Is there AIDS in Africa?
Yes there is AIDS in Africa, and it is ravishing the populations of most African countries. Peter Schwab's hyperbole captures the devastating impact of Aids in Africa:
In the final analysis, what best maps out the devastation that AIDS has wrought are the specific numbers of people caught up in the disease. The data are electrifying. There is no way to explain away the starkness of their reality. Indeed, the figures jump right off the page and provide a frightening image. They both shock and numb. In fact, World Bank statistics emphasize HIV-seroprevalence in adults. If children below the age of fifteen are pulled into the findings, the overall numbers are beyond the capacity of a human being to imagine. (111)
There are many reasons for this scenario though, such as the politics surrounding the production and distribution in Africa, of drugs that have been helping Western AIDS patients.
Did Aids begin in Africa?
This is a question that has been asked over and over, and the truth, whoever has it, many believe, is still being kept from the world. Before Jared Diamond's very bold and categorical claim in National Geographic that AIDS is one of those "nasty" diseases spawned by Africa, it all appeared to have been suggestions, hints, theories, and hypothetical views presented by whomever and quickly forgotten, even though the idea lingered on in people's minds as they went on seeking the truth about this claim. Alex Shoumatoff's search for the origins of AIDs in a continent he damns as characterized by "madness," as per the title of his book and the way he presents the people's lifestyle, where, ironically, he is himself a resident trying to put meaning into the voices he is hearing about AIDS and its origins, yields nothing; the cloud about the origins of AIDS is still overhead. Accordingly, Peter Schwab, for example, like most other scholars, is cautious when face to face with this issue. He writes:
AIDS was initially observed in 1981. In 1983 researchers in Bethesda, Maryland, and Paris, France isolated the HIV/AIDS virus. The same year the first reported cases were observed in Central Africa, although in December 1982 two AIDS cases were diagnosed in South Africa. By 1989 each African country reported at least one AIDS case. Within a decade 25.2 million sub-Saharan Africans, in a region girding 10 percent of the earth's population, were infected with the HIV virus — and the continent became the epicenter of an AIDS pandemic. (108)
Schwab's tact and caution are obvious as he writes: "AIDS was initially observed in 1981," but he does not say where specifically it was observed, then he points out that in 1983, researchers in the West isolated the HIV/AIDS virus, before being categorical about when the first cases were diagnosed in South Africa. The implications are obvious.
Diamond is not that cautious; he is certain AIDS is one other African concoction and he states categorically in his National Geographic article—"The Shape of Africa"—after theorizing as to why Africa, the "runner first off the block," is still tormented by economic problems:
Unfortunately the long human presence in Africa also encouraged something else to thrive — diseases. The continent has a well-deserved reputation for having spawned some of our nastiest ones: malaria, yellow fever, East African sleeping sickness, and AIDS.
It is remarkable that Diamond adds "AIDS" at the end of his list of other typical African ailments even though he is certainly aware of the controversies still surrounding the origin of AIDS. Diamond goes on to explain:
These and many other human illnesses arose when microbes causing disease in animals crossed species lines to evolve into a human disease. For a microbe already adapted to one species to adapt to another can be difficult and require a lot of evolutionary time. Much more time has been available in Africa, cradle of humankind, than in any other part of the planet.
One cannot help wondering about some of these "authoritative" claims. For example, the view that much time has been available in Africa for microbes to adapt from one species to another because of the "long human presence" there, which is accordingly unique to Africa, is certainly interesting. Again, since Africa has such a reputation for spawning diseases, why after so long—centuries— has such an endowed continent decided to emerge only with AIDS, and at this particular time, as a more daunting cousin to Syphilis? Are microbes uniquely African, even with all the other jungles and rainforests on the face of the earth, one cannot help wondering? One is almost getting the impression here that the jungles of Africa were created before those in other parts of the world, as if nature had to wait to see Africa raise to perfection its own forests before going on to come up with other forests. The truth remains, that Jared Diamond's mutation theory is only what it is, a theory, and many are being bandied around about the origins of AIDS. Diamond's categorical pronouncement in national Geographic is certainly hasty and disturbingly reminiscent of another authority's position on Africa—Hugh Trevor Roper.
A more recent and equally forthright declaration as to the origin of AIDS is by the research teams of Paul Sharp, geneticist at the University of Nottingham, UK; Beatrice Hahn, a microbiologist at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, US; and Martin Peeters in Montpellier, France. In an article with a screaming title, "Aids Traced to Chimp Group in Cameroon," James Owen reports these researchers claim, and more:
Researchers have identified simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in wild apes for the first time. The virus, which at some point jumped to humans as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), has been found in chimpanzees in Cameroon, west-central Africa.
Scientists have long suspected that HIV had its in (sic) origins in wild chimp populations. But previously SIV had been found only in some captive chimps.
The discovery in wild chimps was made by an international research team, which detected SIV antibodies in chimpanzee feces gathered from forests.
The virus was found in chimpanzees in southeastern Cameroon..
