July 26, 2006

Improving Food Security in Africa

Posted in Africa, Poverty at 5:26 pm by greatparanoiac

seed_fair.jpgOxfam issued a report on Monday calling for a review of current efforts to end hunger in Africa. The report, “Causing Hunger: An Overview of the Food Crisis in Africa,” argues that emergency assistance is usually inefficient, arrives too late and fails to addresses the causes of hunger and food security.

InterPress Service News Agency has a news story  on Oxfam’s new report. It states that humanitarian assistance to Africa increased from $946 million (US) in 1997 to just over $3 billion (US) in 2003. Nonetheless, there have been food crises during the past few months in the Sahel region, Southern Africa, and Horn of Africa.

According to the report, donors doubt the ability of United Nations agencies to administer aid effectively. This constitutes one of the reasons for insufficient or late funding of U.N. appeals. Nonetheless, Oxfam believes a one billion dollar commitment by donors to the U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund is key to “quicker and more equitable assistance.”

The news story doesn’t state why Oxfam believes a billion dollar commitment to the UN Emergency Fund would be key to more equitable assistance. Is donor money in this central fund distributed to international NGOs and not UN agencies? Second–wouldn’t Oxfam or other NGOs experience the same difficulties in administering aid as UNDP, FAO or UNICEF? Better yet, how do international NGOs administer funds marked for emergency assistance differently than UN agencies?

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June 22, 2006

Post-Colonial Leadership in Africa

Posted in Africa, Liberia at 9:00 pm by greatparanoiac

I wanted to share this column in Black Britain written by Godwin Nnanna, “Why Charles Taylor Must Answer for His Deeds?”  It was written in April, but makes an excellent point about the problems in many African countries since gaining independence.

The post-colonial leadership, with few exceptions, established defective political and economic systems in which enormous power was concentrated in the hands of the state and, ultimately, one individual. Power in most of Africa today resides with the national governments and not many of the continent’s leaders are doing anything to reverse it. Rather than do that, the Taylors of the continent through progressive impoverishment of the people, have churned out more sycophants in their camps than reformers – sycophants who will rather campaign that such leaders stay in power longer than necessary than insist that national constitutions be upheld.

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This explains why incumbent leaders in Africa never lose elections even when it is obvious that they run oppressive governments. When they are shown that the tune has changed as the Special Court in Sierra Leone is currently doing in the case of Charles Taylor- perhaps, a lot more of the enemies of Africa who by either hook or crook have found themselves in power, will learn to act with the future in view.

June 21, 2006

Taylor at the ICC: Good News for International Justice

Posted in Africa, International Politics at 5:20 pm by greatparanoiac

Great Britain has stepped up and offered to house the former Liberian president Charles Taylor if he is convicted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court at the Hague. This is great news because the trial was stalled unless a third country could jail the dictator.

AllAfrica.com reported today the Netherlands agreed to host the trial if a third country would jail Taylor if he were to be sentenced to a prison term. Britain promised last week to hold Taylor in jail, and drafted a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing his transfer to the Netherlands for trial

tayor-exit.jpgI wrote a post last month when Charles Taylor was arrested in regard that it would not be better for Taylor to be tried in a neighboring African country instead of the ICC. The governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone expressed fear that a trial at home could mount another insurgency in the fragile region. Taylor could be the first African leader convicted by an international court if found guilty of these crimes.

This is a major step for the young court in its first trial of a former head of state. To avoid the mistakes in Slobodan Milosevic’s trial, it is important for the ICC to study the failures of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) as it enters this new phase.

The former Serbian president was charged with war crimes and genocide during the Balkan wars. It’s hard not to think of Milosevic’s prosecution as a massive failure given that he died in his cell before his trial ended. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent bringing him to justice could’ve gone to rebuilding the Balkans. Is a trial without a verdict a waste of time and money?

Milosevic’s death was bad news for international criminal justice. But there’s more to a trial than securing a conviction. The underlying idea that those who commit crimes against humanity won’t escape unpunished is too important to be set back by one death. For all the trial’s weaknesses, there are lessons to be learned as prosecutors work to send a powerful message to Africa’s despots—no one is above the law.

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June 16, 2006

Celebrating Day of the African Child

Posted in Africa, Childrens Rights, United Nations at 4:15 pm by greatparanoiac

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Today marks Day of the African Child. UNICEF issued a press release asking the international community to recognize that young people are Africa’s greatest resource and to help them overcome the challenged they face.

The Day of the African Child is celebrated every year since 1991 in honor of South African children killed by their government in 1976. Thousands of black school children in Soweto, South Africa, protested the sub-standard quality of their education under apartheid and demanded to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of boys and girls were shot and in the two weeks of protests that followed, more than 100 people were killed and 1,000 injured.

“This landmark event was a demonstration of great courage and conviction by the children of South Africa, who stood up for what they believed. It is a powerful reminder of the decisive role that children can have in bringing about change and of the importance of ensuring a quality basic education for all.” — UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman

The good thing about this release it that it shows us how violence is inter-related to other issues that marginalize the young. Violence against children is a serious threat in particular because of the continent’s disproportionate burden of conflict, extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS. Children living in conflict areas are at risk of gender-based violence because of the lack of family and community protection.

