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HIV/AIDS and the First World Response

December 7th, 2011 No comments

The following are remarks by Stephen Lewis, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World, delivered at a plenary session at the 2011 ICASA.  I have reposted them in their entirety because I believe they are worth reading and sharing.  The emphasis is mine.  This can also be found online at: http://safaids.net/content/remarks-stephen-lewis-co-director-aids-free-world-delivered-plenary-session-2011-icasa


ADDIS ABABA – With your indulgence, I’m going to deviate from the assigned topic. I shall address the Millennium Development Goals, but not in the way that was anticipated. There are two reasons. First, I want to speak in an unusually personal way, and from the heart, and in a fashion that leaves no room for ambiguity. Second, I consider the attack on the Global Fund to be the most serious assault it has endured in its ten-year history. I would feel utterly delinquent to let the issue slide.

I am seized by frustration and impatience. Let me explain.

I’m thrilled when UNICEF tells us of the possibility of the virtual elimination of pediatric AIDS by 2015. But I know-as knowledgeable people in this audience know-that it remains an unlikely prospect, but more important, that we lost several precious years during the last decade where we simply didn’t apply the knowledge we possessed to prevent vertical transmission. It was a terrible failure on the part of international agencies and governments. Worse, the mother barely factored into the so-called "PMTCT" equation at all. As we come to this thrilling moment of progress, I cannot forget the millions of infants who died unnecessarily and the women who were never given treatment.

I’m thrilled at the creation of UN Women, and the possibility, once they join as a formal co-sponsor of UNAIDS, that the focus on women will be given a new lease on life. But I can’t dislodge from my mind the experience of my years in the role as Envoy, and subsequently working with AIDS-Free World, when it became clear that in every aspect of the pandemic women were rendered subordinate. Gender inequality doomed their lives. Sexual violence fed and feeds the virus. The entire survival of communities and families was placed on their shoulders. Men were the social determinants of women’s health, and men simply didn’t care. As we come to this thrilling moment of potential progress, I can’t avoid the spectral faces of stigma, discrimination, isolation, and pain, and they are the faces of women. That doesn’t mean that women aren’t the core of courage and strength in this pandemic; it simply means that they have to struggle valiantly to challenge the phalanx of male privilege, of male hegemony. Just a few days ago, coincident with World AIDS Day, the Harvard School of Public Health held a symposium called AIDS@30 to assess the past and plot the future. The symposium had a Global Advisory Council of nineteen eminent experts on the pandemic: 17 men and 2 women. It is ever thus.  It’s the rare woman indeed who doesn’t ultimately report to a man in the world of HIV, or who can command, ever-so-rarely, the place and presence that legions of men command automatically.

I’m thrilled when I hear animated talk of male circumcision. But I know that we didn’t need to wait for the results of the three studies in Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa.  Nothing would have been lost if we’d focused immediately on making circumcision safe and available for informed parents to choose for their male babies; it’s a minor procedure that has been performed for centuries. Instead, during nearly a decade as the evidence piled up that circumcision was a defense against AIDS-evidence provided by experts in the field-we waited and waited and waited, in that self-justifying paralysis of excruciating scientific precision. As we come to this thrilling moment of progress I cannot forget the numbers of lives that might have been saved had we acted sooner.

I’m thrilled with all the talk of "Treatment as Prevention" and how it has suddenly become the mantra of the international AIDS community. But back in 2006, I sat beside Dr. Julio Montaner, about to become President of the International AIDS Society, when he first expounded the proposition at a press briefing at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto. His evidence and argument were rooted in science and common sense in equal measure. But he had to endure scorn and derision, and we had to endure a five-year delay until Treatment as Prevention was definitively authenticated by the National Institutes of Health in Washington. Julio’s theory suddenly became the 96% solution five years later, and it doesn’t-I emphasize-it doesn’t apply only to discordant couples. As we come to this thrilling moment of progress, I cannot forget the numbers of lives that might have been prolonged if we hadn’t waited nearly five years to create the momentum that now propels us.

