Sunday, March 28, 2021

Who Guards the Guardians?

“Emergency, which service?”

“The World.”

“The World, sir?”

“Precisely. The World must act to stop the collapse of Somalia.”

“Is that Mr Vava Tampa?”

“That’s right. This is an emergency.”

“Sir, you have been calling emergency services a lot. Recently you requested assistance from Africa.”

“If my memory serves me correctly, I said that Africa needs to rein in Tanzania’s anti-vaxxer president. But that’s old news, he’s dead now.”

“You want ‘Africa’ to do that? The WHO assured Mr Magufuli that no Covid outbreak in East Africa justifies a lockdown. Look at the mess in Kenya and Uganda, with their ‘emergency’ powers and indefinite curfews.”

“Africa must intervene. Magufuli is not the only leader who is off message on Covid.”

“Africa must oppose the WHO? My mistake, I thought the WHO and Africa were working together on this. Oh well, perhaps Africa can turn their attention to Sweden, now. Before that you asked for the global community to intervene in the DRC?”

“I did, that’s my country.”

“You also criticized Barak Obama for not delivering for Africa in 2020, having called for him to assist in 2014?”

“Yes! He’s a son of Africa and he turned his back on us!”

“So, you now want Joe Biden to sort everything in Africa out?”

“Well someone has to.”

“Perhaps I was off the day you called on Donald Trump to help. Shouldn’t Joe check with ‘the global community’, or with ‘Africa’, before sorting everything out? They’ll all work together, right?”

“I don’t think it’s your place to question headlines that appear in a renowned liberal media outlet.”

“You’re right. Just to check, did France stop supporting Paul Biya?”

“Is Africa on its way or not? I mean The World.”

“Can you confirm that you are based in the UK?”

“What’s that got to do with it? I’m an Africanist, activist, anti-imperialist, globalist, liberal…eh…journalist!”

“We had a call from Belgium recently, someone claiming to be the rightful president of Tanzania. He seemed to think we could put him through to the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam.”

“He got more than 10% of the vote. If it hadn’t been for those nationalists, with their slogans about Tanzanians deciding who to elect as president, he might have got 15%.”

“Please toe the line, sir.”

“Besides, Europeans are not able to travel anywhere at the moment. That’s because they CARE!”

“I’ve been reading some of your articles since you started making calls to Emergency Services. You once wrote: ‘Black people are overmedicated, pathologized and overpoliced. The profession needs to work to dismantle racist power structures.’ ‘The profession’ being social workers.”

“And?”

“Would these power structures include the US, the UK, some parts of ‘The World’, perhaps even certain African countries? In fact, the UN, IMF, World Bank, global media, multinationals and other groups could also be dubbed ‘power structures’.”

“This is an emergency. How dare you question my credentials! I’d like to speak to your manager, please.”

“Your Twitter account says you’d like ‘@POTUS to back an International Criminal Tribunal to end violence/famine/impunity in #DRC. Where do you think imperialist oppression comes from?”

“YOUR MANAGER! NOW!”

“You have quite a record of calling on non-African people and institutions to overthrow African ones. Yet, you don’t like being questioned. Is it because I’m a woman?”

“How dare you, I write for The Guardian! No newspaper is more pro-woman than The Guardian. And I’m pro-woman, too, so long as they are not already in the thrall of their oppressors.”

“Maybe it’s because I’m black, or working in a menial position?”

“You sound like you’ve got a chip on your shoulder.”

“Not yet, sir, but there are plans for that.”

“If you came from a country that had been oppressed for centuries you would have more respect for the work I do. Besides, you sound like you’re from Ireland.”

“Give the man a cigar! What do you get for this, a bounty?”

“History will judge you for the time you tried to frustrate the attempts of a true African to find fit leaders for each great African nation.”

“We had another of you journalists on this morning, environmental correspondent. Tried to lurch to the right on a bypass, got stuck on the central reservation. Police blocked the traffic on the other side thinking he wanted to do a U-turn. But no, he wanted to go against the oncoming. Did a lot of damage to the central reservation. Especially considering he wasn’t even driving a car.”

“I’m not going to ask AGAIN…!”

“I may have forgotten to say earlier, calls are recorded for quality and training purposes. With the help of @God you’ll be a great leader, one day. Just putting you through, now.”

