Africa's Two-Fold Misery: AIDS and WARS


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Africa’s Two-Fold Misery:

AIDS and Wars




Gbenga Olawepo

Former National Deputy Publicity Secretary, PDP




November 17, 2003


Any time I find myself among young people of African descent, whether students, politicians or professionals, sharing thought about Africa and her manifold problems and how to solve them, I usually carry an extra ordinary feeling of elation.


This feeling is extra ordinary because the commitment to change by young people is extra-ordinary. While the approach by politicians and bureaucrats to issues is usually cold and sometimes complacent, when you get into the circle of the youth it is red-hot, the language is now, the approach is quick.


That was the temperature when I visited AASU’s website and found the posted paper on the impact of war and HIV/AIDS on peace in Africa. Nevertheless the AASU secretariat has drawn a list of VIPS who probably may share a gradualist approach to the resolution of a lot of issues confronting mother Africa. On the list of the VIPS I saw accomplished international bureaucrats and the renaissance breed of African politicians and statesmen who will be able to temper our new approach with the insight from the difficult reality of the slippery terrain of African politics against the background of the unipolar international system where only one triumphant dominant hegemonic voice is heard.


I could not have expected less from the AASU secretariat, given the creativity, dynamism and energy of the African students movement; It was this creativity that put the African student movement in the fore-front of the struggle to terminate colonialism, it was this creativity that was called upon in the fight against apartheid, it was this dynamism that was employed in the democratization struggle of the last decade in African.


I have come therefore to pay homage and salute this patriotism and exceptional resilience of African students in the face of all odds, and to thank you most sincerely for finding me worthy of honour. I have come to offer my own thoughts on the critical two fold misery of Africa – War and the AIDS pandemic.


War and AIDS in Africa are of course one and the same as both claim casualties in horrendous proportions.

This similar tragedy also consumes the African creative force, the young between ages 15 – 49. Both turn children to orphans fast, and married women to widows and the men to widowers.


There is however a difference, whereas the instruments of Africa several fratricidal wars are loud in sounding boom! boom! The HIV is a weapon that sneaks leisurely into the system.


In Africa HIV has proved a more lethal weapon than grenades, RPG’s, AK-47’s and landmines. It kills 6000 to 7000 people everyday, its cumulative victims are more than the victims of all the celebrated massacres and bush wars. According to Mark Schroof in his essay AIDS the agony of Africa “in the last one year the combined wars in Africa killed 200,000, AIDS killed 10 times”. But first lets examine the African wars before the AIDS pandemic in details.


The African wars, from – prehistory to now


Wars have been fought by every nation, race and people who have a history, sometimes over territories, some other times over faith or prestige. Most modern states are a creation of wars, and Africa has had its own fair share of internal wars to build larger states, just like Europe.


However the wars who’s goals and objectives are defined by other races other than tribes of the same racial stock carry more devastating consequences for the culture, mores, history economy, religion and the entire world view of the conquered people.


The above was true of Africa starting with the invasion of ancient Egypt (Black) around 2181 BC – to 204 BC and the Arab invasion beginning from 7th century AD. Most of these wars witnessed the destruction of temples, artifacts, temples that hosted written records (in hieroglyphics) of the history o the earliest word civilization, apart from the colossal loss of humans.


The history of Africa of those era were to remain lost or buried in invented racist myths about Africa all attempting to deny the Africa ness of that great civilization until the great scientific reconstruction of Africa history by the late Senegalese historian, physics, anthropologist and chemist – Cheikh Anta Diop.


Some of the consequence of the early wars in prehistory from Invaders of Asiatic origin is that today Africa with a smaller population than Europe, Asia and America is playing host to the greatest number of languages and ethnic groups who from available records are from the same roots and cultures. Fleeing from invaders and forced to migrate, communities break into smaller units facing different directions; these units were to later appear as distinct kingdoms and groups. Chancellor Williams, the Afro-America scholar dealt with this phenomena in his works, “the destruction of Black civilization, great issues of a race”.


Slave Wars


The wars that have proved most destructive in Africa until the war of HIV are the war of slavery and colonialism. Kicking off after Europe stumbled into maxim guns and America, the wars of construction of new status in Africa, which every continent experienced, was creatively exploited by European marauders owing to the possession of superior weapon of mass destruction.


These wars manipulated by European traders, arms suppliers initially served as the server pot for trans Atlantic slave trade and the eventual wars of pacification of Africa.


Every war is despicable, but the war to catch humans in Africa is without equal. Scholars of Africa have estimated 24 million able-bodied Africans between the age of 15 and 35 as the figures transported to the new world. European sources themselves acknowledged a figure of 10 million. But we must multiply this 10 million by ten. For every one that arrived in America 10 had died either at point of passage, or disembarkation or committed suicide.


