March 19, 2007

Zimbabwe: checking in

I have written at length in the past about Zimbabwe and the slow motion train wreck that is was becoming over the years. I have despaired of it entirely. I despair no longer. It has ceased becoming a slow motion train wreck and become a fast moving train wreck. Amazing thing progress, no?

Zimbabwe is worsening fast. The NY Times summed it up as follows this morning:

Zimbabwes political stability has deteriorated in recent weeks in lockstep with its economy, now plagued by ever-steeper inflation and worsening shortages of basic commodities. The annual inflation rate is now more than 1,700 percent, and the black-market value of Zimbabwes beleaguered dollar plunged 57 percent last week alone, to 17,500 for one American dollar.
(Emphasis supplied).

The result? Emboldended opposition parties are forming to pressure Mugabe and to try to change things. The reaction? Beating them with iron rods, crushing skulls and eye sockets.

And as much as things change within Zimbabwe, the most influential neighbor, South Africa, does nothing. So, the more things change, once again, the more things stay the same.

Think of the effects on the people, if you will, as their savings evaporate.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 28, 2006

Zimbabwe: let's review

I have written in the past about the slow motion train wreck that has turned Zimbabwe from a healthy exporter to the leading example of what corrupt governance can do to destroy a nation and inflict horrible suffering on its citizens. I have not written on this subject for some time, mostly because I despair of change. Mugabe ain't going anywhere and watching him recently in Cuba embracing Chavez and that asshole from Iran made me want to vomit blood. World leaders in the non-aligned movement, the Third World, and the African nations recoil from the thought of even suggesting that Mugabe is a brutal dictator who is crushing his country.

The Economist brought a nice reminder this morning on the train about how badly things are going in Zimbabwe:

Food, fuel and other essentials are in painfully short supply (shops in Harare, the capital, are even running out of bread). Power cuts are routine, three-quarters of the population have no job, inflation is at 1,200%—the highest rate on the planet. The economy shrank by nearly half in the six years to 2005, and most people now rely on remittances from some of the 3m-4m Zimbabweans living abroad.

One adult in five may be infected with HIV, and AIDS is thought to kill nearly 500 people every day. Drugs could have saved many of them, but there is almost no money for that. People with jobs see 5% of their salaries deducted, supposedly to finance a national AIDS programme. Yet getting treated in government clinics is difficult, and patients must pay Z$3,000 for a monthly course of pills. Private treatment is much more costly.

The world doesn't care and the internal opposition, when not beaten down by the police/army/security forces, is split and disorganized.

I'm glad we've had this little review. I feel ever so much more hopeful.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:18 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 04, 2005

Zimbabwe: Upcoming "Elections"

The main opposition party in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change, has announced that, "with a heavy heart", it intends to take part in the upcoming "elections".

Mugabe has done his level best to corrupt this electoral process and the Telegraph has a good article about this, from which I extract the following:

[MDC Party Spokesman] Mr Nyathi said: "The media remains muzzled. Free assembly is proscribed. The shambolic voters' roll continues to be the principal vehicle for electoral fraud. Constituency boundaries have been subjectively gerrymandered, while militias and militia bases continue to multiply and international observers continue to be unwelcome."

The MDC fought its first election in 2000, only nine months after it was formed, and won nearly half of the 120 seats in parliament after a violent run-up to polling.

Even Zimbabwe's partisan judiciary found that Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF had won at least eight seats unfairly. More than 30 legal challenges to the results are outstanding.

In 2002 the leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, was cheated of victory in the presidential election secretly run and manipulated by scores of army officers. He has spent nearly half of his five years as opposition leader under virtual house arrest on treason charges. Although western observers condemned the election as unfair, South Africa's crucial voice prevailed after its observers declared the poll legitimate.

New laws for the March 31 election allow the military to run both the voting and the counting.

Most MDC MPs have been detained, tortured, beaten up or deprived of their possessions since the party became the first to mount a serious challenge to Mr Mugabe's iron grip on power.

One of its most popular MPs, Roy Bennett, who has been frequently tortured and is serving a year in jail for pushing over Patrick Chinamasa, the justice minister, in parliament, has been chosen by his supporters to represent them again from prison.