“Good morning, Guardian Global Development Desk, how may I help you?”

allvoices

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Global Health Tears the World a New One

The Felicific Calculus used by international institutions and global media has decreed that all the bad things in the world, whomever or whatever may have been blamed for them in the past, are now almost entirely accounted for by Covid-19. The world of ordinary people knows that the calculus is a hoax, and that poverty, sickness, disability, economic and environmental collapse, anything that is getting worse since the pandemic started, are a result of the response to it, not the pandemic. 

The English Guardian churns out another clickbait article, deeply concerned about the effects of Covid-19, seemingly oblivious to the fact that every item ticked off in their spreadsheet predates the virus by decades, even centuries. Other media have jumped in with organ trafficking, persecution of people with HIV, family planning provision, availability of sanitary pads, teen pregnancy, child abuse, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation (sic), child marriage, orphans and much else, striving to update their advocacy with the latest hashtags. 

And the universal solution to all these problems is technology! There are vaccines, masks, hand sanitizers, handheld computers and anything else that can be sold to people who have lived their whole lives without access to running water, an adequate and varied diet, in environments that have been depleted, to a large extent, by the same countries that produce all the technology and the purported solutions and their array of placebo suppositories. 

For the Guardian, decades of progress on extreme poverty is now in reverse due to Covid, so the title goes. But much of the ‘evidence’ for this is from a World Bank wonk, who pours out the usual sanctimonious spiel about all the great things that have been achieved, but that are now threatened by a pandemic. They are not threatened by a pandemic, they are threatened by the response to it. 

Bear in mind, this is the institution to which almost every poor country is in debt. Much of those countries’ annual earnings is sent to repay loans they have been persuaded to take over a period of several decades. A handful of international institutions have pushed poor countries to reduce public sector employment, spending on health, education, infrastructure and social services. Indeed, they have ensured the destruction of the very things that they now claim are vital to address Covid-19: hospitals, schools, infrastructure and social services. 

Poor countries are arm-twisted by such international institutions into handing over all resources that are of value to multinationals. Multinationals are not content to rip out everything they can get their hands on, but will happily destroy environments, communities, water supplies, economies and anything else, and leave behind an enormous tab for the host to pay. The very means to survive for most people, fertile land, water, food, employment, agriculture, etc., are denied to those countries in the name of modernization and development. 

The World Bank knows more than most about the conditions in poor countries, because they have spent so long reducing struggling economies to rubble. Countries that had anything worth exploiting were, effectively, colonized by poverty profiteers, people who were paid to take what they wanted, and often took a lot more. Media, like the Guardian, dutifully cover ‘disasters’ as if the damage they wreak on increasingly vulnerable populations is entirely unforeseen, unpredictable, an ‘act of God’. 

Since when has the World Bank been the go-to source of ideas for reducing poverty, or for improving the conditions that most people in the world live in? The countries that have followed their ideologies, as they gradually moved from the vile and despotic policies of 40 years ago to the most comprehensive and widespread enslavement and subjugation of people living in poor countries that we see today, are the ones suffering the most now. 

The only thing more disgusting than promulgating this kind of poverty porn is the pretence that the English Guardian, the World Bank or any of the other big players in the media, international financial institutions and the development industry have the slightest sympathy for those who suffer most from the conditions that underlie this veneer of humanitarianism and philanthropy.  

If these prognostications from the media are correct, and many things really have improved over the past 30-40 years, then we must return to where we were before the pandemic, and identify what we were doing right, and do more of that. Many things will need to be done differently, and the big players of the past will be reluctant to do anything not in their interest. But these lockdowns are a disaster and must be ended before the damage they are doing becomes irreversible. 

To those who herald in the ‘new normal’, there’s nothing new about poverty, disease, food shortages, droughts and disasters. Lockdowns exacerbate and further institutionalize phenomena that have been around for as long as people in poor countries can remember. There's nothing new about authoritarianism, but we have been happy to overlook it when it was imposed on distant countries. It now threatens everyone and it's not something to be encouraged. 


allvoices

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

In Memory of Dr Joseph Sonnabend, 6 Jan 1933–24 Jan 2021

Dr Joseph Sonnabend’s first concern was always the welfare of his patients, their families and the people they loved. Before HIV was identified as the virus that caused Aids, Dr Sonnabend was treating people suffering from the shocking illnesses that he and others were discovering among their patients in New York, mostly gay men. Many people infected in the 1980s died. But some survived because of the work of professionals such as Joseph. He pioneered safe sex as a response to HIV and Aids among gay men, and gave his patients the undivided attention that few others were prepared to give.  