The slave wars meant loss of massive productive labour for Africa in an era where there were no automated machines any where in the globe in an era when every productive labour counts. Africa was consequently depopulated of a vital resource for development. Families dismembered, and many communities fled into the caves and some into the hills from slave catchers where they remained isolated from cultures and development in their parent communities. These planted deep hatred among otherwise united people, hatred that will later resonate in the current wars in Africa. Slavery also created fear and insecurity.



Colonial Wars


The colonial wars where slave wars of a new kind. While slavery was to catch men, colonial wars were to grab men on their territory and impose new culture, faith, language and new economic patterns.


Preceded first by precolonial trade and the wars of pacification, it caused massive deaths of Africa natives resisting the colonizers. But beyond that it fashioned a new economic pattern that was to later forcefully fashion out Africa into a dependent economic and cultural outpost of Europe.


Colonialism brought with it the complete destruction of existing local industries, restructured trade routes, liquidated indigenous economic capacities and turned Africa into importer of everything it had earlier produced before colonialism. Thus the continent of Gold rich Ashanti, salt-rich Mali, soap producing Yoruba nation were to later become dependent on

Unilever for everything they had earlier produced. In short, a programmed legacy of poverty and debt due to unequal exchange was imposed.


Some of the negative consequences of colonial wars of partition in Africa that continued to inspire current African wars are the artificial partitioning of Africa by colonial power in Berlin in 1884. The new boundaries in several cases separated same people into different countries, causing disequalibrium and in balance. States like the Mossi empire that cover present Burkina Faso, Cote de voir and Togo were reduced to landlocked, Burkina Faso (upper Volta) even though the French owned the 3 countries.


The slave wars nevertheless did not just produce only victims in Africa, it produced heroes, heroines and martyrs like Chaka the Zulu, Samori Toure, Queen Nzinga in Angola, Jaja of Opobo of Nigeria, it produced great heroism of peoples like the heroism of the Ndebeles, and the remarkable Mossi people who resisted the French in a protracted Guerilla war that did not finally end until the 1940’s.


The Current African wars


The current wars in Africa are been fought by black Africans long after the colonialists had “left” the stage. Though most of them have their roots in the past that can never serve as a justification or rationalization of their continuation.

The wars from the great lakes region – Congo, Rwanda, Uganda to the ones in central Africa – Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the ones in the West Africa Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea came and the subsiding one in Angola and Mozambique are just inexcusable.


The effect of this wars combined with, is threatening to make the African an endangered specie of humanity. The fratricidal wars have uprooted communities, multiplied orphans, and made agriculture in so many places impossible – there by exasperating the food crises and increasing poverty.


In Liberia in December 2000 FAO claimed that only 144,000 tones of paddy rice could be produced as result of war as against 259,000 tones produced in the previous year.


Apart from agriculture, African wars have created the highest number of internally displaced people and refugees in Africa. In 2001 alone Africa recorded 13.5 million internally displaced people and 3.6 million refugees of this Angola, Congo and Sudan produced 10 million.


Africa too is probably one of the most mined places on earth with Angola alone having 7,000,000 mines that have not been detonated having had 20 million mines used in that country’s 30 years imperialist imposed war.


In many countries warring factions have abducted children while women are raped and exposed to in-human treatment of the worst kind. These wars are also creating great economic dislocation, poverty, disease, illiteracy and misery. According to studies by aids agencies, about 120 children were recorded to have died of starvation in 2 weeks in July 2001 in the Malanje region of Angola.


The AIDS Pandemic


AIDS have been severally described as the severe stage of HIV infection. And the HIV virus, which caused it, is said to operate by fighting and destroying the body’s immune system thereby opening up the victim to opportunistic infections like cough, diarrhea, tuberculosis etc. First discovered in America in the early eighties in the Gay communities.

Already in Africa an estimated 24.5 million are said to be infected by BBC studies while other sources put the figure at 30 million. Up to date ¾ of 24 million people that have died of AIDS are in Africa while a frightening 2.3 million died of HIV related illness in 2001 alone in Africa.


The prevalent rate of HIV/AIDS varies from region to region with South Africa and Botswana the worse hit. In Botswana 40% of the adult population is infected, while more than 1 in every 5 South Africa pregnant woman tested positive in a recent WHO reports.

The situation in East Africa is improving while West Africa has the lowest prevalent rate. On the average however the picture remains catastrophic in Africa with 6000 – 7000 people dieing daily in a continent where about 24 million have died since the virus was first detected on the shores of lake Victoria seventeen years ago several years when it had been known in America making Aids to claim almost an equal number of victim with the slave trade.


