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Ebola, the African Union and Bioeconomic Warfare

Ebola, the African Union and Bioeconomic Warfare » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

Health Questions and the Challenges for Africa  Weekend Edition October 10-12, 2014

Ebola, the African Union and Bioeconomic Warfare





by HORACE G. CAMPBELL

As the Ebola outbreak rages, and there are projections of more than 1.4 million persons infected in the next few months, the African Union and the regional bloc ECOWAS have taken a back seat as the international media uses this virus to stigmatize Africa and Africans. Pious statements have been made by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the World Bank warns that could Ebola could have “catastrophic” economic costs on the region of Western Africa. This same World Bank has not yet accepted any reasonability for its role in promoting neo-liberal politics that degraded the health care facilities of Africa. This degradation will be called in this article economic warfare. Bioeconomic warfare is the combination of economic warfare and biological warfare. In the midst of this tragedy, Britain, France and the United States use the deaths of thousands to remilitarize West Africa. Characteristically, this militaristic intervention with the division of the three societies between USA (Liberia) France (Guinea) and the United Kingdom (Sierra Leone) ensures that the media attention is placed on the military deployments of the western states and not on measures for public education. 

The kind of international response that will be needed for countering bioeconomic warfare requires a different kind of public education and mobilization than what the AUand ECOWAS have so far called for. Liberia, Sierra Leona and Guinea are the societies that are at the epicenter of the outbreak of the Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) that some writers have said has spun out of control. [1] These three territories are members of the Economic Community for West Africa (ECOWAS). ECOWAS is one of the five regional organizations that make up the AU. Six months after it was clear that this epidemic was widespread, in August 2014, there was a meeting of ECOWAS held in Ghana to address the outbreak. At this meeting, it was stressed that the best approach to curbing the spread of Ebola and bringing the disease under control remained effective quarantine, isolation and public education. There is no indication that either the AU or ECOWAS is working at their maximum effort to bring this disease under control. In the same month of August, the Director General of the World Health Organization stated that, the outbreak is “the largest and most severe and most complex that we’ve ever seen in the nearly 40-year history of this disease.” 

One of the priorities of public education is for citizens to have a fuller understanding of the source or sources of Ebola and the kind of responses that can bring this pandemic under control. Citizens need to understand everywhere that Ebola is not particularly contagious. There should be the clarification that there is no cure for Ebola. All of the therapies and vaccines being used so far are experimental. The simple requirements of control are robust public health infrastructures, clean water facilities with sanitation and a clean environment. In short, Ebola can only be contained with robust health facilities. The very same institutions and organizations that have been at the forefront of bioeconomic warfare in Africa cannot lead the mobilization against Ebola. This mobilization requires nonmilitary, civilian medical leadership. Ebola presents one more challenge for a new kind of leadership in Africa that can value the lives of the producers. 

EBOLA: WHERE DID IT COME FROM?

From the varying press reports this current strain of Ebola broke out in Guinea at the end of 2013 and was brought to international attention by the time it had spread across West Africa by March 2013. The symptoms of Ebola haemorrhagic fever begin 4 to 16 days after infection. Persons develop fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, and loss of appetite. As the disease progresses, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, sore throat and chest pain can occur. The blood clots and the patient may bleed from injection sites as well as into the gastrointestinal tract, skin and internal organs. The mortality rate is usually very high. This virus is not spread through the air via coughs or sneezes like the common cold. It is spread through frequent contact with bodily fluids and can be spread only by someone who is showing the symptoms. 

It should be stated from the outset that Ebola is not one of those illnesses known to the majority of healers and doctors in Africa. Scientific journals of all continents attest to the profound ignorance about this virus. Fifteen years ago the internationally respected International Journal of Infectious Diseases stated that “Filoviridae is the only known virus family about which we have such profound ignorance.” [2] What accounts for this profound ignorance on the part of the top researchers in the West?

Inside Africa, the most experienced, the traditional healers have no experience in dealing with this illness. The reports in the mainstream media place the first outbreak of Ebola in Africa in 1976. This virus was named for a river in then Zaire, where Ebola was allegedly first detected. Then, according to information released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta,” Ebola is a member of a family of RNA viruses known as filoviruses. When magnified several thousand times by electron microscope, these viruses have the appearance of long filaments of threads. Although the CDC places the first outbreak of Ebola in Zaire in 1976, the leading scientific journals such the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine placed the first outbreak in Marburg, Germany.

