Celebrating Moral Victory in Sudan

How can anyone be unhappy about the International Criminal Court’s indictment of President Omar al-Bashirs of Sudan?

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has finally earned his day of infamy: On March 4, he became the first sitting head of state to be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the fledgling International Criminal Court . He joins Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, Charles Taylor of Liberia, and Jean Kambanda of Rwanda as heads of state subject to international justice for their international crimes. The fact that al-Bashir – sitting at the apex of a corrupt and brutally repressive state – is being prosecuted internationally is more important than the outcome of any particular charge in the indictment.   [more]

Well, some in the human rights community are not so happy and for good reason:

… at least five of the NGOs asked to leave Sudan have been UNHCR implementing partners carrying out important humanitarian programmes in Darfur but also Blue Nile State and Khartoum State. So it is noteworthy that this could have an impact not only on Darfur, but on vulnerable people elsewhere in the country.

We also have to be concerned at the possible implications this could have more broadly in the region. Our experience shows that when vulnerable populations are unable to get the help they need, they go elsewhere in search of protection and assistance. If food can’t get through to people, for example, then those people will soon suffer and have to look elsewhere.

 With some 4.7 million Sudanese – including 2.7 million internally displaced – already receiving assistance in Darfur, we are very concerned over the prospect of new population movements in the region should the fragile aid lifeline inside Sudan be disrupted. There are also 40,000 Chadian refugees in West Darfur.

Our work for internally displaced people as part of the UN team in Darfur has helped IDPs stay as close to home as possible while also relieving pressure on neighbouring Chad, where UNHCR and its partners are already caring for nearly 250,000 refugees from Darfur in a string of 12 remote camps spread over 600 kms near the Sudan border. These isolated camps and the remote communities surrounding them are already struggling to provide the basics needed to sustain 250,000 refugees. In addition, there are some 180,000 internally displaced persons in eastern Chad.

 Any influx to Chad would be an additional challenge for UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies because of ongoing insecurity and instability in the country, as well as limited resources such as water.

Moral victories can’t be celebrated by people who are starving to death and dying of thirst.

Others think Western support is simply hypocritical:

Criminals, including international ones, must be put behind bars, but the world is known to have put off justice “in the name of peace.” Unfortunately, this tolerance allows many people, in particular in conflict-ridden Africa and Asia, to think they should wait, close their eyes to crimes, unless they want to face difficult “consequences.”

This faulty reasoning is based on confrontation between the ethics of principles and the ethics of consequences. But it cannot be abandoned outright because it developed long ago and has become a fixture in international relations. All major players in the West use it selectively, when and if it suits them, which is unfair.

UPDATE:  Hmmmmmm.  From Rob Crilly at the Al Salaam Camp, North Darfur –

Aid officials warn that a humanitarian emergency is in danger of becoming a disaster. The move has put the supply of food to 1.1 million people in doubt, as the UN’s World Food Programme scrambles to find lorries to deliver sacks of grain. It had been using four of the expelled charities to get food to people in need. Outside the hospital – run by the International Rescue Committee until it was ordered out – a mother brushed flies from the face of her daughter. “My baby is sick,” Fatima Abdulrahmen said. “She has a fever and I brought her here and now I don’t know what to do. Who will help me now?”

The people who should be helping – the staff of 13 international charities including Oxfam, Médicins sans Frontières and Care – were boarding flights to the capital, Khartoum.


In El Fasher, capital of North Darfur, government officials began the process of seizing millions of pounds in assets belonging to the charities. Men with dark glasses and clipboards arrived at the Oxfam office to begin itemising equipment. They left with laptops, desktop computers and satellite phones, choking off communication. There was a similar scene at the French agency Action Contre La Faim. “We are due to start distributing food to the camps in a fortnight,” one worker said. “Who else is going to do this and stop people starving? Words cannot describe what is happening.”

Charities reported that their bank accounts were being frozen. Doctors with Médicins sans Frontières were trying to contain two deadly outbreaks of meningitis before being expelled. Their clinics have closed.

It’s all here

Africa’s World War

A book review of Gerard Prunier’s Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe, by David Rieff at Truthdig:

Why does Darfur arouse such passion in decent people all over the world, but the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC (the country until a decade or so ago known as Zaire), which has taken the lives of far more people—4 million between 1996 and 2001, according to some informed estimates—for the most part remains what relief workers brutally but not inaccurately call an “orphan conflict”?