It is not in the number of death alone that the devastating consequence of the AIDS pandemic can be appreciated. The story of AIDS includes the growing numbers of orphans estimated to be about 14 million as a result of Aids. Loss of parents without social security in Africa means no school, no health care, in summary an heritage of poverty for these kids.


The other effect is in the changing cultural pattern, the depletion of skilled workforce and the stigma and isolation which victims suffered as a result of lack of adequate consciousness on how to support patients.

As a result of AIDS life expectancy will soon be 47 years instead of the 64 years according to the World Bank Vice president due to aids.


There is no doubt that the statistic on AIDS and Wars are grim, they are the data on the modern Africa Holocaust, but these are not just numbers we are talking about humans in flesh and blood. Behind the figures are the agonies of orphans, widows and widowers. The endless return of family member to the graveside to bury their loved ones.


How has Africa coped with this two-some tragedy? How has the world responded to these monumental sufferings and where do we go from here?.


First on HIV/AIDS, we know for certain that since the virus was first identified in the United States in the early eighties no known cure has been found. The orthodox response has been awareness campaign promoted by different NGO’s in Africa and governmental agencies before the AIDS regimens and antiretroviral drugs started appearing from western pharmaceutical agencies.


Most Governments in Africa have certainly woken up to the challenge of various awareness campaigns on how to avoid the spread of the virus, but have been seriously limited by funds in their attempt to offer treatment for the infected. For one, the drugs produced by the western pharmaceutical are clearly out of reach of the average patient, this drug which cost between $500 and $1000 a month are clearly expensive in a continent where health budget is $10 per person a year and where most people live on less than $1 per day.


Efforts by African countries such as South Africa to produce cheaper generic version of these drugs have been seriously resisted by a number of the western pharmaceutical giants hiding under sundry intellectual and propriety rights.

The attitudes of western pharmaceuticals have been less than sympathetic and sometimes out rightly callous. As noted by Richard Holbrook, the former US Ambassador to United Nation “pharmaceutical companies would rather treat a bald American than a dying African”

The United Nation initiative in 2001 through the Global Aids Fund, which could probably, produce relief for Africa in terms of fund has not received the needed support from the rich western countries.


According to the initiative about $7billion to $10billion dollars is needed to be spent annually under the initiative. The fund since when announced is yet to attract 2 billion dollars in pledges and has since refuse to receive any further excitement since the United State president, George Bush announced his own emergency plan for Aids relief. According to Bush’s plan, his administration will spend a paltry $15billion dollars in Africa and the Caribbean over a period of 5 years this is to be compared to over $100 billion spent on war in Iraq and over 30 billion dollar already appropriated for reconstruction of Iraq.


The response of the United States has been scandalous and irresponsible. For a country that has been alleged by many scholar to be the origin of this tragic virus. The allegations have been made more plausible by the empirical evidence of high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in countries that attract the highest number of western tourist in Africa. Amidst the disappointing and cold response to Africa’s problem sprang up the positive private initiative of former United state President – Bill Clinton, It will be unfair of us if we do not acknowledge such gestures of good will by friends of Africa in America and Europe who in their little ways are showing genuine concern.



President Clinton has been able to broker a deal with four pharmaceutical companies who produce generic AidS drug who have agreed to reduce price of a generic triple regimen from $1.50 to 40 cent. Though still expensive the deal by the William J Clinton foundation will make more people have access to the drugs than before. The Clinton foundation hopes the price will bring about 2,000,000 people to the treatment coverage by 2008.



Like AIDS  The World’s Response To War In Africa Has Been Jocular and Cynical.


Between May and July 2003, the Liberian killing field again presented a test case, to assess the response of the world to Africa’s many catastrophes.

The verdict was yet an unwilling “friend”, even the United States ever boastful of its historic ties to that unfortunate country was pussyfooting.


While African leaders gathered in Ghana, to find genuine peace, find money and commit troops, our western friends were only interested in complicating an already bad case through an untactical and ill-timed indictment of President Taylor. Only a bold initiative of the Nigeria President to offer Taylor asylum in Nigeria and the brotherly peace initiative of President Khuffor, Chissano of Mozambique, Mbeki of South Africa and the tireless shuttle of our Brother the ECOWAS Ibn Chambas Secretary general and his team saved Africa from yet another orgy of violence and carnage.


The United States Government seems however committed to reversing the gains made by African leaders in arresting violence in Liberia, through a senseless pursuit of a kidnap plan of Charles Taylor from Nigeria soil via an offer of a 2 million dollar price tag. All people of goodwill must condemn this latest plan of the US, as it is a direct assault on Nigeria’s sovereignty and her territorial integrity.


