View from the editor

By Baffour Ankomah

New African October 2000

Does Mbeki suffer from 'psychological trauma?' The sharks are circling. They think they can smell blood in the water. But will Africa allow them to make another kill?

The prey is Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, the African Renaissance Man, the man who wants to see what lies at the bottom of the "African AIDS epidemic."

In 15 months as president, Mbeki has proved beyond doubt that he is nobody's errand boy. Recently, the powers that be wanted him to deliver the head of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe on a silver plate. He refused.

His usual display of African presidential confidence is causing ripples abroad, especially in Britain, where he has become the target of crude headlines in recent days. The aim is to give him a bad name so they can hang him.

All of a sudden, Mebeki is said to be suffering from some kind of mental illness (mad is the word).

David Beresford, writing from South Africa for The Observer ("Mbeki lets AIDS babies die in pain, 20 August), set the ball rolling: "A Sussex University economics graduate, seen during the years of struggle against apartheid as the ANC's arch-diplomat, Mbeki was widely regarded as sophisticated and cosmopolitan," Beresford wrote. "Time and experience now offer, however, another perspective--of a man whose sensitivity on race points to a previously undiscovered psychological trauma which, while deserving of sympathy, makes him among the politicians least qualified to heal past wounds."

Three days later, Michael Dynes, writing in The Times (Mbeki flounders as economic malaise settles on South Africa, 23 Aug.), put his own spin on it: "...Mbeki is suffering from a gargantuan persecution complex."

The field was now cleared for R. W. Johnson, one of the most ribald of British rightwing journalists, who recently wrote in The Telegraph that "Africa should be recolonised," to take a swipe at Mbeki (The new apartheid, The Spectator, 26 August).

"Crudely put," Johnson wrote, "many now believe that Mbeki is no longer playing with a full pack--that he's off his rocker. A Russian friend said to me, 'It's strange about Mbeki. In Russia it generally takes about five years for our presidents to go mad. He's done it in one.'"

So Mbeki is mad! They said the same about Nkrumah, Lumumba, and recently Mugabe. Any African leader who shows the slightest sign of independent thought is mad. Yet Africa is accused of not offering its own solutions to its problems.

Now we are left with the likes of R. W. Johnson offering Mbeki advice: "Mbeki is already in a hole," says Johnson, "and if he keeps digging, he can only end as South Africa's Mugabe. It is unfortunate that he has a circle of fawning yes-men as advisers, for the advice he really needs is that he should stop digging."

It was the turn of The Sunday Times on 2l7 August to put the knife in. Enemy of the people, was the headline. "Nelson Mandela," The Sunday Times said, "was always going to be a hard act to follow... If the man to do it was [Mbeki], it seemed just an eccentric part of the new Pretoria politics. That was before Thabo Mbeki declared himself a medical expert who understood his country's AIDS epidemic better than the global authorities."

Three days before The Sunday Times article, a curious one had appeared in the International Herald Tribune (South Africa rejects AIDS drug loans). Written by Rachel L. Swarns, the article said: "The US offer of $1 billion in annual loans to finance the purchase of anti-AIDS drugs in sub-Saharan Africa has been rejected by South Africa, one of the countries most devastated by the disease, health officials said."

You didn't have to read the whole article to see the mischief hidden in the headline. In the very second paragraph, Rachel writes: "Namibia has also rejected the offer, and other nations in this stricken region are voicing serious reservations, the officials say."

In effect, it is not only South Africa that has rejected the "AIDS drug loans." So why pick on South Africa in the headline? Why not "Africa rejects AIDS drug loans?" In fact that is what the story says. But, remember, "get the shepherd and scatter the flock." It works!

But Rachel wasn't finished. She continued: "The [loan] offer last month by the US Export-Import Bank, an independent government agency, financed by the US Congress, was made to 24 sub-Saharan countries. Bank officials say none of the countries has formally accepted the offer so far."

The loans are being offered at a 7% commercial interest rate.

"Officials at the SADC which represents 12 [sic] other countries in the region," continued Rachel, "are also expressing doubts about the proposal. They say they would prefer that the US put pressure on US drug companies to reduce prices...

'Members are already burdened by debt,' said Dr Thutula Balfour, director of the health unit of the SADC. 'Making drugs affordable is the solution rather than offering loans that have interest'... Dr Kalumbi Shangula, the permanent secretary for the Namibian Ministry of Health, agreed. He said his country could not afford the drugs. In the US, a patient might pay $12,000 a year or more for drug therapy, a price tag wayout of reach for patients in poor African countries."

An echo from the past

Mbeki's current "problems" should remind us of Kwame Nkrumah. Forty years ago, Nkrumah was called a "megalomaniac" (mad, in short) for preaching African unity, and wanting to industrialise Ghana as a model for a new Africa of those days. His government was overthrown. His projects were called "white elephants."