In spite of this bold declaration by these scientists, Edward Hooper, without doubt a leading researcher on AIDS, flawed the claim by highlighting just too many inconsistencies in their approach and method of analysis before concluding that their research seemed ".to have been driven by a determination to prove the bush meat theory right .. "
To Africans, the truth, and it is widely believed, is that this is one more of those terrible things facing mankind and it must, as always when it is bad, be blamed on Africa even though Africans do not know what AIDS is nor where it is from. As one African put it, "AIDS is killing us like this because we do not know what it is. We believe if it was an African thing, then Africans would have had a traditional name, and at least we would have been able to address it traditionally, as is the case with other African diseases, even if we were unable to completely cure some of them. True it is new, all the more reason why the first African patient would have been able to say something is wrong with me before going to some hospital to be diagnosed. Africans would have struggled with this illness before anyone else but this is not the case." Africans have many unanswered questions about AIDS beginning in Africa, and so they wonder why it is so hard for the scientist who discovered AIDS in Africa to stand up and declare: "I discovered AIDS in Africa in such and such a clinic, in such and such a country, from such and such a patient and at such and such a date," mindful of how scientists keep records? Note an example of the kind of precision (relating to so called Killer honeybees from Africa) that will certainly allay Africa's skepticism towards these scholarly hypotheses about AIDS beginning from Africa: "The Africanized bees in the Western hemisphere descended from 26 Tanzanian queen bees (A. m. scutellata) accidentally released in 1957 in Southern Brazil from hives operated by biologist Warwick E. Kerr, who had interbred European honey bees and bees from southern Africa." ("Africanized Bee").
These Africans views about the origins of AIDS notwithstanding, loaded as they are with emotions, and understandably too, given the West's reputation in dealing with Africa, the truth is that the numerous theories about the origins of AIDS are beginning to sound like oral tales out of the world of Amos Tutuola's Palm-Wine Drinkard—a world in which animals and things talk, a world in which fantasy meets and interacts with reality without any awkwardness. Regrettably, it all continues to sound like the dance of African masks in which what meets the eye is not all that is there. Else how could the overwhelming sense of probability in virtually all the articles on the origins of AIDS, characterized by words and expressions such as "seems," "likely," "now widely accepted," and "probable," to cite a few examples, suddenly "mutate" into a certainty that AIDS originated from Cameroon, even with the plethora of unanswered questions raised by Edward Hooper still looming in the horizon. Edward Hooper's confidence is as baffling to those with skeletons in their cupboards as his arguments are potent, and so with a theory backed by facts rather than probable hypotheses, he has emerged with a rather authoritative conclusion about the origins of AIDS:
In 1999 I wrote a book, The River, which proposed the hypothesis that AIDS might be iatrogenic (caused by physicians), and that scientists might have unwittingly started the pandemic through an experimental oral polio vaccine (OPV) administered in central Africa in the 1950s. That book touched more buttons than I had anticipated, for it sparked a major cover-up among those who had been involved with making the vaccine, and among powerful interest groups within the medical community.
The attempted whitewash persuaded me to continue my researches. I have now been exclusively researching AIDS for 20 years, and its origins for 16. And whereas I was 95% persuaded of the merits of the vaccine theory when The River was published in 1999, I am now (in 2006) 99.9% persuaded that this is how AIDS began.
As for Anderson Cooper and his African expeditions and so-called findings, he and his sponsors can go on wasting money they could have used for more rewarding projects trying to convince themselves and their likes that AIDS started in Africa, in Cameroon specifically. One cannot help wondering if these people are yet to know that the plain truth will always sound true, needing no effort to make people believe it?"
Beyond the origins of AIDs, Diamond's condescending question as to why Africa which was first off the block is still suffering from economic woes is very disturbing given its source. The fact remains that Diamond assumes Africa's values were exactly those of the West. He fails to see that it was only after the colonial encounter with its devastating effects on Africa, was the continent's future completely re-oriented as Africans were forced to abandon virtually everything African in pursuit of materialistic Western goals which they were never to achieve successfully because colonialism distorted every opportunity for genuine development along Western lines, even after having alienated if not destroyed African values. In the words of Nah Dove,
Prior to the capturing and enslavement of Afrikan women, men, and children, we could feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves; develop philosophies and spiritual, mental, and medicinal health care; construct institutions of every type from the state to the village; create technologies and civilizations; be creative in all the art forms; travel and trade across continents; and be self-determining as a people. It is evident that we are no longer in control of our resources, our energies, and therefore our destiny. As Chancellor Williams (1984) has argued, it is clear that a great tragedy of catastrophic proportions has befallen Afrikan people. (xv)
It is no doubt Ali A. Abdi considers the colonial encounter "the great disaster of colonialism..." (15). Summing up the cataclysmic effects of the invasion of Africa by the West, so as not to write thousands of pages to attempt peeling off the first layer of the curse of Europe's fundamentally misnamed "la mission civilatrice," Abdi turns to Van Sertima whom he cites:
No other disaster with the exception of the Flood (if that biblical legend is true) can equal in dimension of destructiveness, the cataclysm that shook Africa.. Vast populations were uprooted and displaced, whole generations disappeared, European diseases descended like the plague decimating both people and livestock, cities and towns were abandoned, family networks disintegrated, kingdoms crumbled, the threads of cultural and historical continuities were so savagely torn asunder that henceforward, one would only have to talk of two Africas: the one before and the one after the holocaust. (qtd. in Abdi 14)