solution that I can see to the looming humanitarian disaster in South Africa is one that involves a new government - one that is committed to using all the rich natural and human resources at its disposal to save the lives of its dying people, to ultimately save its culture from extinction.


UN Document: Speech by the UN Special Envoy on HIV/Aids in Africa
ITN Channel 4 News, South Africa addresses AIDS problem
HiPakistan English News: AIDS Meeting Opens In South Africa
BBC NEWS: Is access to Aids drugs in Africa fair?
Radio Australia News: Aids conference opens in South Africa
BBC NEWS: S Africa faces Aids pressure
Voice Of America News: South Africa AIDS Conference Opens
Deutsche Welle: First national AIDS conference opens in South Africa
ABC News Online: Minister jeered at S Africa AIDS meeting
BBC NEWS: SA Aids deaths report leaked
CNN: S. Africa facing child rape crisis
World Net Daily: Child-rape epidemic in South Africa
Human Rights News: South Africa: Stop Court Fight on AIDS Drugs
Pfizer to Provide Diflucan Drug At No Cost to South Africans With AIDS

Posted by at 04:08 AM | Comments (11)

August 01, 2003

Zimbabwe: Signs of Desperation

President Robert Mugabe is making more moves that might be designed to do one of two things: win over international support in an attempt to jump-start foreign aid without making real changes to the system, or reach out to opposition parties in a real attempt to start changes that could salvage the country.

For the economy or for the nation's well-being, one of the worst things that Mugabe did was to destroy what had been a tremendously fruitful farm system. Between the seizure of most of the white owned farms and granting them to cronies who had no understanding of farming, and the long drought that made active farms far less efficient, Zimbabwe was pushed into a lasting famine in which its citizens are fed only by international charity.

Now that the economic system is on the edge of implosion, Mugabe is ordering political allies who grabbed up more than one farm during the seizures to rid themselves of all but one of their holdings. He's also promising to compensate white land owners whose farms were seized.

These are intriguing maneuvers, but deciphering the purpose behind the moves is difficult. Whether it is a real attempt to make changes or a cynical attempt to again put off international criticism of his poor policies is tough to say--and whether he'll actually follow through with his promises is an even more difficult question.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 03:44 AM | Comments (1)
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