Ebola’s Surprising Effect

Ebola’s Surprising Effect

thisisnttexasThis ebola epidemic has a surprising effect: Americans are wondering if Africans have it better.

Most Americans’ live styles are much better than their counterparts in Africa, but what about the change from year to year? Americans believe they aren’t getting better. Africans by a wide margin believe they are. Both are right.

It’s only a matter of time before Africans feel they are better off than Americans.

Nigeria and South Africa both had ebola patients come to them from the infected areas. One Nigerian ebola patient infected one of the hospital care givers in Nigeria. Both the patient and the care giver were cured. In South Africa no transmission to health care workers occurred. Both South African and Nigeria are today “ebola-free.”

Texas isn’t.

So why is the American future pessimistic compared to the African future, and why is ebola being better contained – outside the three-country infected area – in Africa than America?

I’ve got one answer: school field trips.

School field trips in Kenya are on a massive increase; trips in the U.S. way down.

According to Education Next, “Museums across the country report a steep drop in school tours… A survey by the American Association of School Administrators found that more than half of schools eliminated planned field trips in 2010–11.”

For example, the Field Museum in Chicago has lost a third of its annual school visitors, as has the Cincinnati arts organizations.

I’ve got another answer: declining infrastructure.

The title of the Council on Foreign Relation’s new report on American infrastructure, “Road to Nowhere,” says it all.

Infrastructure is booming throughout Africa. I can’t believe my eyes when I’m absent from Nairobi for more than a couple months: another highway, another factory, another rail line…

Here’s another answer: American protection of human rights is on the decline. While human rights is still on the whole better in America than in Africa, America is getting worse while some parts of developed Africa like South Africa are getting better.

The Human Rights Risk Atlas for 2014 lists America at 139 of 197 countries, or a “medium risk” of human rights abuse.

It’s possible to go on and on down the list of what governments are supposed to do: build roads, educate children, protect human rights. By so many metrics, even the simple metric of stopping the spread of ebola in a hospital, America isn’t doing so well.

While much of Africa is getting better.

But this should come as no surprise. Social investment in education, infrastructure, even the money we spend on courts and judges, is shrinking.

I once thought it impossible that in my life time any African country could achieve some kind of significant metric that bettered America.

I’m not so sure, anymore.

Water Wars

Water Wars

waterwarsIt was inevitable. Africa is coming to blows over water. It’s no joke that it could mean war.

Nine African countries depend upon The Nile. All of them are water deprived and all of them except Egypt are subject to devastating droughts. Only Egypt – which rarely experiences rain at any time – has matured without climate catastrophes.

But Egypt is the greatest user of the Nile waters, and the last of the nine countries on the chain from Lake Victoria and the headwaters of the Blue Nile. During colonial times Egypt was much more developed than the other nine countries, and Britain was the colonial master of them all.

So Britain produced a mid 1950s treaty that gave Egypt veto power over any of the other nine countries when deciding collectively how to use the Nile water.

Times have changed.

Fresh water is as precious a commodity among these countries as oil. In 1999 the nine countries agreed that parceling out the waters of the Nile was the most important issue among them. They formed the Nile Basin Initiative, and since the formation, nothing at all has happened except bitter name calling.

Meanwhile, parts of the shoreline of Lake Victoria have receded more than 150 feet, and the depth of the lake has dropped by nearly 30 feet.

To manage their increasingly vital resource, more than 25 dams are currently planned for different parts of the Nile. The largest dam in the world is currently being built in Ethiopia, and Egypt is furious with Ethiopia for building it.

Egypt depends upon a strong flow of water along the Nile to irrigate its enormous agricultural industry. There is every indication the Grand Renaissance Dam alone will deplete this flow.

“Egypt sees its Nile water share as a matter of national security,” strategic analyst Ahmed Abdel Halim explained. “To Ethiopia, the new dam is a source of national pride, and essential to its economic future.”

A year ago Egypt’s president Morsi said “all options are on the table” including “military responses to Ethiopia.”

Yesterday Kenya’s Natural Resource Cabinet Secretary ended another failed Nile Basin Initiative meeting. It failed principally because Egypt would not officially attend, although its ambassador to Kenya did show his face.

Nine of the countries less Egypt have agreed on an initiative agreement, but Egypt is balking. According to the 1999 accord, only 6 of the 9 countries need ratify the agreement for it to take effect. But Egypt is considered critical.

“That is the only way we can do this peacefully. Otherwise… we are going to be at war because of water,” Prof Judi Wakhungu, the Environment, Water and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary told Kenya’s main newspaper yesterday after the meeting broke up.

Egypt without enough Nile water would be brought to its knees. It seems to me that much more powerful than the 1950s colonial shelf treaty is the fact that Egypt’s very existence for more than 7,000 years has depended upon The Nile. That’s quite a few grandfathers to be claused in.

I doubt there will actually be war, but not because Egypt doesn’t have the resolve if the waters stop flowing. Rather, I think Ethiopia is sensible enough to realize that turning off the spigot will cause war, so it won’t.

But there are many who disagree. Ethiopia is something of a maverick state, always has been. As the Grand Renaissance Dam starts to rise, the country’s leaders may also start basking in their increasing level of power.

Kill Mom, Sell the Baby

Kill Mom, Sell the Baby

chimpChimps are not as endangered as gorillas, but they are increasingly controversial in developing Africa because they are so human-like.

Most westerners think of chimpanzees as sort of smart dogs. Well, only if the dog is as big as you! That’s right, a full grown chimp averages 5½’ tall and weighs 150 pounds.

This is no monkey.

Chimps are still widespread throughout much of Africa’s great central jungles. But for millennia the jungle peoples, mostly pygmies and settlements at the forest edge, hunted chimps for food. Traditionally chimp meat was an important source of necessary protein.

Babies were never eaten. An adult would be killed and the baby set free, usually to die for being abandoned. As villages and settlements developed, a secondary trade in selling these babies to westerners developed.

Forty years ago in far western Kenya, Kathleen and I had been working for hardly a few weeks when we were offered a baby baboon. I bought and raised it and tried to reintroduce Hamisi into the wild. The baboon’s mother wasn’t killed for food, but because she was raiding a neighbor’s maize garden.