Prunier [writes of the  lack of interest at the [Western] government level, and the short attention span of the general public” with regard to African crises. Where the crises in Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC are concerned, Prunier observes, the effect was to reduce a situation of major conflict and appalling human suffering “to a comic book atmosphere in which absolute horror alternates with periods of complete disinterest from the non-specialists.” And he is withering about the way in which the Western default position rarely strays from stereotyped categories about Africa. Thus, he observes, “the desperate African struggle for survival is bowdlerized beyond recognition, and at times the participant-observer has the feeling of being caught between a Shakespearian tragedy and a hiccupping computer.”


“Wars begin where you will but do not end where you please,” Machiavelli instructed the Prince. The Congolese war exemplifies the truth of this adage, and not only for the Rwandans. What Prunier lays out in great detail and with great authority is the extent to which all the belligerents blundered and improvised, while, all the while, it was the Congolese people who paid the price for the ambitions of modern-day princes from a dozen countries. As Prunier puts it, although all wars are terrible, “the Congolese continental conflict was particularly horrible, not only because it caused the deaths of nearly four million human beings but because of the massive suffering it visited on the surviving civilian populations.”

Read the whole thing here and buy the book here

Congo’s Holocaust

Yes, we’ve all been sitting on our butts here in the West while a holocaust rages in Congo.  5.8 million people dead; untold numbers of women raped, gang-raped, forced into pregnancy, infected with HIV and maimed for life.  When I read the history of WW II, I often come across the question, why did we do nothing to stop the mass killing of Jews?  We can ask the same question now:  why have we done nothing, why are we still doing nothing, to stop the holocaust in Congo?  I thought it was never supposed to happen again.

From Johann Hari at The Independent:

The deadliest war since Adolf Hitler marched across Europe is starting again – and you are almost certainly carrying a blood-soaked chunk of the slaughter in your pocket. When we glance at the holocaust in Congo, with 5.4 million dead, the clichés of Africa reporting tumble out: this is a “tribal conflict” in “the Heart of Darkness”. It isn’t. The United Nations investigation found it was a war led by “armies of business” to seize the metals that make our 21st-century society zing and bling. The war in Congo is a war about you.


Every day I think about the people I met in the war zones of eastern Congo when I reported from there. The wards were filled with women who had been gang-raped by the militias and shot in the vagina. The battalions of child soldiers – drugged, dazed 13-year-olds who had been made to kill members of their own families so they couldn’t try to escape and go home. But oddly, as I watch the war starting again on CNN, I find myself thinking about a woman I met who had, by Congolese standards, not suffered in extremis.

I was driving back to Goma from a diamond mine one day when my car got a puncture. As I waited for it to be fixed, I stood by the roadside and watched the great trails of women who stagger along every road in eastern Congo, carrying all their belongings on their backs in mighty crippling heaps. I stopped a 27 -year-old woman called Marie-Jean Bisimwa, who had four little children toddling along beside her. She told me she was lucky. Yes, her village had been burned out. Yes, she had lost her husband somewhere in the chaos. Yes, her sister had been raped and gone insane. But she and her kids were alive.

I gave her a lift, and it was only after a few hours of chat along on cratered roads that I noticed there was something strange about Marie-Jean’s children. They were slumped forward, their gazes fixed in front of them. They didn’t look around, or speak, or smile. “I haven’t ever been able to feed them,” she said. “Because of the war.”

Their brains hadn’t developed; they never would now. “Will they get better?” she asked. I left her in a village on the outskirts of Goma, and her kids stumbled after her, expressionless.

There are two stories about how this war began – the official story, and the true story. The official story is that after the Rwandan genocide, the Hutu mass murderers fled across the border into Congo. The Rwandan government chased after them. But it’s a lie. How do we know? The Rwandan government didn’t go to where the Hutu genocidaires were, at least not at first. They went to where Congo’s natural resources were – and began to pillage them. They even told their troops to work with any Hutus they came across. Congo is the richest country in the world for gold, diamonds, coltan, cassiterite, and more. Everybody wanted a slice – so six other countries invaded.

These resources were not being stolen to for use in Africa. They were seized so they could be sold on to us. The more we bought, the more the invaders stole – and slaughtered. The rise of mobile phones caused a surge in deaths, because the coltan they contain is found primarily in Congo. The UN named the international corporations it believed were involved: Anglo-America, Standard Chartered Bank, De Beers and more than 100 others. (They all deny the charges.) But instead of stopping these corporations, our governments demanded that the UN stop criticising them. [emphasis mine]

There were times when the fighting flagged. In 2003, a peace deal was finally brokered by the UN and the international armies withdrew. Many continued to work via proxy militias – but the carnage waned somewhat. Until now. As with the first war, there is a cover-story, and the truth. A Congolese militia leader called Laurent Nkunda – backed by Rwanda – claims he needs to protect the local Tutsi population from the same Hutu genocidaires who have been hiding out in the jungles of eastern Congo since 1994. That’s why he is seizing Congolese military bases and is poised to march on Goma.

