AFRICAN AIDS IN CONTEXT

2 11 2008

Death stalks Africa.  Her wildlife population is being decimated by humans, while the human population is being decimated by AIDS.  Each dying animal and each dying human is a tragedy, but a tragedy greater than his or her own death, and a tragedy even greater than the disappearance of species and the dissolution of societies.

The overarching tragedy is the destruction of the ecosystem in which humans and animals have co-existed for millenia, as Africa has been overrun by its burgeoning human population and despoiled in the holy names of “resource extraction” and “development.”  At the dawn of the 20th century, Africa seemed like a vast and forbidding eternal bastion of the natural world.  At the dawn of the 21st century, Africa seems poised on the brink of becoming one vast refugee camp/urban slum.  Its once seemingly endless forests have been largely turned into timber and firewood; its wildlife is being driven to extinction by the market for “bush meat,” and its vast grasslands have been trampled into dust by alien cattle.

Africa worked as an ecosystem when its human population was smaller.  AIDS is a blind, tragic, and uncompassionate way to swing the continent back towards balance.  The AIDS epidemic is all the more tragic because it could have been prevented, long ago, by a conscientious birth control and social welfare program, implemented back in the 50’s and 60’s, before population growth in Africa went into overdrive.

Social welfare needs to be part of birth control promotion in the third world because otherwise, having a lot of children is the best option most people have for ensuring their own welfare.   With no guarantee of how many of a couple’s offspring will grow up and be in a position to take care of their aged parents, the best strategy seems to be to place a lot of bets.

So, if we are going to limit births, we need to assure people that their need for security will be met–in contrast to the Chinese system, which limits births but then just pushes everyone off the dock to see who swims and who sinks.  This compassionless approach is symptomatic of the spiritual sickness of China–but I digress.  We’re talking about Africa here.

The tragedy of AIDS as the answer to Africa’s destabilizing birth rate is compounded by the fact that the “good times” of the 50’s and 60’s are now gone, and we are entering an era of resource and wealth depletion in which it will be infinitely more difficult to implement widespread social welfare systems–because there are so many more people in need, because there is less money available for such projects–or any others, for that matter–and because the social network has been so thoroughly broken.

With the sad wisdom of retrospection, we now see that the money and resources that were burned up in military hardware and adventures would have been much better spent for peaceful uses.  War never does anything but make things worse.

We can also see that those who prevented implementation of birth control policies earlier, when they would have done some good, did so in the name of “the sacredness of life.”  As we consider the destruction that has ensued from the way they expressed their concerns, we can say that, at best, they seriously misunderstood the best course of action derived from postulating the sacredness of all life, and at worst they were downright demonic in their perversion of this spiritual axiom.

Now, it’s not for me to say whether those who turned Africa into hell on earth were demonic or merely misguided, but I will name names. European-American capitalists, under the tutelage of supposedly Christian churches, are the ones responsible for the sorry state of Africa today.  Of course, not all Africans have been saints, either–many willingly sold their fellow Africans into slavery, and we in the north never came up with anything as fiendish as female genital mutilation.

That’s a hard line to follow.  Let’s say that we would have a lot better moral position to talk to African people about that custom if we were not the ones who mutilated their cultures and their countryside, and if it were not the excesses of our culture that are causing global warming and further desertifying their countries.

What, at this late date, can the North do  about the mess we have made of Africa?

After many years wasted fussing over patent violations, AIDS drugs are much more freely available to Africans than they once were, but the damage has been done.  We need to stop selling military supplies to Africa–automatic weapons just give people the wrong idea.

At this point, community organizing is a key strategy, because the people of Africa don’t need us Northerners coming and laying another wad of our crazy plans on them.  We need to listen to them and let them arrive at their own priorities, and then do what they ask of us to help fulfill those priorities.  We can contribute a certain amount of overview and perspective, but in many cases what we will need to do is get out of their way–and that is the hardest thing of all for us nosy Northerners.

music:  Bob Marley, “Africa Unite

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