I’m thrilled with the turnaround in South Africa. The dramatic roll-out of treatment is nothing short of miraculous. But I remember all those years of denialism, and not a single voice at the most senior levels of the United Nations-Under-Secretaries-General, the Secretary-General himself. Not one of them said publicly to Thabo Mbeki, "You’re killing your people". Oh, to be sure, it was said in private by everyone. They took Thabo Mbeki aside and begged him to reverse course. He didn’t budge an inch. Around him, in every community in South Africa, and in communities throughout a continent heavily influenced by South Africa, were the killing fields of AIDS. As we come to this thrilling moment of progress, I can’t forget the millions who died on Thabo Mbeki’s watch, while those who should have confronted him before the eyes of the world stood mute.

I’m thrilled by the embrace of the slogan "Know Your Epidemic; Know Your Response" and the current concentration on high-risk groups. But I note that there were many voices, over the years, not all of them eccentric, calling attention to concurrent sexual partners and discordant couples, to MSM and sex work and sexual violence, and particularly injecting drug use, and they were contemptuously dismissed. I cannot but remember that magnificent gay activist from the Caribbean, Robert Carr, who died such an untimely death … back at the pre-conference on MSM in advance of Vienna last year, Robert made one of those speeches that leaves you gasping. When you hear what the experts say, said the normally tactful Robert, it’s bullshit – and he repeated bullshit so many times in the course of thirty minutes that the crass word became a cry of mobilizing dignity. As we come to this thrilling moment of progress, I can’t forget the casual delays in responding to vulnerable groups. Experts fiddled while human rights burned.

So if you sense a certain impatience in me, you’re right. We don’t have another day to lose. Peter Piot did the arithmetic yesterday … 1,350,000 put on treatment in 2010; 2,700,000 new infections, exactly double the number in treatment in the same year. It works out to 7,397 new infections every day. And it’s 2011, for God’s sake. It’s appalling that such numbers continue to haunt us; it’s heart-breaking beyond endurance to contemplate further exponential agony. We cannot delay another minute in putting the ‘prevention combination’ to work.

And I think, judging from the mood in the corridors, that’s what seizes this conference. But right at the moment when we know, irrefutably, that we can defeat this pandemic, we’re sucker-punched at the Global Fund.

What’s a sucker punch? It’s when a boxer in the ring gets a punch below the belt that he doesn’t see coming. No one expected a complete cancellation of Round Eleven, with new money unavailable for implementation until 2014.

It’s just the latest blow in a long list of betrayals on the part of the donor countries, in this instance the Europeans in particular. I’ve heard from several people that the politics of the Global Fund meeting in Accra two weeks ago, when the decision was made, were not just complicated, but amounted to miserable internecine warfare. Certain governments on the Board of the Global Fund simply discredited themselves. They give a soiled name to the principle of international solidarity. The Chair of the Board, in a remarkably convoluted effort, tried to explain things in a press release. He would have done far better to remain silent.

The decision on the part of the donor countries is unforgiveable. In a speech a few days ago, I addressed the Global Fund predicament by talking of the moral implications of a decision that you know will result in death … death on the African continent.

I asked: "Do they regard Africa as a territorial piece of geographic obsolescence? Do they regard Africans themselves as casually expendable? Is it because the women and children of Africa are not comparable in the eyes of western governments to the women and children of Europe and North America? Is it because Africans are black and unacknowledged racism is at play? Is it because a fighter jet is worth so much more than human lives? Is it because defense budgets are more worthy of protection in an economic downturn than millions of human beings?"

These are not phrased as rhetorical questions. I mean each and every one of them.

Spare me, I beg of all the speakers … spare me the economic crisis. Everyone knows that when it comes to financing wars, or bailing out the banks, or bailing out Greece, or reinstituting corporate bonuses, or even responding to natural disasters that threaten economies, there’s always enough money. We’re drowning in crocodile tears. It’s not a matter of the financial crisis; it’s a matter of human priorities. We have a right to ask the G8: what do you sanctify as governments: profits and greed or global public health?

That’s especially true in the case of the United States. I was, like everyone else, delighted by President Obama’s endorsement of the proposition that PEPFAR could treat a total of six million people rather than four million people by 2013 with the same money. And I congratulate Ambassador Goosby for seeing that through. It’s wonderful. No one would take issue. How could you? There’s no additional money involved: it’s just greater efficiency and more targeted spending.