One of the most profound requirements of public education is to diminish the racialization of Ebola to clarify that the first recognized outbreak took place not in Africa, but in Marburg Germany, hence the name given to Ebola as Marburg Virus. In 1967 an outbreak of haemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany.

Thirty-one people became ill, initially laboratory workers followed by several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them. Seven deaths were reported.


THE EVOLUTION OF EBOLA

According to the CDC, the first Outbreak of Ebola was in 1976 in Zaire. In their website, the CDC stated the first Outbreak of Ebola“occurred in Yambuku and surrounding area. Disease was spread by close personal contact and by use of contaminated needles and syringes in hospitals/clinics. This outbreak was the first recognition of the disease”. [3] Why is it necessary for the CDC to place the evolution of disease in Africa? [4] The website of the CDC differs from the Journal of Infectious Diseases that stated, “Biomedical science first encountered the virus family Filoviridae when Marburg virus appeared in 1967.”

The reporting on the number of deaths in the Zaire outbreak differs according to differing sources. One fact is indisputable. This was the largest number of deaths at that time in 1976. There were 550 cases and 340 deaths. In the third outbreak in 1979, in Sudan, there were 34 cases and 22 fatalities.

RESTON-EBOLA

The fourth outbreak of Ebola was in the United States. The strain of Ebola Reston is so called because of an outbreak which occurred in Reston, Virginia, in late 1989. Very few following the present outbreak of Ebola know that there was an outbreak of Ebola in the Washington Suburb of Reston, less than 20 miles from the United States Capitol. There were two other small incidents of the Reston outbreak after 1989.

THE KITWIT OUTBREAK

Six years after the first Reston outbreak there was a major outbreak of Ebola at Kitwit, again in Zaire. There were over 200 fatalities. Up to then, the Kitwit Ebola outbreak had been the deadliest. The outbreaks were usually controlled when appropriate medical supplies and equipment were made available and quarantine procedures used.

Since those days there have been periodic outbreaks in Uganda, Angola, Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and other parts of Africa, but nothing compared to the scale and depth of the present pandemic in West Africa.

In the most popular book on this virus published over 20 years ago by Richard Preston, The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus [5] readers are exposed to the twenty years of  research by the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRID) on a family of viruses that are lethal. This book came out before the Kitwit outbreak but we know from press reports that the USAMRID, the CDC, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other international research organizations used the Kitwit outbreak to study this virus. The book concentrated on the three ways which the scientific community attempts to deal with a virus: vaccines, drugs and bio containment. This book by Preston came out in a moment when the tabloid press was making great claims about the airborne possibilities of Ebola and was whipping up anti-African hysteria.

It was in the same period when Robert Kaplan had written his celebrated article, “The Coming Anarchy. “ It was this sensationalism that set the tone about the so-called failed and fragile states in Africa. Robert Kaplan wrote extensively on how scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease were rapidly destroying the social fabric of our African societies. [6] Kaplan’s work was part of the psychological warfare against Africa and Africans at the moment when the peoples of world were celebrating the victory over apartheid.

USAMRID -THE US MILITARY AND BIOLOGICAL WARFARE RESEARCH- ONE ARM OF BIOECONOMIC WARFARE

The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland, is supposed to be the frontline research institution for the USA in its bioshield preparations, which is the preparedness of the US government to fight against biological threats. President Richard Nixon had ended the offensive biological warfare program of the USA with his “Statement on Chemical and Biological Defense Policies and Programs” on November 25, 1969 in a speech from Fort Detrick. The statement was supposed to put an end, unconditionally, to all U.S. offensive biological weapons programs. The United Nations Convention on the Prohibition of the Development,
Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction was signed in 1972. Even after the signing of this international convention a number of countries, including the USA, continued research on designer viruses.


Despite the UN convention, the explosion of scientific research on genetically modified organisms gave a boost to the research being carried out by both military and civilian agencies that were chasing profits from developing dual use pathogens. Biological agents that were being experimented with as bioweapons accelerated and the one bioweapon from this school of dual use pathogens that has come to light has been the experimentation on anthrax.

Characteristically, the use of anthrax on civilians by the military was in the case of the racist Rhodesian military who unleashed anthrax spores in feed cakes for animals killing over 80 Africans in what was then Rhodesia. Years later Timothy Stamps, the Minister of Health in Zimbabwe, drew a connection between the anthrax outbreak in Rhodesia, the Ebola outbreaks and the experimentation that had been carried out under South Africa’s Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW) program.