It is a lie. François Grignon, Africa Director of the International Crisis Group, tells me the truth: “Nkunda is being funded by Rwandan businessmen so they can retain control of the mines in North Kivu. This is the absolute core of the conflict. What we are seeing now is beneficiaries of the illegal war economy fighting to maintain their right to exploit.”

See the whole thing here

And see Roxanne Stasyszyn at Dissident Voice:

Most every Congolese citizen will agree that the reason for the instability in Congo is the international influence within their borders. Some point their finger at mineral trafficking. Some point to tribal and historical ‘facts’. Others, like Vital Katembo, claim it is obvious that people are doing harm when they are not achieving what they claim to work for—speaking of the humanitarian aid and conservation sectors—especially when they have the needed resources to accomplish their missions.

No matter where you point your finger or for what reason, the DRC is an international playground filled with extremely dangerous toys and irresponsible playmates. Many times, knowing where to point is simply based on how dangerous it is to point that way.

US Foreign Policy Kills Women

Sarah Wildman, “The Global War on Sex Education“:


According to a new World Bank report, despite a worldwide increase in access to contraception and contraceptive technologies, some 51 million unintended pregnancies take place every year in the developing world, and an additional 25 million pregnancies are gestated by women who use faulty contraception or don’t understand the methods they’re using.

Of that number, according to the World Bank, some 68,000 women die from botched or unsafe abortions each year, and some 5.1 million are left permanently disabled by them. “Giving women access to modern contraception and family planning also helps to boost economic growth while reducing high birth rates so strongly linked with endemic poverty, poor education and high numbers of maternal and infant deaths,” Joy Phumaphi, the World Bank’s vice-president for human development, and a former health minister in Botswana, said in a statement.

How does that connect to the Bush administration? Simple. Since the moment he stepped into office, Bush’s commitment to the foolish “abstinence only” training both domestically and internationally has been coupled with a slavish devotion to the restrictive, ghoulish, “global gag rule”, introduced by Ronald Reagan in 1984, that cut off funding for any organisation that used USAID funds to even touch the word “abortion”. That meant an organisation couldn’t counsel a woman on abortion as an option, even if it received money from an entirely separate funding source to do so. Given that the 1973 Helms Amendment already banned US funds from paying for overseas abortions, Reagan’s policy gagged healthcare providers and gave them a stark choice: lose crucial American funding (from the creation of USAID in 1965 to 1984, some 40% of all foreign funding to population control-oriented organisations globally came from the US), or severely limit the way they talked about reproductive choices.

Bill Clinton repealed the policy, but Bush reinstated it the moment he arrived in Washington, in January 2001. Then, in August 2003, he tried to deepen its impact, extending the ban from USAID to the entire state department, pushing to ban all employees at state from even discussing the consequences of abortion. Several reports issued at the time illustrated just how devastating Bush’s policy had become. By 2002 USAID had ended shipments of contraceptives to 16 developing nations in Africa and Asia as a direct consequence of the gag rule.

Instead of ending abortions, the global gag rule pushed women into back alleys and undermined, even closed, organisations that would have counselled women on how not to get pregnant in the first place. By diminishing access to contraception, it was actually laying the groundwork for unsafe abortions. The global gag rule didn’t just gag healthcare providers about abortion. It gagged them on contraception and education. Since 2002, the Bush administration has also withheld funding – to the tune of $39.7m – from the United Nations Population Fund, claiming – despite evidence to the contrary – that UNFPA is connected to forced abortions in China. The shortfall from the US has also helped undermine the spread of contraception and education around the world, particularly in Africa.

“Hundreds of women are dying every day in poor countries from botched abortions,” says Barbara Crane, executive vice-president of the North Carolina-based reproductive rights organisation IPAS, who wrote me by email last week. “By repeatedly cutting the budget for international family planning and putting in place the global gag rule, the supposedly ‘pro-life’ Bush administration ignores this tragic reality – and without doubt causes more unsafe abortions, posing high costs to women, their families and society at large. It is ironic that the same groups that oppose abortion rarely step up and support better access to contraception.”

