For a period of about five years during the mid to late eighties a phenomenon occurred. The use of euphemisms in obituaries. Causes of death were obscured as were the nature of relationships. As the majority of deceased were young men the obfuscating objective usually failed. Spelling out AIDS in bold type wouldn’t have made it any less obvious what had happened.
Predominantly this type of diversionary tactic was practised by the victims blood family. In the days when it was still considered mainly a homosexual illness shame outweighed the truth for too many people. Whether it was the cause of death or the sexuality that people were trying to hide is irrelevant. What mattered was that this attitude was merely a reflection of how society wanted to deal with the whole issued of AIDS.
Homosexuality, promiscuity and the decease were irrevocably linked in people’s minds. The popular press, politicians and preachers of social conservatism (which was just then getting a foothold in the public eye) latched onto the idea that this was some sort of retribution for the life style. Beyond the gay community there was little or no interest in finding a cure let alone talking about the manners in which the decease could be checked.
Even the first cases of heterosexuals contracting the AIDS were dismissed as being the result of deviant behaviour. Intravenous drug users and prostitutes are not about to garner the sympathy of the general public. It wasn’t until the first victims of tainted blood transfusion’s began appearing, and politicians realized there were political points to be made, that any action was taken to check the spread of the infection.
By the time the “innocent victim” stage was reached it was too late. AIDS had gained a significant foothold and was widespread enough to no longer be isolated and confined. The apathy, bigotry, and shame that had condemned it’s first victims, had come back to haunt society. If a concentrated effort had been made in the early stages of the decease to at least take preventative steps there is the possibility that the spread could have been controlled.
Hindsight is twenty – twenty. But look at the methods of treating any sort of infectious decease, or containing viruses, and it does make one wonder what could have been done. In a recent study on the spread of the virus in North America statistics show that the group with the highest rate of increase currently are heterosexual young women. That’s a far cry from it being the decease of only gays, whores, and drug addicts.
Even more worrying, because of the implications, are the signs that history is repeating itself less then thirty years latter. Africa is in the midst of a horrendous AIDS epidemic. Already one of the poorest and most devastated parts of the world where medical resources are insufficient to meet the majority of basic needs the continent’s ability to cope with an outbreak of this nature is non-existent.
Until very recently the response of the developed world (supposedly that’s us) has been apathetic. How we can fall back on the “it’s not us so it doesn’t matter” attitude again when we’ve seen the outcome of inaction first hand is astounding. From a strictly humanitarian point of view it’s disgusting, but to be naive enough to still believe that is unfathomable.
There’s much being made of this new deal for Africa that Tony Blair prime minister of Britain is using to carve out a place in history for himself. Forgiving the debts of some of the countries sounds on the surface like a positive step. But what’s being proposed goes neither far enough nor does anything to help the continent dig itself out from under it’s post colonial burdens.
When Africa was carved up between the Europeans they utilized tribal animosity to ensure their own power base. The inheritance is still being played out in country after country in ethnic conflicts that have resulted in the horrors of Rwanda and now Darfur. They further exacerbated the situation by creating artificial boundaries that ignored traditional territories.
By forcing close proximity of ancient enemies they created a tinder box that exploded with their withdrawal. Cynical leaders manipulated old feuds to generate a power base, and the resulting civil wars have devastated the economies, populations, and the land itself. With acres of agricultural land now sown with land mines food production is reduced drastically.
One of the things that Africa is rich in are natural resources. For them to obtain any sort of economic recovery they need to be able to have markets to sell their products to and control over their development. Like Canada they are resource rich but manufacturing poor. Unlike Canada though very few of the countries see little or any return on their asset. Since so many of the companies doing business in Africa are foreign owned few have any interest beyond how a big a profit they can score.
This new debt relief package comes with plenty of strings attached. While on the surface some may sound sensible on closer examination they don’t stand up to scrutiny. In order to qualify for this program a government has to spend the money on health, education, and infrastructure, not be what we consider corrupt (who is going to decide this and how), and make a variety of concessions on trade. There’s more but these ones are the big three.
Most of the countries involved have been unable to spend money on their own people because they have been making massive payments on their debt to the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F). The irony is that the only way they were able to secure loans from the I.M.F. was to guarantee that they would reduce spending on social programs such as health, infrastructure and education. So not only did they not have the money to put towards things that would have helped their economy by having an healthy, educated population with proper sewers, and roads, because they were using it for debt payments. The very conditions of the loan prohibited the spending of money on them.
So now they are told, you don’t have to pay back that loan anymore, but any monies you save from that you have to spend on the very things we wouldn’t let you spend the loan money on. But now the cost of investing in social projects will be so high after years of neglect that without an infusion of cash just catching up to where they were before the cut backs may be impossible.
It’s all very well for the G 8 to demand that the complying countries open their borders to trade, but are they willing to do the same? Will the U.S., Canada, Japan and the European Union lift their prohibitive tariffs on raw materials to provide them with markets? Or is this going to continue to be a one way street which will allow the flooding of Africa with manufactured goods from outside? Does this also include relaxing rules that countries have against foreign ownership which will allow multinationals the opportunity to scoop up more of the natural resource money available in Africa?
By itself this debt forgiveness package will accomplish little except to salve a few consciences. Without the infusion of real money to allow for the rebuilding of individual countries it amounts to no real gain. The grinding poverty and the conditions causing it will not be eradicated. The spread of decease, civil war, and famine will continue unchecked.
In this day and age we can no longer pretend that anyone is isolated. Borders and oceans are no defence against anything any longer. Forests in North America are devastated by beetles traveling in container ships from overseas. What’s to prevent the AIDS virus or anything similar from spreading in the same manner?
Until we get over our apathy towards helping our fellow people we are placing the whole world in jeopardy. If we are truly genuine in our desire to assist Africa we must do more then forgive a few loans. What has been destroyed through the actions of the developed world must now be rebuilt. The real debt that is owed has still to be paid. The one that is owed the people of Africa.