I rarely get comments on the Zimbabwe posts but I feel, just the same, a sense of moral urgency to keep writing about it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:35 PM | Comments (3)

December 16, 2004

Zimbabwe: Watch your mouth on the bus

Remember sometime back I wrote about a law in Zimbabwe that criminalized insulting the President? When I say President, read "that thug named Mugabe", ok? According to the NY Times this morning, in an item buried deep in the paper and accorded only about three sentences, a man was arrested and will serve two weeks in jail for telling his brother on a bus not to "be thickheaded like Mugabe". The man was overheard by an informer and was arrested and convicted. He will spend Christmas in jail.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:46 AM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2004

Africa/AIDS: How to help the children

Watching, from afar, as the AIDS plague has ravaged Africa, I have felt completely helpless, as I am sure many of you do. The plight of the adults who suffer from this syndrome has moved me less than the plight of the orphans who are left behind. The children, some of whom are forced to turn to prostitution in order to survive, are the most heart rending of all the victims. I have tried to imagine, and my mind shies away, from what it must feel like for a child to suddenly be left with no parent at all, entirely dependent on his or her native intelligence and skills to survive, to eat, to find shelter, sometimes at a very tender age when we, in the United States, probably would not let a child walk to school alone, much less live alone. I have discovered a charity that seems to be making a difference, though, and I want to call it to your attention: Hope and Homes. H&H helps children orphaned by HIV and AIDS. H&H helps by providing shelter, food, education, and training so that these children can grow and join society. H&H helps keep families together. They are doing the Lord's work, if you will.

H&H also helps place children left in institutions in Eastern Europe and those orphaned by conflict.

You can donate here, if you should wish to do so.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:02 PM | Comments (1)

December 02, 2004

Zimbabwe -- Let the Children Eat, what, cake? Nothing?

Mugabe is in the process of running out of Zimbabwe all foreign aid organizations. We have discussed previously how it has become a criminal offense to accept foreign money in connection with any electoral monitoring and we have also commented on the exclusion of the foreign press and the enhanced criminal penalties authorized for those who "tell falsehoods" about government. So I should not be astonished to learn that a charity responsible for giving 90,000 the only hot meal that they eat in a day has been kicked out of the country. Medair, a Swiss organization devoted to food distribution, had this to say:

It is with real sadness that after 2 years Medair has this week left Zimbabwe. The final move which forced the decision was the refusal by the Zimbabwean government to issue work permits for our 2 remaining senior expatriate staff members.

This follows months in which we had seen our temporary registration to continue our school feeding programmes in Gokwe North and Mudzi districts expire and not be renewed despite our best efforts, and all remaining expatriate staff refused work permits. Unable to work and consequently to fund our continued presence, we were left with no choice but to finally withdraw from the country.

The timing of this decision is all the more significant because of the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation within the country. On the 15th of November the Famine Early Warning System Network for Zimbabwe (FEWS) reasserted their prediction that 2.2 million rural households would require food aid before the end of the year. Indeed, earlier this month World Food Programme (WFP) reported falling school attendances in Mudzi district as parents took their children out of school to work in the fields or find food. This was highlighted as a direct result of the halting of the Medair school feeding programme in August after our registration renewal was refused by the government.

‘We’d really hoped to continue the school feeding programme in partnership with WFP, but instead we found ourselves prevented from distributing, and so the food has sat deteriorating in the warehouses since August. It’s been so frustrating not being free to work and now we leave knowing the increasing food insecurity that faces those primary school children and their families’, said Mark Screeton, Medair Desk Officer for Zimbabwe.

At this time of great need our thoughts remain with the beneficiaries we have tried to serve in Zimbabwe over the last 2 years, and with our great local staff who have worked tirelessly, and who now find themselves unemployed at a time of national economic crisis.

Mugabe is a terrifying dictator in the worst of the authoritarian tradition. Children will starve as a result of his personally wrecking his country's economy.

I wonder if it will end in some form of armed uprising.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:17 AM | Comments (6)

November 30, 2004

AIDS and Africa, again

I have written on AIDS and Africa, before, and discussed the horrifying impact of this syndrome on that continent. But, there were a couple of articles this weekend in the NY Times that brought it all back again. A team of reporters spent 5 weeks in Lavumisa, Swaziland, a small town in South Africa. They interviewed scores of residents. The reporters also recorded their observations. The story is hard to put down. But, primarily, it is a newspaper article. This means it has heart rending human suffering details with hard facts about the impact on the society. I am interested in the facts, here, although I read the human suffering details in the article and found them quite moving. No, my interest is primarily in the huge dislocative effects on society writ large. The disease is destroying society and in Africa and turning the clock back on decades of social and economic progress. As the article asks:

Epidemics typically single out the aged and young - the weak, not those at society's core. So what happens to a society when its fulcrum - its mothers and fathers, teachers, nurses, farm workers, bookkeepers, cooks, clerks - die in their prime?