Joseph set up and ran several institutions to address the epidemic, care for sick people and research the disease. But when some of his colleagues joined with other parties to create a myth about an imminent ‘heterosexual Aids’ pandemic in order to raise funding, he left. Joseph was branded a ‘denialist’ by those who didn’t wish to deal with any of the numerous concerns that he raised. However, Joseph continued to insist that you cannot understand the spread of a disease if you fail to identify the most important circumstances surrounding its transmission. He still held his ‘multi-factorial’ view of HIV a few months ago, in a discussion about the history of the pandemic with Sean Strub and Dr. Stuart Schlossman. When Schlossman claimed that no one held such a view any longer, Joseph disagreed, but did not have the opportunity to defend his position at that time.

Joseph told me later that his ‘multi-factorial’ view of disease transmission is a characterization of epidemiology as the study of pathogen, host and environment, and not an idiosyncratic theory of his own. He said that most people he worked with in immunology and epidemiology held a similar view, and did not reduce the explanation of HIV infection and the development of Aids to an account of the pathogen, alone, independent of host and environment factors. That’s why the multi-factorial view of HIV explains a lot more than its sexual transmission among men who have sex with men. The theory can also be used to understand the extraordinary outbreaks of HIV transmission among people who are neither male, gay, intravenous drug users, nor even sex workers. The worst of these outbreaks are all to be found in a few countries in southern and eastern Africa, including Zimbabwe and South Africa, where Joseph spent several decades of his life.

Joseph confirmed my belief that HIV is not ‘all about sex’ in high prevalence countries, and that the worst epidemics cannot be accounted for by alleged ‘unsafe’ sexual behavior among African people. He often asked how women can transmit HIV to men via sexual intercourse, saying he knew of no causal mechanism to explain it. Something about the host and the environment, African people and the conditions they live in, the experiences they have, the diseases they suffer, their crumbling healthcare facilities, their poverty and their position as former possessions of European powers could turn out to be a part of a credible explanation of the highest rates of HIV transmission in the world.

Joseph was concerned about the way people lived, their welfare, their “complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO’s definition of health, not necessarily exemplified by their activities). He was not content with vaccines and cures, treatment regimens and medications, alone. In fact, Joseph was opposed to what he saw as the rapidly increasing ‘medicalization’ of healthcare, and disgusted by the systematic humiliation of African people, who were blamed for their own sickness and told to quietly accept what they were given.

Many people have learned a great deal from Joseph, and benefited from his work. He distanced himself from those who saw HIV and Aids as a launchpad for their own careers and ambitions, and he refused to get involved in the more lucrative side of the pandemic. He will be much missed.

 


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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

With Responses Like These, Who Needs a Pandemic?

The Open Society Initiative has announced a Covid19 Emergency Response Fund. Great to hear, but first key area on their list is health system strengthening. Health systems have been in need of funding for decades.  

Second on the list is mitigating the economic impact of Covid19, but that is far more a matter of the devastating effects of lockdowns, people unable to work, purchase food, tend to food production, sell produce, etc. 

A few headlines highlight some of the emergencies faced by African countries and they seem to be either: 1) caused by the response to Covid19, not the virus itself, or 2) emergencies that go back many decades, and increase the harm that kneejerk lockdowns, curfews and the like can cause. 

Unemployment, nothing new, but exacerbated by global lockdowns: Nigeria Records 21.8 Million Jobless People After Covid-19 Effects 

Female Genital Mutilation, nothing to do with the pandemic, but NGOs need to follow the money: No Christmas for West Pokot Girls 

Economic inclusiveness, again, every cause needs to mention the current focus of the media: Covid-19 - Where to From Here for Efforts to Support Youth Economic Inclusion? 

