Dear AFJN Members & Friends,
As the weeks go by, some of the priorities of the Bush administration and of the 107th Congress become more apparent, if not necessarily clearer. While domestic issues such as tax cuts, education, the debate over a national missile defense shield and the future solvency of the Social Security Fund dominate the headlines, Africa’s place within US policy remains vague and troublesome. Media coverage has placed HIV/AIDS and slavery in the Sudan at the forefront of policy concerns the US has about Africa. A certain amount of notice is given to the on-going struggle for peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), although with scant mention of any US responsibility for the present situation due to years of support for Mobutu Sese Seko. When the Angolan war is reported at all, the same pattern of historical amnesia is reflected in the failure to note the substantial US backing for UNITA during the Cold War period.
We in AFJN have a very important role to play in calling for the US to place Africa’s poor majority at the center of its policies. Ending the war in Sudan is the best way to stop the slave trade, and placing a moratorium on oil drilling by foreign corporations would help significantly to halt the fighting. An Inter-Congolese Dialogue that authentically incorporates broad-based civil society into that process would greatly assist peace and democratization in the DRC. Closing down the market in conflict diamonds and small arms would be a significant step toward ending the conflicts in Angola and in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Freeing up resources by canceling Africa’s bilateral and multilateral debt and taking every measure to assure Africans’ access to affordable medicines and a workable health care infrastructure would effectively address HIV/AIDS in Africa. Promoting organic, sustainable agriculture and maintaining farmers’ rights over seeds and agricultural genetic resources by opposing patents on life forms would strengthen food security. These are directions in which US policy could contribute to Africa in a positive way.
Let us do what we can to make that happen.
Larry J. Goodwin
The lawsuit had become a public relations disaster for the companies among both consumers and institutional shareholders. Critics of the lawsuit argued that human lives should not be put at risk to preserve corporate patent rights.
While hailed as a victory for poor people around the world, many obstacles still block millions of people in South Africa (and elsewhere in the developing world) suffering from HIV/AIDS from gaining access to the medications and treatment they urgently need. Poverty, poor nutrition, lack of education and of access to primary health care and lack of access to effective treatment that can prolong sufferers’ lives remain key contributory factors in the continuing spread of HIV/AIDS.
In the agreement with the pharmaceutical companies, the South African Government conceded that it was still bound by legal obligations under the World Trade Organization (WTO) to adhere to TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), guaranteeing minimal patent protection standards. The exact import of this provision is unclear, but could mean requesting permission to ignore patent rights on a cumbersome case-by-case basis.
The Catholic Task Force on Africa (CTFA), a coalition committed to Catholic social teaching to which AFJN belongs, recently wrote to President Bush and members of Congress urging them to endorse the Affordable HIV/AIDS Medicines for Poor Countries Act (H.R. 933) introduced by Rep, Maxine Waters (D-CA). In addition to encouraging drug companies to make HIV/AIDS medications available at affordable prices, the bill would bar the U.S. Trade Representative from opposing, within the WTO, developing countries’ efforts to promote their citizens' access to effective and affordable HIV/AIDS medications.
A day after the South African court case was settled, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni addressed a Rockefeller Foundation-convened conference in Kampala exploring how to best expand access to AIDS treatment in Africa, where over 70% of the world's HIV positive people live. Museveni, noting that half of Uganda’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from HIV-related illnesses, estimated that Uganda had lost 1% of its GDP growth rate as a result of AIDS (a level of loss equal to a natural disaster). While Uganda’s HIV infection rate has fallen from 30% to around 8%, Museveni said this was still way too high, noting that Uganda is home to 1.7 million AIDS orphans.
Over 47 African heads of state were expected to renew their commitment to fight HIV/AIDS at the April 26-27 AIDS summit in Abuja, Nigeria. Participants were to include the UN secretary general, OAU leaders and former U.S. President Bill Clinton. The conference was set to review commitments concerning HIV/AIDS made at the African Development Forum in December 2000 and on how to achieve the "broadest possible social mobilization against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other related infectious diseases."