No one will be able to forecast with any great degree of certainty how this will play out, but we can extract some nuggets from the article just the same, which I do in the extended entry:

Across the region, AIDS has reduced life expectancy to levels not seen since the 1800's. In six sub-Saharan nations, the United Nations estimates, the average child born today will not live to 40.

Here in Swaziland, a kingdom about the size of New Jersey with one million people tucked into South Africa's northeast corner, two in five adults are infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Life expectancy now averages 34.4 years, the fourth lowest on earth. Fifteen years ago, it stood at 55. By 2010, experts predict, it will be 30.

Today, Lavumisa's schools are collapsing. Crime is climbing. Medical clinics are jammed. Family assets are sold to fend off hunger. The sick are dying, sometimes alone, because they are too many, and the caretakers are too few. Much of this is occurring because adults whose labors once fed children and paid school fees and sustained families are dead.

At Lavumisa Primary School, a beige L-shaped building of concrete classrooms clumped around a red dirt yard, enrollment has fallen nearly 9 percent in five years, to 494 students, as children drop out to support families. One in three students has lost at least one parent.

Mr. Shiba can state that at the beginning of this year, Ndabazezwe High had 40 students who had lost at least one parent. Nine months later, there were 73, 20 of whom had lost both father and mother, nearly all of whom are desperately poor. A decade ago, Mr. Shiba said, the school had perhaps five orphans, none of them needy.

Both the primary and the high school are staggering under the burden of feeding and educating a growing army of orphans who, by and large, cannot pay the school fees. The state has pledged to pay to educate orphans, but so far it has picked up but half the Lavumisa primary-school fees. Mr. Shiba said the high school was getting a mere $15 of the $100 a year it costs to educate each orphan.

Ndabazezwe High School is now deeply in debt by Swazi standards. It owes $275 for electricity; $200 for water; $260 for books and hundreds more for office equipment. The security guards have not been paid in two months. Borrowed money bought the woodworking and home-economics materials needed for final exams. Even school lunches are hit-or-miss.

Mr. Shiba and Stephen Nxumalo, the headmaster at Lavumisa Primary, reluctantly intend to carry out a resolution adopted in May by the nation's main teachers' organization. Starting in January, students who do not pay their fees - currently about 100 in the primary school, 258 in the high school - will be barred from classes.

When a family loses a parent to AIDS, public health experts here say, the household production of maize quickly falls by half; the number of livestock owned by nearly a third. It is the equivalent of draining the bank account.

Lavumisa and other towns like it are windows into the crisis that has beset Swaziland. AIDS kills an estimated 50 people here and H.I.V. infects 55 more each day, erasing hard-won economic gains of the last 20 years, according to the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

"It is the most efficient impoverishing agent you can find; it just sucks out the resources," said Dr. Derek von Wissell, who directs Swaziland's National Emergency Response Council on H.I.V./AIDS, the agency charged with stemming the epidemic.

Until the late 1990's, when AIDS began to hit with force, Swaziland seemed a society on its way up, making strides in health care, education and income. No more.

Economic growth and agricultural production have slowed. School enrollment is down. Poverty, malnutrition and infant mortality are up. By 2010, the United Nations forecasts, children who have lost one parent or both will account for up to 15 percent of Swaziland's one million people.

The adult H.I.V. infection rate, 38.8 percent, now tops Botswana's as the world's highest. The death rate has doubled in just seven years.

"Swaziland is frankly beyond the threshold of what we thought could happen," said Duncan Earle of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, who oversees $48 million in AIDS-related grants to the kingdom. "Ten years ago, we thought the peak infection rate would be 20 to 25 percent. This stretches the imagination."

A long-promised flood of antiretroviral drugs financed by the Global Fund and other donors could help stem the carnage. But like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, Swaziland is starting slowly. Only about 4,000 of the 26,000 who need drugs get them. Perhaps 8,000 will have them by the end of 2005.

In 16 months, the Global Fund has disbursed $5.1 million in AIDS grants to Swaziland. Yet not until this month did the overwhelmed Health Ministry hire its first two doctors to work on H.I.V. programs. Some $2.8 million earmarked for orphans' education is locked in the Treasury, even as the government this year spent $600,000 on the king's 36th birthday party.

To the United Nations envoy for AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, it is hard to fathom the consequences awaiting a nation with a vanishing middle generation.

"I resist an apocalyptic scenario," Mr. Lewis said. "But I have to admit, in the middle of the night I ask myself: 'How are these societies going to survive?' "

Virtually all the Swazis dying today were infected in the 1990's, when the infection rate was far lower than it is today. Those who are just now infected will not fall gravely ill until about 2012 - a tidal wave of illness and death that is still eight years away.

