Bush's African Trip



July 11, 2003, President Bush, leader of the United States of America the wealthiest nation in the world, steps foot in Africa in a photo-op hoopla. On this day when President Bush arrives in Africa, 18,000 people are estimated to die from AIDS in Africa alone.

While President Bush is flaunting his program to help pay for drugs to treat AIDS in the near term in Africa, "there are many ways that the Bush administration has contravened the letter and spirit" of other global efforts to give needy countries better drug access, says Asia Russell , international policy coordinator at the Health Global Access Project, a nongovernmental activist group.

Bush AIDS Plan: $15 billion and 5 years too late.

"The amount (of aid) has no real bearing on the scale of the epidemic. $15 billion over five years stretched across the continent and the Caribbean ends up being quite small amounts of money," said Mark Heywood, a spokesman for South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), the country's largest AIDS lobby group.

$1 BILLION SHORT:  Bush Administration undermining and shortchanging, says the health infrastructure in Africa is "too weak to absorb" the full $3 billion. The rhetoric surrounding HIV/AIDS and his trip to Africa was hollow.   

In Uganda, many feel thankful for any help they can get. However, they would like the money to help with life-saving drugs and were worried about Bush's appointment of an executive drug giant to help head his AIDS task force. They also feel he should accept their use of condoms as a prevention method. Ugandans Say Facts, Not Abstinence, Will Win AIDS War.

When Mr. Bush 'Came Shopping' in Africa

By Rolake Nwagwu, Treatment Action Movement (TAM)
Nigeria Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS) Nigeria
Thu., Jul. 17, 2003

A journalist asked me what it felt like to shake the hands of the most
powerful man in the world, the President of the United States of America,
President George Walker Bush.

Man, I have refused to take a bath since Saturday! God forbid that I wash
these hands before I get to my bank to withdraw a million naira. Then, I
must take these hands of mine to the American embassy on Walter Carrington
Crescent to get that almighty American visa, and when I'm asked that
question that makes those of us living with HIV uncomfortable, the question
that says, "Do you have an infectious disease of public health
significance?" I will simply stretch out my right hand and say "I just got
a presidential handshake from your president."

Most importantly, I must run on Tuesday morning to the HIV clinic to see my
doctor. I can't afford meds because four years ago I was put on a drug
trial for six months with no counseling. I couldn t even finish the trial
because I had no money to pay, and I was not totally compliant. Now, I need
to access drugs but I don't qualify for the first line regimen, as I'm not
drug naive. I must have at least N37.000 monthly ($300) if I m to start ARV
therapy. That being the case, I'll take the hands he shook and the $15
billion promissory note he gave to the doctor and all my drug needs shall
be met. Amen!

The journey to this handshake was hilariously maddening. We were told the
issue to be put on the front burner is PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child
Transmission of HIV/AIDS). The last time I checked, when any group or body
claimed to have a PMTCT program, it usually meant VCT (Voluntary Counseling
and Testing) + ARV (Anti-retroviral drugs) + infant formula milk. With my
dear people, it could mean VCT + referral to the-yet-to-start Nigerian
Government Nevirapine (ARV) + 6 months exclusive breast-feeding! This PMTCT
initiative needs to be applauded and for that we dressed up, sang and shook
hands with Mr. President.

When the opportunity came to table our issues, it was denied us because
according to the organizers, there was no time and only five people could
talk to him, one of whom was a representative of positive women. The only
thing she's expected to do is give her testimonial and get the heck off.
She had just two minutes and she had to read a testimonial rather than
place our issues on the table.

"What George Bush wants to listen to is your testimonial. He already knows
the issue and has heard your voice, which is why he is making this visit.
President Bush is not comfortable with speeches and talks." That sounds to
me like if all I have is two minutes, he'll rather hear the stigma and
pains I have to endure than the issues I expect his visit to address.

Now, Bush has come and gone and I'm left here in Nigeria with USAID. PMTCT
is the reason for which we went to Abuja and comprehensive PMTCT program is
what we expect. Since Mr. President knows what my issues are and came to
Nigeria to address them, I want to see a model USAID PMTCT site that
commits to VCT, ARV and infant milk. Anything short of that is a farce and
totally unacceptable. The fall out of the Bush visit shouldn't just be the
sale of Nigerian gas and growing genetically processed and patented crops
like was done in India, otherwise, we'll be tempted to think the President
just came a-shopping.

You might ask why the American President should be the one to talk to about
my concerns and not my own government. Sadly, there was no Nigerian
government delegate who met us with President Bush, but my thinking is that
if America says she is committed to fighting AIDS in Africa, then the right
things should be done at the right time in the right way. Don't claim to
commit to PMTCT if you won't make ARVs available. Don't claim to support
Africans using generic drugs if you go on to try enforcing the same laws
that will make getting generic drugs almost impossible.

Don't claim to be against stigma and discrimination of PLWHA (People Livng
with HIV/AIDS) if your staff members still screen their domestic workers
for HIV and visa lottery winners are compelled to take HIV tests without
their informed knowledge or consent, without voluntary and confidential
counseling. When their HIV test results gets to the US embassy first. When
they do not get to see the results of tests they paid a fortune for in
highbrow hospitals. I wanted to table our issues before the American
President because I believe that you must say what you mean and mean what
you say.

