An Unbridled Optimist

I had the opportunity to see Desmund Orjiako, the Director of Communications for the African Union, speak this last week. Overall, it was a pretty typical diplomatic speech. He spent time praising both his own organization and the host country, in this case the US, and little time addressing the real issues that I would have liked to hear about, namely: Darfur, the DRC, Togo and Cote d'Ivoire. There were however, several short statements that were quite interesting.

Most shockingly, he made a prediction of no war in Africa by 2007. The room dropped dead silent as he said this and it took a few moments to register what he was saying. He made the very good points that a. all of Africa has now signed a pact of non-aggression and mutual defense and b. since the inception of the African Union two and a half years ago there hasn't been a successful coup on the continent. I am very excited about these facts, but the idea that Africa will be peaceful within 2 years is beyond what I can believe (no war in Europe by 2007 is a better goal). First of all, Africa's problem, for the most part, hasn't been with interstate conflicts that will hopefully be helped by the non-aggression pact. With the exception of ECOWAS and AU peacekeeping troops I don't think there are currently any wars in Africa that are between Nations except for Rwanda and Burundi's undeclared war on the Congo. Second, given the rapid democratization in the area, chances are that conflicts (at least in the short term) are going to increase. Statistically, it is new democracies that are most likely to engage in warfare (as opposed to established democracies and dictatorships). I don't mean to be a pessimist, in fact I like to believe that such an incredible turn around is possible in the world, but I have a hard time believing that enough of Africa's problems will be solved in two years as to make war an unnecessary part of the past.

Mr. Orjiako did outline several goals of the AU that were better suited to reality and were good things to hear. First and most exciting from my prospective as someone interested in planning and development, the AU is beginning to plan a trans-African highway system. Currently, most of Africa’s road systems are built in a colonial style i.e. to bring goods from the inland areas to the coast where they can be transported to Europe or the Americas. Few of Africa's roads (or railways for that matter) really help Africans in any way. They also aren't built to promote trade across former colonial borders (except in cases like Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire where they had the same colonial power and one was landlocked). Second was the concept not just of gender equality, but of gender parity in education and governmental postings. This will become exceedingly important and fewer and fewer men are left due to the AIDS pandemic in Africa. Lastly, he spoke about the push for good (by which I mean transparent) governance and the rule of law, including a pan-African court to try war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Mr. Orjiako unfortunately didn't speak at length about what the AU was doing to combat AIDS. The death tolls in Africa are now reaching 2,500,000 Africans per year (and increasing an astounding 15% per year since the inception of the Bush administrations disastrous policies of non-culturally relevant abstinence based education). * What most Americans don't understand about the spread of AIDS in Africa is that in many places the spread is not caused by adulterous practices (which is why Bush's programs are failing). In the biblical book of Ruth, Ruth's husband dies and she essentially is handed off to her next of kin (kinsman redeemer I believe is the biblical term). This is a common practice that protects widows in the ancient world from death. Currently, many African cultures still use this sort of a practice. So, a man contracts AIDS. Before he dies, he infects his wife. She, not having anywhere else to go, marries his brother, who usually already has other wives. He becomes infected and passes in on to his other wives, who in turn move on the next closest relative when he dies. It's a never-ending cycle that in the end leaves entire families and villages dead.

Mr. Orjiako also took some time to praise America as the country that gives more then any other. It is time for American's to understand that this is completely untrue. Aid coming from the USA amounts to just .07 percent of budgetary expenditures and most of that is military aid. According to Jeffrey Sachs, the head of the UN Millennium Project, article in the newest (March/April 2005) issue of Foreign Affairs, the US is actually the lowest giver in the 22 country DAC (Development Assistance Committee) or what are essentially the western industrialized nations of the world. The US gives only .15 percent of GNI (gross national income) to developing countries. The next lowest is Italy at .17%. The average is .41% and the UN target is to have all 22 countries over.7% by 2010. The highest giver is actually Norway at .92% followed by Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands (all above 8%). I really believe it is time for Americans to wake up to how little we actually contribute and be outraged. We truly have been blessed with more then we need and it is time to step up and give every bit that we can. We should be #1 on this list, like most Americans believe we are. If we truly want to be the greatest nation on earth, then let's prove it by our compassion, not our military.

*Stats from the WHO (World Health Organization) and from Mr. Orjiako’s speech.



oh, canada...well you guys know the rest...let's get this hockey game started...

Just back from Canada.

Journaling didn’t happen. Sorry. I had a good time though. We tried to do too much, however, and ended up spending too much time in the car. Quick timeline: Boston, MA to Fredericton, NB to Moncton, NB to Halifax, NS to Peggy’s Cove, NS to Lunenburg, NS to Cape Breton, NS and back.

I think Mike will post photos on his blog www.armadilloman.net

Halifax was great. I love Canadian cities. The urban planning has made them so much more livable spaces then their American counterparts. They also feel so much more urban at a much smaller size, for one because of their lack of inner-city highways, but also, in Halifax, because of limited geography. Architecturally, it was not dissimilar to New England cities, but also distictive, I think because of its size. The residential was mostly two-story Victorians, but built close together on small lots close to the street front, a lot like South End in Boston or Queens in New York, but shorter. There were a lot of good examples of residential turned into commercial space too.

Cape Breton was also spectacular, even for a non-nature lover. Imagine Northern Wisconsin, but then set it on the sides of mountains rising dramatically from the sea.

On a completely different note, Jessica finally figured out when she’s graduating. It looks like it will be Dec 06 or May 07. She’s already got a grad program in mind that’s also here in Boston (or Cambridge, rather), which means we’ll probably be here though 2008 or 2009. That’s a long time in one place for me. It also means that I’ve got to choose if I want to do my masters here as well, or wait until she’s done to go to Montreal or Phillie. I guess it will depend a little on the job market when I graduate. One thing is for sure though; I really want to move out of Eastie when we get back from Ho Chi Minh City. I think South End or Fenway would be nice, or maybe even across the river in Cambridge (if the MBTA would get off their asses and get the Urban Ring built it would be much easier.)




So, the great roadtrip begins in 2 days. i'll be posting journal and pictures as I go. more later.


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