And then the President went on to affirm his support for the money that’s supposed to be destined for the Global Fund … $4 billion over three years, 2011-2013; $1.3 billion a year.

Now let me take you back a step. In 2010, when the three-year pledge for the Global Fund was being discussed, the activists in the United States were asking for $6 billion over three years, believing that this was a fair share for the United States and an inducement to all the other donors. They feared that the President would stay at $3 billion over the next three years … roughly the previous allocation for the Global Fund. When he endorsed $4 billion, it was considered a partial victory.

In my respectful submission, it’s time for the United States to take a hard look at $6 billion. Many American speeches glow with the words that the US is the largest donor to the Fund. Well of course they’re the largest donor; they’re the most dominant and wealthy economy in the world. I really think that apart from calling on the European governments to reverse their decision, President Obama should tell Congress he wants a full $6 billion.

I don’t expect that anyone ever listens to me. But I do point out what was emphasized at the opening of the conference: money to do battle against HIV/AIDS is the singular non-partisan issue in Congress. Even those irascible philistines who want to cut foreign aid, or global health, have shown in the past that they’re prepared to shore up funding for HIV/AIDS. It seems to me that President Obama should put his moral authority on the line, and ask Congress to raise the ceiling from $4 billion to $6 billion for the Global Fund.

It’s not a matter of comparison with other countries; it’s a matter of doing what’s  right. And that means doing your fair share regardless of whether others are doing theirs. There are many commentators who agree that the salvation of George Bush’s presidency was PEPFAR. President Obama doesn’t need salvation. But I can’t imagine a greater act of statespersonship than to say to the world: I, Barack Obama, cannot stand the thought of another unnecessary death; if the United States of America has to bail out the Global Fund, we will.

Is the extra $2 billion dollars outrageous? The economist Jeffrey Sachs has answered that question. He points out that the United States defense budget amounts to $1.9 billion a day. In other words, we’re asking that HIV/AIDS receive an additional amount, over three years, that equals American military spending in one day.

It seems to me that that’s an argument that African political leaders can effectively pursue amongst the many arguments they should employ in dealing with the donor community. I agree with Michel Sidibe-who’s given significant and visionary leadership to this struggle-that there must be a high-level crisis meeting, and that Prime Minister Meles should convene it.

We’ve waited for this moment for a long time. This is an opportunity for the African political leadership to show its muscle, and to demand that the Global Fund be restored to its intended level. Remember, at the last formal replenishment in 2010, the funding came in at a dismal $11.7 billion, far short of the $20 billion that the Global Fund really needed in order to scale up to meet universal access. Now we’re being told that even the $11.7 billion is out of reach. It’s unconscionable, indefensible, outrageous. It’s murder, that’s what it is: murder. And the donor countries expect to get away with it because there’s a culture of fiscal impunity.

As I wind my way to a conclusion, let me relate an anecdote that I think is relevant.

When I left my diplomatic post at the United Nations in 1988, I took on a role as the Secretary-General’s Advisor on Africa. (I admit that seems odd, but there is an explanation that more or less justifies the appointment.) There was an Inter-Agency Task Force established, and there was a kind of executive committee of four. The Chair was the noted African economist, Professor Adebayo Adedeji of Nigeria and at the time Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa; the Vice-Chair was the remarkable, brilliant Richard Jolly, Deputy-Executive Director of UNICEF; the Rapporteur was the accomplished economist Sadig Rasheed, also with the ECA, and I was the fourth, a sort of honorary post. (Note that then, as now, men were tapped to lead the way.)

We met, often in Addis – where the ECA was and still is located – with many of our colleague agencies working in Africa. The World Bank was almost always in attendance, and intermittently, the International Monetary Fund.

It was the height of "structural adjustment" programs. Every meeting was a battleground, filled with heated imprecations, accusations, and malice. Our little executive cabal of four detested the international financial institutions, and they detested us.

In the midst of endless angry discussions of conditionality, we looked carefully at the financial data, and suddenly realized a staggering truth: when you took into account the interest payments and some capital payments as well, and ran the statistics carefully, it became clear that Africa was paying out far more than it was taking in … hundreds of millions more. The continent was financing the World Bank; the World Bank wasn’t financing the continent.