Killing baby anythings seems offensive to most everyone. It was my justification for buying our little baby baboon Hamisi in the first place. But what I didn’t realize then was that a massive trade would develop, a blackmarket in animals like Hamisi, driven by nefarious western and Asian animal traders.

Today there are numerous NGOs across Africa whose mission is to thwart the blackmarket trade in wild African animals. This usually means intercepting the baby taken from the killed mother. And that necessarily means rehabilitating the baby.

One of the more successful organization in the southern edge of chimp habitat is J.A.C.K.. See their video below.

Killing grownup chimps is universally offensive to the developed mind of anyone who has enough food: It approaches cannibalism. Chimps are extremely smart, one of the few animals to actually show emotion, and often mock, taunt, stalk or spy on their human neighbors, the same way people might observe wild animals.

Unlike baboons and gorillas, they don’t raid gardens or kitchens. They’re quite good at finding and in a way nurturing their own food, and they fear humans. I think that their fear is intellectualized very much like human fear is, and very much unlike gorillas and lesser animals that are more reactive.

So I’d venture to suggest that a chimp when coincidentally passing a trader walking through the forest with bananas, that it stops to muse on the consequences of stealing them. A baboon which is much smaller wouldn’t normally challenge a man, but the moment an opportunity arises – the farmer sets down his bag to wipe his brow – the baboon may strike.

The chimp won’t.

Whether this is fanciful or not, the fact remains that chimps don’t raid and pose no threat to humans, other than a reduction of a traditional food source as hunting of them is prohibited.

As Africa develops even rural folks grow more intellectual.

But the need for food is ever present. And the pernicious blackmarket in wild chimps is actually growing. The demand from the west and Asia is strong, as westerners and Asians grow exponentially richer than Africans.

That, today, is one of the major challenges in Africa with regards to chimp conservation. More and more authorities are prohibiting hunting and trading in chimps. Locally authorities justify their action beyond simple conservation – which can be very controversial — although this alternative justification applies more to the lesser primates like monkeys:

Ebola and a number of other viruses, probably like West Nile and flu varieties and possibly even HIV, originated with forest primates, mutated and were transported into the human population through bush meat.

The human/animal conflict is increasingly important throughout Africa as the continent develops so fast. Chimps are at the top of that controversy.

Immoral Exaggeration

Immoral Exaggeration

ebolavampireAmericans do not understand the ebola epidemic: They are reacting in the same unthoughtful way they do to unvetted political ads and sound bite media.

The ebola outbreak in West Africa is serious, like a lot of other things, like poverty. In fact, diarrhea, flu and TB kill millions more Africans (and Americans!) annually.

Americans must think think they are protected from those other diseases but vulnerable to ebola.

They’re dead wrong.

A traveler today to Monrovia, Liberia, where the current outbreak is centered is more likely to get diarrhea, salmonella, TB or malaria than ebola. The several hundred patients in ebola clinics in Monrovia have all come from rural areas where even basic medical prevention not to mention simple hygiene and community sewage treatment, doesn’t exist.

The problem is squarely and simply that there aren’t enough treatment centers – which would easily contain the outbreak – to service the growing numbers contracting the disease in the remote bush.

The widely reported half dozen medical workers from developed countries who contracted the disease were all working in these remote areas. In the course of their normal stint in such an area, they expect – as my wife and I did – to contract a number of local diseases.

It has less to do with the disease than the environment in which the disease exists.

Ebola is not spreading in Monrovia, a modern city. That is not to say that Liberia doesn’t need a lot more help than the western world is giving it, because Monrovia is where the Liberian epidemic will end. But it won’t end without the help it needs!

The problem goes well beyond ebola, now. Medical worker assistants like orderlies and kitchen staff and maintenance staff in Monrovia, many of whom are not paid any more relative to medical practitioners than in the U.S., are abandoning their jobs in droves.

That has led to a reduction in overall medical care, including birthing centers and simple malaria and diarrhea recovery clinics. As the entire country gets worse medically overall, every disease – including ebola – grows in potential.

And that is a terrible – horrible – indictment of the developed world. Compare the western world’s response to the Haiti earthquake or Philippines tsunami to Liberia’s current dire need. It has been pitiful, embarrassing and I think immoral.

When ebola came to Atlanta in a chartered aircraft and the patients who contracted the disease in rural Africa were then quarantined, it did not spread. The efforts in the hospital in Atlanta to contain spreading of the virus were little different than for a variety of even more contagious diseases like numerous varieties of staphylococcus.

Antibiotic-resistant TB, which is on a dangerous increase throughout the U.S., is spread through the air – respiration: coughing, sneezing, breathing – one of several more worrisome diseases than ebola in a modern medical setting. Ebola, like HIV, is spread only through body fluids.

The unwarranted American fear to ebola is identical to Americans knee-jerk reactions to 30-second political ads or 2-minute headliner news.

And when that reaction builds, the perpetrators of that media rev it up.

Ebola outranks Ukraine on CNN, because that’s what people want to view. When Democratic Senator Mark Pryor in a political fight of his life wants attention, he talks about ebola!

CNN asked a few days ago, “Are Myths Making the Ebola Outbreak Worse?”

CNN is, unfortunately, concentrating on the growing fear in West African residents. What about the fear that CNN instills in its viewers that translates ultimately into less help from the western world?

What about people in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine much less Ferguson, Missouri, who are getting less attention because ratings demand talking about ebola?

Alright. But what if you’re planning a safari to Africa?

Right now your chances of contracting ebola during a Kenya, Tanzania or southern African safari are probably less than if you holiday in London and infinitely less than if you holiday in Morocco and a lot less than if you holiday in Greece, southern Spain or most of the Mideast.

That’s because the frequency of air travel right now between west and east or southern Africa is so much less than to those other areas I mentioned. London is about 500 miles closer to Monrovia than either Johannesburg or Nairobi. There’s a hugely greater exchange of people between London and Liberia right now than to east or southern Africa.

Moreover, it’s also true because the level of medical facilities in Nairobi is better than Monrovia, so if ebola did break out in Nairobi it would likely be easily contained. And as for South Africa? Remember about a generation ago, the first heart transplant was conducted in South Africa.

