Although treated as unrelated phenomena, the challenges of HIV/AIDS and the effects of climate change in Africa, bear much resemblance in origin, and in effects.
Just like HIV/AIDS which originated and initially spread outside of the continent, Africa has historically contributed little or nothing to green house gas emissions, but it is the worst hit by the effects of global warming. The latest available statistics show that in 2008, there were 2.7 million newly diagnosed cases of HIV and 2 million deaths from AIDS in Africa alone. The effect of climate change on the continent of Africa is disastrous, with gloomier predictions. The recent flooding in Burkina Faso in the August of 2009 left over 200 dead and 150,000 homeless, while hundreds of millions of dollars worth of properties were swept away. Other countries affected by the flood in varying degrees includeBenin,Ghana,Burkina Faso,Senegal,Guinea andNiger.
After the flooding in Burkina Faso, The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), issued a grim warning that the entire sub-Saharan Africa should expect nothing less in the coming years. This warning is directly linked to the effects of climate change occasioned by the carbon emissions of the United States, Europe and China. In addition, the UNEP forecast rising levels of disease, famine and poverty, not factoring in the conflict these will induce. Higher temperatures will favor the breeding of mosquitoes and the diseases they carry, including; yellow fever, encephalitis, hemorrhagic fever, malaria and dengue fever; flooding will wash away the soil nutrients in some parts, while heat will dry out the lands in other areas.
Although India is the second worst country affected HIV/AIDS in the world, it’s in the global media today is the face of Infosys, IT whiz kids and a burgeoning economy, while the face of sub-Saharan Africa remains that of AIDS stricken citizens. The image ofAfricais perpetually affixed at death and destruction with no prior history. Issues such as the colonially entrenched system of plantation economy in East and Southern Africa, (which forced men away from their wives to far flung mines and agricultural plantations – owned by the white imperialists – for years on end, making infidelity and prostitution a thriving enterprise) is never raised by the media.Southern Africaremains the worst hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic till date.
On climate change, the Western media has chosen to remain subdued on to the direct correlation between the death and displacement of millions of Africans due to the effects of carbon emitted by their individual activities, by the companies who advertize on their television, and by the inaction of their governments.
Just like HIV/AIDS, where Africa has left the initiative for finding a cure to the West, African leaders have again left the bulk of actions on global warming to the West. African leaders have agreed in a pre-Copenhagenmeeting to speak with one voice. They will go toCopenhagenwith a bill to the West; for causing much death and destruction to Africa, the West will have to pay $50 billion per year in damage control toAfricaas of 2015, increasing it to $100 billion by 2020 and beyond. Like the demand for reparation, or the numerous pledges to increase aid to the continent that have either been totally ignored, fallen through or sketchily implemented, Africa will keep waiting, crying foul, feeling powerless and victimized as she waits for the West to fulfill her promises.
Just like HIV/AIDS, African masses trudge on, silent, confused, intimidated, believing climate change to be a discussion of high politics, spoken in heavy vocabulary in the language of the “educated,” and indiscernible to the Swahili, Yoruba, Twi or Tswana speaker. As the lake Chad dries up and fishing and farming become impossible, Africans keep looking up to their leaders, whose children are neither HIV positive, whose mansions have not been swept away by the flood, and who have never experienced hunger and food scarcity,
Just like HIV/AIDS, the few educated Africans who dared to speak, will only say what the West wants to hear, “give us more money to buy anti-retroviral drugs and condoms.” The West drops a nickel here, a dime there, assuaging its conscience of the blood of innocent African men, women and children dating back centuries. Few Africans who should, do make the case for research into indigenous medicine for the cure of HIV/AIDS, or for laws and policies against the still existing plantation economies in East andSouthern Africa. No rich African millionaire or company, has thought it worth the while to buy a page in Times or Economist magazines, or a slot of advert on CNN International and demand the West to stop, to halt it, because Africa is suffering for their greedy exploitation of the environment. An advert spoken by a black African, in an African outfit, with his African accent and finally signing off with his African name as the CEO of such and such company, based in Namibia, or Lesotho or Lagos or Accra – who will dare? The Africans who are financially empowered, or the members of the academic and the professional class, resident and in the Diaspora all of who have a voice seem to be more interested in conforming to the mainstream prevailing paradigm. The emphasis is on wining awards and receiving accolades from the West, rather than tackling headlong, the peculiar development challenges of the continent – when will all of this end?
First published in December 2009 NewsAfrica London