This South African apartheid CBW program has now received international notoriety through Project Coast where the apartheid regime was experimenting with biological agents that could be specifically targeted at Africans. The government of the United States has gone to great lengths to distance itself from the experimentation of Project Coast even though at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC of South Africa), Dr. Wouter Basson testified how he was warmly embraced by US intelligence elements. The full implication of the work of Wouter Basson and Daan Goosen is still to come to light. [7]

The attractiveness of the weaponization of biological agents increased in the era of genetically modified organisms. Because Africa was the space of the most diverse genetic materials, scientists and bio anthropologists from the West traversed the rural countryside in Africa looking for plants with unique characteristics. In the era of massive research in the life sciences, many universities became involved in dual use research.




DUAL USE RESEARCH


Dual use research (DURC) is life sciences research that, based on current understanding, can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, information, products, or technologies that could be directly misused to pose a significant threat with broad consequences to public health and safety, agricultural crops and other plants, animals, the environment, or national security. In short, dual use research was research that could be used to assist in advancing human health and security or at the same time be used for biological warfare.

We have learnt from research carried out by UNESCO that “military interest, in harnessing genetic engineering and DNA recombinant technology for updating and devising effective lethal bioweapons is spurred on by the easy availability of funding, even in times of economic regression, for contractual research leading to the development of bioweapons.” [8] This is the research environment within which to grasp the present outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.


On the day before President Barack Obama spoke to the world on the Ebola pandemic, the White House on Wednesday September 24, 2014 issued new guidelines intended to strengthen the oversight of federally funded biology research that could inadvertently produce bioweapons. According to the report in the New York Times carried on Thursday September 25, “The new policy shifts the burden of finding and disclosing the dangerous aspects of research from the funding agency — usually the National Institutes of Health — to the scientists who receive the grants and the universities or other institutions where they work.” On the same day, the National Public Radio (NPR) was more specific that the ruling related to dual use pathogens and research being carried in government funded laboratories. This report came three years after the controversies about bird flu research that was being carried out for bioterror purposes. 

In 2011, there had been a fierce debate in the media about the use of biological research for terror, in short bioterrorism. Then as NPR reported, “Scientists and security specialists are in the midst of a fierce debate over recent experiments on a strain of bird flu virus that made it more contagious weapons. In September of 2011 at a scientific conference in Malta, one scientist made a stunning announcement at a flu conference “he’d done a lab experiment that resulted in bird flu virus becoming highly contagious between ferrets — the animal model used to study human flu infection. It seemed that just five mutations did the trick.” This report on NPR in November 2011 did not reappear but in the same broadcast one noted bioterrorism expert and director of the Center for Biosecurity at a national university stated that,

“It’s just a bad idea for scientists to turn a lethal virus into a lethal and highly contagious virus. And it’s a second bad idea for them to publish how they did it so others can copy it.”

So far no expert or whistle-blower has come forward to speak openly about experimentation with viral haemorrhagic fevers, which are now lumped under the name of Ebola. Today as a vital component of prevention and public education there is the need for scientists and researchers to speak out about the laboratories in the West or elsewhere that have been experimenting with dual use pathogens. It is also necessary for the international community to know whether any of these research teams or university personnel associated with dual use pathogens has been active in the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea or Nigeria before the present outbreak of Ebola. At the minimum, ECOWAS and the AU should pressure the UN Ebola Fund to focus not only on fund raising but to also make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to fully develop the measures to properly organize against outbreaks of the current type.

From the reports coming in on the numbers of people who have been left to die without attention or a decent burial, the figures on the number of deaths in West Africa from WHO have been a clear undercount to minimize the extent of the devastation by Ebola. In contrast to the numbers being broadcast by WHO, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported on Tuesday September 23 that “Ebola cases could increase to between 550,000 and 1.4 million in four months, based on several factors including how many people are infected by Ebola carriers. 

The report questioned whether the official number of deaths recorded by WHO, 2,800 out of at least 5,800 Ebola cases, has been underreported. CDC has said it is likely that 2.5 times as many cases, or nearly 20,000, have occurred so far.” [9] On the same Tuesday that the CDC issued its dire warning of the prospect of 1.4 million persons dying, the New England Journal of Medicine also weighed in and stated that “if the disease isn’t adequately contained, it could become endemic among the populations in countries hardest hit by the outbreak — Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. …. “Without drastic improvements in control measures,” researchers say, “the numbers and cases and deaths from [Ebola] are expected to continue increasing from hundreds to thousands per week in coming months.”
According to the WHO, “Extensive, immediate actions – such as those already started – can bring the epidemic to… a rapid decline in cases.” 

