Saturday, February 03, 2007

Need a cure for AIDS? The Gambian President has found it- he just won't tell you what it is

Although scientists have been searching for years for a cure to AIDS, the Gambian president Yahya Jammeh claims to have found it. He has begun to treat patients in his country but will not reveal the details of his process only stating that the secret process, which makes the patient HIV negative within 10 days, involves herbal medicine. Along with his magical process to cure AIDS, Jammeh says he can also cure asthma. Despite the absurdity of his claims, Jammeh defends himself by saying, "I am not a witch doctor and in fact you cannot have a witch doctor. You are either a witch or a doctor." One of his current patients is a Gambian university lecturer who says he has "100% confidence in the president." This situation highlights a clear problem in Africa- too much power being given to the ruler. The fact that he can claim to have discovered a cure and despite the secrecy of the process and disregard for the scientific process is not questioned by his people depicts the elevated status he must be at. Furthermore, he is further jeopardizing the health of his people since believing they are cured can lead to risky sexual behavior and only cause the disease to spread at a more rapid rate.

Nonetheless, this article and I take the view that his claims are absurd. But, perhaps we are all too cynical and the Gambian president has really discovered the answer to the HIV/AIDS problem. Especially if the answer is in cheap herbal medicine, who knows what wonders that could do for the continent. Still, no one is going to put all their eggs in his basket and scientists will continue to look for a legitimate cure.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Charles Taylor to be tried... finally

This article is about former Liberian president Charles Taylor and his trial at the International Court of the Hague, Netherlands. Charles Taylor has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The trial in the Hague on the fourth of June "represents the vindication of the principle that no person, no matter what their position, is above the law" said the chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Stephen Rapp, chief prosecutor, also adds that the trials will be as fair, just and equitable for any person, no matter their reputation. To ensure transparency, the BBC World Service Trust will send two Liberian and two Sierra Leonean journalists to The Hague for the duration of the trial so that they can report back to their home countries on the proceedings. I believe this is a good idea since that way the local population can feel involved in the process and can see their dictator brought to justice.
Charles Taylor is judged for 11 counts for his involvement in the decade long civil war in Sierra Leone. He committed crimes such as raping, murder, sexual slavery and conscripting child soldiers. His trial will last between 12 to 18 months according to Rapp, and his prosecution will bring in as many witnesses and evidence from crime scenes. Rapp acknowledges some of the major obstacles that will have to be overcome such as the fact of having witnesses travel thousands of miles to present their evidence and the protection they may need to get back to their homeland safely.
Unlike other courts, the Special Court for Sierra Leone is based on voluntary funding only, but Rapp has great hopes that the $33 million will be raised.
This article struck me because I worked for a foundation helping women and children from Sierra Leone summer 2006 and the director had been at the airfield where Charles Taylor landed on his arrival in Liberia and hence managed to take photos of him and I saw these. She said he looked like any old man though exhausted and surprisingly guilty. Knowing that it is going to be 4 years since he was indicted, that it has taken to finally judge him has brought relief to her and the people she met, and to me also for it is known that previously trials have taken longer to commence; and some villains and war criminals have lived free lives until old age and their final natural deaths.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Who does foreign aid really help?

On January 23rd, President G.W. Bush delivered his annual State of the Union address. His speech included topics such as (but not limited to) the economy, education, Iraq, and AIDS and Africa. Except for Iraq, foreign countries were not a big part of the address. This means that Africa must have some importance to the United States after all. Bush declared: "the number of people receiving life-saving drugs has grown from 50,000 to more than 800,000 in three short years. I ask you to continue funding our efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. I ask you to provide $1.2 billion over five years so we can combat malaria in 15 African countries." Although the amount of people who have access to drugs has tremendously increased, it also has to be noted that 800,000 no longer seems like a successful number when over 20 million Africans are infected by HIV/AIDS. In addition, the combat against malaria is a good attempt to improve health conditions although there will be more than 25 countries left alone to fight this killer disease.
One point Bush made about the aid for Africa was that he wanted it to go to "nations where democracy is on the rise and corruption is in retreat." Many people believe that foreign aid is good no matter what, because it helps poor people and gives them a better chance at living a better life, and perhaps may eventually save a nation from all its troubles. However, when aid is given to countries that have corrupt dictators, it supports these crooks’ regimes. For example, instead of investing the money given to them for their country, they use it to their own benefit to get richer.
President Bush’s point of giving aid to nations where “corruption is in retreat” is one that must not be taken lightly. Giving poor nations aid is a very positive action as long as the money and goods are delivered to the right people. Developed countries and organizations that aid African states should pay close attention to whether the aid is serving its purpose, instead of helping corrupt leaders continue their negative influence.