The last thing I want to do is minimize the seriousness of this epidemic. But frankly I get rather angry when I realize Americans fear this far, far away epidemic exponentially more than their own TB epidemic in poorer neighborhoods across their own country.

I just can’t figure it out. Is every American a teenage girl obsessed with Twilight?

Ebola Hell

Ebola Hell

When superstition in the bush becomes religion in the city, all hell breaks loose.
When superstition in the bush becomes religion in the city, all hell breaks loose.
This ebola outbreak is an epidemic, the first of 28 previous outbreaks. It’s much more dangerous and we need to understand why.

There are a number of contributing factors, but I believe the most significant one is the growing enmity and polarization between Christians and non-Christians, Muslims and non-Muslims.

It’s a horrible object lesson of a global society that just isn’t working, anymore.

Of course increased communications and more global interaction from airlines and so forth contribute to the speed of the current spread. But relative to the previous outbreaks something new and very bad has entered the equation, and I think that’s religious hostility.

Until this outbreak, ebola was confined to a tiny core of central Africa composed of only 4 countries: The Congo, Gabon, Sudan and Uganda.

In all those cases the outbreak occurred in heavily forested, rural “jungle” areas with relatively few people. As soon as health workers arrived on the scene, the outbreak was finally contained. Whenever an infected person arrived in an urban area, immediate hospitalization often led to recovery and further containment.

Those outbreaks experienced a 2/3 fatality rate: more than 1500 people died from a reported 2389 cases.

As of this moment 729 people have died and another 1323 remain hospitalized. This is half of all the previous incidents since 1976, and the epidemic is spreading into developed Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.

This is the first time that ebola once out of the jungle has not been contained.

In more urban than rural areas of Sierra Leone, infected persons are escaping from hospitals and refusing treatment.

Massive police action hasn’t been able to stop widespread street demonstrations against the west and its medicine.

Police shot 9 people in Freetown last week during a protest sparked by a former nurse who told the demonstrators that “Ebola was unreal and a gimmick aimed at carrying out cannibalistic rituals.”

In Liberia, the most developed country of the region, harsh government measures closing public institutions, confiscating bush meat and increasing public health monitoring have been met with angry demonstrations.

Following a burial yesterday grieving crowds hunted down and stoned health care workers.

All of this follows a pattern throughout the “almost developed” world that restarted earlier this year with Pakistan’s much publicized increase in polio. The disease was nearly eradicated, but this year polio has reemerged big time in Pakistan.

There’s little doubt that an insurgent campaign by the Taliban and others to prohibit polio vaccination was motivated in large part to the successful effort to find Osama bin-Laden.

Intelligence inside bin-Laden’s compound was obtained by CIA agents acting as bogus polio vaccination workers.

Additionally, Muslim clerics throughout the troubled parts of the world have started again to claim that western attempts at vaccination are really meant to sterilize Muslims.

That terrifying myth seems to have grown now to encompass the efforts to end ebola.

It’s the same horrible paradigm that provokes seniors in America to support ending medicare, or Texans to ban text book references to slavery, or coastal Floridians to vote down shoring up their communities in the advent of global warming, or Georgians to ban immigrants who are the only ones who harvest their peaches.

It’s denial of the truth with actions against one’s own self-interests.

Done with the certainty and conviction of religion, a first principal that will not be compromised.

There is little ideology or religion in Africa’s deep jungles. Survival trumps everything and superstition while intense has never seemed to work terribly against the people who adopted it.

But when superstition in the bush becomes religion in the city, then all hell breaks loose.

Zoo Excess

Zoo Excess

somethingdontdoLast week’s settlement between the Pittsburgh Zoo and a family whose 2-year old boy was killed by the zoo’s wild dogs has restarted the conversation about the roll zoos play, today.

In November, 2011, a Mom lifted her 2-year old onto a railing above an exhibit of wild dogs. The boy lunged forward out of the mother’s grip and fell into the exhibit where he was fatally attacked by the dogs.

The zoo had complied with industry and national safety regulations but did increase the barriers following the incident. That was one of the key points used by the parents in suing the zoo for negligence.

The details of the suit remain confidential, but the debate has widened beyond whether African predator exhibits are safe, to whether they’re humane or even necessary.

Zoos have been transforming themselves over my lifetime from institutions that display wildlife to institutions that study and conserve the wilderness.

If there’s a trend, it’s actually for fewer zoos and fewer displayed animals, although the zoos that exist are becoming larger and their displays are becoming much more elaborate.

Wild dog, relevant to this story, have likely been saved from extinction by U.S. zoos. They were in a dramatic decline several decades ago when conservation organizations led by zoos worked up a dramatic master plan to save them.

Numerous initiatives began, including habitat preservation, but unique to the wild dogs’ situation emerged a remedy that was specially effective.

Pet dogs living at the edges of wild dog habitat were transmitting common diseases that were wiping out the wild dog population in exactly the same way early American colonists wiped out native Americans with smallpox.

Inoculating pet dogs may have saved the wild dogs from extinction but it also contributed to a somewhat unexpected increase in the health of the people living nearby as well. The Lincoln Park Zoo discovered that its dog inoculation program prevented 250 human deaths annually from rabies.

The two decades long initiative to save wild dogs from extinction worked, and it is understandable that these organizations want to celebrate their success.

One of the ways is by displaying wild dogs to the public. In a healthy state, the dogs are prolific breeders and like almost all predators, their numbers are approaching saturation in the captive animal population.

So many zoos are newly trading them around, and many more zoos are beginning to display them.

It’s very difficult for me to appreciate the displaying aspect of a zoo, and I struggle to do so by recognizing that very few people in the world have the opportunities that I do to experience the wild.

But that mantra which has maintained my esteem for zoos over my life time is increasingly challenged by the massive advancements in technology. Whether it’s YouTube or online learning, holographic or 3-D projection, the modern world has increasingly better ways to “display” a wild creature.

The “display” of a real life creature always falls short of the awesome reality. But how short is short is becoming the increasingly important question.

In Zoo Miami, only a pane of glass separates little boys from angry beasts (see blog photo above), and frankly I think that’s an unprofessional leap to reduce the difference between “display” and “real life.”