Yet, today, Nkrumah's 11-point African Union programme (published in 1963) has been adopted and implemented almost wholesale by the European Union. Africa, realising that it has lost out because it allowed itself to be deceived, is now going back 40 years for Nkrumah's African Union project.

Mbkei's two cardinal sins are supposed to be his refusal to "berate Mugabe in public" (Michael Dynes), and his little trouble with AIDS.

But in the West, when one country is in trouble, leaders in "the region " do not publicly berate the president of the troubled country. They call it "non-interference" in domestic affairs. At best, they use diplomatic channels to make themselves heard. Why the same Western countries and their journalists wanted Mbeki to do otherwise, in Mugabe's case, shows how lowly they think about Africa and its leaders.

Michael Davis (The Times) even had more to say: "President Mugabe's reckless seizure of white farms shocked investor sentiment across the region. 'How do we know we are going to own the land we build our factories on 10 years down the line?,' investors asked in bewilderment."

This is what is we call in Ghana, "putting sand in my gari." First, troubles in Northern Ireland--and they've been going on for a long time--do not affect foreign investment in mainland Britain or even the Republic of Ireland. Troubles in the Basque regions of Spain and France themselves, least the whole "European region."

So if troubles in Zimbabwe affect "investor confidence" in the whole SADC region of 14 disparate countries, when peace in Namibia does not favourably affect investment in the whole region, then there is something more to it than meets the eye.

Anyway, if investors are not sure they would still own the land on which their factories stand in 10 years time, this is why: For far too long, the world has glossed over the fact that from Canada to USA, to Latin America, to New Zealand, to Australia, to parts of Africa, and elsewhere, indigenous peoples were deprived of their lands by European settlers after exterminating the native populations. Today the descendants of these European settlers have become the fat of the land, while the descendants of the natives tread water, (if not herded into reservations).

This is an affront to the modern world, and something must be done by way of restitution. In short, if investors in the SADC region are not sure that the land beneath their factories would still be their in 10 years time, it is because the descendants of the natives also want to eat.

Which takes me to Mbeki's other supposed crime--AIDS?

R. W. Johnson kindly informs us (A second Black Death looms in South Africa, The Times, 29 Aug) that in South Africa, "AIDS has an unequal racial incidence. Africans have by far the highest infection rate, followed by Coloureds... The Asian and white figures are microscopic by comparison."

Bold statement, this. But if you asked Johnson to give you HARD figures to back up his claim, he would have none. He would give you only "estimates."

Anyway, the view that AIDS is black African is not Johnson's. It is the view of the AIDS establishment. Look at your average AIDS map. Arab North Africa is painted white (free from disease). Anywhere else below the Sahara is painted brown. How AIDS knows the differences among the skin colours is one of the seven wonders of our modern world. ["HIV" is supposedly so sophisticated that it also distinguishes between genders and sexual preferences. F.C.]

But let's go with Johnson for a moment. If AIDS is indeed black African, doesn't it behoove responsible African leaders to look at what lies at its bottom, in order to find a suitable cure? Yet Mbeki does exactly this, and they say he is "mad, he is acting like a nutter" (The Sunday Times).

But there are very important questions here. On 2 March this year , both The Times and The Independent reported that the Millennium holiday (24 Dec. - 31 Dec 99) alone resulted in a 20% rise in abortions in Britain. "An additional 9,000 women and abortions in January and February [2000] compared with the same time last year, aid Marie Stopes International, one of the main providers of abortions in the country," reported The Independent.

"This increase could be the tip of the iceberg,"said Helen Axby, the deputy director of Marie Stopes. "It seems we are just seeing the first swath of women who have missed their period after the holidays."

The Times quoted Ann Furendi, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, as also saying: "We have some figures for the January period showing numbers are up by as much as 30% in some clinics..."

Which means two things: (a) the British are sexually promiscuous, (b) they don't use condoms (if at all, the rate is low). Britain, again, is said to have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. Again, it confirms that condom usage is low else the teenagers would not be getting pregnant at that high rate.

Now the question: If the British are promiscuous, and the majority do not use condoms, and ARE NOT catching AIDS; and if Africans are promiscuous, and the majority do not use condoms and ARE catching AIDS (as the AIDS establishment tells us), doesn't Africa deserve the right to examine why the dichotomy, in order to find a cure unique to the African condition?

This is all what Mbeki is doing. But they say, "No, you mustn't do that, we have the answer, the drugs and the loans here for you, take them."

Well, thank God, Africa now has, at least, one leader who is not prepared to swallow this arrogance from the North. They can rant and rave--but let them rant and rave!

For Africa, it is time we knew when to support and protect our progressive leaders. Nkrumah, Lumumba, etc., were cut down because the people did not protect them. Are we going to allow the sharks to make another kill?