February 2007

Steve Bell of The Guardian is rough and unsparing in his cartoon commentary. See his take on Bush’s state of the union address here, and for links to more of his cartoons, look here.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Kul C. Gautam, and Director-General of WHO Dr. LEE Jong-wook, examine a Guinea worm patient. photo by A Poyo

And Ghana is not doing very well with its eradication efforts. In fact it is the only country that the Carter center has been working with whose efforts to eradicate guinea worm disease, also called Dracunculiasis, or GWD, have gone backwards.

As President Carter says:

Greetings from Ghana. We departed en route to Accra Tuesday afternoon with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. Ghana was the first country in which Rosalynn and I ever visited endemic villages, and we’ll never forget seeing two-thirds of the total population incapacitated with the disease, many of them lying around under shade trees unable to walk. I described the scenes in my first message in this series.
. . .
There has been stagnation in Ghana’s efforts since then, and in the last three years the number of cases reported has risen from 4,739 to 8,283.
All nations except Ghana have made significant and steady progress in recent years, resulting in a total reduction . . . (of) -more than 99 percent.
. . .
The most disturbing event occurred last year when a serious outbreak of Guinea worm in the central section, around Lake Volta, was deliberately concealed. Solemn promises by the government to dig wells have not been honored. The Carter Center has marshaled a series of exceptional efforts to overcome these problems, but all have been fruitless. There is no doubt that our visit is timely, but we have received word that top officials are very concerned about our potential criticisms. Some intense observation, incisive analysis, and political diplomacy will be necessary.

So what is the reason Ghana has fallen backward. I think there has been a general neglect of health care and health care workers by the present government, based on what I hear from talking to people in Ghana. Kufuor had not responded to letters that Carter wrote before his trip, but did have a friendly meeting with Carter while he was in Ghana. In addition, as Carter writes, Ghanaian officials have been emphasizing borehole wells as a way of eradicating guinea worm. This will not necessarily eradicate the worm, and much simpler, cheaper, and more accessible technologies are at hand. Filtering drinking water through a cloth is a principle technique of effective eradication. In fact, the Carter delegation watched a
demonstration of filtering water and the application of Abate (a larvicide that kills the intermediate host, a water flea, that carries eggs.)

It became increasingly obvious to me that a basic problem was that Ghana’s officials, from field workers to the president, considered the drilling of deep borehole wells as the primary solution to the Guinea worm problem. The common theme was “a deep well will eradicate our Guinea worms.” Although highly desirable and much needed in every village, this is not the way to eradicate the disease. Extremely expensive and time-consuming, with no assurance of finding potable water in many areas, the borehole dream had become a substitute for simple filtering of each drink and keeping people with emerging worms out of the ponds.

Most communities throughout the world have eradicated Guinea worm without drilling a well, and many people are still infected even when blessed with a good underground source of water. Just stopping by the local pond for one drink is all it takes. I explained this to them in very strong terms, had the ministers adopt the same sermon for our joint press conference, and we continued this explanation during our very pleasant visit with President Kufuor when we returned to Accra.

When all our meetings had been completed, we felt that a new day may have come to Ghana in its eradication effort.

I certainly hope this is the case. There is no excuse for the problem of guinea worm worsening in Ghana. Ghana has the means and should be able to take the lead in eradication efforts. You can read President Carter’s remarks on Ghana, and on the other countries he visited this February here, and view the slide show of his visit to Ghana.

Information on guinea worm from the US CDC can be found here, you can view an illustration of the life cycle of the worm, and recent reports.

Appreciation to Dr. Doom for the image.

Who is really running the US government? At a recent reception:

the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine’s Soroush Shehabi. A grandson of one of the late Shah’s ministers, Soroush said, “Mr. President, I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized.”

“I know,” President Bush answered.

“But does Vice President Cheney know?” asked Soroush.

The president chuckled and walked away.

So who was Bush laughing at? Mr. Soroush? the American people? our military? the disaster he has created for this country and the world? Is he chuckling because others will have to clean up after him? He acknowledged Mr. Soroush’s point by saying “I know.” Is he chuckling because, regardless of what happens, his family and friends will make a profit? Mr. Bush may think he is The Decider, but things are looking more and more like Mr. Cheney has been controlling our foreign policy from the very beginning of the Bush presidency. And the trial of Cheney’s assistant, Scooter Libby, is revealing quite a bit about Cheney’s actions and behavior. See the coverage at Firedoglake for details and live blogging. So far everyone who has testified had already told the truth to the grand jury. Only Libby is accused of lying, and the testimony of witnesses so far is damning. Why should the chief assistant to Vice President Cheney be the only one to lie? What is he hiding, or who is he shielding? The answer seems increasingly obvious.

And as Digby writes, there is another thing we know:

. . . as much as a year ago, the administration has been actively planning to attack Iran and the generals have been resisting.
. . .
I have believed for some time that the Bush administration is intent upon attacking Iran because they believe that their unpopularity will be redeemed by history for having taken great, bold steps to transform the middle east. The more Iraq looks like a cock-up of epic proportions that results in nothing more than chaos and death, the less likely it is that their “vision” will come to pass.
. . .
As they see it, the Iraqi debacle is not the product of their failed policies. Rather, it is the result of America’s failure to think big.
. . .
That is the argument that’s clearly driving Bush and Cheney today. They have nothing else. Cheney is melting down on national television. Bush in his bubble is as detached and oblivious as ever. I believe that we are at a point where the only things standing between us and the order to attack Iran are the generals.