And it continues to this day. Again, I remind you of Peter Piot’s reference yesterday. I have a close friend who writes columns for the newspaper The Globe and Mail in Canada. Commenting on the study that Peter Piot referenced, the title of his column was, "Africa: The World’s Most Generous Foreign Aid Donor". It confirms the fact that a study of nine African countries, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe showed that they had exported doctors to Canada, the United States, the UK, and Australia, costing Africa between $2 billion and $13 billion in education and training, and saving the four western countries more than $4.5 billion in education and training. The nurses’ financial ratios would be even higher.

This is an AIDS conference. We talk endlessly about capacity building. Africa desperately needs its doctors and nurses. Instead, in the vital field of health professionals, Africa loses billions in exporting its human resources.

I say all this to challenge the artificial debate on dependency. From slavery to today’s extractive industries of minerals and oil, Africa is financing the world. The modern world’s economy was built on Africa’s human and natural resources, and it depends on them to this day. The money from the Global Fund and PEPFAR amount to partial reparations. Western donors are not engaged in some kind of financial philanthropy: we owe Africa what we give to Africa. And a hell of a lot more to boot.

That’s the debate that Prime Minister Meles should induce. The donor countries to the Global Fund, having ransacked the continent for six hundred years, have no right to withdraw. They must be confronted. And all of you, who make up civil society in so many countries, must press your Presidents and Prime Ministers into action.

Let me end by coming full circle to the Millennium Development Goals. Africa will never reach the MDGs if AIDS is not vanquished. AIDS adds to the desolate state of poverty. Obviously, it affects both maternal and child health. It continues to leave children parentless (though the millions of orphans whose plight seemed a priority at past AIDS gatherings, increasingly, mysteriously, disappear from view).  Gender equality is a mockery in the face of AIDS. And the so-called partnership between the haves and the have-nots is rendered laughable. Even sustainable development is influenced, because climate change feasts on weakened populations.

If the MDGs are as important as everyone says, then AIDS must be subdued.

As a last parting thought, in respect of the Global Fund, I beg you to mobilize as a truly civil society and stand up to the reckless nation-states who dare to decide whether Africans will live or die.

Heroic or Mundane

August 24th, 2011 1 comment

I have been working with Cabrini for about a month now and have really been in the mix of things since the beginning.  One of the things that I have noticed about my work is that nearly everything I do could either be seen as incredibly romantic/heroic or incredibly mundane.  I will leave it up to you to decide which it is:

I drove all around the country tracking down medicine so that AIDS patients can live another day
-or-
I spent all day running errands and getting lost because no buildings are labeled.

I helped secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money.
-or-
I spent all day rearranging documents so they met the US Government templates.

We nursed two TB-positive twins who were dying of malnutrition back to health.
-or-
We agreed to change poopy diapers again and clean up messes after meal time.

I oversaw the installation of a multi-site, comprehensive data network.
-or-
I called our our computer to guy to ask why he hadn’t installed the router yet.

We moved from a comfortable house in the States to the most desolate place in Swaziland.
-or-
We cut our living expenses by 90% and still live very comfortably.

My salary puts me well below the poverty level in the United States
-or-
My salary puts me in the top 5% of Swazi earners

I am a missionary in Africa.
-or-
I spend most of my day doing paperwork for a growing organization.

The longer I am here, the more I realize that even in Swaziland, we still deal with the same issues, struggle with the same questions, and measure ourselves by the same standards.  Sure, things are much different than what I experienced on a daily basis in the States, but at the end of the day, it is all how you look at it.