But if adequate protection of observers from the instincts of predators ends up creating such a barrier, then it might just be better to get the kid an xBox.

Or, more to the point, perhaps the zoo should replace its display with a giant xBox.

Boko What?

Boko What?

schoolgirlBoko Haram. You need understand little else than the name to understand the situation: “Western Education is Sacrilege.”

‘Boko Haram’ is a Hausa language derivative, which lays blame for the misery in the world upon the educational systems created by the successful, developed world.

Of course there are many in the successful, developed world who agree with this:

In the United States, the number of home schooled primary and secondary school kids increased from 850,000 in 1999 to 1½ million in 2007 (1.7-2.9%).

Boko Haram believes that traditional western social values as evinced by public institutions are wrong. The schoolgirl kidnapping in Nigeria is an expression of moral indignation at gender equality.

Most western homeschoolers also believe women are inferior to men, or in a persistent homeschool jargon, “more godly” if they pursue a subservient relationship to men.

So in a real sense western homeschoolers and Boko Haram are comrades in arms.

What begins with the gender fracture continues into other aspects of society, like money and power.

Boko Haram, like the IRA, the Basques and numerous other ethnic-derived rebel movements, is fighting for a redistribution of wealth and power.

They arise from a portion of Nigerian society, the north and mostly Muslim part, which has benefited hardly at all from the development of the Christian south.

The less people have, the less they have to lose, the more likely they’ll put their life on the line.

Boko Haram, like all rebel groups, can’t survive on its own. Exploiting the undeveloped roads and vast forests of northern Nigeria, they hide not just in the neglected and undeveloped topography but among the millions of people who share a common misery.

Even the barbaric LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) received sanctuary from communities that felt they were being neglected to the point of desperation.

In a strange but true sense, American homeschoolers have likewise been neglected. And they find themselves not only bereft of basic understandings of and skills for the real world, but generally at the bottom of the economic ladder as a result.

If these movements are successful and ascend to power quickly or suddenly (take the Muslim Brotherhood or the Iranian ayatollahs), they’re unable to evolve more rational and moral positions. Instead, they reenforce the conservative myths around which they first organized themselves.

That’s the real danger to a just society. So what to do? Suppress them with every gun you’ve got? Imprison thousands? Or from the liberal side: spend billions quickly but carelessly to remedy such failings as their education?

Something in between, I suspect. Perhaps the IRA and Basque separatist movements are models. But what they both clearly show is that these “struggles” are long ones. There’s no quick fix.

Africa poses an additional challenge. The cleavage in so many African nations between the educated and well off, and the uneducated and impoverished, is greater than anything Marx could have imagined, or that ever existed in Belfast or the mountains of northeast Spain.

Boko Haram has been around for more than a decade. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, over 10,000 people have died in Boko Haram violence.

The Nigerian school girls have captured the world’s attention, but they are only a fraction of the horror and misery throughout the whole world.

Gates Gets Gross

Gates Gets Gross

gatesinafricaBill Gates is a very nice man captured in the last century, and his remarkable generosity grossly misses the mark.

The Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation just released Bill Gates’ “annual letter.” The Foundation continues to seek solutions to two of Africa’s crises, malaria and poverty.

The two, of course, are interconnected. Throughout the world the level of malaria infection is inversely proportional to personal income. I don’t think, though, that this fact drove the Gates Foundation’s mission development.

Gates and most of the world charities tackle problems as crises to the exclusion of remedying the fundamentals.

Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t as if these generous folks make crises out of situations in order to be good philanthropists. Malaria on an individual level is a distinct crisis. Hunger caused by extreme poverty has an immediate simple remedy when dealt with as a crisis: dinner.

But the problem with Gates and most of the world’s charities is that despite how rich they may be, they aren’t rich enough to tackle the fundamentals, and so they default to actions that deal with incidental crises.

Malaria is the perfect example.

Malaria was eradicated from most of the developing world without drugs or bednets. My own Chicago’s Fullerton marsh was a cesspool of malaria right until the great fire of the 1860s.

After the fire and a growing awareness that government had to step up, malaria was systematically eradicated from Chicago by an exponential increase in public expenditures that started with increased urban hygiene (better sewers and drainage) and radical use of crude oil to suffocate marshes.

Even at that time suffocating marshes was an ecological controversy, but the power of the public domain was much greater then than now. The majority ruled.

By the early 20th century, there was no malaria in Chicago. An early NIH study of the eradication found a number of additional socially progressive policies kept malaria from returning to large urban areas like Chicago, such as banning child labor.

By the 1930s malaria in the U.S. was confined to 13 poor, southeastern states that did not have the tax base to successfully eradicate the disease. So government came to the rescue.

The 1947 National Malaria Eradication campaign moved money from the rich industrialized northeast to eradicate malaria in the south, and was successful in doing so in less than a decade.

I suspect similar stories exist throughout the developed world. And the solutions employed then would work today in Kenya or Indonesia. But destruction of the environment (oiling marshes and later, using DDT) is no longer considered a tit-for-tat that might balance in the long run, and modernizing Nairobi’s sewage system is too expensive for even the Gates Foundation.

That example is a bit oversimplified, since in fact the Gates Foundation probably does have both the capital and wherewithal to modernize (at least once) the Nairobi sewage system. What I really mean, of course, is to effect a modernization and cleanliness that like in late 19th century Chicago was achieved by modernization of a public service.

Today Nairobi is exponentially bigger than Chicago was in 1860, and Nairobi is affected physiologically by what happens in Mombasa, Addis, Kampala and Dar, so fixing Nairobi without simultaneously fixing those other great metropolises would be problematic with regards to eradicating malaria.

BUT (and this is a very big but) so is the world’s wealth exponentially bigger today than in 1860, and that’s the point.

Were the public interest as dominant today as it was in Chicago in 1860, Nairobi, Mombasa, Addis, Kampala and Dar would be free of malaria, because the rich world would have fixed their sewer systems… (and of course, a lot more).

What has changed in the last 150 years is a disproportional amount of wealth has become concentrated among a few afraid it will be taken from them. There are not enough people in that pool of the paranoid very wealthy for any truly democratic or benevolent change to take place.