The response to the Liberian situation is typical of our western friends who have the resources to assist even though they are remotely and in some cases directly responsible for these wars. Is it not trite fact that the United States, the benefactor of Mobutu Seseko in the era of the cold war and Belgium cannot extricate itself for responsibilities for the war in Congo? After all Congo at independence was not under dictatorship. Is it not an open secret that the assassination of the elected Prime Minister of Congo –DR. Patrice Lumumba and the consequent endless wars therefore had strong complicity of the western powers? How can United States extricate itself from the war in Angola or Mozambique? How can Imperial Britain extricate itself from the wars in Burundi and Rwanda?



Where Do We Go From Here?


It is evident from the pattern and history of Africa woes that western power relations have significantly contributed to their excersperation. But this is an aspect, which recent commentaries in Africa prefer to shy away from.

Since the end of the cold war and the emergence of a triumphant dominant, ideology of western creditor nations a lot of African leaders and analyst have developed a psychological complex. In an attempt to gain acceptability in the newly created world of the western hemisphere, they run away from directly fingering the west as largely responsible for some of the complications of the African crises. The pastime of analyst and financial advisers is to reduce the entire gamut of African problems to in-efficiency, corruption, lack of transparency and democracy.


If the truth must be told, and it must be, the legacy of crushing poverty that make AIDS, and wars thrive in Africa is largely the heritage of slavery and colonialism of which the western world was the prime beneficiary. Africa can not therefore afford to go to international fora with her leaders having their heads bowed, speaking in muffled and unclear tones, soaked in guilt complex and begging for assistance from self appointed international prefects who draw up pro-creditor criteria against which good and bad boys will be marked.


The language of engagement must be clear, borne out of the realization that the two some wars of guns and HIV raging in Africa have strong western complicity, which the leaders of the advanced countries must take responsibilities for and respond as an act of duty and not charity.


Having said this, the ultimate is for Africa to take her destiny in her own hands and face our problems squarely knowing fully well that no meaningful help will come form the west Pursuant o this I shall outline a number of suggestion which we can be put on the agenda for continental discussions.




1.    I adopt the suggestion of Kwame Kuadey whose paper. “The politics of AIDS drug in Africa” which I read on the Internet. In that paper he, Kuadey suggested that a state of emergency be declared as a result of AIDS in Africa. This HIV/AIDS state of emergency will mean that African government will promote the production of cheap generic drugs and antiretroviral drugs without respect to patent. My argument is that there are certain things whose use has such profound effect on the destiny of humanity that they cannot be patented; an example of this is the art of writing, which we know originated from Africa as hieroglyphics. What patent is Europe and America paying for this? What patent is the world paying to Akhinaton of ancient Egypt in chemistry, and the ancient Egyptians who invented geometry and Algebra?


2.    The African Union should set up a $100 million dollars fund that will Aid African based research on finding an HIV vaccine and AIDS curative regimen as the cure of AIDS must be aggressively pursued. This research should also cooperate extensively with practitioners of African alternative medicine.


3.    Awareness campaign should be sustained and AASU should increase its networking through its affiliate national unions to extend the boundary of campaigns.


4.    AASU’s petition that calls on Mr. Bush to live up to its promise to help defeat HIV/AIDS in Africa by committing 15 billion dollars should be given extensive publicity and support in all African countries.  Particularly, in the United States among black groups, and infact raised to electoral platforms in the United States.


…On Wars


1.     African initiatives in the area of conflict resolution, through prompt deployment of troops, by the African union and sub other regional group be increased. African countries should make international support for African peace initiatives a pre-condition for cooperation in peace initiatives at the global scene, especially such initiatives as counter global terrorism.


2.  The African union must be encouraged to strengthen democratization initiatives in African and programs that will strengthen local capacities for dialogue and non-violent resolutions of issues through NGO’s and other organization of civil society.


3.  A diplomatic platform should be promoted by African governments and NGO’s to make countries that produce and supply arms used in some of the theaters of Africa’s fratricidal war to take some responsibilities for peace initiatives in Africa. After all many African economies don’t produce the arms used in conflicts.




Mr. Vice president, Mr. General secretary, our guest speaker, and delegates to this important conference distinguished ladies and gentlemen. I want to believe that the few suggestion we have made will be built upon to enrich our final plan of action. It is however evident that ultimately only a new political awakening in Africa, that seeks to build self reliant economic capacities by a people that are fired by a new consciousness of knowing Africa’s place in history will launch us into a pedestal to confront not only HIV/AIDS and war but our other numerous crises. With this gathering I will want to say the African student movement has already started the journey and we thank God for this initiative.


Thank you for your attention.




Gbenga Olawepo

Accra – Ghana

17th November 2003


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