Rise of The Ignorant

Rise of The Ignorant

FirstGrader1Government politics clashed explosively today with education in Kenya as a court struck down a teachers’ pay raise that had ended a devastating national strike.

Kenya better take a lesson from the U.S.: compromise education and you’ll empower the ignorant. Soon Donald Trump will be running for President of Kenya.

Teachers in Kenya are employees of the federal government rather than state governments as in the U.S. The 5-week long strike which ended in October was therefore nationwide.

The pain of that strike didn’t end with the misery of teachers forfeiting their livelihoods to promote their rights. Kenyan teachers earn 12 times the average national pay, so a huge buying sector of the economy was shut off just as the overall Kenyan economy began to slump.

Ultimately the government agreed to a more than 50% pay increase. The court decision, today, reverses that on the technical grounds that the agency authorizing the increase did so unconstitutionally.

(It’s actually fascinating: the lower Appeals Court effectively reversed a higher Supreme Court ruling. The teachers union is now appealing this lower court ruling back to the higher court. Can’t help but loving this tinkering with government bureaucracy.)

If the pay increase is sustained Kenyan teachers will earn more than 15 times the national average. (In the U.S. a teacher’s salary is almost identical to the national average.)

Why, then, should anyone be worried if Kenyan teachers aren’t awarded this huge increase in pay? …that will stretch even more the disparity between teachers and the common worker in Kenya?

Well, to begin with take a look at the student/teacher ratio. In Kenyan primary schools it’s around 50:1. It’s 25:1 in all of sub-Saharan Africa; the U.N. benchmark is 17:1 and in the U.S. it’s 14:1.

So Kenyan teachers are taking a heavy lift, and this is precisely because overnight a few years ago the country decided to offer free primary education to everybody. (Everyone should watch the amazing movie about this, “First Grader.”)

But statistics like this used cross culturally lose some validity. About the only empirical conclusion evident from this data is that Kenyan teachers are overpaid for working too hard, and U.S. teachers are underpaid for working too little.

I think there’s something important to extract from this.

U.S. institutions of higher learning may be the best in the world. But our primary and secondary schools are a mess, dragged deeper today into our social dustbin by the outrageous licensing of “home” and “community” schooling.

When public education is ignored, as it has been in the U.S. for the last half century, a massive underclass of ignorant people who still benefit from an expanding economy grow more and more powerful.

This underclass pulls down the education system even further: Teachers get paid less, are given fewer resources, perform worse, get paid less still, etc. It’s a spiral into … well, ignorance.

Ignorant people are impressionable and gullible because they aren’t taxed with thinking hard. They’re more likely to jump to conclusions and embrace emotive reactions than question the world. They shoot before looking, because they can’t analyze what they might see.

As the ignorant gain power complex social institutions and infrastructure collapse. You’ve got to be able to think hard to build a bridge or understand welfare or negotiate a nuclear arms deal. Lacking necessary cognitive and intellectual skills the ignorant don’t consider the future as a component of well-being.

The enormous pay difference between an average Kenyan teacher and an average Kenyan worker is definitely cause for concern, but every time Kenyans compromise public education they concede a bit more control of their society and future to the ignorant.

Using the U.S. as the example, that’s not a good idea:

Imagine if when I was a boy I’d heard my parents debating whether they should elect as President Ed Sullivan or Doctor Spock.

Here for a Refund

Here for a Refund

hereforrefundSouth Africa’s student protests just won’t stop. They’re sweeping across the country and are getting serious. Is this the sixties for South Africa?

“Our parents were sold dreams in 1994,” a student leader told the Economist. “We’re here for a refund.”

A third of all South Africans are between 10 and 24 years old, born after the end of apartheid and now attending school at some level subsidized by government.

The protests began about a month ago at the country’s most prestigious science university, Witts, over an announced 10% increase in student tuition. In South Africa all higher universities are funded by the federal government, a similar role to the state governments here.

After two weeks of violent protests, #FeesMustFall resulted in South African President Zuma rescinding all fee increases … for this year.

That barely dampened the moment. Right now protests are continuing at virtually every higher institution in the country, with particularly large and volatile demonstrations in KwaZulu Natal and the Western Cape, but events are changing rapidly.