BEYOND THE MILITARIZATION OF THE RESPONSE TO EBOLA

The extensive and immediate action referred to by WHO concerns the deployment of military forces by the United States, Britain and France to the countries most affected. The US has deployed over 4,000 military personnel to West Africa to assist in the fight against Ebola. The fight against Ebola cannot be a military effort. It must be an effort that is based on seeking to bring back the health and safety of the peoples whose communities have been destroyed with hundreds of families losing loved ones. The US plans to quickly increase its presence in Liberia, where military personnel are deploying to help the people halt the advance of the worst Ebola epidemic on record but we also need to know what the private security contractors have been doing in Liberia over the past ten years. President Obama has stated that the military is required to set up the medical and transportation infrastructure needed to deploy health workers. Why could this infrastructure work not be carried out by civilian agencies?

From India, Sreeram Chaulia noted correctly in an article entitled ‘Foreign Pulse: Viral Politics’, that “As the Ebola epidemic ravages West Africa, a familiar act with troublesome connotations is playing out. The international response to the conjoined public health crises in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea is following imperial patterns of tutelage and patronage, wherein each of these three countries has been exclusively taken over by its respective former master from America and Europe through targeted humanitarian aid…….An erstwhile colony established by American citizens freed from slavery, Liberia is back to being literally a ward of the US, which faces no competition from any other Western donor there. 

Washington is deploying up to 4,000 military personnel to set up hospitals, medical laboratories and treatment centres on a war footing. This mission, codenamed “Operation United Assistance”, is being overseen by the controversial US Africa Command (AFRICOM).”


In a context where the international news media is dominated by the western news agencies, ECOWAS has also called for military mobilization to respond to Ebola. In the opinion of this author, ECOWAS and the AU have dropped the ball because the militarization of the international response will make it difficult for countries such as China, Cuba, India, South Korea and other societies to properly harmonize the medical response to this Ebola outbreak. The AU and ECOWAS need a new kind of medical diplomacy which is rooted in the valuation of black bodies. Chaulia noted that “if the US, UK and France were driven by humanitarian motives, why did they not contribute to the multilateral UN Ebola response fund that would have distributed the funds more equitably among the three worst-hit West African countries? Thus far, only India and Australia have made sizeable donations of $10 million each to the UN Ebola fund that is woefully undersubscribed.”


PROJECT 112


In North America, the Fox news organization and its affiliates have been at the forefront of the racialization of the present outbreak of Ebola. When the Liberian national was hospitalized and later succumbed to Ebola, the conservative media whipped up an unprecedented hysteria about the possibilities of an Ebola outbreak in the United States. (This patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, has since passed away). Within this hysteria, there are questions in the media whether this virus could go airborne. Some readers will remember that the possibility of the airborne transmission of Ebola was the theme of the film Outbreak that was produced by Hollywood. What has not been in the public domain is the fact that it was the US government that from 1962 to 1973 carried out a biological and chemical weapon experimentation project called Project 112.


This was specifically conducted so that those who were being experimented with did not know that they were guinea pigs. In 2000 when US television network CBS made known the existence of this biological warfare program, it was also revealed that apart from testing on individuals in the USA there were tests carried out in countries where “The US Department of Defense (DoD) conducted testing of agents in other countries that were considered too unethical to perform within the continental United States.”

PROJECT BIOSHIELD


We are yet to know which African societies were considered ripe for the testing of toxins by the US Department of Defense. After the anthrax scare in the USA in 2001 and the war against the people of Iraq in 2003, the US Congress passed the Project Bioshield Act in 2004 calling for U.S. $5 billion for purchasing vaccines that would be used in the event of a bioterrorist attack. There has been a ten-year program to put money into the same forces that were experimenting with dual use pathogens. In the words of the Congress, Project Bioshield was a ten-year program to acquire medical countermeasures to biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear agents for civilian use. The US government has been working on countermeasures against biological warfare. Is it by accident that the top three threats that the Bioshield program is meant to defend the citizens of the US from are Anthrax, Ebola and Bird Flu?

