Whatever happened to the AIDS apocalypse?

When I first started working in the AIDS movement in the mid noughties the picture was plausibly apocalyptic, but on World AIDS Day 2012 we are celebrating that an AIDS-free generation is now within our grasp. So what happened?

The acceleration of the science is one huge part of the story, but the effectiveness of the AIDS movement is at least as important and future campaigners can learn a lot from one of the most successful global mobilisations of the last few decades. For me four main lessons stand out:

1)      It starts with rights. Determining when to claim partial victory is the sort of thing that keeps movement leaders up at night. Overstate it and you lose the incentive for supporters to act, understate it and you lose the incentive for policy-makers to act. The moral and strategic tensions are captured in a (no doubt apocryphal) story told about a dispute inside the debt movement where one staffer accused another of being ‘the kind of person that during abolitionism would have been lobbying for more comfortable boats’. AIDS activism has successfully defined those tensions away by being more of a human rights movement than a development one. With early roots in gay liberation politics, the movement has always focused on those whose needs are greatest, not those whose stories are easiest to sell. It takes real courage to advocate for heroin addicts and sex workers at the same time as orphans and infected newborns, but unflinching honesty about the true nature of the epidemic has been, in the end, one of the movement’s great strengths.

2)      Injustice speaks for itself.  From the UK’s Terrence Higgins Trust to South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign, the highest impact organisations have not been founded in solidarity by the charitable but in fury by the affected. I have written before about the importance of advocacy’s amateurs and for me the history of AIDS is the clearest example of why the advocacy ‘professionals’ should get out of the way and let the people who need to know ask the powerful how much they think their lives are worth.

3)      Institutions matter. The Global Fund, for all its faults, is multilateralism’s great success story. Its record is a triumph of institutional design, the result of a very special chemistry between the public, private and third sectors and people affected by the three diseases. While some education advocates have already started pushing for a replica for education, there is no other institution quite like the Global Fund, and no particularly good reason for that to be the case. The case for reform of global governance is painfully familiar to Global Dashboard readers, but we should try to learn at least as much from what we’ve got right as what we’ve got wrong.

4)      It takes coalitions of the willing. It bears constant repetition that the man behind the world’s first government anti-AIDS campaign was a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. Likewise, while the global AIDS fight is now one of the few areas of bipartisan consensus in the United States, it was a Republican rather than Democrat incumbent of the White House who first initiated a scaled emergency response and a distinguished veteran of George Bush’s PEPFAR who will now be leading global efforts at the new chief of the Global Fund.

We still have a long way to go but at a time when so many promises are being broken, tomorrow provides a good chance to remember that, just sometimes, campaigning works and the results can be spectacular when it does.

 

Early adopters: Africa’s hunter-gatherer Pygmies go hi-tech to combat loggers

If you were asked to rank the peoples of the world in terms of their enthusiasm for the things of the 21st century, it is a fair bet that Singaporeans, Japanese, the coastal-dwelling communities of America and perhaps Scandinavians would be near the top of your list. Groups like the Amish, Afghanistan’s Taliban, the nomads of the Sahara and the creationists of the American interior are likely to be somewhat further down.

Compared with the hunter-gatherer Pygmies of the Congo Basin, however, these latter groups are novelty fetishists. Said Pygmies not only spurn such commonplace phenomena of the modern world as farming, villages or towns, and houses; they also get by perfectly well without reading, writing, or ever venturing out of their rainforest home. They are, you could be forgiven for thinking, the Luddite’s Luddites.

But in a paper published last March, the anthropologist Jerome Lewis showed a different side to a people who at first glance appear so stick-in-the-mud. The paper is worth reading in full for its exposé of how it is not just rapacious logging companies but also conservationists who are destroying the Pygmies’ traditional way of life, but its most arresting passages describe how these forest-dwellers have embraced modern technology to combat the threats they face.

Logging tramples on the Pygmies’ sacred sites, destroys their favoured campsite locations, and removes vital hunting and gathering grounds (the fencing off of national parks to protect the forests from the loggers has a similar effect). Rates of malnutrition among Pygmies have increased since African governments, in attempting to alleviate poverty at a national level, made it easier for loggers to strip the forests. ’We who are older notice that all that was in the forest before is getting less,’ complained a Pygmy elder interviewed by Lewis. ‘We used to always find things - yams, pigs and many other things. We thought that would never end. Now when we look we can’t find them any more.’

To counter these blights, the Baka Pygmies of Cameroon and their Mbendjele counterparts in Congo, assisted by a handful of local and international NGOs, have adopted a novel solution. Continue reading

Did the world just get simpler?

Among our many neuroses, we right on development types like to agonise about what words to use to describe countries. Low, middle and high income? Bit technocratic and reductionist for many. ‘Developed’ and ‘developing’? Too value laden for some tastes, and implying that we in, say, Europe, are at some ‘end of history’ type nirvana which others are struggling to emulate. ‘First’ and ‘Third’ worlds? Even more value laden and with some anachronistic Cold War overtones for good measure.

Oh how we worry. But recently I’ve noticed that the one I used to find most annoying – ‘North’ and ‘South’ – seems to be gaining ground on the others[1].  I use it more and more myself (yeah, hypocrite…).  What’s the appeal? It’s suitably vague to not have the overly prescriptive drawbacks of the others, yet there’s just enough in it for people to know (or think they know) what you mean. It’s got more political and less technical implications, which often suits the thing that people are trying to get across more than narrowly economic categories.

Of course it’s ludicrously simplistic, but maybe that’s the point.


[1] Or is it just me?

 

Post-2015: where does sustainability fit in? (Updated)

Climate, scarcity and sustainability are among the most important – and politically challenging – elements of the post-2015 development agenda on what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals.

While sustainability issues did not feature heavily at the recent London meeting of the new UN High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which was focused mainly on household level poverty, they are likely to figure much more prominently at the Panel’s second and third meetings – in Monrovia in February and Bali in March – since these meetings will focus on national and global level issues respectively.

Before these meetings, sustainability advocates have some hard thinking to do: on both their policy objectives and their political tactics, in both the Panel and the post-2015 agenda as a whole. To try to contribute to that thought process, here’s a 6 page think piece. It’s deliberately provocative, and also still a working draft – so feedback is very welcome.

Update: The paper’s now been finalised and published as a Center on International Cooperation think piece; many thanks to everyone who commented.

No power? No computers? No smartphones? No problem. Blogging by blackboard in Liberia

How a Liberian uses low-tech to solve his community’s information deficit:

Many people in the West African city of Monrovia can’t afford to buy newspapers or electricity to access the internet, so Alfred J Sirleaf had to come up with a way to bring information cheaply to the people. He believes a well-informed people are the key to Liberia’s rebirth so he’s been providing valuable news every day on a huge blackboard in the centre of town. For local news, he relies on a team of volunteer reporters who come to him with stories, while for international events he goes to an internet cafe. Then, in the newsroom, a small wooden shed attached to the back of his blackboard, he updates The Daily Talk with chalk.

Via The New Zealand Herald

Page 29 of 486« First...1020...282930...405060...Last »