The number of confirmed deaths from Covid19 in Africa is about a third of the number of people who die of rabies every year: Lessons From a Community-Driven Rabies Vaccination Campaign in Kenya 

Diabetes, a recognized risk factor for many conditions long before Covid19: Covid-19 - Understanding the Increased Risk in People With Diabetes 

Foot and Mouth, like all other health conditions, put on the back burner. If there’s an outbreak of this disease now, countries that have closed their economic and administrative functions down will be able to do little to protect themselves: Mozambique: Foot-and-Mouth Outbreak in Maputo Province 

Tourism, conservation, environmental and other projects, all threatened by lockdowns: In Kenya, Maasai Entrepreneur Moves Conservancy Beyond Tourism Hit By Pandemic 

Hardly surprising that food prices have rocketed. They are unlikely to drop anytime soon. Unlike most articles on the pandemic/response, this one identifies other pressures driving up food prices, all of which were there before Covid19, but are made a lot worse by the response: Food Prices in Nigeria Have Shot Through the Roof 

If countries can’t get food locally, or import it from other countries because they can’t get around restrictions on movement and trade, they may end up depending on illicit trading, black markets and other threats to economic and political stability. The above list is from today’s AllAfrica.com newsletter, not at all exhaustive, unfortunately. 

Many are now questioning the wisdom of rigid Covid19 responses urged on them by international institutions, NGOs, donors and foreign leaders. Tanzania is one of the only one to impose a modest lockdown with a viable exit plan. Other countries could soon follow their example. None can afford the millions shelled out by rich countries. 


allvoices

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Covid-19 in Tanzania: Pursuit of Health Sovereignty?

What’s the difference between Kenya’s response to Covid-19 and Tanzania’s? It’s difficult to know about Tanzania because journalistic practice dictates that if an African leader stands up to western leaders, experts or even mere bureaucrats or journalists, they must be slapped down, ridiculed and hounded for the remainder of their office for their temerity.

It’s not so difficult to find out about Kenya’s response: a curfew was imposed and violently enforced, many people were held (effectively, interned) in insanitary conditions, some were beaten and some died, children will remain out of school until next January, hospitals are said to be overwhelmed (aren’t they always?), there are restrictions on movement, shortages of food, etc.

In Tanzania, children were sent home for a few months, but people were encouraged to go to work, feed their families, take care of themselves so that they could take care of people who were not able to. Magufuli refused to go running to the international community for handouts earmarked for (well-behaved) African leaders.

Consequences from Kenya's response to Covid-19 are far more severe than those from the virus itself. Of course, Tanzania is going to have to face the consequences of the responses of countries around them, and the consequences of their trading partners’ respective responses; for example, there is already a massive drop in tourism, globally, something a lot of poor countries disproportionately depend on.

But perhaps the difference between Kenya’s and Tanzania’s response to the virus runs deeper than the daily struggle for basic things, such as food, habitation, education, healthcare and the rest. The BBC, in that sneering tone specially honed for Africans, have coupled Magufuli’s approach to Covid-19 with his objections to ‘imperialism’.

In fact, Magufuli objects to the likes of mining operators from rich countries granting his country a paltry 3%, quaintly referred to as ‘royalties’, of anything declared as a profit. He advises people to balance rich countries' 'giving' against what they take, which is not unreasonable. Or perhaps the BBC doesn't recognise imperialism that hasn't been branded as such by them?

While the Constitution of the World Health Organization states that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, their response to the virus appears to view health as the avoidance of certain pathogens deemed more catastrophic than others, pretty much at all costs. Tanzania, and all poor countries, have a lot more to worry about than Covid-19. (Don't we all?)

In their anxiety to depict Magufuli as an unworthy opponent of imperialism, an incapable leader of Tanzania and a generally uninformed person whose tenure verges on dictatorial (and I’m certainly not saying he’s faultless), many commentators have missed something important. Africa and Africans won’t be ‘rising’ when, or because the English Guardian or the BBC plasters it up in banner headlines.

Perhaps it will happen when leaders like Magufuli, human as he is, stand up to the sanctimony of the western media, the neo-imperialism of wealthy countries, and the complicity of the ‘international’ institutions they fund. But the difference between Kenya’s and Tanzania’s response? Tanzania refused to be cowed into overseeing a complete breakdown of the economy, of law and order; they even refused to take money to do what Kenya and other countries happily did.

It could be argued that Magufuli is striving for health sovereignty, which is, by definition, autonomous, unlike the top-down, one-size-fits-all ‘solutions’ that rich countries and their institutions are so keen for poor countries to adopt. At least, he seems to be highlighting a tension between the WHO’s definition of health and their approach to health emergencies, especially in poor countries (but not exclusively).


Much remains to be seen, but what Magufuli has done so far has resulted in a lot less harm than what Kenyatta has done, which is just more of the same. In contrast, Magufuli has stood up, with his people; he has refused to be goaded, and to be induced into handing over everything to rich countries and institutions. He refused to betray the Tanzanian people, refused the readies. How many other leaders, in Africa and elsewhere, can claim the same? 