How Lavumisa and other similar towns will cope with that is anyone's guess. "Nobody has ever walked that road," Dr. von Wissell said. "Nobody."

I think we can all agree that there are certain horrible issues we can draw from the above quotes.

One, if the next generation is not educated, if they cannot go to school, there is limited hope for the future of that country. Where are the next doctors to come from? Or teachers? Or computer programmers? Or engineers? Or even bureaucrats to administer the foreign aid programs?

Two, as the family structure breaks down, and there is no mention, I note, of any organized religion, who is going to teach the tradtional morals and values to the next generation? This has long term society altering consequences, too.

Three, what happens to the economy. People are growing less corn and thus have less to sell. They will then have less money to spend on goods and services. They move to a barter system, perhaps. There are no taxes paid to the government on that system! How can the government run programs to help the people with no tax base?

Four, crime has picked up already. Who is paying the police to combat that? How are they paying them?

Five, how can this country ever attract foreign investment if you need to hire three people for every job because two of them are going to die?

Six, how much worse can it get?

The NY Times also, in the Week in Review section, ran another piece about Africa and AIDS and this one just infuriated me. Here was the offending bit of politcally correct, don't blame the victim, it isn't their fault, it is all down the racism bit:

The troubles are easy to enumerate: perhaps one million South Africans already dead from AIDS, from four to five million people infected with H.I.V., a tiny fraction of those receiving antiretroviral medication, and women now about three times more likely than men to become infected. A report issued last week by the United Nations said women now account for 60 percent of all infections in sub-Saharan Africa.

The sexual behavior - unprotected sex with multiple partners in sordid settings - is less easy to elucidate. This is post-apartheid sex, as dictated by lingering poverty, violence, the vulnerability of young black women with scant prospects, and the prevalence of migrant black male laborers uprooted from wives and homes.

In places like Guguletu, where unemployment is about 60 percent, it is clear enough that the fight against AIDS in Africa is also a fight against the continent's painful legacy of exploitation, racism, corruption and waste. Medicines help, but they resemble armored divisions in the fight against terrorism: they will win some important victories, but they will not take you to the root of the problem.

I have a problem with the bit I bolded above. I think and believe that AIDS is a problem that can be fought with a little piece of latex, among other things. Use a condom. Control your risk. Failure to do so is a personal choice at the end of the day. It cannot be a legacy of racism or exploitation or corruption. Unless it was rape, you make the choice about what goes into your body and whether you are protected. To write otherwise, absolves the actor of all personal responsibility for their choices. I hate that. It seems more racist to me than anything else because it removes the human element. I believe that people can make choices and that they must. Otherwise, as we have talked about before, Africa will be a dead zone. No one can seriously want that.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:40 AM | Comments (3)

November 29, 2004

Zimbabwe: New Oppressive Measures

I never lack for material on Zimbabwe. I know it may not be a matter of great interest to many of my visitors (I can tell by the lack of comments), but it is of great interest to me. Mugabe, the dictator-in-chief of Zimbabwe, has introduced new legislation to curb critics by providing for jail time of up to 20 years if you "publish or communicate a falsehood".

The latest law, which comes among a rush of new Bills, ahead of elections next March, makes it an offence to publish or communicate "to any other person a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention of realising that there is a real risk of inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety or, adversely affecting the defence and economic interests of Zimbabwe: or undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe; or interfering with, disrupting or interrupting any essential service," that person "shall be guilty of publishing or communicating a false statement prejudicial to the State and liable to a fine up to or exceeding level 14 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or both."

Critics have condemned the slack phrasing of the bill. "The question of what is a falsehood will depend on which judge hears the case," said Beatrice Mtetwa, a human rights lawyer.

Mr Coltart said one clause in the new bill also makes it an offence for any citizen, either in Zimbabwe or outside the country to make an "abusive, indecent or obscene statement" about President Robert Mugabe, "even if it is a true statement", he said.

Let's be clear about how bad this law is.

David Coltart, legal secretary of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said: "The section relating to crimes against the state in this bill embodies the most fascist legislation this country has known, far worse than the most draconian laws passed by the Smith regime. The sentence of up to 20 years amounts to a death sentence in Zimbabwe's prisons."


I assume that stories like this, about children forced into prostitution, will be called "falsehoods". Put the situation into context:

Food shortages in Bulawayo have claimed the lives of more than 160 people in the past year, according to Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, the city's mayor and a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Although the government announced a "record harvest" in May and ordered the World Food Programme to stop distributing aid, a Zimbabwe parliamentary committee gave warning this month that the country would run out of food before April.