That isn’t to say that a majority of rich people, among which I’m sure Bill Gates is one, are not generous and intelligent enough to ante up. In this year’s letter, Gates castigates Americans for their paltry $30 annually that the U.S. provides in world aid.

But the power brokers within that pool are not the Gates of the world. They’re the Koch’s of the world. And the Koch’s rule. So long as there are Koch’s there will not be more than $30 annually per American spent on world aid.

So what’s left?

Gates. Deal with a problem as a crisis and not a fundamental, and that’s precisely what’s happened with malaria.

In October the huge multinational pharmaceutical Glaxonsmithkline (GSK) announced it would market the world’s first malaria vaccine.

The vaccine is about 60% efficacious. Not bad but incapable of eradicating malaria. It took about 30 years and billions of dollars to develop this. The beneficiaries are not exclusively people saved from malaria. It will probably in equal measure make the rich, richer.

(Note this cynical observation: If there were a vaccine that could eradicate malaria, that could be a big downer for the investors who paid to develop the vaccine.)

When the world won’t step up, when your own government or township won’t tax enough to fix fundamental problems, we have no choice: Gates and GSK become our only hope and it’s a very momentary, transitory solution that’s provided: a stop-gap.

And the powerful in the pool of the wealthy then distort those efforts to suggest they are successful in terms that claim governments can’t be.

And the cycle of mythology is perpetuated. Gates recognizes this. His annual letter is built on a series of “myths.”

I prefer a Warren Buffet to a Bill Gates. Frankly, I don’t prefer either of them in theory. There should not be super rich.

But Buffet often focuses on the fundamentals. Gates is an engineer. Or as a brilliant Dutch satirist pointed out this week, Gates treats aid like he treats Microsoft: self-perpetuating and growing and never completely tackling the problem holistically.

See Ikenna’s video below:

Better Watch Out

Better Watch Out

AfricavsUSeducationBetter education does not come by rewarding school performance, according to an African study, but by rewarding the underlying causes of that performance.

America’s method is not going to help it get better. Africa’s method is already helping it to get better, and quite fast, too.

Fifteen countries in sub-Saharan Africa fund a regional organization that evaluates those country’s educational system and produces recommendation for improvement. SAMEQ is essentially the Department of Education for sub-Saharan Africa.

Unlike our Department of Education the most recent comprehensive study of primary and secondary education suggests that teacher and pupil evaluations are meaningless and become entrenched without a broader and more detailed look at that data.

Let me explain:

The Obama administration focuses on school performance and teacher evaluation. What the SAMEQ report discovers is that while performance is the ultimate metric, giving funds or withholding funds based on that performance is pointless, which is what the Obama administration does.

SAMEQ delves into the causes of current performance, and I dare say that they’re the same the world over.

And this simple type of analysis leads to unfettered conclusions.

“Pupil socio-economic status, background, sex, age, grade repetition, absenteeism, homework, and speaking the language of instruction at home” are the greatest determinants of a pupil’s performance, and thereby, the pupil’s school’s overall performance.

(The report later reveals a tantalizing analysis of grade repetition that suggests this is counter-productive. In other words, poor pupils who were retained did poorer in the long haul than poor pupils who were retained and matriculated, anyway.)

And the main contributors to these individual factors are “school resources, school location, pupil–teacher ratio,” and finally, Obama’s focus, teacher evaluation (which the report calls “teacher score”). But it’s critical here to place teacher evaluation on no greater a pedestal than the other important factors.

The report adds that secondarily but still very important, school location seriously correlates with overall educational performance, and that is essentially a wider metric supporting the importance of socio-economic background.

So what does all this mean?

First, I have to say that the study was outstanding. Read the study to see the care with which data was mined, the finesse with with which contributing factors were parsed out, and the enormous relevance of carefully determined variants. Unlike our own government studies which tend to top-load a study with a goal (like school performance), this was a legitimate scientific exploration.

SAMEQ must tread much more carefully on political toes than our own government agencies, so there was little outright recommendation. But it’s there not just between the lines:

Pupils aren’t going to get better until their socio-economic status improves, and schools aren’t going to get better until pupils get better.

The one agreement with Obama policy is that teachers matter a lot, and that teachers can become as entrenched as socio-economic policy. Certainly figuring out a way to enhance teacher performance would be dynamite in improving education.

But so importantly, this must not be the principal concern.

What SAMEQ shows is that government resources – far more restricted in Africa than in America – are poorly used when thrown at the schools themselves.

Using the fact that grade repetition has no effect on student performance, SAMEQ explains further: “High levels of grade repetition have been blamed for increasing the overall cost of schooling, because if many pupils repeat each year, school systems need to employ more teachers and build more classrooms.”

Thus, attempts to work within the system can backfire.

SAMEQ is comfortable with certain remedies that would be not so comfortable in the U.S. “Home Intervention” as successfully implemented in Malaysia, and to a lesser degree in Mauritius and the Seychelles, improves performance.

This means greater funding of social work, something currently anathema in most of America.

And SAMEQ pulls no punches in recommending outright that more of Africa’s limited resources for education should be directed to poorer areas than richer areas.

That’s a direct opposite from America, where school resources are mostly local, so are circular and support themselves. Redistribution is what’s required.

As with immigration, taxation and employment policies, Africa is way ahead of America on educational reform.

And Africa is improving … fast. Is America?

Code 8 To The Rescue!

Code 8 To The Rescue!

TeamCode8Risking at least irony four male university students in Kampala just won the inaugural Women’s Empowerment Award in St. Petersburg for an innovative device to easily and rapidly detect malaria.

Any notion that’s it more than ironic is lost immediately when you realize that pregnant mothers in Africa harbor a greater fear of having malaria than any other group.

This is not only because malaria can quickly end a pregnancy but because the treatment can harm the fetus and in cases where the mother is less than perfectly healthy, cause miscarriage.

The four Makere university students engineered the device which is plugged into a smartphone, and created the app software that analyzes it.

The best test for malaria is a blood test. But the test will often come back negative when in fact the patient has malaria. What? This is because the best symptom of malaria is altered red blood cells, which explode in the body during a malaria attack but then are methodically excreted. A malaria attack rarely lasts longer than an hour, but the interval before the next attack can be as long as twelve hours.