Enthusiastic Nigerians Scramble to Register

As the final day of voter registration arrived in Nigeria, impatience and corruption interrupted an otherwise promising process. Current president Olusegun Obasanjo is stepping down at the end of his second four-year term. The April election will result in "the first handover of power from one civilian regime to another since independence from Britain in 1960." The Nigerian government declared Monday a public holiday to give people a better opportunity to register. Although many took advantage of this opportunity, some, like Mercy Simon, arrived too late. The final day, Tuesday, brought with it pushing, shoving, and swearing by Nigerians desperate not to miss their turn. Some electoral officers even allegedly demanded bribes before allowing eligible voters to register. The determination and enthusiasm of many Nigerians is encouraging, though. Joseph Itan waited over eight hours because it was "very important for [him] to register." Another declared, "I want to choose my leader and I believe that my vote will count. I don't even know whom I'd vote for, but I know I have to vote." With about fifty million of the seventy million eligible voters actually registered, it appears as though Nigerians are ready to have a successful democratic election for president. While most motivations appear to be heartfelt, one does have to take into account the fact that some states made voter registration mandatory for civil servants, even threatening to withhold wages. However, overall, public awareness does seem to have increased. Abdulsalam Ismail sums up the sentiment by saying, "We've all woken from our slumber. We had to wake up because we weren't getting what we wanted and we have now realised that this vote could make the difference." Only time will tell whether or not April's elections will prove this new-found awareness among Nigerians.

Less Rumble in the Jungle

Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon chose to take his first trip in office to the Democratic Republic of Congo. After his visit to the war-torn country, he commented that the past year had seen “remarkable progress.” The reason for hope in the DRC comes after the July 2006 national elections. Joseph Kabila, son of the former president of Congo who was assassinated in 2001, won the presidency. Widespread fears arose that his rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba would contest the results of the election and mobilize his personal militias. However, Mr. Bemba has acknowledged his defeat. President Kabila is now faced with the challenge of balancing the political situation by allocating power to Mr. Bemba as well as other militia leaders and warlords. On January 24th an announcement was made that in order for every faction to get its share of representation, the cabinet would have 59 ministers and vice-ministers. This number alone illustrates the huge obstacles in governing the country.
One of the main reasons Mr. Ban chose the visit the DRC was because of the UN’s peacekeeping force in the country. The MONUC is the largest UN deployment in the world with more than 16,500 soldiers. However, the Economist reported that the MONUC is still, “undermanned, underarmed, and without the intelligence and logistical support it would need to protect the civilians properly.” The UN mandate will most likely be renewed next month although there is little chance it will be given new troops because of the dangers around the mission and the lack of resources available.
After years of conflict, most Congolese have modest expectations. Mr. Kabila’s government has a long complicated road ahead that includes maintaining and observing the rule of law, running a disciplined army, and restoring infrastructure throughout the country.

Monday, January 29, 2007

DRC Warlord First to Face ICC

Located in The Hague, Netherlands, the International Criminal Court was instituted in 2002 for the purpose of prosecuting those suspected of being responsible for atrocities around the world. Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord, is the first to stand trial in front of the ICC. Lubanga is accused of kidnapping and forcing children under the age of fifteen to fight as child soldiers from 2002-2003 during the DRC's brutal civil war (beginning in 1998). The prosecution claims that the children were kidnapped as they walked to school and forced to fight for Lubanga's ethnic Hema militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots. Instructed to kill all Lendu, child soldiers were forced to kill men, women, and children. Lubanga adamantly denies these claims and maintains that he is "an innocent patriot who sought to prevent the use of child soldiers and to end plundering of resources and bring peace to his mineral rich region." He has also argued that the international community wants to punish him not for war crimes but for his refusal to give mining concessions in areas he controlled to foreign firms.
Human rights groups in DRC are very pleased with the decision to charge Lubanga with war crimes. They believe this is a major step for the victims of the war as this represents their first chance for justice. While Lubanga is only one of many warlords, most have escaped being charged, he represents the beginning of what will hopefully be a effective and successful International Criminal Court, and a new start for many Congolese.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Outbreak of TB in South Africa May Effect Millions

When an outbreak of tuberculosis killed 52 of 53 infected patients in South Africa last year, international concern arose. This strain of TB is drug-resistant and is considered incurable. Many critics point to South Africa, one of the most developed countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and believe their "sluggish response to a health emergency" could cause the virus to cross boarder and threaten the lives of millions. The virus is all ready believed to have reached Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique and perhaps even Zimbabwe. The outbreak is just beginning to be researched in order to find the source and try to slow its progression in which the international community believes to be a response that is wasting precious time. If South Africa who is more developed then its neighbor cannot handle this disease, one can only begin to imagine how its neighbors will be affected. Although TB has also broken out in different parts of the world, this case is of particular concern because HIV greatly increases the risk of contracting and dying from the disease. One can only hope the virus is contained before it spreads to another country such as Zimbabwe in which the HIV/AIDS rates are extraordinarily high and TB would only cause more havoc in a country which cannot even feed its people yet alone contain a virus that South Africa was unable to handle. Unfortunately though it is likely this disease will spread because as one doctor notes, "it's an emergency, and we are not reacting like its an emergency," a theme which seems to be present far too often in African politics.