I Defend Thabo Mbeki!
By Mukazo Mukazo Vunda
The effect that the opinions of leading news agencies have had on my psyche, in defaming Thabo Mbeki's stand on the issue of AIDS, became apparent to me when I hesitated in finding a fitting title to this article in defense of him, wishing not to seem associated with his ideas, the reason I wanted to defend him notwithstanding. I chose one title, then dropped it, then another, and, because of this, almost came to the point of giving up, like so many have done.
I never have problems finding catchy titles for my articles.
The realization that I wouldn't be true to myself if I didn't tell of the opinions I share with him, and also knowing, like no other, the power of the written word, made me shake myself free of this grip. I started making notes and as I went along, I became more resolute and freer in my rendering.
Then fear gripped me, the same kind of fear I used to have in my younger days, when I felt naked in front of an overwhelming power, as I realized yet again how easy it is to be led astray, how powerful, as I have said already, the written word is when well and often rendered. Then anger gripped me, as I saw the evil cowering behind in the shadows, the evil that has thus far done a good job in preventing us from examining, in time, the positions of the Thabo Mbekis of this world properly, and I knew then how I would head this article.
I am a true born African, and I have experienced the entire gamut of life in Africa. I was born at the dawn of independence so the only knowledge I have of the time is written and hearsay. All evidence, however, points to the fact that life conditions took a gradual decline from then, till the mid seventies, the time that I have my own recollections of, up till today. This is true of all African countries even though the decline may have come earlier in some countries than in others.
I have walked around Lagos in Nigeria, and seen violence for a few naira, dead bodies left lying in the streets, and talked to street vendors, or street thugs standing around waiting for a chance to make some money. Almost all were tales of sheer hardship, almost all were coping strategies invented in the fire of poverty.
I have waited for busses at the main bus station in Zambia's Kitwe, sitting long hours in the blazing sun with a bus that just won't go anywhere until a certain number of passengers is reached, and seen beggars without a chance, thieves scheming, and women making their living selling scones and fruits, and ultimately, themselves.
I have slept in Zimbabwe's squatters, and woken up broke like everybody else, without money for a trip with a minibus into the center of the city, if that was the nearest place where I could find sustenance. I have found it imperative to trek on foot, ten to thirty kilometers at a time, to the place where I can find bread, on an empty stomach, and experienced, maybe for a few days, what those around me experience much too often, if not daily.
I have experienced this reality from Kenya's Nairobi, Soweto in South Africa, to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. It goes without saying that the situation in almost all of Africa is bleak indeed.
Let us agree on one thing; that health is hard to come by if one is forced to live in such circumstances. Once this position is accepted, we will stop and think of this situation before we stuff vitamins into the mouths of these people when we see them ail. On an empty or malnourished stomach, pure vitamins in the form of tablets can be toxic. We would think twice before we concoct antiviral toxins to give to these people. We would think twice before erecting gigantic, modern hospitals in these regions because, even if a hospital is a blessing, it will be a good thing, and is a blessing for only 1% or less of the well off in these countries because medical remedies are only fully effective on a well-stuffed belly.
It is useless trying to heal a man who ate well only two weeks ago, and has had to make it on a 500 calorie per day diet, if not less, since then, trekking from one point to another, tens of kilometers at a time, torturing his body by the day. The only thing that will be good for such a person is a painkiller, and ultimately food, glorious food, and good food at that. When this is assured, we can start thinking of the other basics, and once these are also guaranteed, we can go ahead and build as many heart transplant theaters as we desire.
The sad fact about the African situation is that this reality has largely been ignored. That economic advice, medical and technical help to Africa has ignored this fact is plain to see. It is actually quite easy to see, and this simplicity is probably the reason that "complicated thinking" African intellectuals are missing the point. Poverty and its effects rule the day and the majority are unhealthy because of this. People in this state will not respond to medication, and this is precisely the point that Thabo Mbeki is making.