Or, as Josh Marshall puts it:

The president’s interests are now radically disjoined from the country’s. We can handle a setback like Iraq. It really is a big disaster. But America will certainly survive it. President Bush — in the sense of his legacy and historical record — won’t.
. . .

Think of it like this. He’s a death row prisoner concocting a thousand-to-one plan to break out of prison. For him, those are good odds. The rest of us are doing three months for disorderly conduct. And he’s trying to rope us into his harebrained scheme. Like I said, his interests are very different from ours.

Speak up. We’re on the edge of the abyss.

The remarkable thing about teachers is that very few of them are on record to have gone completely insane in class.

I just love this lead sentence from this article, it made me laugh. The overall point of the article is that teachers need to be paid better, particularly in Ghana. This is true in the United States as well, and the author says it is also true in the UK.

Education is the foundation of economic success for any country. It is what built the economic power of the United States. And that power has only been damaged by successive Republican efforts to damage or destroy public education.

One reason for Ghana’s success has been its public education system. But that system is way underfunded and has remained somewhat stagnant. And because not everyone can afford school fees, a lot of Ghana’s talent and potential is never realized. Low salaries are a push out factor for teachers, as they are for other professionals. A serious national effort to promote and fund free universal public education would make Ghana an economic powerhouse in Africa.

Here is Uganda’s Ragga Dee in Oyagala Cash. There is some good dancing here, as well as a few chuckles.

You can read some biographical information, and an interview with Ragga Dee here.

As on the mark as ever. See them here.

A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier uses GI Joe toys to demonstrate tactics during a training session with Chadian soldiers south of the capital. It is part of a $500 million Pentagon initiative to provide counterterrorism training to soldiers in North and West Africa.
U.S. Army photo, 2005

Added March 2008:
For an update on this topic, see:
AFRICOM, US military bases, and Ghana or
US maintains a robust military presence in Ghana

President Bush just announced the creation of a Department of Defense US Africa Command.

Ghana is certainly the most stable and progressive country in West Africa, and the Bush administration has expressed an interest in West Africa, specifically mentioning both terrorism and oil as its primary interests. This makes Ghana very attractive as a place to establish a US military base. It is very difficult to find out what intentions or planning are going on regarding a base. The Bush people are the most secretive and undemocratic of any government the US has had. And Ghana’s government has not been forthcoming on this subject.

The DoD Africa Command could have some positive effects. According to the liberal Democratic Senator Russell Feingold:

“Our national security strategy needs to evolve, and so does our capability to meet new and emerging threats,” he said. “An Africa Command is vital to strengthening our relations with African nations and preventing them from becoming staging grounds for attacks against the U.S. or our allies.”

There are many in the US who understand that an attempt to recolonize Africa in order to exploit her resources is a big mistake. Unfortunately, none of those people play key roles in the Bush administration. Cooperation between the US and Ghana would be an excellent thing. But Bush and company do not believe in cooperation. The net effect of a US military base in Ghana is likely to be recolonization and destabilization. In fact, more enemies and more terrorists mean more business for the US defense industry, in which Bush, Cheney, and their associates are heavily invested.

When Bush went into Iraq, he did not even know there was any difference between Sunni and Shiite. And for the most part the Bush people aren’t interested. Africa is far more varied and complex, and is far less understood in the US. What Bush and friends want is profits. Since before the Iraq war Cheney and his oil buddies have been working on the Iraqi Hydrocarbon Law, that would allow US oil companies to suck most of the oil profits out of Iraq. And they don’t really care who they deal with, so long as they get the deal they want.

As . . . Iraq’s hydra-headed, multi-sided civil . . . war goes on – and it will go on and on – the Bush administration will continue to side with whatever faction promises to uphold the “hydrocarbon law” . . . If “Al Qaeda in Iraq” vowed to open the nation’s oil spigots for Exxon, Fluor and Halliburton, they would suddenly find themselves transformed from “terrorists” into “moderates” – as indeed has Maliki and his violent, sectarian Dawa Party, which once killed Americans in terrorist actions but are now hailed as freedom’s champions.

The thing to remember in ANY dealings with the Bush administration is –

. . . the Bush Family and their allies and cronies represent the confluence of three long-established power factions in the American elite: oil, arms and investments. These groups equate their own interests, their own wealth and privilege, with the interests of the nation – indeed, the world – as a whole. And they pursue these interests with every weapon at their command, including war, torture, deceit and corruption. Democracy means nothing to them – not even in their own country.

This is what Ghanaians must keep in mind in any dealing with the Bush administration, and particularly in any discussion of military bases.

There are plenty of Americans who do understand the issues:

“you don’t want a lop-sided, security-heavy engagement in Africa, and you don’t want the Defence Department setting policy. Our military engagement needs to be integrated into a much broader engagement of diplomacy, development assistance, governance, and human rights.”
. . .
“There are some sophisticated military thinkers who know that it’s not just guns,” . . . “They’ve spent enough time in Africa to understand some of the fundamental challenges, such as peacekeeping and governance. They could be advocates for a stronger civilian role, and their voice is one that brings with it a great deal of clout and capacity.”
. . .
“if we wrap our arms around a particular leader who’s cooperative on the security front, but has a very poor record on governance and human rights, then we’re likely to create problems over the long term, as we often did during the Cold War.”

Let us hope both Ghanaians and Americans will look at the long term.

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