The country’s most prestigious liberal arts university, UCT (University of Cape Town), was one of the few where classes resumed today following a humiliating apology by its chief executive to students, although small protests continued on campus as well as at Parliament. But in most places in the country, higher education is at a dead stop.

After Zuma announced the rescinding of all fee increases, the protest issues spread like wild fire. “Outsourcing” university workers has now been reversed at the UCT and the Witts CEO has agreed “in principle.”

This is a fundamental issue in South Africa. Several years ago universities discovered huge budget savings if employees previously hired for maintenance, food service, transportation – virtually every industry – were outsourced to large companies.

The universities insisted the large companies hire the existing university employees, which they did, but within a few years benefits, wages and contract negotiations were seriously reduced.

Government subsidies for education based on income are equally under fire, not because students disapprove of the principle, but because it has been so unevenly applied.

The government’s protocol for determining income is rife with corruption and nepotism, often unfairly subsidizing those who are quite affluent while ignoring truly poor students. More interestingly, students are also demanding an end to the notion of minimum performance in secondary schools as a metric for determining subsidies.

What I find so interesting about all of this is that it brings back some deep memories of my own college career which for me was dominated by the anti-War protests.

But as I became more and more involved as a student in those protests, I also became involved in the Civil Rights and Womens movements.

“Trouble had been brewing on campuses for months,” the Economist reports.

The magazine concludes that current protests are congealing into the all-powerful issue of racism, reporting that demonstrators “complain that universities have too few black staff or students. This is true, but largely because, thanks to terrible schools, black South Africans still do much worse in exams than whites, something the ANC has failed to fix.”

Since the end of apartheid the ANC has ruled South Africa, winning election after election, yet it is widely blamed throughout the country for this current and many other predicaments. Zuma’s cavalier flip-flop on fees, which could push the government debt to untenable levels, is typical of the knee-jerking, lack of policy that today characterizes ANC governance.

In the last election the 18-24 year old crowd hardly voted at all.

I don’t think that will be the case the next time around.

Lower Education

Lower Education

StudFeeProtestFree higher education is becoming an explosive issue in Africa.

Until the turn of the millennium most higher education throughout Africa was completely free, as in much of Europe it still is. The model, in fact, for most African countries was Germany.

But today about a quarter of an African university student’s costs are borne by the student. In South Africa it just became more than a third.

South Africa’s most prominent university remains closed today after protests against fees that began Wednesday.

The University’s CEO, its Vice-Chancellor, raced back to Johannesburg to address today’s massive student demonstration morning and was followed on national TV by the country’s Minister of Education, but the students have not been placated and the protest continues.

You can follow this massive and explosive event on twitter at #WitsFeesMustFall.

The 10.5% increase in fees announced last week will push a university student’s contribution to just over half of all estimated costs.

The arguments on both sides are identical to arguments in the United States, Kenya or virtually anywhere in the world where higher education is not free:

“The government needs to invest significantly more … for public universities. This is the kind of expenditure that will pay for itself… Money given to universities is money that alleviates poverty, creates employment and drives cutting-edge research and innovation,” writes student leader, Saul Musker, in today’s Daily Maverick.

“Indeed, the actual social, political and economic costs of under-investing in higher education are far greater than the additional expenditure…. If the ultimate goal of the government is to create an equal and prosperous society… this is an obvious choice.”

From the university:

Contractual costs particularly salaries are increasing much faster than government subsidies for them; utilities and other operating costs are unexpectedly high, and unique to South Africa, the Rand has fallen by 22% against the dollar and much of the university’s costs are dollar based.

In fact, government subsidies have actually fallen, as they have throughout much of America.

So as in America we have an extraordinary situation where both the protesters and their targets are in agreement. The problem, of course, is the government that funds them both.

Governments ordinarily reduce their subsidies with additional loan mechanisms and “bursaries” or scholarships. But in many places like Kenya that’s proved self-defeating, because the loans can’t be recovered and the process of awarding scholarships is cumbersome and often corrupt.

The result is a spiraling downwards of government support, as forward budgets are often based on presumptions of recovering loans while funds for bursaries are often underused for getting tangled in confusing regulations.