The realities that these people are experiencing daily are what is making our heroic leader so mad. He is standing up for you and me, for those in the majority who have to suffer so much daily. He has not forgotten, nor will he forget us, from the looks of things, and in this he should be commended. Too many become divorced from this reality when they make the high office.
Let us be civilized about our situation in Africa and not let the western media lead us astray. They know this reality like nobody else. They, and only they can recognize this reality at first sight because they can compare the reality they see in Africa with their own, even before they have landed at an African airport, unlike Africans who are the fish who will find it almost impossible to see the water they swim in.
Africa smells of poverty and underdevelopment from way up in the skies, from the windows of an airplane.
Westerners are the last people to criticize Thabo Mbeki. They know better. In fact, after going so far with writing this letter, I have freed myself enough to step into contentious waters and state openly that I think the only reason they are doing this is because they have an agenda for Africa, a plan for the continent.
Let us consider this part of their own history. When the plague hit Europe in a previous century, it wasn't removed from the face of the continent with vitamins, with medicines, with technology, but by cleaning up Europe. The squalor in which Europeans lived, ignorance and the general health of the population, was the cause of the rapid spread and scope of the plague. The plague was not eradicated by acceptance of the reality itself either, i.e. "by not being a dissident of the plague theory", and though this is the essential first step, as opposed to a non scientific approach, it still isn't the cure.
We shouldn't forget here that Africans have never needed westerners to accept that disease is part of life, and also knew of medicines long before westerners set foot in Africa, and the need of medication to cure disease. I know I speak for many when I say that I find traditional medicines the best remedies I have used. In fact, if we go further back in time, we will find that Africans, or Asians, outdo Europeans in the number of traditional medicines and remedies they had developed for diseases, which actually
worked, and still work wherever they are still popular. There is actually more to the story than meets the eye, or can be done justice to in a single article like this. The idea of a placebo, for example, is not a product of western scientific methods, but an invention of the very people considered as trapped in unthinking mysticism.
If anything, the west outdid the entire world in public executions of witches, and attributing witchcraft to disease in the centuries gone by. In Africa, the execution of witches was rare and far removed. Individuals who were considered malicious to society were simply isolated to prevent them from doing harm to the general population. The evidence is there for all to see. Europeans are actually the first people to use disease as a weapon of war, an act only a witch was associated with in former, even present times, in African and Asian societies, and that today, western establishments held in high esteem by their citizens (the CIA, and especially the former, notorious South African apartheid secret service, etc.) owe some of their successes to biological warfare waged on unsuspecting citizens.
AIDS remains an incurable disease, a disease that hits right at the most vulnerable spot of any society because the reproductive potential of the group, the only reason we live on as a species, is jeopardized. As such, we have to be very careful how we go about eradicating it. The best of a society's physical and intellectual resources have to be mobilized to eradicate such a dangerous scourge, and I am sure that a man of Thabo Mbeki's intelligence knows this fact. The only problem here is; how do you mobilize people who are in no state to actively partake in such an activity because of other inhibiting factors in the design? How do you set your priorities when you are confronted with other factors which also need urgent attention? How do you tackle such a disease, when the symptoms of the disease you are battling are so universal, similar to symptoms of prolonged stress, acute alcoholism, kidney or liver failure, anaemia, adult malnutrition, and the rest of the package you get with poverty, knowing full well that it is almost impossible to distinguish the microscopic virus itself? Why would you be led to believe that making the fighting of this disease your main priority will be your long awaited release from all your woes?
Many people who get lame immune systems do not necessarily have the virus. Some athletes get AIDS because of the strenuous demands of sport. Virgin daughters of kings in affluent climes have been reported to have the condition. An experiment carried out in Nairobi, Kenya, found that the men who had been suspected of suffering from the disease were actually not carriers of the virus, but had the condition purely because of the unhealthy life styles they led, and these were men with jobs and means to more bread than the average citizen. They were international truck drivers.
