|Africa News Digest
Clinton: Universal HIV Testing in Worst Hit Countries
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton "called ... for mandatory testing for HIV/AIDS in countries with high infection rates and the means to provide lifesaving drugs," on March 28, according to Reuters. Speaking to journalists in London that day, Clinton said that countries where there was no discrimination against people with AIDS, and where anti-AIDS drugs were available, should now consider universal testing.
"There is no way we are going to reduce the spread of this epidemic without more testing," he said, "because 90% of the people who are HIV positive don't know it."
Lesotho, he said, where the Clinton Foundation has been active, will become the first country to do universal testing, this year. He said it will be a test case to see whether rapid tests, costing 49-65 cents each, and drugs, can reduce the 27% infection rate. A budget of $100 million could pay for 200 million tests, he added.
The question, Clinton said, is not whether a country is rich or poor, but its infection rate. When the level of infection reaches a critical point it imperils the public-health structure and social stability, making it more difficulty to bring the rate down.
African Farmers Cannot Afford Fertilizer for Depleted Soil
Three-quarters of Africa's farmland is severely depleted of the nutrients needed to grow crops, compared with 40% just ten years ago, according to a study by the International Fertilizer Development Center, a non-profit agricultural aid organization operating in Africa. The study was released March 30 at a press conference at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City. Depleted farmland in Africa yields less than one-third the amount of grain of that in Asia and Latin America. The problem of depleted soil is worst in Guinea, Congo, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda.
The study said the fertilizers that could restore productivity are far too expensive for Africa's small and often impoverished farmers. Fertilizer in Africa costs in general two to six times the world average. It costs more to move fertilizer from an African seaport 60 miles inland, than to ship it from the U.S. to Africa, according to the report. African farmers use less than 10% as much fertilizer as Asian farmers do. About two-thirds of Africa's 750 million people depend on agriculture for income and employment.
To reverse the collapse of soil productivity and achieve a green revolution would require a functioning road network, credit for farmers, extension agents, better irrigation, and the emergence of retailers to sell fertilizers and improved seed varieties in rural areas, according to the authors, speaking at the New York press conference.
"To feed our people, we must feed our soils," Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo said at the press conference. Obasanjo will host a meeting in June in Abuja on Africa's fertilizer needs.
Nigeria: U.S.-UK Hostages Released, But Nothing Changes
In the wake of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's meeting with President Bush on March 29, there is no indication that efficient measures can be expected to bring peace to the Niger Delta or development to Nigeria. There is simply a momentary standoff between two criminal enterprisesthe oil multis, and the congeries of high-powered oil-theft rings that take at least 10% of Nigeria's oil. The U.S. and UK, through the Nigerian government, provide protection for the multis, and the Delta "militants" provide protection for the theft rings. Only major agro-industrial development can change this geometry in favor of the Nigerian nation and its people, but the two opposing criminal enterprises are not interested.
The last three American and British hostages taken by the militants' Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) were released March 27, days after emissaries for MEND met with U.S. and UK diplomats and Nigerian government officials.
The U.S. and UK have "promised high-level intervention to address the long-standing grievances of Nigeria's oil-producing communities, if they avoid further hostage taking," according to Voice of America March 27. But Bush, in his press conference with Obasanjo March 29, did not mention the promised intervention, according to the State Department transcript. But Obasanjo said he briefed Bush on "the measures we are taking, ... socio-economic measures ... [that] will resolve the issue of the Niger Delta." He did not elaborate.
The pace of the U.S., UK, and Nigerian government interventions, if they materialize, can be expected to be too little and too slow to reverse Nigeria's disintegration.
The militants "said they will not hold hostages in future but would continue to attack oil facilities," MarketWatch reported March 29. The wire also reports, "Shell has said it won't begin production again until it can guarantee the safety of its workers." Oil production remains down by 25% (640,000 barrels per day).
Earlier in the current crisis, the U.S. and UK intervened to stop the government's military action in communities in Delta State that the government accused of involvement in oil theft.