AFRICA AND BIOTERRORISM

Africans have faced bioterrorism from the time of colonialism and apartheid and this is well documented in the book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Author Harriet Washington went into great details about the bioterrorism against black people. The Tuskegee experiment is now the most well-known case of using black bodies as guinea pigs for medical experimentation. The book on Hela Cells (Henrietta Lacks) is another devastating account of the use of black bodies. [11]

Harriet Washington placed chemical and biological warfare under the larger category of “bioterrorism,” which “employs chemical or biological agents such as microbes and poisons in the service of terrorism…weapons often consist of disease-causing organisms, usually microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or derivatives from humans, animals or plants” [12] Another important aspect of biological warfare that Harriet Washington brings forth is the fact that it can be both direct and indirect when used against populations. In other words, chemical agents can be used to kill people directly by physically harming them with something such as nerve gas, or biological warfare can be used to pollute the environment in which someone lives in order to cut off their source of food (plants, livestock), water, or both.

Cuba is one society outside of Africa that has been forced to develop the medical and biosafety capabilities after the outbreak of Dengue fever in 1977. We now know from the new book, Back Channel to Cuba, that Henry Kissinger had organized a plan to ‘smash’ Cuba. [13] This was because Kissinger was angry about the Cuban intervention in Angola in 1975-1976 to beat back the racist South African incursion. Kissinger who had overseen the authorship of the National Security Memorandum 39 of 1969 which predicted that whites were destined to stay and rule in Southern Africa was upset that a small island committed to an alternative mode of economic organization could ruin his plans for Africa. It was reported in the recent New York Times article that in the discussions between Kissinger (then Secretary of State) and President Gerald Ford, Kissinger used “language about doing harm to Cuba that is pretty quintessentially aggressive.” [14]

The Cubans have exposed that the Dengue fever which broke out in Cuba in 1977 was linked to biological warfare by the US government. This has been corroborated by press reports from the United States. At that time the US government blocked efforts by the Cuban government to purchase fumigators and chemicals to control the Dengue spread. As a small island, Cuba has been able to develop quarantine measures but more importantly develop the scientific capacity to research the root of outbreaks such as Dengue.

AU AND ECOWAS MUST TAKE THE LEAD TO RESPOND TO THIS LETHAL VIRUS

In August the President of the US called the first US-Africa Summit in Washington. Although the Ebola pandemic was already killing more persons than the four episodes discussed in the website of the CDC, White House was not focused on the devastation that was being wrought on West Africa. In Africa, Ebola has exposed the porousness of the so-called borders. The AU has so far failed to take the lead in mobilizing to fight this pandemic. Does the African Union have in place any kind of bioshield preparation? At the time of the outbreak of the HIV AIDS pandemic it was significant that western pharmaceuticals placed their profits before human lives. It took the massive organizing of a grassroots movement such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) of South Africa to pressure the pharmaceuticals to allow for the production of generic drugs to treat AIDS patients in Africa. This TAC campaign influenced the cooperation between India, Brazil and South Africa which later merged into BRICS.

A similar grassroots mobilization is now needed in West Africa to break the slow and lackadaisical response of ECOWAS and the AU. ECOWAS has been able in the past to intervene in Liberia and Sierra Leone to bring peace. Collectively, ECOWAS and the AU possess the technical and medical capabilities to be more vigorous in response to Ebola. There is the mistaken perception abroad that Africa does not have the medical personnel to fight this epidemic. However, the ability to mobilize the resources in Africa for a more robust response depends on political will. Nigeria alone has over 40,000 doctors with thousands having experience in infectious diseases. 

In the economic warfare against Africa the medical profession of Africa was assaulted and there was a massive brain drain of African medical personnel to Europe and North America. African governments have been very clear about their objections to the wholesale migration of their physicians to rich countries. Despite these objections there are more than 10,000 international medical graduates from Africa in the USA and Western Europe. The US received more than 7,000 doctors from three countries: Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. Progressive Africans will have to mobilize for a change of course so that the AU and the United Nations can demilitarize the response to Ebola.

Already it has been demonstrated in Liberia that the pandemic can be contained. Nigeria and Senegal have been able to contain the virus. The western media has drawn attention the fact that Firestone Company in Liberia was able to contain and control the virus on its rubber plantation. [15] This author is no fan of Firestone. At the recent Empowered Africa Dialogue in Washington during August, workers at Firestone spoke of the low wage and exploitative working conditions on the rubber plantation. Thus this company cannot be held up as an example, but the important point is that Ebola can be controlled and there is no need for the pandemic to spin out of control. The Firestone story also demonstrates that the military is not needed to organize the medical and transport infrastructure to contain the escalation of the deaths.