Why is there such certainty about a little known disease on the continent, and only on the continent of Africa, because in the west, every so often a doctor comes on the screen advising people not to panic if they notice such and such symptoms because the cause could be something other than they may be led to believe? Why are western medical experts giving different advice to Africans? Everybody knows that wanting to get well is usually half the battle when a person is ill, but why are we taking away the need to live in
Africans by telling them in one callous statement: "There is no hope for you. Just come and take some medicines to prolong your life, but, ultimately, your life is over", but encouraging the same in the West?
It is one thing to launch a campaign of prevention, and quite another to make people loose hope of life, the only thing they have.
But then this truth is only useful if a person can digest it and see the implications, and make useful connections. If a man's mental apparatus corresponds to what Ralph Ellison described as the mechanical man, in his book "Invisible Man", the world becomes a really complex place indeed, as revealed by president Arap Moi's speech in which he described the thatched hut, roadless, foot path crisscrossed contour, tribalism trapped, banana republic entangled, shackle-on-good-sense hugging, ideologically impoverished, naïve, politics-of-the-belly prone, nepotism bent, inarticulate, apathetic, easily controlled neo-colonial face of Africa as a "complicated place". This is not to say that complexity does not exist in Africa, but the context in which Arap Moi says this is what makes his statement flawed.
It is not true that Africa lacks control today. Africa lacks control by Africans. African control on the continent is restricted to a kind of gangland guarding of territory and the resources therein, reserving the resources for others to plunder. This is how the African controllers get paid. Arap Moi's statement is actually typical of the modes of thought of those who live in the darkness of gangland, thinking small, as others hover above them pulling the strings. In this parochial universe of the gang, the other gang, or country's rulers, the other tribe, the poor, are mysterious phenomena. Such a mentality cannot fathom how foreigners can manage to control a continent that is so complex, let alone make the realization that if a bunch of multinational companies can control Africa, then Africans can do it too, if they only thought as big as the others are thinking, if they stopped being puppets, and looked up and learnt how the other party is still managing to breast feed, and control their complex selves.
Africa is controlled by the same powers that control the rest of the world, but, unlike the case with the rest of the world, they are not discrete about the issue in Africa. Consider Taylor of Liberia, or the late Kabila of the then Zaire, who was signing contracts with mining companies long before his victory was assured, before he had even conquered the capital, while Mobutu still sat in his "rightful" throne. Such impunity is impossible with the Pakistanis, the Punjabis, the Russians, or the Americans.
It is not only in Africa where an oil company can have an activist removed, but only in Africa where it can be done so blatantly. Imagine the backlash if the incident in Nigeria a few years ago was in England.
A letter in our press section (which, by the way, is the main motivation behind this article), of an erudite African who blames Africa's problems on a lack of logical thought, and competent leadership, as he feels is the case with Thabo Mbeki's stand on the issue of AIDS, is quite revealing, and very frightening considering the interested parties looking for lackey leadership in Africa, and know that Africans are easily impressed by academic qualifications.
In his article, Tarty Teh, a Liberian living and working in America, with a Ph.D., makes the age-old mistake of equating erudition with wisdom or common sense, seeming to think that the latter flows automatically from the former. He also makes another common fallacy. He projects personal inferences, decisions and judgements made by individuals, on the rest of the concerned community, taking it for granted that if "Jim" can do this, then "Sam" will also do it. Summed up, his article takes various, disconnected statements and makes them support a preconceived judgement, a judgement conceived, unfortunately, without an understanding of the nature of the human mind, or of reality, for that matter.
Man's need to know is universal, a condition the west does not have a monopoly on. This need to know is ignited in light of the chaos of information confronting a sentient being, which he has to make sense of to survive. Much of this information will never be fully comprehended. Some of it will get shortcut explanations. Mysteries, like life and creation itself, have often been reduced to a few myths. Mysticism is actually a sign of a higher intelligence. It says that the beings have left the animal state and are capable of reasoned thought. Though this may imply stages - a primitive intelligence as opposed to a higher one - it would be wrong to see it as such. What this means is that our friend Tarty Teh fails to see in Europeans the very mysticism he so readily recognizes in Africans. The man is actually, blatantly denying himself his own ability to see. He is implicitly saying that this gift is a freak occurrence among his own kind. The very man criticizing his fellow Africans is an African himself. In what kind of cranium is the mind that makes him see these wrongs encased? What color of fingers does he look down upon when he is typing such articles. It would do him a lot of good to stop complaining and go about finding a way to create a society that rights wrongs created the way he so aptly sees, a task confronting Africans today, a task that is also ongoing in our western
counterparts' homes, whom Tarty Teh would so much like to emulate.