Women and children fleeing their homes because of armed conflict are more vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation. This exploitation increases their risk of HIV infection. In turn, HIV/AIDS has left many African children orphans. In sub-Saharan Africa, 12 million children under the age of 18 have lost one or both parents to AIDS. In turn, losing the people who would’ve protected them from violence.

May 11, 2006

Matt Damon’s Lessons From Africa

Posted in Africa at 1:35 am by greatparanoiac

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I found an e-mail on Matt Damon in my Bulk folder. Taking time away from shooting the next Bourne sequel, Matt Damon has joined his friends George, Brad, Angelina, Bono and Oprah in Africa. This appeal comes from the One Campaign, which works to end poverty in developing countries and fight the spread of AIDS.

I use to think celebrities rallying behind humanitarian causes was a bit heavy-handed and self-serving because it fetishized other cultures by focusing more on the unique and exotic and not bad governance. Poor Africa–they need Ocean’s Twelve to solve their problems. I also thought if celebrities cared about a cause, why not start with domestic efforts first and push for a change in social policies.

It ‘s strange to see Sean Penn on a speedboat in the flooded New Orlean streets rescuing trapped families with photographer and flak in tow. Or Bono at the World Economic Forum asking for debt elimination in Africa behind a pair of $500 Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses. I wonder how much malaria meds those glasses can fetch?

I should develop this further–some civil society theorists have argued that the proliferation of NGOs and external assistance/attention for humanitarian efforts hurts the local population because it lets the government off the hook–when its their responsibilty to make a country economically viable. Of course, what do you do when you have an authoritarian regime or dictator who exploits his country’s resources or sees it as his personal fiefdom?

I’ve mellowed out considerably and now direct my anger toward government officials and a stagnant international community who talk a good talk about helping Africa. If Angelina wants to take it upon herself to travel in a region with minimal infrastructure, draw public attention to an ongoing civil war, and pick up a cute baby for herself–good for her.

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April 28, 2006

Access to AIDS Treatment: An Equity Issue

Posted in Africa, AIDS at 3:57 pm by greatparanoiac

big pharma.jpgI promise to keep this short–over the weekend I wrote a post on the impact the Big Pharma is having on the fight against AIDS in Africa. I found this article on the Washington Post. The National Institute of Health refused to get involved with AIDS activists who want to challenge drug companies to lower the price on anti retrovirals.  It’s a couple of years old, but it’s an interesting read.

The activists are concerned with the increase in price of the AIDS drug Norvirin the U.S. and not in regard to its availability overseas. Back then–in 2004–the Bush administration had not taken steps to override the patents of ARVs so a generic brand can be created.

I searched on the NIH’s website and found a press release stating last month that the Food & Drug Administration has tentatively approved a package of generic AIDS drugs. Under the program, two million HIV-infected people will receive treatment and another ten million people affected by HIV will get care. The press release doesn’t go into more details about how ‘treatment’ and ‘care’ will be differentiated. With the number of people with HIV/AIDS in Africa estimated at 60% of the population—this doesn’t seem to make much of a dent…but this is a step in the right direction…

Now we have to see how global initiatives on access to AIDS treatment can take shape.

April 24, 2006

The Value of an African Life According to Merck

Posted in Africa, AIDS at 6:29 pm by greatparanoiac

africa aids.jpgI wanted to follow up on yesterday’s post on AIDS in Africa. This weekend was the 2nd Annual U.N. Documentary Film Festival. It had many great films: long format, short format and PSAs that deal with different cultural, economic, and human rights issues in the developing world.

One of the films presented yesterday was Value of a Life: Aids in Africa Revisited.  I thought it was poignant. In 2003, the U.N.’s HIV/AIDS special representative returned to Africa to document his journey. In the short film, Lewis travels with a group of Canadian agencies throughout Africa. They challenge the Canadian government to pass legislation allowing patents to be circumvented in favor of inexpensive, generic AIDS drugs. Of course after the screening I just got mad about the unfairness of patents on intellectual propety.

While pharmaceutical companies such as Merck and Pfizer have reduced the price of AIDS drugs, this is not enough and not nearly as effective as allowing generic drugs to be made. I think more people need to be outraged by this.

The pharmaceuticals industry has made huge investments in research and development. On the whole, the research has paid off, both in the development of effective new drugs and in profits for the firms. But the rest of their argument is self-serving…

Without keeping high prices, drug companies argue that it couldn’t develop many of these drugs at all. How can this be true? Given the hundreds of millions of dollars that pharmaceutical companies make thanks to intellectual property rights—compared to how much of this money is allotted for research. Most likely the amount of money spend in marketing and image branding exceeds what is going into research. In 2004, Pfizer is listed as having 52.5 billion in healthcare revenue and less than $8 billion going toward research and development

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