Mr Mugabe's seizures of white-owned farms have led to the collapse of a once-thriving agricultural economy. Zimbabwe used to be able to export food to drought-stricken neighbours in southern Africa. Now, the plight of its people is worsened by the spread of Aids - at least one in three of Zimbabwe's population is HIV positive. Despite the terrible risks, Linguile and hundreds of other girls who sell their bodies are prepared to have unprotected sex to make more money.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:35 AM | Comments (1)

November 17, 2004

Zimbabwe, yet again

I know that most of the world is uncaring about Zimbabwe. It is certainly not a hot topic among the blogs. However, and knowing even that it will not particularly draw a lot of comments, I feel compelled by my sense of outrage to write about recent events in Zimbabwe where Mugabe has suspended the country's constitution.

Mugabe is tightening his grip on this poor country. He has "suspended Zimbabwe's constitution to drive a batch of repressive new laws through parliament".

The key provisions will ban any foreign funded human rights organizations from operating in the country, will prohibit any foreign-funded organisation from providing any kind of voter education (cause it is easier to repress people if they are kept stupid), will create a "Zimbabwe Electoral Commission", composed of 5 commissionsers all appointed by Mugabe, to run elections, and, for the first time, members of the Zimbabwe National Army, the police and prison services will be permitted to serve as election officials.

This is a recipe for disaster and for further consolidation of power. I feel quite bad for the people of Zimbabwe.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2004

Zimbabwe v. Kenya, a different approach to land

It seems to me that I write so much about Africa that I ought to have it as a category. But it is such a fascinating topic. Zimbabwe is a country of great interest to me and I have written about it's slow motion train wreck of a system of government and civil society at length.

One of the biggest reasons for the decline in Zimbabwe's standard of living and hard currency reserves and general economic malaise is the manner in which the government has handled the redistribution of land held primarily by white farmers before. This land was the source of the main exports -- coffee; flowers; and tobacco. To raise these crops for international markets required a high level of sophisticated technical expertise. The people the government resettled on these farms had no such technical knowledge and, to cut this short, the economy has been devastated with the effects reaching beyond the export to the internal chemical industry (pesticides not needed any longer for farms not growing anything) to the heavy machinery industry (who has money now to buy farm equipment or to have existing equipment serviced?). The effects ripple and are bad.

Kenya is now faced with demands for the redistribution of land which was settled during colonial times and according to treaties of dubious character. Kenya, however, has taken lessons from Zimbabwe and has gone the other direction. According to the article in the NY Times* this morning, the Kenyan government is forcibly resisting the Masai squatting and land invasions. They are arresting and relocating the squatters.

Kenyan officials have no intention of following Mr. Mugabe's example. Uprooting the ranchers, government officials said, would be disastrous for the economy, which relies heavily on Western assistance and on tourism, a major source of hard currency.

On top of that, acceding to the Masai might encourage similar demands by the scores of other ethnic groups in Kenya, many of which have historic grievances of their own, officials added.

The government has adopted a cautious approach to land reform. A new constitution that is being drafted proposes that the long leases granted to some wealthy ranchers, some of which exceed 950 years, be reduced to 99 years. When those leases expire, Mr. Kimunya said, it is possible that the land may be reallocated.

A small round of applause for the cautious Kenyans and their sensible approach. They may yet avoid the calamity that has befallen Zimbabwe.

* Should you go read this article, please ignore the exceptionally stupid whitewash -- "But while President Robert Mugabe backed - and even encouraged - the forced redistribution of land in Zimbabwe as a way of righting colonial wrongs" -- of the land redistribution as Mugabe's one great chance as an historical reformer. Mugabe was trying to hold onto power and he did it through land redistribution. That is the reason, no matter what protestations to the contrary you may see in the press. This kind of off handed treatment of Mugabe just drives me nuts.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2004

Zimbabwe, yet again

Regular visitors will have noticed that I am fascinated by Zimbabwe. It is sort of like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You just can't look away. That same elusive creature, the regular reader, might also have noticed that I am also very concerned about the impact of AIDS in the developing nations of the world. Well, today, the NY Times brought both of these topics together in an article about AIDS in Zimbabwe. As is my habit, I extract for you here those bits from the article which caught my attention. But first, a quick review of the thrust of the article.

The article is a snap shot of the effects of bad governance on AIDS. Briefly, people in Zimbabwe are suffering from AIDS at an enormously high rate but international organizations are reluctant to assist Zimbabwe because one, the present government will likely divert or steal the aid money and two, manipulate the aid for political ends. No one trusts the government, no one wants to throw money into that pit of despair.