It should not be forgotten that Christianity, for example, is not so far removed from mysticism if one knows its nature, and we would all be advised not to think we are the sole sane beings living among a bunch of insane, unthinking, primitive beings. This is uncultured, unacceptable, and actually, outright rude.
We are made aware yet again how easy it is for some on our side to loose touch with the harsh reality experienced daily by the majority of our people on the streets, an experience I am sure Teh is familiar with. It doesn't take a presidential position to trigger this at all. But then Teh is also very young, and sidetracked; a product of this century's best, enforced dreams. This is evident from his letter. All I can do is wish him luck and success in his search for true African intellectuals. They might just be the same men he is estranged from on the streets, or the ones he helps crucify. There are a lot of hurdles in life and failing or falling is part of the parcel that comes with this process.
Let it be known that Thabo Mbeki is not alone, nor is he the last of his kind. We shall take up the mantle where he leaves it when they have crushed him into the ground, crushed, unfortunately, by those who should have supported him, those whose welfare is in question, those on his own side who are just too obdurate to understand him, so obstinately obdurate that they make for this African complicatedness whose eradication is a simple gift of seeing eyes, and the removal of the others who have hidden agendas and have successfully made a black sheep out of the Thabo Mbekis of this world.
Are we going to do it again? Are we going to let other, self interested parties lynch, crucify one of our bright ones like this, while we stand aside and watch, even joining in and throwing the stone? Where does it stop?
Lumumba's pertinacious determination earned him enemies on his own side, who were led to actively participate in his downfall and assassination, because a similar campaign was waged against him by others who were not interested in the needs of the local population, and they won, to the chagrin of Africans.
He has been proven right, a little too late, however.
The list of names is endless, but the tactic has been the same, from Kwame Nkruma to Steve Biko, from Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X, to mention but a few.
Do you know these stories? Were you there when they crucified these men? Because if you were there then you would notice similarities with the present campaign against Thabo Mbeki, then Tarty Teh would know why our intellectuals, especially the males, are constantly conspicuously absent.
As a necessary move, before the actual handing over of power "to the natives", any occupying force that still needs the territory it occupies buys security by eliminating those they think will stand in the way of their interests. This process often continues into the period that the territory is considered sovereign. It will go on as long as there is a "one way dependence". Chris Hanny of South Africa, Lumumba of Congo, Kwame Nkruma of Ghana, are good, well known examples, but you can bet that there are many, many more, who are unknown to you and me, who were much brighter, much more intelligent than you will ever want to believe, all over the continent, and into the Diaspora too, who were, and continue to be victims of this strategy.
We should not let this be the case with Thabo Mbeki. Let us stop wallowing in certitude, and mobilize ourselves behind him and investigate the situation further like he proposes. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt he deserves as a man who has an entire South African intelligence agency behind him, a man with more information at his disposal than you or me. We may just come up with answers that we didn't expect, which will surprise, or even scare the living daylight out of us. We might just discover that the truth he knows is the truth those who are fighting him want hidden from naive African eyes, that the truth he so vehemently defends, a bit selflessly too, might just mean our salvation, if revealed, and salvation is precisely what we need in face of the intractable scourge of AIDS that is slowly, but surely, like the shadow that comes with dusk, decking Africa, and will ultimately be our bane if we do not forget that we eventually have to get into bed and go about the business of self propagation.
"Where Are the African Intellectuals?" (Part2)
"Where Are the African Intellectuals?" (Part1)