Categories: Swaziland Tags: , ,

It’s all connected

July 18th, 2010 No comments

We are about halfway through our “fact finding” trip to Swaziland and things are going exceptional.  We really have had no problems to speak of.  There have been a few surprises, but most of them have been pleasant (like realizing most of the places we are going are closer together than we expected).  The coolest thing so far is our discovery of just how interconnected everything is:

  • One the way in from Jo-burg we met a gentleman at the petrol station we had been trying for weeks to set a meeting up with.
  • We met with Bulembu Ministries first, and then it turns out three other groups we are meeting with also have ties there.  In fact, the guy we we stayed with last night, stayed in Bulembu the night after we did.
  • We met a girl at a brai (BBQ) on Friday and then ran into her on Saturday at a restaurant and again on Sunday church.
  • The people we stayed with last night go to church with one of the guys we were trying to schedule a meeting with later in the week.
  • On Saturday we visited an AIDS clinic and I met a random Peace Corp volunteer whose blog I had been following.
  • At the same clinic we also met the gentleman whom we had scheduled a Monday meeting with (he then took us to a game park and to lunch – very cool).  He also introduced us to a person at the US embassy.
  • While driving through town we pulled up next to one of the missionaries we had already met with.
  • One of the ladies we met at the schools went to the church we attended this morning.
  • One of the schools we visited previously employed a pastor we are scheduled to meet with later in the week.

The list goes on… and, we haven’t even gotten into the bulk of the meetings.  For the most part, we made connections with each of these groups independently, but it is obvious there is a whole lot of coordination between all these people.  It has allowed us to feel very connected even in a short period of time.

Now… just for fun…. here are a few pictures:

Africa 023

[Banking for the airport over South Africa]

Africa 029

[Sunrise over Bulembu]

Africa 037

[Eucalyptus trees line the road from Bulembu to Piggs Peak]

Africa 074

[My view this morning in Hawane]

Africa 080 

[The sunset tonight overlooking Mbabane]

10 Things (to do before I die)

July 17th, 2009 3 comments

Today Beth and I look to the future with our list of 10 things we want to do before we die.  Some items on this list represent things we already have in the works.  Other items represent things we simply need to make happen.  Finally, a few things on this list are so far out there, I have no idea how to make them happen, but by listing them, hopefully I will move that direction.

  1. Live overseas - Beth and I are very serious about spending a significant amount time in a place where our worldview is forced to expand, and where life is redefined.  Furthermore, we want to make sure Mikayla is a part of this experience.  You can read more about our plans to move to Swaziland in the next few years here, here and here.
  2. Know everything about something and something about everything – This is taken from a quote by Thomas H. Huxley, but does a great job at summing up my educational goals.  I do foresee a time when I pursue a Ph.D., but even if I don’t, I want to be intentional about knowing enough about one subject that I can be a resource to others.  Likewise, I want to know a little about everything so that my perspective of the world is more rounded, and so I can share in the appreciation others have for their passions.  (I love talking with people about what they do for a living — especially if they are really excited about their job).
  3. Adopt a child – Beth and I have been committed to adopting a child since our first conversations about our future plans.  It just makes sense — with so many children without families, why wouldn’t we bring on of them into our home.  Plus, Mikayla is so perfect (healthy, content, good looking), I think we could only go downhill.  I am even ready to get fixed.  Chances are we will adopt while overseas.
  4. Get my pilot’s license – This has been a goal of mine for quite a while.  There is a good chance I will begin training in the next 6 months.  While it is expensive, when you compare it to other educational costs, it is no more than a semester of graduate classes.
  5. Live off the grid – There are two reason behind this.  1.) I want to be a better steward of creation.  2.) I want to live more simply.  There is a good chance this will occur while we are in Swaziland, but if it doesn’t, I want to make sure it happens when we get back.
  6. Speak at least one other language fluently – So far I have ancient Greek and Hebrew under my belt from my days at Asbury.  But being able to ready 2,000 year old texts doesn’t do you much good when you want to communicate with someone today.  Right now Beth and I are beginning to work on our siSwati so we can speak the second national language of Swaziland.  It might not be the most practical language (only 1M in the world speak it), but it will certainly help us with our time overseas.  Once we are back, I may work on my Spanish.
  7. Watch a space shuttle launch – Not as profound as some of the other items on my list, but ever since my 5th grade class did a whole unit on space and learned about the whole launch process, I have been fascinated.  I think it would be awesome to see a launch live — especially a night launch.
  8. Visit all 7 continents – I have 2 down and will get a 3rd shortly.  Antarctica will be tough, but if I get the other 6, I am pretty sure I could make it happen.  I actually have several friends who work there during the southern summer.
  9. Complete an epic backpacking trip – I doubt I will ever complete the AT, the CDT, or the PCT, but I want to do something major.  Maybe it won’t even be stateside.  I want to experience the thrill of completion along with the time to reexamine life that comes with such a trip.