So by the time the patient gets to the clinic and waits for her test, her symptoms may have subsided. And since reading the microscopic results of a swab is a human endeavor, mistakes happen and more often when the sensitivity of a pregnant mother is considered.

My wife suffered the same incorrect diagnosis here in the U.S. after returning from a safari and contracting malaria.

We called our doctor while she was having the attack; we knew it was malaria. But by the time she felt good enough to get in the car (after the attack subsides), travel to the hospital, wait for the test, 3-4 hours had transpired and the diagnosis she received was negative.

(Aggressive protestations sufficed for us to get the right therapy, and she was cured, and a subsequent visit with a test closer to a subsequent attack before the medication began to take hold proved we were correct: she had malaria.)

The four Uganda computer science students created a simple red-light device which they call a “matiscope.” Similar, in fact, to the types of devices that read fingerprints, the red light sensor detects red blood cells without any skin piercing.

Blood cells ooze to the surface of the skin normally all the time, but are so few they aren’t noticeable. And the skin itself is porous. The light penetrates several micro layers reaching even more red blood cells.

The sensor detects a blood cell altered by a malaria attack instantly.

The four students were guests of Microsoft for the company’s annual “Imagine Cup” competition for students, this year held in St. Petersburg. While there they won the inaugural Women’s Empowerment Award organized by an UN agency.

Brian Gitta, Joshua Businge, Simon Lubambo and Josiah Kavuma call themselves “Team Code 8″ after laboring through eight different computer code designs before hitting on the one that worked.

Team leader, Gitta, told an audience he was motivated to invent the device because of his “fear of needles” and being “pricked to death” as a child who constantly contracted malaria.

But, in fact, simply reducing the time between the attack and detection is the genius of the invention. And Team Code 8’s matiscope and the software they developed to detect the altered red blood cells isn’t sophisticated enough yet to determine the specific type of malaria (there are four types) or exactly how bad the infection is, often necessary for determining proper treatment.

So it’s a first but very important step, and for millions of people who might be infected, it might be all that’s needed. Normally otherwise healthy adults who contract malaria can be prescribed rather standard levels of medication to wipe it out, without knowing specifically the malaria type or level of infection.

What it means for pregnant mothers, though, is that the doctors have to hospitalize the mother and make sure that the blood test is taken immediately as the next attack begins.

The practicality of the device, though, allows for self diagnoses very much as similar devices are being manufactured today for pregnancy and HIV AIDS.

The app for the smartphone, of course, is cheap. But right now the plug-in device is fairly cost prohibitive for most individual rural Africans, but could prove cost beneficial for remote health clinics, companies and institutions which provide on-site medical care, and of course, hospitals.

But the Team is contacting entrepreneurs around the world who with mass production could greatly reduce the cost.

Leave it to the kids, eh?

Too Much To Whom?

Too Much To Whom?

Less than three short years from the Arab Spring, ethnic domination and conflict is growing throughout Africa. Capitalism may be the culprit.

I once felt that education alone could ameliorate racism, but as demonstrated especially in places like Syria, Egypt and Rwanda, that’s not proving true. At least not when that education has occurred over fewer than several generations.

Few countries in Africa have been beset by ethnic turbulence to the extent of Rwanda, and fewer still have enjoyed such rapid prosperity in my life time. The guilt that America and France felt for having allowed the 1994 genocide was followed by such enormous amounts of aid that almost all the country, today, looks very similar to a successful western society.

Unlike the rural areas where my mother lives in Wisconsin, similar rural areas in Rwanda have fiber optic cable and access to high speed internet. The system of roads now rivals both in extent and quality that of places in rural Europe.

While the number of actual doctors is relatively low in Rwanda, the level of health service is high for an African country, as heady social services planners recognize that most of the diseases prevalent in Africa are best handled by nurses and health clinics rather than hospitals.

So as Rwanda’s ostensible peace and prosperity grows, many of its African neighbors find it increasingly difficult to plan policy based on Rwanda’s past of ethnic turbulence. South Africa announced recently, for example, that Rwandans who were given exile in the 1990s must now return.

Even the richest of African countries like South Africa feels a conflict when its national resources are used by foreign nationals. But the Rwandan exiles in South Africa are terrified of the prospect of returning home.

I am the child of second generation immigrants who spent their lives inside their own ethnic communities, and while my parents’ generation intermarried, usually one or the other parent infused us children with a certain ethnic identity. I think this is true for much of America.

And now, as a fourth generation of melded cultures, my childrens’ generation seems truly ethnic free. So it is reasonable to wonder if that’s the magic number: four generations of ethnic melding to emerge from racism.

Yet Rwanda stands as the example this is not true. The Hutus and Tutsis have intermarried for so many generations over hundreds of years, that their language has become the same. But there is arguably no ethnicity in the world that remains as hateful and separating.

The Alewites and Christians of Syria have been the persecuted for centuries, until somehow the Alewites imposed control on a region where albeit they remain a minority, they are free of their persecution. Conflict as open battle was reduced in Syria, but at the cost of many freedoms like speech and political opposition.

Compared to Rwanda, the South African ethnic problems remain in infancy, even though they were forged more than two centuries ago and reenforced throughout the modern era. Then, presto in 1993, a political system emerged that based upon its constitution remains one of the most just and fair on earth.

But a generation has nearly passed since then, and basic economic inequity has not improved for the majority. There has been interesting change: the two groups of South Africans that have always held most of the financial worth, the whites and the Asians, seem to be trading places.

But the vast majority of South Africans remain stalled out at the bottom. Now it’s important to add that the overall level of all sublevels has improved. There is more wealth all around, but the relationship of the ethnic groups at the bottom hasn’t changed to those at the top, even though it is the bottom group which holds political power.

It seems to me that there is something world-wide that ensures a status quo of racism defined by ethnic domination of politics and/or economies. And South Africa is the place to study this mystery, because this is precisely where the lowest economic classes hold the most political power.

And lo and behold, similarly in America, the middle class holds political power, yet it is mired in stagnation. In America, today, economic classes are acting as if they are ethnic groups.

And in both South Africa and America, political power has not ensured economic progress.