The Abuja conference is seen as building vital momentum for the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) scheduled for June 25-27 in New York. Africa has been the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS global pandemic; it represents roughly 70% of those worldwide infected by AIDS. In 16 African countries, over 10% of the people are HIV-positive.
In an April 18 address to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, Harvard University economist Jeffrey Sachs urged creditor nations to convert the unpayable debt of Africa’s poorest countries into funds to fight HIV/AIDS and other newly resurgent killer diseases, notably malaria and tuberculosis. Chair of the World Health Organization (WTO) commission on macroeconomics and health set up in January 2000, Sachs said "Global donor support of 10-20 billion dollars a year would save millions of lives each year and would enable Africa to escape from a downward spiral of disease and economic collapse." Ebrahim Samba, WHO regional director for Africa, estimating that the continent needs about $3 billion a year to fight HIV/AIDS, said "the debt of African countries could, if recycled, contribute 30 to 40 percent of what we need." Many US and global Jubilee 2000 activists are urging the G-7 heads of state to cancel virtually all debt of Africa’s poorest nations at their July summit.
As a member of the Advocacy Network for Africa’s (ADNA) HIV/AIDS Working Group, AFJN has been working to support U.S. legislation that would commit at least $1 billion in new resources to African efforts to counter the AIDS crisis. This would be in addition to ensuring significant continuing US bilateral aid for primary health care and related development projects. The ADNA working group is also contacting Africa-based partners to document examples of USAID regulations, which delay deployment of resources in effective anti-AIDS efforts.
There is growing concern that recent signs of progress in dealing with the interlocking humanitarian and political crises in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone may be eroding. A joint UN-ECOWAS meeting on April 10 sought to assess progress in disarming and demobilizing rebel soldiers and freeing detainees. While ECOWAS promised last year to deploy soldiers to protect Liberian and Sierra Leone refugees in Guinea, they have not done so up to now. The UN considers the refugee crisis in this region the worst it is facing in the world at present.
A mini-summit in Abuja on the crisis besetting the three countries made little headway (attended by Liberian President Taylor and 8 other African heads of state, it was boycotted by the president of Guinea; the president of Sierra Leone only attended after a last-minute Nigerian appeal).
In Liberia, human rights activists decried a growing number of death threats against human rights activists, political opposition leaders and protesting students, as well as against James Verdier of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission. These developments come against a backdrop of growing tensions between the Liberian Government of Charles Taylor and neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone after the UN imposed limited sanctions on the Taylor government on March 7. Taylor recently cut off diplomatic relations with both countries amid reports of his renewed support for the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone.
In Guinea, there is growing protest over the failure of the government to respect UN-negotiated ‘safe corridors’ for displaced persons and refugees from neighboring countries trapped by growing conflict in the Parrot’s Beak region of the country. In recent weeks, aid agencies have reported abandoned camps when they arrived with food staples. Both refugees and local residents are increasingly at the mercy of armed groups in the area, which is now called the ‘Triangle of Death’. The Guinea government accuses the RUF rebels backed by Taylor of mounting the attacks. It has used that excuse to explain the brutal treatment of local people by Guinean soldiers operating near the borders.
In Sierra Leone, RUF rebels in late April reportedly tried to reassert their control over several diamond-rich regions they had agreed to cede to UN authority. Despite the international campaign against conflict diamonds, many feel little has changed on the ground as competition for diamonds continues to fuel the fighting in the region. Local residents are still being coerced into mining diamonds for the rebels.
In early April, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group urged a more aggressive
approach to ending Sierra Leone's crisis, including British-led military action to capture
rebel-held areas. It urged no further negotiations with the RUF so that "those in the RUF who
refuse to demobilize should be defeated militarily."