    Grave Peak sunset.  July 4, 2001

    Grave Peak sunset. July 4, 2001

  10. Celebrate my 50th anniversary, walk my daughter down the aisle, die content – How is that for a final goal?  I list these last and together because these require a lifetime of dedication.  I want to be happy with my life when it is through and be able to say I have been a good husband a good father.

Honorable Mention: Camp overnight in an interstate mediumHere is the place I have my eye on… easy access, wide area, cover of trees.  Anyone up for it?

The Kingdom of Swaziland (Part 3)

July 14th, 2009 1 comment

This is the third post in a series on the decision Beth and I have made concerning a long-term move to Africa.  In the first post I detailed how the process started and in the second post I walked through the specifics of the nation we are strongly considering: Swaziland.  This post will cover the whys and whats.

Most people are considerate enough to assume we have a reason for going there, so the most frequent question has been “What will you do there?”  In fact, in one conversation I had with an Embassy employee, I was told after explaining our plans that “No one just comes to Swaziland.”  Well, we are hoping that is hyperbole.

The most honest answer to the question of what will we do is quite simply “we don’t know yet.”  It isn’t that we are planning on moving our family 9000 miles away with no plan, but instead, we don’t want to rush our decisions.  We don’t want to align with an organization without first knowing the impact (positive or negative) they are having.  We don’t want to commit to helping with AIDS victims if we would be better suited to work in the educational system.  We don’t want to live in Manzini if we would be a better fit in the eastern plains.  (you get the picture).  So right now we are being very intention about our research.  We are getting to know the groups currently there, and what opportunities may be there for us.  We are speaking with both Americans and Swazi citizens about the needs and resources.  We are investigating job opportunities in the public, private, government and non-governmental sectors.  We are looking at faith-based and secular openings.  Here are a few things we may consider:

  • I may apply for work at the University of Swaziland teaching Theology and Religion at the University of Swaziland.
  • Beth may try to work in the Ministry of Education to put her special education training to work.
  • We both may work in an orphanage working with orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC).
  • We may work with an NGO doing AIDS prevention and education.
  • I may work in the private sector doing web development while Beth volunteers in the community.
  • We may join the Peace Corp.
  • We may work as “missionaries” with any number of faith based groups in the country.
  • We may figure out these are not the opportunities / needs of the country and do something like sugar cane harvesting… who knows!

I realize that does not answer the “what” question, but I hope you understand our motives.  I fear too many people decide what needs to be done without ever stepping foot in the country or assessing the impact of their decisions.  That is why we are planning a trip there next summer to serve as the capstone of our state-side research.

Now, let me comment a bit on the why of our decision.  The most straight-forward answer is this: we want to experience life outside the United States in a setting that forces us to reexamine our lives.  (so yes, you could say our motivation is primarily selfish).  Despite the fact Beth and I have spent the last 2-3 years trying to simplify our lives and work towards making the world a better place, it is so easy to get caught in the rat race of life and forget there are things larger than us.  As Rob Bell as put it, “one of the greatest dangers of life is assuming our world is the world!”  Put another way, it is easy to get caught up in things that don’t matter when most of the world is struggling to survive.  (Let us not forget every day 30,000 children die of hunger of preventable diseases, while Americans alone throw away 25% of our edible food.)

I was reminded of this tonight while watching Schindler’s list.  At the end of the movie, after the war has ended and the Jews have been freed, everyone there is greatful for the fact that Schindler has saved over 1,000 Jews and he can only weep and wonder about how much more he could have done.  He breaks down when he realizes the gold pin he is wearing could have been used to save one additional life, or his car could have saved 10 more.  He says “why did I keep the car…”

Here is the clip:

We have realized that the questions we ask, and the issues we care about are directly related to our surroundings.  Our goal is not to go somewhere to “fix” things, but rather to be in a place where we are concerned with the things of more significance than what we eat or what we will wear.