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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Tanzania and Covid-19: Some Accidental Truths?

A British journalist based in Tanzania claims in The Spectator that the WHO is ‘concerned’ about the government’s lack of transparency during the Covid-19 pandemic. Writing under the pen name ‘Tom James’, the journalist gives the impression that there is an extremely serious Covid-19 outbreak in the country, one that the government is refusing to address.

However, the story is undermined by the journalist’s description of how things are in Dar es Salaam, the country’s biggest city, during this outbreak. For a start, he admits that there is little or no evidence for any deepening crisis, but he continues to write as if the absence of evidence means things must be worse than the government says.

The journalist could return to Britain, although he chooses not to do so (because he wants to look after his dogs). But clearly, things are not so bad that he must leave; he’s got a job and a home; he has a car that he is still able to run, so no fuel shortages; he can go to the market to buy supplies, so no panic buying, hoarding or sudden spikes in prices of staples.

It sounds, if the journalist is to be believed, as if everyone there is just getting on with it. We get a description of normal, everyday life in Tanzania: the police are patrolling the highways, fining people for anything and nothing; a motorbike taxi with three passengers is on the road; only the driver has a mask, but no helmet; again, nothing unusual. What, I’d like to know, would ‘Tom James’ prefer?

The English Guardian claims that Tanzania’s president is undercounting cases and deaths. But the US is overcounting, something the Guardian seems oblivious of; so is the UK, and they are collecting records that cannot be reanalyzed, should anyone ever wish to know the true numbers of cases, deaths and excess deaths.

If President Magufuli is 'playing down' the threat of Covid-19, the US and the UK are talking it up (Norway is considering the possibility that their own lockdown was unnecessary).

The media frequently uses the word ‘authoritarian’ when referring to the Tanzanian president. So, what if Magufuli did impose a lockdown? Wouldn’t that be even more authoritarian than not doing so? In most African countries, people can’t just stop working, self-isolate at home, work from home, get their food delivered or hop in their car, unlike the more fortunate ‘Tom James’.

I doubt if he and others criticizing Magufuli would like to see Tanzania follow the example set by Kenya. Human Rights Watch describes a country completely unprepared to ‘isolate’ thousands of possible Covid-19 cases, as unprepared as all poor countries are.

In Kenya, people have been rounded up and held with numerous other people who may or may not have the virus. Even in the UK one doctor writes: "many patients acquired the infection while already hospitalised for other causes". Infection control in East African hospitals is not great; how much worse will it be in these temporary holding facilities in Kenya?

Kenya imposed a curfew early on in the pandemic and police have been beating people who break the curfew. But, as the Human Rights Watch article shows, conditions in the country don’t allow everyone to drop their normal routines and get home before 7. People can’t easily ‘socially distance’ in overcrowded slums, cramped public transport and other overstretched services.

An article in African Arguments describes just how authoritarian, and how destructive, the lockdown is in Kenya (although the same publication in April called for a lockdown in Tanzania).

Al Jazeera point out that opposition leaders in Tanzania accuse the government of lying about Covid-19 and of failing to address the crisis. But what country’s opposition doesn’t accuse their government of lying and of making unwise decisions? It’s an election year, and Magufuli wants to win, as does the opposition, and these phenomena are not peculiar to Tanzania, nor even to African countries.

Usually the first to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded building (and they have done plenty of shouting about Covid-19 in Tanzania), the BBC has a short piece entitled “Tanzanian doctors 'not overwhelmed by pandemic'.” (You need to page down a long way to find it. It's worth noting that the BBC’s content about Tanzania seems to depend heavily on contributions from the public, social media and other questionable sources.)


One of the worst things that can happen to poor countries during a pandemic is that people panic, as it can bring about the very conditions that will only deepen the crisis. 'Tom James' appears to want someone to shout 'fire', although he doesn't quite do it himself. But, however inadvertently, his article suggests that no one in Tanzania is listening to him or his media colleagues. Let’s hope that continues.

allvoices

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Why are the Majority of HIV Positive People African & Female?

Could women's higher rates of access to healthcare account for higher rates of HIV in African countries, where unsafe healthcare is very common? Sex, unsafe or otherwise, is no more common in African countries than elsewhere.

The full sized version of this dashboard is here.

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