"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


pirates, public health, & purgatory

Three unrelated, yet interesting points on Africa from the weekend news:
  • Somalia's new president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, for some reason decided that it would be a good idea to visit the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu. Any good Somali leader knows that leaving Nairobi is pretty much asking to die in an unpleasant way. (Just in case you felt that the choice of a new president is cause for hope, Ken Menkhaus' new report for the Enough Project should properly disillusion you.) But, hey, nobody was hurt by the mortars that were fired at the presidential palace after Sheikh Amed's arrival, and his Monday tour de ville seemed to go well. Here's hoping he gets out soon.
  • In other Somali news, the Ukranian ship that was captured by pirates in September was released following the payment of a $3.2 million ransom on Thursday. You may remember this ship as the one that was carrying a huge load of weapons, tanks, and other troublemaking devices to Kenya. Problem is, the ship's manifest makes it pretty clear that the weaponry was actually headed to the Southern Sudan. Which would be okay if the sale or transfer or arms to the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement weren't forbidden by the 2005 peace agreement the Kenyan government hammered out between the SPLM and the government. But the Ukranians are 100% CERTAIN that the arms are for Kenyan use. Right. Because no one ever lies about the arms trade in sub-Saharan Africa, and if there's anything the region needs more of, it's weapons.
  • In sad news, we learned from this weekend's NYT that Dr. William T. Close (perhaps you've heard of his daughter?) passed away on January 15. Dr. Close was Mobutu's personal physician until Mobutu went off his rocker and became the corrupt stereotype we all remember in the mid-1970's. Close ran Mama Yemo, the country's biggest hospital that in the era was a showpiece of modern medicine in sub-Saharan Africa (Today it's a death trap.). More importantly, however, Close used his connection to the regime to halt the spread of the first Ebola outbreak. He was also part of studies about the prevalance of the HIV/AIDS virus in rural areas, which has been present in humans in the Congo since at least the late 1950's. One of the big mysteries in the study of HIV/AIDS is how it suddenly became so prevalent in human populations in the second half of the 20th century; part of the data Dr. Close demonstrated that HIV/AIDS could have been present in humans for quite awhile before that. (Basically, scientists now think that HIV/AIDS was present in rural populations from which the virus did not spread, possibly for decades or longer. Explanations for why the disease suddenly spread so rapidly range from the use of unsterile needles in mass vaccination campaigns to rural-urban migration patterns.) Close's work saved thousands and thousands of lives. His was a life well lived.


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