The experiencing of living in a country life Swaziland is more than just something Beth and I want to go through.  We want Mikayla’s formative years to occur in a society where the day to day struggles are litterally a matter of life and death, yet where community is something much deeper than who you hang out with when you are not holed up in a comfy suburban home with 1000 channels, a maid and a wardrobe of clothes you never where because they are out of style.

Will it be tough?  I am sure it will be.  Will we miss our friends and family?  Absolutely?  Will we regret it, or encounter problems beyond what we expected? Perhaps.  But, do we feel this is something we must do?  Without doubt.

As for a finish… we are looking at returning in 2019 or 2020.  That would be the year Mikayla would start Middle school. Our rationale is this: we want her to get the best education possible so she can do whatever she wants with her life.  At the same time, we want to return to the US, because we feel this nation has the resources — both financial and individual — to change the course of the world.

As you can tell, we still have a lot to figure out, but I am excited about the direction we are heading.

To wrap things up, I want to give you a few blog links of people who are in Swaziland:

See Also:

Kingdom of Swaziland Part I – Decision to Move

Kingdom of Swaziland Part II – Background on the country

The Kingdom of Swaziland (part 2)

July 12th, 2009 No comments

Yesterday I posted about the decision Beth and I have made about moving to Africa.  Today I want to take the time to give a brief overview of the country of Swaziland, where we are strongly considering moving.  Tomorrow, I will write a bit about why Beth and I made this decision and what it may look like.

Swaziland is the second smallest mainland country in Africa (trailing only Gambia).  It is landlocked and roughly the size of New Jersey.  It lies to the north-east of South Africa and is surrounded on three sides by that country.  Southern Mozambique is along the eastern border of Swaziland.  The population of the country is 1.1M, which is about the same as Rhode Island (by comparison Kentucky has a population of 4.3M).  That gives a population density of roughly the same as Tennessee, but the differences is that Swaziland is more spread out with its capitol and largest city of Mbabane having only 81,000 people.  Only 4 cities have more than 10,000 people and only 10 are over 4,000.

url

Map of Swaziland

The country has a rich history and remains as the only remaining monarchy in Africa.  Currently King Mswati III is the ruler of the country.  He currently has 14 wives and 23 children.  Swaziland is navigating a fine line between democracy and monarchy with a (relatively) newly adopted constitution.  In the early 1800′s the Dlamini royal house established themselves in the area.  By the turn of the next century, the area known as Swaziland was under British colonial rule even though the royal family was still in existence.  In 1968 the country was granted independence and a constitutional monarchy was established.  This however was short lived as in 1973 the constitution was dissolved by King Sobhuza leading to a absolute monarchy.  Eventually the monarchy was passed on to the current king Mswati III in 1986.  Under his rule (and thorough the pressure of underground political parties) a movement to more democracy was initiated.  National elections begain in 1993 and in 2006 a new constitution was established that declared the king the head of state and a prime minister and parliment along with a judicial system under him.  While power is now shared, the king still has an abundance of control (for instance, all the land is considered to be the King’s).

King Mswati III

King Mswati III

Swaziland has two languages, siSwati and English.  SiSwati is the traditional langauge spoken in most of the rural areas and English is the language of business and government.  SiSwati is a derivitive of Zulu; you can hear it spoken here.

By far the greatest issue facing the Swazi people is the AIDS epidemic.  Currently nearly 40% of adults are infected that number is on the rise.  According to the UN, it is one of the few areas of the world where the quality of life is decreasing.  The AIDS rate is the highest in the world, the life expectancy is the third worst, and of 177 countries, it listed as being 141st in terms of human development.  77.8% of the population lives on less than two dollars a day and 47.7% lives on less than a dollar.

Despite these staggering problems and a transitioning government, Swaziland is relatively stable.  There are not major uprisings, civil conflicts, or major border disputes.  There are not rebel groups attempting to overthrow the government like there are in other African countries.

The crime rate in Swaziland is relatively high, especially in terms of violent crime.  However, it should be noted that its overall crime rate is 20% lower than that of the United States.  This compilation report highlights crime statistics as well as human rights issues, which I will address next.