Here are some of the statistics that stood out:

*In Zimbabwe, where 1.8 million people are H.I.V. positive and 360,000 need life prolonging antiretroviral drugs, virtually the only ones who get them are the 5,000 who can afford them. Relief workers here estimate that fewer than 1,000 Zimbabweans receive antiretroviral drugs free through government or charitable programs, with little hope of expanding that number.

*Zimbabwe, where roughly one in four adults is infected with H.I.V. and more than 2,500 people a week die of AIDS.

*The plight of this nation of more than 11 million people is evident at Harare Central Hospital, where workers say just 23 patients are receiving antiretroviral treatment and no more can be started until next year because of lack on money. It is obvious at the Parirenyatwa city hospital, where, local news reports say, the morgue reeks of bodies of AIDS victims whose relatives cannot afford to bury them. And it can be seen at one seven-year-old cemetery south of Harare, where more than 14,000 people have already been buried just 18 inches apart, and workers say they dig about 25 graves each day.

It is a hell of a situation. The only question left to ask is: when do you think that entire society will disintegrate?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:02 AM | Comments (3)

August 06, 2004

AIDS and Personal Responsibility

I think about AIDS a lot. I have no personal connection to this disease. I know no one who has it or has died from it, to the best of my knowledge. So, that's not why I care. No, generally, I am concerned about the impact AIDS has on developing societies. I am fascinated by how this modern day plague is devastating the African Continent, how social norms appear to be in the process of being rewritten as a result, how prevention and treatment are advanced and thwarted, how Asia is responding in general and China in particular, and how this might effect the world beyond the borders of those countries and continents most particularly affected. Whole generations are being more than decimated and the impact of such a reordering of population norms may not be felt for years.

However, I never really thought much about the impact on US society in the same way, since it seems like the US has AIDS under much better control. I guess I was wrong, at least with respect to the black community here. And, if it concerns such an important segment of our society as a whole, it ought to concern everyone.

The NY Times today had an article on the spread of AIDS in the black community in small, Southern cities: Links Between Prison and AIDS Affecting Blacks Inside and Out. Again, as is my wont, I'll extract some of the statistics that caused my mouth to drop open on the train today:

*Blacks now account for more than half of all new H.I.V. infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black women account for 72 percent of all new cases among women. During the decades that the AIDS epidemic has spread, the number of people incarcerated has also soared, to nearly 2.1 million, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Of that total, more than 40 percent are black.

*In North Carolina, African-Americans make up more than 70 percent of all existing H.I.V. and AIDS cases, and about 60 percent of the state's roughly 35,000 prisoners.

*The prevalence of confirmed AIDS cases in prisons is three times as high as it is in the general population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. H.I.V. cases are harder to count, because only 19 states conduct mandatory H.I.V. testing of inmates. But many researchers believe the number of prisoners with H.I.V. to be far higher than the 1.9 percent most recently documented by the justice agency.

I'll put the rest of my observations below in the extended entry section.

One thing missing, that I’d be curious to see is what percentage of babies born HIV positive are black. If you go to the CDC website, though, you can look at some statistics through December 2002 which might give you an idea about how children, those under the age of 13, acquire HIV. Of the 9,300 children in the US with HIV, fully 8,629 of them became infected as a result of “mother with or at risk for HIV infection”. If it is true that black women account for 72% of all new HIV infections among women, then I assume that the number of children born with the HIV infection will also rise and the black community, and society as a whole, will be afflicted even worse.* (*see update below).

Here's the kicker for me. I've been chewing this article over all morning in the back of my mind and I went back now to re-read it. I am troubled by the rise of AIDS in the black community, but that's not what I mean by the "kicker". No, what also troubled me here was that nowhere in this very long article does anyone embrace the concept of personal responsibility, that just maybe you have an obligation to avoid engaging in high risk behavior that might get you infected.

The doctors conducting the study avoid the topic, instead seemingly cast blame on the "system" that incarcerates large numbers of convicts.

"H.I.V. is an opportunistic disease that thrives on disruptions of social networks," said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina, where several studies on the subject are under way. "You can hardly get more socially disruptive than removing double-digit percentages of men from communities for extended periods of time."

Why are double digit percentages of men removed from communities? First of all, that phrase is neutral and suggests no culpability on the part of those "removed". It's not their fault they've been "removed". No, blame the system. It's like that stupid phrase seen of late, "hate the game, not the player". No, these men are removed by the criminal justice system and sentenced to serve time in prison because they have been convicted of, or pled to, committing crimes in these very "communities" they've been removed from. Is the criminal justice system racist, as we’ve all seen suggested? Maybe. Probably not from where I’m sitting.