Africa is growing rapidly in economic terms… as its ethnic travails increase. America’s ethnic travails are diminishing, but it’s economic stratification grows stronger and more inequitable.

Is this, then, the universal relation? Capitalism is racism?

Outside Threats

Outside Threats

Yesterday’s deadly grenade attack in Arusha isn’t simply an indication of escalating religious tensions in Tanzania, but of the same escalating individual malevolence evident in the Boston massacre.

In neither incident do I believe there is any kind of organized group involvement, despite FOX News, Representative Stephen King or the other crazies on Meet the Press yesterday. Both cases seem to me to be engineered and implemented by wayward souls.

Wayward souls that have access in Boston to deadly technologies from Google searches. Wayward souls in Arusha who can trade a bushel of tomatoes for a grenade at practically any market in Africa.

It’s all the same. Neither is worse or more terrifying than the other. The higher tech move by the Boston duo was more deadly, just because American society is more sophisticated than Tanzanian.

Escalating religious and ideological tensions in America and Tanzania have been evident for years, and I agree with Arusha’s MP Godbless Lema that governments need to proactively address the schisms growing in their societies:

“”Religious fundamentalism is a reality in this country, but the government does nothing,” Lema said angrily outside the church, as police cordoned off the area.

Lema is one of the few honest, aggressive stars of Tanzanian politics. Like the minority of American politicians who want to address the Boston massacre with better schools and counseling and more jobs, rather than creating more fictitious global enemies, Lema knows the media speculation of the cause is absurd.

The ideologically bankrupt in a society will always point to the outside to explain a cancer within.

Since colonial times Tanzania has been one of the most Catholic countries of Africa, a product of King Leopold’s mid 19th Century conference that divided the colonial African world up by religion, so that missionaries didn’t duplicate their work.

One of the greatest historical ironies of Africa was that during the socialist policies of early independent Tanzanian in the 1970s to be a member of the Tanzanian communist party you also had to be a Catholic.

The amalgamation of Zanzibar with mainland Tanganyika in 1964 was like mixing holy water with myrrh. Since time immemorial Zanzibar was ruled by the radical Islamists of Oman, and even though it’s been given considerable autonomy, tensions have never fully eased with the mostly Christian mainland.

In October a respected Sheik in Arusha was hospitalized after an explosive device was set in his home. That was followed by church bombings in Zanzibar.

And so the cycle goes on and on, individual anger and want having found a convenient battle.

The Tanzanian government today arrested five Saudis, conveniently of a Muslim sect that is mostly disliked in Zanzibar, and charged them with terrorism.

Absurd, of course. This was the same Tanzanian government who employs the Arusha police commissioner who took 2½ hours to get to the church that was bombed Sunday morning, a half hour after the Vatican’s emissary attending the ceremony had been whisked out of the country.

The Honorable Lema is right. Governments do little today, in either America or Tanzania, to mend social schisms. Let’s just blame outsiders.

How To .. do everything.

How To .. do everything.

We all know the media is the message. And we all deny it: the media seriously effected the U.S. Presidential election. Africans are more honest and thereby less self-destructive.

Today and tomorrow in Dakar, African intellectuals gather with African media moguls to continue work on a continent-wide framework for developing media. This is the 5th annual “Africa Leaders Media Forum” and they know that they control much of Africa’s destiny.

Last year’s conference closing declaration said, “as demonstrated by the Arab Spring…, media have a profound role to play in social transformation, giving voice to people, and promoting freedom.”

Just like CNN, MSNBC, Rush Limbaugh and the NBC Nightly News. The difference is that we Americans staunchly refuse to accept the obvious brashly insisting a good journalist can be “objective.” Africans know better.

That doesn’t mean that objectivity isn’t a plausible tenant of news reporting; it just means that it’s unattainable. With that realization a reporter is able to temper his own bias better, while clearly accepting and admitting it. There is then much less suspicion between her and her readers.

Today’s agenda began with an open public forum at a nearby university that was covered by Forbes contributor, Elise Knutsen, writing for AllAfrica.

“Panelists at the meeting spoke with manifest passion as they discussed issues related to media, governance and inclusive citizenship,” she reports. Again and again the electrified forum affirmed how powerful the media is: Whether to “promote citizenship” or “empower women” the media had a critical responsibility to frame itself correctly, otherwise it would do so intrinsically, out of control.

Is that what’s happening in America?

This is communist stuff to many Americans, despite the fact that Marshall McLuhan’s the-medium-in-the-message theory was widely accepted with his first publications in 1964.

Tomorrow’s opening session acknowledges the massive revolutions, new constitutions and increased turbulence in much of Africa. “How is the media exploiting citizens’ new wave of awareness?” the session narrative asks.

Because the media alone is the thermostat for so many public events. You dial up the enthusiasm or you dial it down. The media does this more than government organizations, schools or dining room table conversations over dinner. It’s the media, stupid!

In America we’re so afraid of power. We’re certain that power of any kind has a preeminent evil, and that any corralling of it is generally for greed and misuse which will right away curtail our own free will.

That’s really laughable, because power is power and if it isn’t corralled there’s at least an equal chance with anything else that it will curtail our own free will, and that’s the point!

Combine these notions with the false hopes that objectivity can be followed and you’ve a formula for master disaster.

What the African media understands it lacks is the technological know-how of America. Later sessions will explore the new technologies, and that will be followed by a session that then asks, “Are the African media fit to report on these multiple challenges?”

As with so much in Africa’s rapidly progressing institutions, today, there is a concern there isn’t enough money (resources) to properly develop. But the question is broader than getting enough video cameras. It includes, too, the moral and temporal fitness of the people who will be using those cameras.

Ooooh. Once again, socialism, communism whatever you want to call it, right? Yes, actually, that’s right. Media is community of-the-people and by-the-people more than many other institutions in society, certainly more than the elected assemblies and officials whose paths to power are wrought with obligation.

Media is much more dynamic. It reflects the moments of truth, and it’s those aggregate moments that we need to display, analyze and preserve.

Following Dakar’s stellar example, I intend to invite Brian Williams, Rush Limbaugh, Robert Murdoch, David Brooks and Maureen Dowd to our own American conference on how the media needs to become morally fit and responsible to the will of the people.