So, when Bush came shopping in Africa, he talked about America's commitment
to fight HIV and AIDS in Africa. He's gone round five beautiful African
countries, made promises, ate dinners, watched dances and posed for
photographs. The only group that had audience with him was positive women.
Neither the Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN)
nor the Civil Society Consultative Group on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (CISSGHAN)
got an audience. I was ready to take the next flight home when the entire
charade was fast turning into a farce, but I figured this was the only
opportunity to say my piece, so I dressed up, fell in line, said my piece
and came back home.

Thanks President Bush for standing there, listening to us, hearing our
voices, talking to us and assuring us that all our concerns will be met and
addressed. We look forward to your fulfilling the very many promises you
made to us.

Thanks most especially to the 15 most beautiful women in Nigeria and dear
Sisi who agreed that we all should individually one-on-one tell President
Bush what our concerns are, namely:

1. The lack of funding for the Global Fund
2. Lack of infant milk for our babies
3. Lack of ARVs for our children and us
4. Lack of drugs to treat opportunistic infections
5. Efforts to prevent us from infecting our babies but none to stop these
same babies from becoming orphans
6. Making true the commitment of $15billion promised to Africa
7. Committing to putting pressure on the almighty pharmaceutical companies
of the west to bring down the prices of drugs, and
8. Stopping the stigma and discrimination that denies us access to
unrestricted travel

I'm however not sorry that I became "the spirit of distraction" who
wouldn't allow things run as the powers that be wanted it to, neither am I
sorry that I refused to sing and dance for President George Bush.

I almost forgot to add the fact that my beautiful face was seen all over
the world on CNN, all over Nigeria on NTA and my flat-mate in South Africa
even saw me on SABC! You see comrades from across Africa and all over the
world who wrote protest letters, called press conferences and even went on
protest marches never got seen nor mentioned on CNN, but we know that they
got seen and heard where it matters most: in history, in our hearts and in
the world security monitoring devices.

I am looking forward to the recorded hand shake and presidential
photographs putting drugs in my body, preventing me from passing this
dreaded virus on to my baby and putting the much needed infant milk on my
table seeing as I can't breast feed!

Vive PATHAM! (Pan-African HIV/AIDS Treatment Access Movement)

Rolake Nwagwu
Treatment Action Movement (TAM) Nigeria
Email: rolakenwagwu@yahoo.co.uk

download this story  (pdf)

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Bush's visit to Senegal

Dearest friends,

 As you probably know, this week George Bush is visiting
 Africa. Starting  with Senegal, he arrived this morning at 7.20 PM and left
 at 1.30 PM.  This  visit has been such an ordeal that a petition is being
 circulated for  this  Tuesday July 8th be named Dependency Day.

 Let me share with you what we have been trough since last week.

 1- Arrests : more than 1,500 persons have been  arrested  
and put in jail between Thursday and Monday. Hopefully they will be
released now that the Big Man is gone

 2- The US Army's planes flying day and nigh over Dakar. The
noise they make is so loud that one hardly sleeps at night

 3- About 700 security people from the US for Bush's security in
Senegal, with their dogs, and their cars. Senegalese forces were
not allowed to come near the US president

 4- All trees in places where Bush will pass have been
cut. Some of them have more than 100 years

 5- All roads going down town (were hospitals, businesses,
schools are located) were closed from Monday night to Tuesday at 3 PM.
This means  that  we could not go to our offices or schools. Sick people were
also obliged to  stay at home.

6- National exams for high schools that started on Monday are
postponed until Wednesday.

Bush's visit to the Goree Island is another story. As you may know
Goree is a small Island facing Dakar where from the 15th to the 19th
century, the  African slaves to be shipped to America were parked in
special houses called slave houses. One of these houses has become
a Museum to remind humanity about this dark period and has been
visited by kings,  queens, presidents. Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton,
and before them, Nelson  Mandela,  the  Pope, and many other distinguished
guests or ordinary  tourists visited it without bothering the islanders.

But for "security reasons"  this  time, the  local population was chased out of
their houses from 5 to  12 AM. They were  forced by the American security
to leave their houses and  leaves  everything  open, including their wardrobes
to be searched by special  dogs  brought from  the US.

 The ferry that links the island to Dakar was stopped and  offices and
businesses closed for the day.

According to an economist who was interviewed by a private
radio,  Senegal  that is a very poor country has lost huge amount of money
in this visit, because workers have been prevented from walking out of  their homes.

In addition to us being prevented to go out, other  humiliating things
happened also. Not only Bush brought did not want to be
with Senegalese but he did not want to use our things. He brought
his own armchairs, and of course his own cars, and meals and drinks.

He came with his  own  journalists  and ours were forbidden inside the
airport and in place he  was  visiting.  Our president was not allowed to
make a speech. Only Bush spoke when he was  in Goree. He spoke about
slavery. It seems that he needs  the vote of the African American to be elected
in the next elections, and  wanted to please them. That's why he visited Goree.

 Several protest marches against American politics have been organized
yesterday and even when Bush was here, but we think he does not care.

We have the feeling that everything has been done to convince us that
we are nothing, and that America can behave the way it wants,
everywhere, even in our country.

Believe me friends, it is a terrible feeling. But according to a
Ugandan friend of mine, I should not complain because it Uganda one
of the country he is going to visit, Bush does not intend to go out of the
airport. He will receive the Ugandan President in the airport lounge.

Nevertheless, I think I am lucky, because I have such wonderful
American  friends. But there are now thousands of Senegalese who
believe that  for all  Americans the world is their territory.

Love to you all

see also Activists Demonstrate at Nairobi AIDS Conference


download long press clippings of Bush Africa Visit  (pdf)

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