The article focuses on ways to keep released prisoners from spreading AIDS in their "communities" when they get released. I wonder if that's not the wrong place to concentrate all the efforts.

Maybe the key to AIDS prevention starts at first with turning around at risk teens, to convincing them that college and the pencil is a better choice than the State Pen. Maybe we acknowledge that there is at least one or maybe more generations we cannot help and we concentrate our efforts and our societal resources on the youth who are not yet criminally or sexually active and we try to save them. Is that heartless, the suggestion that we write off a generation? Maybe. But I'd sure hate to see us turn into a developing nation again and maybe we can save the next generation.

With a full-time job as a security guard, she is hoping to save enough money to pay for cosmetology school. Her current boyfriend was briefly in jail, but he has a good job in construction and a house, which they share. He knows she is H.I.V. positive, she said, and he is very supportive.

After a moment of hesitation, Louise admitted that they do not always use protection.

"He says if he gets infected he'll just deal with it," she said with a shrug of her shoulders and a raised eyebrow that hinted at disbelief.

The thing is, though, if he gets infected it's we as a society as a whole who will have to "deal with" the consequences of his outright rejection of the concept of personal responsibility.

Rant endeth here.

UPDATE: I went over to the National Institute of Health who had this statistic:

The estimated rate of adult/adolescent AIDS diagnoses in the United States in 2002 (per 100,000 population) was 76.4 among blacks, 26.0 among Hispanics, 11.2 among American Indians/Alaska Natives, 7.0 among whites, and 4.9 among Asians/Pacific Islanders.

The statistical breakdown presented there is chilling.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:36 AM | Comments (6)

July 29, 2004

South Africa and AIDS

I've posted before about the impact of the AIDS virus in Africa. About how 2-3 people have to be hired to perform the same job in middle management in South African companies because chances are statistically very good that only one of them will be around to get the job done. Or maybe I haven't posted about this. I have certainly harangued my wife about it. (By the way, the poor dear deserves your sympathy entirely because before I discovered blogging, she was the sole "beneficiary" of my rants.)

There was an article in the NY Times this morning about AIDS in South Africa. Its lead in was about how graves have to be recycled in Durban because of the high number of deaths and the small amount of cemetery space. It included some shocking statistics and I want to bring them out here so that all my readers, all eleven of you (and you know who you are), can share my concern:

*51 of the 53 municipal cemeteries are officially filled to capacity

*"Five years ago, we used to have about 120 funerals a weekend, but this number has now jumped to 600," Thembinkosi Ngcobo, who heads the municipal department of parks and cemeteries, said in an interview this week. "In order to cope with the current rate of mortality - we hope it is not going to increase - we will need to have 12.1 hectares every year of new gravesites." That is nearly 30 acres.

*Roughly one in eight South Africans is H.I.V.-positive

*in Durban, South Africa's third-largest city with about 3.5 million people, a survey two years ago of women at pregnancy clinics found about 35 percent were infected with H.I.V.

This is tragic. I just never contemplated the effects of the deaths vis a vis funerals and cemetery use. I'm glad that the NY Times brought these facts out.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:58 AM | Comments (5)

July 12, 2004

Nursing Shortage in Africa

Today, in the NY Times, there was heartrending article about the nursing shortage in Africa. In a nutshell, it appears that all of the nurses are setting off to practice their art back in Great Britain. Result? The health and medical systems of Malawi are on the verge of collapse. It is becoming a total ruin and a crisis.

The blame and the remedy are where the NY Times and I part company. The position of the author is right out in front: "It is the poor subsidizing the rich, since African governments paid to educate many of the health care workers who are leaving." Well, the blame is clear. It's all the fault of the prosperous Western regimes. The remedy proposed? Set up some system which will make it more difficult for these women to emigrate, to get out of Africa, to get out of hospitals where it is assumed, for instance, that "any woman they examine may be H.I.V. positive", where "a quarter of public health workers, including nurses, will be dead, mostly of AIDS and tuberculosis, by 2009, according to a study of worker death rates in 40 hospitals here".

Instead of setting up some bureaucratic Berlin Wall to keep these women slaving away for overtime pay of 20 cents an hour, let's turn the focus on corrupt regimes which are killing their people. We cannot force these women to stay. That is immoral if they can get out and especially if they can support themselves elsewhere. No, this is the free market of people -- the movement of people from bad regimes to comparatively better ones. The trick is to make it possible for these women to want to stay in their home countries, not to coerce them into it. That is where the hard work comes in. How to improve African countries. No one wants to focus on that when the easier and more politically attractive explanation is that it is all the fault of the West. Cheap blame will solve nothing.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:14 PM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2004

Zimbabwe, again

Long time readers may recall my post some time ago concerning Zimbabwe and the horrible political and social and economic situation there. I wrote about my disgust with the other African governments and their failure to even attempt to deal with this problem. Well, I came across this today in the NY Times: African Leaders Failing Zimbabwe, Prelate Says. Want to know why he said that?

