Nov 23 2012

Remembering Pius Njawe, Cameroon’s cusading journalist

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:16 AM

At Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, we were joined by a Cameroonian and, perhaps journalists numerically dominated the gathered, conversation turned to the memory of Pius Njawe, the great Francophone journalist of the beleaguered nation of Cameroon. I had the pleasure of meeting Njawe a few times duirng my unforgettable 2005 visits to the country, and I still vividly recall the force of his intelligence and his indomitable persistence in the face of a regime led by Paul Biya that has held onto power for 30 years. In 2010, while on a visit to the U.S., Njawe was killed in a car accident on route to a meeting of critics of the Biya regime.

Njawe died in the same manner as his wife Jane, killed in 2002 car accident in Cameroon. Njawe grieved terribly over his wife’s death, which he claimed was the work of government thugs bent on silencing him. Neither repeated arrests nor the loss of his wife did silence him. He remained a fierce defender of the promise and possibility of a democratic Cameroon. One of the most beautiful countries in the world, and one of the best endowed by natural resources and energetic people, Cameroon is mired in a state of under-achievement, a victim of the one of the least effective governments that Africa has ever hosted.

Njawe’s voice is gone but his words stay with us. A month before his death, he told an interviewer: “A word can be more powerful than a weapon, and I believe that with the word . . . we can build a better world and make happier people. So, why give up while duty still calls? No one will silence me, except the Lord, before I achieve what I consider as a mission in my native country, in Africa and, why not, in the world?”

We can best honor Njawe by answering his challenge with our own voices and actions.

Nov 12 2012

The next civil war in Nigeria?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:25 PM

The publication of Chinua Achebe’s long-awaited memoir about Nigeria’s 30-month civil war, from 1967-1970, comes at a time when many Nigerians are wondering (and worrying) whether their country (Africa’s most populous) is on the verge of another civil. The first, the subject Achebe’s book, pitted the country’s ethnic groups against one an0ther and led Achebe’s own Igbo group to secede (unsuccessfully). The next civil war, Nigerians fear, might pit Muslims against non-Muslims. Partly because Islam takes many forms in social and political domains within Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, the entire subject of Muslim-Christian relations is complex and challenging. But the persistence of Boko Haram’s violent campaign against ordinary Nigerians concerns US policymakers. The hope is that the Nigerian state will organize itself to manage better the Islamic grievances. In recent years, the Nigerian government has mis-handled several opportunities to undercut Boko Haram. The reconciliation with anti-government forces in the Delta (notably, the Ijaw) seems to offer one path that has yet been traveled with Boko Haram. That might no longer be possible, given the level of violence, however. Hence, the emergence of the option no one seems to want: splitting Nigeria along religious lines.

Nov 10 2012

the elusive malaria vaccine: no Salk in this story (yet)

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:25 PM

The headline says it all: InĀ  Clinical Trial, Malaria Vaccine Candidate Produces Disappointing Results

Three shots of the vaccine, known as RTS, S or Mosquirix and produced by GlaxoSmithKline, gave babies fewer than 12 weeks old 31 percent protection against detectable malaria and 37 percent protection against severe malaria, according to an announcement by the company at a vaccines conference in Cape Town.

If it chooses to persist with its experimental malaria vaccine, the global pharma giant, GSK, will be going against the entire history of vaccines. Drug efficacy is general 75 percent or higher (much). GSK expected 50 percent and proceeded because donors paying all trial costs. At only 33 percent effectiveness, many African governments likely won’t want to distribute the vaccine. The heavier costs fall on the distribution, actually; and with African health-workers stretched and in short supply, and with so much “low-hanging fruit” available in the form of straight-forward public health actions, there are enormous opportunity penalties for concentrating on low-outcome activities, which is what the GSK malaria vaccine appears to be, given these new trial results.
The human problem, on the individual level, is that you are telling African parents that for every 3 kids they vaccinate against malaria, two will still die if the disease strikes with full force. That’s not even a vaccine at that rate. It’s not even a prophylactic. Nearly all vaccines in use today are plus 50 percent effective (and, often, nearly 100 percent effective).
The disappointing trial results raises the uncomfortable question of whether GSK completely misunderstood the science behind malaria disease. Because the cost of performing the clinical trials, which have been the most expensive ever conducted on African soil, were underwritten by others, GSK has incurred no financial penalty, only a cost to the company’s reputation for drug development. The big question now is whether the Bill Gates foundation and other underwriters of malaria research will continue to cover the costs of testing a vaccine whose health benefits must be weighed against those that can be delivered in other areas at the same cost.

On the frontier of public-health medicine, such decisions are not easy to make.

Nov 09 2012

With Obama victory, U.S.-Africa relations to remain on steady course (Part One)

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 2:30 PM

Having not mentioned Africa in any of the debates, or in any campaign speeches, President Obama made a big point (albeit indirectly) to American voters that the sub-Saharan region is rarely, if ever, on his capacious mind. In gaining re-election, might Obama bring African issues to the fore?

Not likely, given the urgent domenstic fiscal and economic issues bearing down on his second term. But the insular focus on the American homeland should not alter the established trajectory in U.S.-Africa relations. The trajectory clearly suits Obama’s wider personal preference for African self-reliance and also reflects the reality that in many ways Obama’s own African roots are not especially relevant to the defining issues in U.S.-Africa relations.

In only one sense are these issues shaped by culture and identity, and that is in the potential role for recent African immigrants to the U.S. — many already naturalized and politically active — in promoting new directions in relations between their region of origin and the U.S. To be sure, Obama’s own job as Commander-in-Chief insures that some kind of “inherited” African perspective is always present at the highest levels of the American government. More broadly, the expanding set of human relationships, linking Africans and Americans, and building on their legacy of the rich engagement of African-Americans with Africa, remains a source of profound surprise.

More predictable certainly are a set of well-established concerns that define U.S.-Africa relations under Obama. Far from redefining or revolutionizing this relationship, as president, Barack Obama did much to continue and carry on the forms of engagement initiated by Presidents Clinton and Bush. Indeed, the roots of every major aspect of U.S-Africa relations in the Obama era were laid during the two-term Bush presidency.

Under Bush, humanitarian concerns dominated; the most dramatic evidence came in the expensive pledge by American taxpayers to fund ARV treatment for Africans with HIV-AIDS. Enormously generous and effective in providing life-saving treatment for millions of ordinary Africans, the partnership on ARVs, launched by Bush, was renewed by Obama. While humanitarianism (to paraphrase a prescient book on the subject by the Council on Foreign Relations) is not enough to build a durable relationship of mutual benefit between the sub-Saharan and the U.S., the impulse to help — and the help itself — remains central to official policies.

“Humanitarianism-plus” might accurately describe the U.S. posture except that the movement on the ground suggests far greater complexity in U.S.-Africa relations and emerging set of self-interested security reasons for U.S. engagement and for a “mutual benefit” partnership with African governments.