Monday, June 28, 2004

Parts of Africa "on the brink of the largest polio epidemic in recent years"

Contrary to the rosy picture painted by the country's dictator Robert Mugabe, 2 million Zimbabweans are predicted to be short of food in the next year, according to a study carried out by Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (which comprises not only the UN and aid agencies, but also the Zimbabwean government). Even if international food aid does come, many fear that it will be manipulated by the government for political reasons.

The BBC interviewed one opposition youth leader attacked for, well, being in the opposition. The reporter described the young man's injuries: His jaw is broken in two places, his hand still terribly swollen and on his back a mark from where he was beaten with a belt - the buckle as clear as if someone had traced a marker pen around it and filled it in with bruising.

"I was attacked by 25 war vets from Zanu-PF, who said I was an opposition youth ringleader so they wanted to get rid of me by eliminating me," he said.

Not even members of parliament [MPs] are safe. "More than a third [of opposition MPs] have survived assassination attempts, others have had family members beaten to death and killed," said Shari Eppel, a human rights campaigner based in Zimbabwe. "There have been policemen torturing members of parliament - including electric shock treatment. This has got to be one of the few countries in the world that allows the opposition into parliament and then tortures them and refuses to prosecute those responsible - even when they are extremely well known,"

While some rightly point out that western press attention on Zimbabwe seems disproportionately focused on a tiny number of white farmers, the fact remains that they overwhelming majority of victims of the repression of Mugabe's supposedly nationalistic regime are black.

Things in Zimbabwe are so desperate that even members of Mugabe's party are apparently pushed to flee. An illegal network has channelled hundreds of members of Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu PF party into Britain, a BBC investigation has found.

Birmingham-based Zimbabwean Community UK is thought to have given fake documents to party members and coached them on how to falsely claim asylum.... Radio 5 Live sent along an undercover reporter who had been told he would be able to con his way into Britain.

The director of the organization in question, Zimbabwean Community UK, reportedly told the undercover journalist "For the purpose of winning, we advise you to tell the white man that you are a member of the MDC. How can you tell the white man that you are Zanu PF when you want to stay in this country? We will teach you the one, two, threes of the MDC so that when you are asked who the president is you can immediately say Morgan Tsvangirai... But we are not teaching you to be an MDC supporter. Do you get what I am saying? So when we start talking about politics, don't assume that we want you to be in politics. All we are telling you is what the white man will ask you, what he wants to hear."


National Public Radio's All Things Considered reported on the effects rape being used as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are reports that mutinous soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo raped women Bukavu after seizing the city earlier this month, says NPR. Rape has been a part of earlier conflicts as well. During Congo's civil war, which officially ended in 2002, rape and the fear of rape often kept women from working in the fields. Crops failed as a result, and many children died of malnutrition.


The rest of the continent may reap what a few morons in northern Nigeria have sown. the World Health Organization has warned of polio epidemic as virus spreads rapidly across Africa.

You may remember earlier this year, Kano State, in conservative northern Nigeria, refused to join a national anti-polio vaccination campaign when some Islamic leaders claimed the campaign was part of a plot to render Muslim women infertile. The refusal has led to 257 cases in Nigeria so far this year, almost five times the number of cases in the same period last year, according to the latest WHO data., reports Agence France Presse. An Indonesian polio vaccine which is acceptable to local leaders has been stockpiled in the region, but immunisation has not yet restarted despite optimistic signs from local authorities.

So it was little surprise when AFP noted Central and west Africa are on the brink of the largest polio epidemic in recent years, the World Health Organisation warned after the disease appeared to have spread across the continent from Nigeria to Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region.

"Epidemiologists of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative have today issued a stark warning that west and central Africa is on the brink of the largest polio epidemic in recent years."

Hundreds of Nigerians, presumably most of them unvaccinated Muslims, have died this year because of domestic reactionaries, but it's the westerners with anti-polio vaccines who are supposedly anti-Islamic?


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