Mr. Mugabe scored a diplomatic victory last weekend when the 53-nation African Union, meeting in Ethiopia, voted to table a sharply worded critique of Zimbabwe's civil-liberties record prepared by a committee on human rights. The report, which was leaked last week, accused the government of "failure at critical moments to uphold the rule of law" and of tolerating arbitrary arrests and human-rights violations.

Apparently, by the way, this report dates from 2002!

What a disaster.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:44 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2004


Is everyone else following the fascinating events taking place in Zimbabwe? The NY Times carried an article today, buried in the middle of the paper, entitled Zimbabwe Announces a New Plan to Seize Land.

A little background, from memory, is in order. Forgive me if I make any mistakes, but this is all from memory.

Mugabe is killing if not already killed his country. He, in order to correct what he perceived to be inequities in land distribution and the legacies of White rule, nationalized many farms. The plan was to give them out to landless peasant types to farm. The result was that most of the farms seized were given to high ranking government and party figures, including, in one memorable instance, Mugabe's wife.

So what happened and why is it interesting to me? It's interesting to me because for over four years now, I've read good British reporting detailing the step by step collapse of civilization as we understand it in Zimbabwe. It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

First, the land distribution scheme destroyed the economy. All of the main exports from Zimbabwe were agricultural based. Cut flowers, tobacco and beef were high in that list. These things require expertise to grow for international markets. The ability to produce these things was destroyed as the farmers who could do it were terrorized into leaving their land. Result? No hard currency for Zimbabwe. As the NY Times reports today, inflation is at 620%! Can you even imagine that? As the agricultural sector collapsed, so did the chemical and machine sectors.

Second, as the economy spun out of control, Mugabe faced political pressure for reform from an opposition party and from the newspapers. Result? Beat and jail the opposition. Kill the ones you can't intimidate. Shut down the newspapers and pack the courts and threaten the judges if the editors are stupid enough to sue. Bring out the army if people protest. Create youth wings of your political parties and use them to commit acts of political violence. So, political freedom disappears at the same time that prices go up by 620%.

Third, I am stunned still by the refusal of South Africa to criticize Mugabe. M'bake won't do it and he won't permit it. All in the name of African solidarity against former colonialism. Meanwhile, the hospitals in Zimbabwe have no money for supplies and all the nurses and doctors are leaving to go to Canada. That is coming close to criminal behavior by South Africa, in my opinion.

Fourth, international political pressure fails. The only countries willing to pressure Zimbabwe in public are England and the United States. Of course, there is the Commonwealth which has either excluded Zimbabwe or criticized Zimbabwe thus causing Mugabe to resign from the Commonwealth. Either way, lots of nice words and nothing done about it. Well, nothing accomplished. I do seem to recall that Britain offered to pay for the land taken by farmers to allow Zimbabwe to buy it, but that came to nothing and the terror and violence against the white farmers continued.

So, here we are today. Zimbabwe on the brink of total meltdown and the government acts swiftly and decisively to preempt the crisis. How, you may ask? Well, first, "Zimbabwe's government says its economic problems have nothing to do with the land seizures and can be laid to drought and a Western plot to restore colonial rule." Did you get that? The government is the victim of an evil conspriacy and the weather. So, clearly the best thing to do is to nationalize all the remaining land.

The "government planned to take control of remaining farmland, abolishing all deeds, and turn it back to farmers under 99-year leases. Leases on wildlife conservancies would be limited to 25 years, he said, because that land is considered more valuable than farmland".

May I point out that nationalization and collectivization of farm land in the Soviet Union was a stunning triumph for the State Planning School of Economic Thought?

Here is a further complication, by the way. No deeds to the property mean no one will lend to the farmer. No title, no collateral, no lending. Simple, no?

"At present, none of those awarded portions of seized white commercial farms have title to their lands. Those peasants' inability to raise money to begin commercial farming on their own has been blamed by some for the nation's dismal harvests over the last three years." There is a fascinating book about the role property rights and of title to land in economic development by Hernando De Soto called, The Mystery of Capital.

Of course, there is another, even more sinister explanation for this move by the governing party. "The opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, expressed concern that state ownership of all land would merely give the government another means to exert control over the population."

Why don't more people seem to care about Zimbabwe?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)