Opposition politicians often clamor onto the bandwagon that there should be more government support, but once in power, they become hamstrung by budget necessities.

Governments are rarely so forward-thinking as to invest in a student whose productivity is many political cycles in the future. Mature, successful governments like Germany and the Scandinavian countries should be a model for us all, but in the U.S. archaic conservative forces hold us back, and in Africa, the critical capital mass capable of this policy just hasn’t yet been achieved.

So the gap between the haves and have-nots widens even further.

Only this time it’s not just a gap of wealth, it’s a gap of intelligence.

Fat Children Starving

Fat Children Starving

Comedy conveys reality to Americans today better than straight facts, and last Friday’s ‘The Daily Show’ masterfully presented the real Africa.

Jon Stewart introduced his new correspondent from South Africa, Trevor Noah, who conveyed to Americans a lot more successfully than I and dozens of other bloggers have:

(1) Eric Garner and Michael Brown demonstrate more police brutality in America than in South Africa.

Moreover and more importantly, police brutality in South Africa was once much worse and is now much better, and this is not the case in America.

Noah pointed out that police brutality in South Africa was a construct of apartheid, and that when apartheid ended this brutality began to reverse.

In America, where there’s never been apartheid as such, brutality has remained high if not increased.

(2) There is more ebola in America than South Africa.

True and undeniable, but no matter how many times we say this it’s forgotten until carried in a comedy routine!

Noah said his friends warned him against going to America for fear of contracting ebola, and he replied “just because they had a few cases of ebola there [America] doesn’t mean we should cut off travel, there.”

(3) Americans believe they can “save Africa” by small charity donations. Noah remarked, “for just five cents a day.”

This sarcasm is powerful stuff. It reveals the ignominy of American charities and the naivete of American donors in the much fuller arguments that I and many others have made for years about the mistake of so much American charity.

(4) Americans think almost exclusively that Africa is a vacation destination for big game safaris. While Africans absolutely don’t, of course.

Noah then presented a game, “Spot the Africa” which was phenomenal.

A series of two paneled photographs came up multiple times contrasting Africa with America, and as you can imagine, the horrible ones were America.

This wasn’t just nitpicking. It was real.

Stewart then asked Noah, “You aren’t saying that things in America are worse than in Africa?”

And Noah replies, “No, I’m not saying that, you guys are saying that.”

I’m one of those guys.

And Noah ended with a brilliant observation that knits the reality of sarcasm to the troubled conundrum of American life:

“You know what African mothers warn their children, about, Jon? Be grateful for what you’ve got, because there are fat children starving in Mississippi.”

Ebola Epilogue

Ebola Epilogue

President Hollande of France entering an ebola hospital in West Africa.
President Hollande of France entering an ebola hospital in West Africa.
The apparent slowing of the spread of ebola in West Africa is almost as worrisome as the outbreak itself.

Many will think I’m crazy to write an epilogue to this story before it really is over, but like so many global crises the ebola epidemic will become forgotten the moment headlines disappear.

We really shouldn’t do this, this time. There are four extremely important lessons to be learned, that right now I hope everyone can understand.

First, the situation today:

There are just under 7,000 reported deaths from ebola, just under 17,000 reported individual infections, and both numbers are likely low because of the difficulty of accurate reporting in the ebola infected areas.

Foreign help is working. ABC reported yesterday two pages of good headlines about ebola in Liberia, including Obama’s troops and hospitals coming online, Chinese hospitals coming online, and the possibility there will be no new cases at all in Liberia.

With all the accelerated research and development of diagnosing and vaccinating against the disease, I predict ebola in West Africa will be contained in the first quarter of next year.

In a demonstration of similar optimism, the President of France visited a hospital in Conakry, Guinea, on Friday. Conakry is an epicenter of the disease.

With an outbreak of this magnitude it’s difficult to imagine it will ever be completely over, since so much of the area retracted into primitiveness as a result of almost two generations of horrible, scathing war.

But I’m willing to take the risk of being premature for wont of not losing public attention. We have four serious lessons to take from this situation:

Lesson 1.
American culture in recent times craves being terrorized. There could be all sorts of reasons: remnants of 9/11, poor education, the Great Recession … whatever. Whether it’s vampires at the cinema, fear of ISIS or “open borders” or ebola, we crave being threatened.