While Swaziland is a stable country, it does have major human rights issues as this detailed report from the State Department explains.  Here is part of the the abstract (emphasis mine):

Swaziland is a modified traditional monarchy with executive, legislative, and limited judicial powers ultimately vested in the king (Mswati III). The king rules according to unwritten law and custom, in conjunction with a partially elected parliament and an accompanying structure of published laws and implementing agencies. The population was approximately 1.1 million. The most recent parliamentary elections, held in 2003, were not considered free and fair. Political parties continued to be banned. Political power remained largely with the king and his circle of traditional advisors, including the queen mother. The civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces; however, there were some instances in which security forces committed abuses.

The government’s human rights record was poor, and government agents continued to commit serious abuses. The country faced a serious socio?economic situation characterized by sluggish economic performance, poverty, drought, an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 42.6 percent, and growing unemployment. The following human rights problems were reported:

  • inability of citizens to change their government
  • arbitrary killings by security forces
  • police use of torture, beatings, and excessive force
  • police impunity
  • arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention
  • infringement on citizens’ privacy rights
  • limits on freedom of speech and of the press
  • restrictions on freedom of assembly and association
  • prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists
  • restrictions on freedom of movement
  • discrimination and violence against women
  • poor enforcement of women’s rights
  • child abuse
  • trafficking in persons
  • societal discrimination against mixed race and white citizens
  • antiunion discrimination
  • child labor

I want to end on a bright note.  The country of Swaziland is absolutely beautiful with high plains, majestic mountains and pristine valleys.  I have included some pictures below.

urlp218875-Swaziland-Beautiful_mountains_of_Northwestern_Swazilandurl-15059293

Finally, here are a few websites I have found useful in addition to those linked above:

See Also:

Kingdom of Swaziland Part I – Decision to Move

Kingdom of Swaziland Part III – What we will do and why

The Kingdom of Swaziland (part 1)

July 11th, 2009 No comments

My tagline mentions faith, doubt, family and future (not sure where that “d” word came from).  So far we have covered the first three, so what about the fourth… our future.  Well here are the big plans Beth and I have been mulling over recently.

About a year ago Beth and I realized we had divergent life plans.  It was not that my plans were different from hers; rather, it was that we were holding on to various life plans that could not all happen together.  Were we going to commit to our community in Bowling Green? Where we going to spend time overseas?  Was I going to pursue a Ph.D. and then teach in a university?  Was Beth going to transition into special education and working with students with Autism?

After much thought, prayer, and discussion it was clear that the path we were most dedicated to was an extended period overseas; specifically, we wanted to experience life in Africa.  We wanted to live 5-10 years in a developing country where we could raise Mikayla during her formative years.  We began doing research and setting goals.  We even went as far as creating a giant pro/con list of every country in the continent.  We were looking for a country:

  • that is relative safe with no major civil conflicts
  • where english is at least a secondary language
  • where travel is cheap enough so it is possible to come back to the states or have people visit us
  • with a near temperate climate and varied terrain (okay… really we were just looking for a place that wasn’t a desert)
  • with a rich history and culture
  • where communities addressed societal issues together

It was not our goal to go somewhere to “fix” things, but rather to allow a different set of circumstances to expand our worldview and then work along side those there to bring about a better world for all.

Our search kept returning us to the small country of Swaziland (technically “The Kingdom of Swaziland” since it is the only remaining monarchy in Africa).  This landlocked country is to the north-east of South Africa and is about the size of New Jersey with about the population of Kentucky’s 4 largest cities (Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green and Owensboro).  It has the third lowest life expectancy in the world due largely to the fact that it has the highest AIDS rate in the world. I will write a follow up post explaining more about Swaziland in the coming days and then another one explaining what we may do there, but until then you can read about the country here.

Our current plans are to travel there in 2010 to research jobs and organizations we may be able to work with, then in 2011 or 2012 make the big move.  Mikayla will be 2 or 3 then and we expect to stay until she is ready for Middle School and then move back.

Of course all this is flexible.  We decided it was better to have flexible goals that we could move towards rather than ambiguous goals that may never materialize.

For now, we are beginning to make contacts over there and have started looking into learning the second language of siswati, we are also researching organizations and institutions that we may be able to align ourselves with.

I look forward to sharing more as it develops.

See also:

Kingdom of Swaziland Part II – Background on the country

Kingdom of Swaziland Part III – What we will do and why