The Bush administration has time and again put American women’s lives second to a religiously inspired relationship to women and reproductive health. Take their latest attempt to restrict American women’s access to contraception and the kind of pre-emptive contraceptive measures that pro-life forces should love. In this latest salvo, the US department of health and human services would allow any healthcare provider the right to refuse to treat a woman, and defines “abortion” in such a broad manner as to restrict access to IUDs, the morning after pill, and some birth control pills. This affects any entity – from public and private hospitals to pharmacies – that receives public funding from HHS, explains Jill Morrison, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Centre. “Under the guise of simply interpreting current law,” Morrison explained, if this HHS proposal goes through it would “completely expand the federal abortion refusal laws to include some of the most commonly used forms of contraception.” Morrison said it was fair to call this a “domestic gag rule”.

The Bush administration’s relationship to sex and reproduction has been consistently abysmal, from their utterly failed effort to promote abstinence only among teenagers to its unique ability to hire militantly anti-contraception “experts” like Susan Orr, a veteran of the religious Family Research Council, who was named acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs in October of last year (and stepped down, quietly, in May). Orr was previously known for championing a measure that would strip funding for birth control for federal workers, saying she was “quite pleased because fertility is not a disease. It’s not a medical necessity that you have it” and earlier calling contraception part of a “culture of death”.

The Bush administration’s notion of contraception and sex education has been consistently – maddeningly – oxymoronic. Abortion rates are lowest in countries where women have access to education, especially education on contraception. So while we in the US hold our collective breath, waiting out these last few months of Bush’s efforts to restrict our freedoms, globally women are literally dying for him to leave.

Inseminating Cows by Candlelight

When charity is cruel and stupid:

It almost sounds like a joke. Set up dairy enterprises in rural African villages with no refrigeration, electricity, veterinary care or passable roads for a population that can’t drink milk because it’s 90% lactose intolerant.

But the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t think it was a joke when it announced the gift of $42 million to Heifer International at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January — the biggest gift the Little Rock, AR-based Christian charity which sends live animals to poor countries has ever received.

Using cherubic, 4-H/Unicef style advertising — kids hugging the animal “gifts” they will also dispatch — Heifer pledges to stamp out world hunger in poor countries using the grain, water and grazing land they don’t have to raise animals.

To get around the lack of rural electricity for the proposed dairy operations in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, Heifer will create “chilling plants” with their own backup power generators according to a press release where the milk will be stored for pickup by “refrigerated commercial dairy delivery trucks”– both of them.

Farmers will artificially inseminate cows, perhaps by candlelight, with “high-production dairy animal semen” — more backup generators required to keep it frozen? — and increase milk quality through providing “improved animal nutrition” to the cows with the food they don’t have.

Gates Foundation Live Animal Aid to Africa is Cruel and Stupid

Martha Rosenberg

Taxes and Global Impoverishment

Taxation is a social injustice issue:

Citizens’ groups around the world are increasingly raising concerns about the social costs that tax evasion is imposing on their societies. Offshore tax havens – commonly called offshore financial centers, or OFCs – are central to these concerns. Today there are more than seventy OFCs, many based in small island states such as the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. OFCs levy little or no tax on income and provide few rules on incorporation. Corporations can conduct their business without having a physical presence in these jurisdictions. Most importantly, OFCs guarantee secrecy so that their clients are beyond the scrutiny of tax authorities and regulators in their home countries.


These characteristics have attracted wealthy individuals and corporations to move their assets offshore. One-third of the wealth of the world’s richest individuals, or US$11.5 trillion, is now held offshore. More than half of all global trade is conducted through OFCs, and half the world’s money supply is estimated to pass through OFCs at some point.

OFC secrecy provisions are enabling massive amounts of tax evasion; the loss in global tax revenues is now estimated to be at least $500 billion annually. Secrecy provisions also facilitate bribery, theft, insider trading, drugs and arms trafficking, and money laundering. Today an estimated $1 trillion of “dirty” money flows into OFCs each year.


Wealthy individuals are also escaping their tax obligations by holding their assets offshore. A 2006 U.S. Senate report concluded that Americans with offshore assets avoid $40 to $70 billion in taxes each year. The Tax Justice Network (UK) calculated that if the returns on $11.5 trillion of individual wealth now placed in OFCs were taxed at 30 percent, it would generate $255 billion in tax revenues globally.