Recent moves by President Joseph Kabila, Jr. and military withdrawals by other belligerents have raised hopes that the DRC might see peace at long last. But whether this military disengagement will lead to genuine democratic rule remains to be seen. Many feel that parties to the conflict are seeking to manipulate or stall the national dialogue that would lay the basis for a peaceful transition to democratic rule.
Absent broad-based grassroots and regional participation in a democratic process, this dialogue risks becoming little more than an ‘inter-elite Congolese dialogue’, engaging small numbers of the traditional Kinshasa-based ‘political class’: ex-Mobutists, businessmen, leaders of a few traditional opposition parties, prominent followers of Kabila and leaders of groups controlling armed militias.
This may seem more manageable to foreign governments and corporations eager to see some semblance of a structure with which they can do business as usual. But rushing the democratic process by making it less inclusive risks creating a government less accountable to, or reflective of, the wishes of broad based Congolese society. Lack of popular ownership of any new government that emerges will, as it has in the past, undercut its credibility and legitimacy and contribute to ongoing political instability.
Civil society and its capacity to debate issues nation-wide have been the greatest collateral casualties of the de facto partition of the DRC. Members of the ‘political class’ have the means to meet each other in Europe or elsewhere. But grassroots activists cannot dialogue on an ongoing basis with their counterparts elsewhere in the Congo due to lack of national communications and the military partition of the country. They worry that deploying UN observers along the present partitions may reinforce them as semi-permanent zones within which armed parties to the conflict can continue to loot Congo’s natural resources and assert power over local residents with relative impunity. They also feel that former Botswana President Ketumile Masire, designated under the Lusaka Peace Agreement to facilitate organizing the national dialogue, has ignored genuine civil society sectors in some regions due to lack of familiarity with the real political situation on the ground.
UN documents DRC looting spree
It’s hard to build democracy in the middle of a looting spree by armed elements with foreign backers. A new UN report (document S/2000/357) by the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo documents the extent of this looting and pillaging -- especially by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi forces.
The report identifies senior military and government officials as well as businessmen involved in the "mass-scale looting" and systematic exploitation of Congolese natural resources. It also details various forms of racketeering and the creation of new criminal cartels, especially in the rebel-occupied territories, where they now represent a serious security problem, particularly for Congolese civilians.
"Almost all the belligerents in one way or another are benefiting from the conflict," according to Saftiatou Ba-N'Daw, a former Ivory Coast energy minister who chairs the 5-member panel. "The only losers are the Congolese people." She noted that "the DRC conflict has become one for the access and control of five key minerals: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold." (Coltan is a mineral to produce mobile phones and nuclear reactors.) Exploitation of these resources by foreign armies is now "systematic and systemic, and the role of the private sector in the exploitation and continuation of the war ... vital," she added.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in issuing the report, recommended that the Security Council
Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi denied the panel’s charges of profiteering from the war in the DRC. They also said that the panel was biased for failing to urge comparable action against countries supporting Kabila -- Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola -- which have also benefited economically from their involvement in the war.
DRC gets a new Cabinet
It is against this backdrop that DRC’s president, Joseph Kabila Jr. appointed a new cabinet. Many observers welcomed its greater regional and ethnic diversity and the departure of some of Kabila Sr.’s closest and most hard-line allies (e.g. his cousin Gaetan Kakudji). But many decry Kabila Jr’s continued refusal to lift the ban on political parties and on-going reports of human rights abuses, including detentions without trial and torture.
Greater humanitarian access as the armed conflict subsides has revealed growing indications of unprecedented death rates among children in the war zones of North and South Kivu. The World Food Program reports that exceptionally high malnutrition rates found among adults compared to that among children near Bukavu indicate that most children in the area have died.