In all these cases, “The Threatener” is the demon. Imagine, for example, if some horrible virus literally as bad as ebola or worse suddenly broke out in Des Moines. We would not be closing our bridges over the Mississippi or road-blocking I-80.

A virus worse than ebola did break out in America in the 1950s. It was called polio. Some parents did keep their kids out of school, but most didn’t even do that.

Ebola happened in BLACK Africa. All our reactions this time demonstrate racism to the core of our beliefs. Polio in Pittsburgh is god’s will and we will overcome it. Ebola in Africa is the work of the devil.

Lesson 2.
America today leads the world in short-term thinking, and that short-term thinking is why we have an ebola epidemic to begin with.

America’s political system is the best example. We fund the government almost from month-to-month. We have no long term social plans.

We cherish quick stock trades; we tutor our third grader just enough to get into fourth grade; we hand out just enough food stamps to take us through winter.

We lay globs of asphalt in cracks rather than pieces of new cement and then get furious when the cracks get bigger the next year.

Our hearts may be in the right place, but our minds are in Pluto. We pass referendum to increase the minimum wage for a long-term benefit to everyone including the shop keeper that gets the extra dough, but then elect politicians who vow to reduce the minimum wage to balance next year’s budget.

Tom Sommerville writing today in African Journalism argues so well that the ebola epidemic today is a result of American-dominated short-term thinking manifest by the IMF and World Bank.

He’s right on, and I’m not going to summarize his thinking, just go to his link above.

Basically, you get what you pay for. America has led the world paying discount prices for a modern planet that needs a bit more quality than we’ve been willing to accept.

It’s so counterproductive! We spend literally millions of dollars to intercept ebola (so far, no one) at our airports who has a temperature, but resist funding Obama’s emergency request to build ebola hospitals! Now how ridiculous is that!

We all know where this is going to lead, don’t we? Didn’t your grandpa give you your first piggy bank? If you neglect the oil change, won’t you have to buy a new car sooner? Come on guys, get real!

Lesson 3.
I’m probably the greatest offender, admitted, and I am constantly trying to reform myself, so at least I’m ahead of many.

So I can attest first-hand of this horrible American affliction, exaggeration. Texas has to be the biggest place. My kids are always above average, thank you Garrison. My yard has the greenest grass. My pastor is the kindest man. My dog is the sweetest and … my enemy is always the devil incarnate.

Current ebola infection stats are horrible but nowhere near as catastrophic as earlier predicted. Both the CDC and WHO are now loathe to make future predictions, since their earlier ones were so off base.

Those quantitative assessments that earlier suggested “millions” of possible cases from institutions as respected as WHO and the CDC make me wonder if those organizations suffer from the same scientific deficits as Senator Inhofe.

Opponents of realism, of what is right in the world, of what should be done morally and practically, will now use these exaggerated claims to stop funding Obama’s ebola eradication mission, and this will kill hundreds if not thousands of more people than would otherwise be saved.

Lesson 4.
When I’m working in Nairobi or Johannesburg, I’m just about the same distance from the ebola epicenter as my kids are living in New York.

Every single capitol city in Europe is closer to the ebola center than any city in the U.S.

There are three nonstop flights daily from West Africa to the U.S. (two into JFK and one into Dulles). Daily, there is only one into Johannesburg and no non-stops into East Africa. There are dozens of nonstops daily into European capitols.

It has absolutely astounded me how bad Americans’ knowledge of basic planet geography is. I started work in Africa 40 years ago, and I was astounded then that someone in Chicago thought Dakar was as close to Nairobi as Detroit is to Cleveland.

But that has persisted, and there’s no explanation except poor education.

* * * *

The outbreak of ebola, the messy containment, the lessons that won’t be learned from the situation, are every man’s responsibility, every man on earth.

America cannot yet shed its responsibility as the world’s greatest power, and so it has to assume its greatest responsibility.

Remedies begin at home, of course. They begin with adjusting ourselves to realism and moralism. It’s a very dark time in America right now. Kids, get us out of this!

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?