For developing countries, the loss of tax revenues of at least $50 billion annually has been disastrous. In addition, an estimated $148 billion of illegal capital flight leaves the African continent every year. This loss of tax revenues along with illegal capital flight has resulted in the deaths of thousands of vulnerable people as health services have been dismantled and public infrastructure crumbled. However, the role of OFCs in enabling tax evasion and illegal capital flight is rarely considered in debates about Third World poverty.

Someone should ask Barack Obama what he plans to do about this.  And remember this:

Bill Clinton gave the super rich, the 400 highest income people in America a big tax cut. They were paying 30 cents out of each dollar of their income to the federal government when he came into the office. When he left, it was down to 22. Bush has lowered it to 17. Now, first of all, notice you’re probably paying more than 17 cents. May well be paying more than 22. But Bush gave them an eight cent tax cut– I’m sorry. Clinton gave an eight cent tax cut and Bush only gave them five cents.

These people already have numerous available methods of tax evasion.  So Clinton and Bush give them the added advantage of tax cuts.  Aaaaand …

Obama just hired Clinton’s economists.

Sex, Lies and Impeachment

The New York Times takes a stand (sort of) on George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and the lead up to the Iraq war:

The report [of the Senate Intelligence Committee] documents how time and again Mr. Bush and his team took vague and dubious intelligence reports on Iraq’s weapons programs and made them sound like hard and incontrovertible fact.

“They continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago,” Mr. Cheney said on Aug. 26, 2002, adding that “we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.”

On Oct. 7, 2002, Mr. Bush told an audience in Cincinnati that Iraq “is seeking nuclear weapons” and that “the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.” Saddam Hussein, he said, “is moving ever closer to developing a nuclear weapon.”

Later, both men talked about Iraq trying to buy uranium in Africa and about the purchase of aluminum tubes that they said could only be used for a nuclear weapons program. They talked about Iraq having such a weapon in five years, then in three years, then in one.

If they had wanted to give an honest accounting of the intelligence on Iraq’s nuclear weapons, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney would have said it indicated that Mr. Hussein’s nuclear weapons program had been destroyed years earlier by American military strikes.

As for Iraq’s supposed efforts to “reconstitute” that program, they would have had to say that reports about the uranium shopping and the aluminum tubes were the extent of the evidence – and those claims were already in serious doubt when Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney told the public about them. That would not have been nearly as persuasive, of course, as Mr. Bush’s infamous “mushroom cloud” warning.


Yet Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney persisted in talking as if there were ironclad proof of Iraq’s weapons and plans for global mayhem.

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use them against our friends, against our allies and against us,” Mr. Cheney said on Aug. 29, 2002.

Actually, there was plenty of doubt – at the time – about that second point. According to the Senate report, there was no evidence that Mr. Hussein intended to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone, and the intelligence community never said there was.


Claims by Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld that Iraq had longstanding ties to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups also were false, and the Senate committee’s report shows that the two men knew it, or should have.

We cannot say with certainty whether Mr. Bush lied about Iraq. But when the president withholds vital information from the public – or leads them to believe things that he knows are not true – to justify the invasion of another country, that is bad enough.

Dammed if I understand the difference between lying  and leading people to believe something that isn’t true.  Even at this very late date, the New York Times persists in being awfully polite.  This fine distinction rather reminds me of another distinction that former President Bill Clinton tried to make with respect to Monica Lewinsky.  He never had “sexual relations” with her.  Meaning, in his mind, sexual intercourse.  Umm hmm.  Nobody let Bill get away with it though and that’s for sure.  The response was far from polite:

President of the United States Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 19, 1998, and acquitted by the Senate on February 12, 1999. The charges, perjury and obstruction of justice, arose from the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the Paula Jones law suit. The trial proceedings were largely party-line, with no Democratic Senators voting for conviction and only five Democratic Representatives voting to impeach. In all, 50 senators voted “not guilty,” and 50 voted “guilty” on the obstruction charge. The Senate also acquitted on the charge of perjury with 55 votes cast as “not guilty,” and 45 votes as “guilty.”


If you asked me which President is/was most worthy of impeachment, I wouldn’t have much trouble deciding.  I certainly don’t approve of President Clinton’s behaviour, but as far as I know, it didn’t result in over a million deaths.