According to UN statistics:
President Mugabe has reportedly hired the DC-based lobbying firm Cohen & Woods International (CWI) for $4.5 million to improve the Zimbabwe government’s image in the US and UK, according to an 'Edmonton Journal' article. Herman Cohen served as former President Bush’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Jim Woods served in the Pentagon during the same period. Their firm has represented Kabila, Sr. as well as the Angola, Gabon and Burkina Faso governments
In mid-April, riot police attacked University of Zimbabwe students upset over inadequate financial allowances. One student was killed and many others were injured.
On April 4, Jubilee 2000/Zambia came out against World Bank loans for anti-HIV/AIDS efforts, noting that Zambia will lose more lives as a result of servicing the debts of the new loans they are being encouraged to borrow.
16 March -- Letter to the US Congress from Oxfam America urging inclusion of $240 m. in the FY 2002 budget for debt relief for the world's poorest countries. This is the next-to-last payment in fulfillment of the US commitment to the Cologne Agreement. An additional $135 m. will be necessary in FY 2003.
23 March -- Letter to the US Congress from the US Network for Global Justice and the 50 Years is Enough Campaign urging 100% cancellation of the debts, without structural adjustment conditions attached, held by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which are attributed to impoverished countries.
28 March -- Testimony of Faith Action for People Centered Development before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. The testimony urged the US to increase its foreign assistance for HIV/AIDS, education-especially for girls, debt relief, migrant and refugee needs, and conflict resolution, peacekeeping and landmines.
30 March -- Letter to Mr. John F. Mizrock, President/CEO of the World Environment Center from the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). The letter protested the WEC according its Environmental Quality Award to the Royal Dutch Shell oil company given Shell's devastating impact on the communities and environment of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
10 April -- Declaration of Support for African Small-Holder Farmers, an AFJN initiated effort on behalf of farmers' rights and the protection of African agricultural genetic resources. The declaration supports the OAU in confronting World Trade Organization (WTO) provisions that would privatize traditional African agricultural resources and knowledge through the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.
16 April -- Letter to the US Treasury Department Undersecretary for International Affairs from Africa Action (formerly Africa Policy Information Center) objecting to IMF attempts to prevent the Mozambican Government from protecting its vial cashew nut farmers and industry.
17 April -- Letter to members of the Chairman's Contact Group, which is negotiating the revised International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture from international NGO organizations. The letter urges the negotiators, under the auspices of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, to ensure that seeds, plants and other agriculture genetic resources remain in the public domain, safe from privatization through WTO and other Intellectual Property Rights provisions.
23 April -- Letter to Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) from the Advocacy Network for Africa (ADNA) Working Group on HIV/AIDS. The letter thanked him for his leadership on the HIV/AIDS issue and urges US funding of $1 billion per year to address HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and $750,000 per year for related health concerns.
25 April -- Treaty to Share the Global Commons, a document which international civil society organizations will propose for adoption to governments at the RIO+10 Conference in South Africa next year. The treaty would establish the earth's gene pool, in all its biological forms and manifestations, as a global commons to be shared by all peoples.
30 April -- Letter to Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), Chair of the House International Relations
Committee, and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), Ranking Member, from the ADNA International Working Group.
The letter urges the House to join the Senate in paying the next installment of US arrears to the
An FBI report concluded that an American priest and human rights activist based in Kenya, Mill Hill Fr. John Kaiser, apparently committed suicide last Aug. 24, when he was found alongside a highway leading from Nairobi with a gunshot wound to the head. Church colleagues, friends, relatives and U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), from Kaiser’s home state, have rejected the FBI conclusion. They continue to believe that Fr. Kaiser, like numerous Kenyan activists, was murdered for publicizing the human rights abuses of government officials.
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The Declaration of Support for African Smallholder Farmers (see Around Africa, April 2001) has garnered over 100 signatures from around the world in only 3 weeks. AFJN and the DC-based Africa Trade Policy Working Group are working closely to circulate the declaration as widely as possible. Our plan is to:
Please ask your community or organization to endorse the Declaration of Support for African Smallholder Farmers.
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