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Whither Shall Society Wander? Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by mbonisi zikhali, Zimbabwe Jan 19, 2006
Human Rights   Opinions
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Whither Shall Society Wander? Sins of omission seem to persist in almost all of man’s noblest causes in our age. It appears, by some universal conviction, that we either do very little or offer too much of what is not really needed. We congregate to lament how the world has grown darker, but the furthest we can go to light up our social avenues is to kindle fires that will, one day, consume us all.

Assuming the whole world is bound in one solid, unified spirit, then all roads lead to Bamako, Mali for the World Social Forum from January 19 to 23, 2006. From there it will weave yet another winding trail to the city of Caracas in Venezuela, then Karachi in Pakistan from January 24 to the 29th respectively. According to the forum’s official website, its purpose is to be, ‘a meeting place for social movements, networks, NGOs and other civil society organisations opposed to neo-liberalism and to a world dominated by any form of imperialism’. The monster in that statement is neo-liberalism.

Neo-liberalism describes a political and economic philosophy that rejects state intervention in the economy in favour of limited restrictions in business. In a skewed sense, it holds out the longest stick to the fellow in the lifeboat, while completely ignoring the desperate cry of the one guy drowning adjacent to the boat itself. This lucky fellow in the boat welcomes the stick and is guarded effortlessly to dry land. From the shore’s safety he proclaims boldly that it is in the drowning man’s best interest that he has been prioritised, and he compensates by heaping straw upon straw in the water for this desperate man to clutch on. Such are the virtues of capitalism. They have become so uncanny that they have even turned HIV and AIDS into a money-spinning powerhouse.

HIV and AIDS have devastated the African continent at such a scale that any well-meaning, mass gathering on African soil that ignores this fact must have some exterior motive. Think of Africa’s political, economic and social landscape – which of these has not had its natural order altered by HIV and AIDS? Now allow the World Social Forum to leap back into your mind; why has it so explicitly marginalized HIV and AIDS issues on its agenda? Has this been agreed upon with a clear conscience? Is it because the role of pharmaceutical companies, which are making huge profits in the fight against AIDS might be questioned? Why not make direct mention of the pandemic on the list of key topics? Will it prove fruitful to mention it only in passing? And if HIV and AIDS issues are ignored at a World Social Forum, whither shall society wander?

The World Social Forum is well meaning. Some might even say it has the potential of snowballing landmark decisions that might fast-track significant innovations towards fighting HIV and AIDS. For instance, the thrust of the forum is that the neo-liberal agenda is not doing enough to alleviate poverty. Instead, it further impoverishes poor nations, while the wealthy nations benefit from developing countries’ resources. An activist with the Harare-based African Forum and Network on Debt and Development, Vitalis Meja acknowledges the omission of HIV and AIDS on the agenda (Moyiga Nduru, Inter Press Service News Agency, January 10, 2002). He adds that the neo-liberal agenda is the result of why sub-Saharan Africa is not doing well in social indicators, education, food security and health. All these are inextricably linked to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.

Since the World Social Forum draws such a vast array of powerful bodies, they could intensify pressure on the elimination of unfair global policies that negatively impact on Africa’s educational, food security and health needs. For instance, one of the major contributors to the pandemic in Southern Africa is food insecurity. Despite the natural droughts, there is evidence that the neo-liberal policies imposed on African countries have aggravated these conditions of famine.

Bernardo Useche and Amalia Cabezas*, in a paper entitled ‘The Vicious Cycle of AIDS, Poverty, and Neo-liberalism’ (Americas Program Special Report, December 1, 2005) describe a ‘neo-liberal famine’ in relation to the spread of AIDS. Despite malnutrition being a significant factor contributing to mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa, structural adjustment programmes demanded by international agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank helped to decimate these countries’ energies in responding to their internal problems. These powerful agencies called for the elimination of agricultural subsidies, privatization of public services and complete opening up of the economy. They give the example of Zimbabwe.

In 1991, a US$484 million loan, tagged with demands meant to guarantee reduction of the fiscal deficit drove the country into a recession a year later. Between 1991 and 1996 salaries fell by 26%; unemployment rose and inflation was high. (Americas Program Special Report, pg 3). The ultimate result of the government's cut on spending affected public health. The government is still reeling from these measures up until today, where about 2 500 people die every day of AIDS. It is not the only nation. This whole paper is enough to convince anyone of the need to prioritise HIV and AIDS at the World Social Forum.

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