I’m going to call it, “The How To Do Everything” conference to attract a broad audience.

… Although I might have to run for President, first.

Clash of the Faithful

Clash of the Faithful

A colonial benchmark is struck in Kenya as Parliament considers banning religious organizations in publically funded schools. The Catholic Church has initiated a massive campaign to counter Parliament’s likely move which I doubt will be successful.

The Education Bill is one of the most striking features of Kenya’s rapid move to implement its new and modern constitution. If successful the bill will effectively wrest the last bit of control religious institutions have on Kenya’s public primary and secondary schools.

Currently up to a quarter of Kenya’s rural primary and secondary schools maintain a religious character as a legacy from colonial times. The state normally places and pays for the teachers and in most cases (but not all) the administration, and the church maintains the infrastructure and controls much of the school day including extra-curricular activities. It is specifically these religious activities that clash with Kenya’s new constitution that Parliament is directed to implement.

Most of these schools are on property owned by the church, and one of the more contentious debates expected is whether the new Kenya will use its modern power of eminent domain to effect ultimate jurisdiction over the existing land and school structures.

Education has been the top priority of every African government since modern governments existed, and regardless of their political and social persuasions, virtually every African country’s education was built on religious foundations.

The British explorer David Livingstone created the sound bite for colonial development in the 1830s: Civilization, Commerce & Christianity. The Three C’s were implemented by a mixture of privately funded missionary work and rapid education funded by the colonial powers.

The two were inseparably intertwined in the 19th Century, whether that was German Lutheranism, British anti-Catholicism or French, Belgium and Portugese Catholicism. Education is expensive, and the colonies had neither a legacy of any type of education or the wherewithal to fund secular educational services.

Besides in the colonial days it was only America that had struck a secular course for its society and America had no African colonies.

When my wife and I first went to Kenya it was to teach. We were hired and paid by the Kenyan government, but assigned to a large 800-student boys boarding school in a remote location in western Kenya that the then Kenyatta government had little interest in supporting. The Catholic Church stepped in, providing almost all of the funds for St. Paul’s Amukura Secondary School and a Headmaster and Assistant Headmaster that were both priests.

The priests essentially ran every component of the school, from sports to curriculum, although a national examination that determined matriculation often governed what the curriculum should be.

The Church, not the government, solicited aid from abroad to fund the schools science laboratories, build and maintain the infrastructure that allowed hundreds of rural boys to board at the school, provide a small dispensary and in many cases scholarships for the most needy.

That has changed significantly over the years, with the government now mandating virtually everything but after-school hours’ programs. Kenya’s rapid development has meant that many boarding schools and the high costs associated with them changed into day schools, but where boarding is still necessary the Church remains the paymaster.

Extracurricular activities, boarding where it continues, and the land on which the schools still sit are the contentious issues before Parliament.

It is the Catholic Church that has the most to lose, and it is pulling no punches in its drive to dissuade Kenyan legislators from further diluting its influence.

If Parliament continues on the track predicted, “…our schools will start producing Godless creatures and the society will be ruined,” Kisii Catholic Bishop Joseph Mairura told reporters this weekend.

The issue is especially sensitive right now as Kenyan Christian churches suffer violent terrorist attacks presumed to be in retaliation for the government’s invasion of parts of Somalia controlled by Islamists.

Public sentiment is charged. The comments left after Sunday’s weekend stories that the leadership of the church is going to fight Parliament’s moves were divisive and angry.

Is a certain Church/State separation the right move for Kenya now at a time of stressed government resources?

It depends on how much faith you have.

Education Needed on This

Education Needed on This

Teacher strikes in Africa and around the world mark a critical point in the global recession.

In Kenya the country’s entire educator workforce is on strike, from primary school through university. Last month’s teacher strike in Tanzania has been suspended only temporarily, and in Uganda teachers are poised to walk off the job in the next few weeks.

But there are also actions or looming actions in England and Wales, Australia and of course in my home city of Chicago. Teachers are also threatening work action in Peru and South Africa. Teacher leaders have been jailed in Bahrain which could once again destabilize that city-state.

What’s going on? There’s just too many educator work actions in too many widely different places to suggest anything like coincidence.

The Chicago strike is not about pay; the Kenya strike is about pay; and from the Mideast to Asia the range of issues is as wide as the geography. But in the end it is all about the bottom line. It’s all about the cost of education and the widely presumed notion that it isn’t working well.

I have no idea if education is working well in London or Sydney or Bahrain, and I’m pretty convinced it’s not working as well as it should in Chicago or Nairobi. But actually when you stand back from the globe and look at the turmoil, not even that seems to be the point!

Education is among the last of public services to be hurt by a global recession. When an industrial plant closes, usually a sizeable chunk of the workforce is let go all at once. Not so with education. You can’t close schools wholesale. Instead you inch up the class size, reduce the scope of services and month after month squeeze the teachers for a little bit more.

If the squeeze goes on for long enough it pops. And that’s what’s happening, now.

Conservatives around the world see this as an opportunity to trim excess and improve delivery. Progressives see just the opposite, an attempt to balance a wider social imbalance on an already stressed system.

But that’s not the point of this blog.

When such diverse societies in so many places in the world begin battles with their educators over such a range of issues, it means that globally society is really being stressed to new and maybe dangerous points.

There is a way out of this. And put aside for a minute the enormously different issues from one school system to another across the world. Education distress worldwide is an indicator that in sum the global recession isn’t easing; it’s getting worse.

There are models to turn this around: In France, China, Australia and the U.S., stimulus is being exercised. It’s important to note how different is the extremely conservative politics and society of Australia compared to the socialist politics and society of France; and how different the U.S. and China are in so many ways.

Yet these four countries have all used or are using now stimulus, and they are all much better off than countries like Britain and Peru which have opted for austerity.

The laws of economics trump all other laws.

Many African countries are on the cusp of having to make the decision about stimulus or austerity, because when the developed world tanked into recession, they actually benefited for a few years. Their decisions about stimulus vs. austerity are only now being legislated.

They should take heed carefully. The U.S. did it correctly; Britain did not. If we can get enough of the world to realize this and follow suit, then the education wars won’t be followed by wars in health care, civil and national defense.