Hey Toronto

Please spread the word widely to your networks!
You are invited to attend the documentary screening of:
Followed by a panel discussion featuring special guests:
Mahdere Paulos, Executive Director, Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association
Tsidi Kambula, Prosecutor, South African National Prosecuting Authority (NPA)
Monday, June 2, 2008 at 6:30PM (doors open at 6PM)
Innis Town Hall, University of Toronto
2 Sussex Avenue (St. George Campus)
Admission to the screening is free and refreshments will be provided. The venue has limited seating and is wheelchair accessible. ASL interpretation, attendant care, and digitized note-taking service may be provided if requested by Wednesday, May 28.
For more information please […]  visit http://www.itstimeafrica.org or contact Yukyung Kim-Cho at (416) 947-5273 or ykimcho@ojen.ca .
This event is sponsored by Law Courts Education Society of B.C., the Ethiopian Association in the GTA and surrounding regions, the Ethiopian Women’s Association, and the Ontario Justice Education Network.
A civil society through education and dialogue.
Andrea Sobko
Program Manager
Ontario Justice Education Network
Réseau ontarien d’éducation juridique
Osgoode Hall, 130 Queen Street West
Toronto, Ontario, M5H 2N6
www.ojen.caHey Toronto

AIDS Grandmothers

Debra Black reporting from Swaziland and South Africa

From Debra Black at The Star:

“… freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”
– Nelson Mandela

MANZINI, SWAZILAND-Dressed in colourful sarongs, shirts and headscarves, about 1,500 women, mostly rural grandmothers, march along the city streets waving signs that proclaim: “Grandmothers, the Heart of the Nation” and “Grandmothers and Their Unpaid Work.” As they parade out of Jubilee Park following a marching band, the women, some with walking sticks and others carrying babies on their back, sing in Swazi: “We are tired of men beating women in Swaziland.” They raise their fists and punch the air, shouting: Phezukomkhono – “We are moving forward.”

Groups of men gather on the sidewalk, yelling at the women to go home. “Return to the kitchen and cooking!” says one. Another shouts: “Go home, old women!”

The insults anger feminist Carole Holmes, a 62-year-old grandmother from Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of a delegation of 12 Canadian grandmothers travelling across sub-Saharan Africa with the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

In 2006, the foundation launched the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, allowing Holmes to visit the projects the foundation funds and to take the stories of the African grandmothers and orphans that she meets back to Canada.


AIDS has triggered a viral genocide in this tiny, landlocked nation of about 1.1 million. And as in so many countries across Africa, the grandmothers bear the burden. They have watched their children die and thousands are caring for many of the 130,000 AIDS orphans, a number that is expected to grow to about 200,000 by 2010.

Twenty-six per cent of reproductive adults have it. Forty per cent of all pregnant women are HIV positive. And the prevalence rate in the overall population is about 19 per cent. A similar prevalence rate in Canada would translate into 6.2 million of our 33 million citizens. Life expectancy in Swaziland has dropped from 60 to 31 in a decade.

For the women of Swaziland, young and old, the despair is palpable. Happiness Nkomo, a 64-year-old grandmother, has lost three children to AIDS. She and her eight grandchildren live in a corrugated metal shack in a village near the Mozambique border. She is articulate and soft-spoken with an easy command of English.

She grows quiet and short of breath after she hears there are no AIDS orphans in Canada; no grandmothers who must care for dozens of children; no pandemic wiping out a nation. She seems to distrust what she has heard and then turns livid that in Swaziland there is only AIDS and death.

For information on how to help see the websites at the Stephen Lewis Foundation and grandmothers to grandmothers

Lawrence Hill Wins Commonwealth Prize

Toronto author Lawrence Hill has captured the main Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for his novel The Book of Negroes.

Hill’s book tells the true story of a Malian woman’s journey from enslavement in Africa to bondage in South Carolina and finally back to Africa.

Hill was handed the prize on Monday in Cape Town, South Africa, where he’s attending a literary festival. Writer Lawrence Hill will get to meet the Queen after winning the main Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. (Lisa Sakulensky/HarperCollins Canada)

“It’s particularly good to receive the prize in South Africa,” Hill told the Guardian newspaper, “because its history mirrors my protagonist’s journey from oppression to liberation.”

The novel had already garnered the regional Commonwealth Writers’ prize for best book.

Hill, who will be getting a $19,300 Cdn award, says his story is now available in the U.S. under the title Someone Knows My Name. The title was altered “because the publishers thought ‘Negro’ was an incendiary term.”

The writer joins another African-Canadian author on the Commonwealth big winners’ list: Austin Clarke, whose novel The Polished Hoe won in 2003.

In earning the prize, Hill has also been invited to an audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

“I think it should be fun, particularly because my leading character also meets the British monarch in England to appeal for the end of slavery,” noted Hill.