This author has been critical of saviours from outside but this Ebola pandemic provides an opportunity for the true humanitarian doctors to separate themselves from the militarized response to the Ebola outbreak. The African Union must take the lead so that those medical responders can find a non-military infrastructure to work with. There is the need for full-scale mobilization in all of the countries where health workers, traditional doctors, scientists, civilian agencies and the military will be crucial in the fight against bio-economic warfare. Global health experts have declared the Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa an international health emergency that requires a coordinated global approach.

Although the media has racialized the Ebola pandemic, there is an urgent need for the international community to come together for this coordinated global approach. The Ebola virus presented a real challenge to Africa and the deployment of scientists, community health workers, volunteers and health brigades to combat this virus is one of the most important tasks of reconstruction in Africa.


Horace G. Campbella veteran
Pan Africanist is a Professor of African American Studies and Political
Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of
 Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Monthly Review Press, 2013. 



Notes.


[1] Evan Horowitz, “How the Ebola Virus Spun Out of Control,” Boston Globe, October 8, 2014. http://tinyurl.com/n7azj76


[2] C. J. Peters, J. W. LeDuc, “An Introduction to Ebola: The Virus
and the Disease,” The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Vol. 179,
Supplement 1. Ebola: The Virus and the Disease (Feb., 1999), pp. ix-xvi


[3] Outbreaks Chronology: Ebola Virus Disease, CDC, Known Cases and Outbreaks of Ebola Virus Disease, in Chronological Order: http://tinyurl.com/nrzolre


[4] See Centers for Disease Control, “Known Cases and Outbreaks of Ebola Virus Disease, in Chronological Order:” http://tinyurl.com/nrzolre


[5] Richard Preston, The HotZone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus,” Anchor books, 1995.


[6] Robert Kaplan, “The Coming Anarchy,” The Atlantic, February, 1994 http://tinyurl.com/lyx89cd


[7] Helen E. Pruitt, Stephen F. Burgess: South Africa’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. Indiana University Press, Bloomington 2005


[8] Edgar J. DaSilva,” Biological warfare, bioterrorism, biodefence
and the biological and toxin weapons convention,” Electronic Journal of
Biotechnology,Volume 2, No 3, December 1999. See also Wright, S. (1985).
“The military and the new biology. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
41:10-16.


[9] “Estimating the Future Number of Cases in the Ebola Epidemic—Liberia and Sierra Leone, 2014–2015,” http://tinyurl.com/puh8tev


[10] Sreeram Chaulia, “Viral Politics, Foreign Pulse, October 8, 2014.” http://tinyurl.com/nrarcl2


[11] Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Broadway Books, New York 2011


[12] Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of
Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the
Present, Anchor Books, New York 2008 page 365


[13] William M. Leo Grande and Peter Kornbluh, Back Channel to Cuba,
University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2014.


[14] Frances Robles, “Kissinger Drew Up Plans to Attack Cuba, Records Show,” New York Times, September 30, 2014 http://tinyurl.com/pzurfx7


[15] National Public Radio, “Firestone Did What Governments Have Not: Stopped Ebola In Its Tracks.” http://tinyurl.com/m8vqcov

I’m confused, can anyone help me? — RT Op-Edge

I’m confused, can anyone help me? — RT Op-Edge

I’m confused, can anyone help me?

An anti-government protester waves a flag in front of the seized office of the SBU state security service in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine April 14, 2014. (Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov)

An anti-government protester waves a flag in front of the seized office of the SBU state security service in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine April 14, 2014. (Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov)

I’m confused. A few weeks ago wewere told in the West that people occupying government buildings in
Ukraine was a very good thing. These people, we were told by our political leaders and elite media commentators, were ‘pro-democracy protestors’.

The US government warned the Ukrainian authorities against using force against these ‘pro-democracy protestors’ even if, according to the pictures we saw, some of them were neo-Nazis who were throwing Molotov cocktails and other things at the police and smashing up statues and setting fire to buildings.

Now, just a few weeks later, we’re told that people occupying government buildings in Ukraine are not ‘pro-democracy protestors’ but ‘terrorists’ or ‘militants’.

Why was the occupation of government buildings in Ukraine a very good thing in January, but it is a very bad thing in April? Why was the use of force by the authorities against protestors completely unacceptable in January, but acceptable now? I repeat: I’m confused. Can anyone help me?

Pro-Russian activists gather outside the secret service building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on April 14, 2014. (AFP Photo / Dimitar Dilkoff)
Pro-Russian activists gather outside the secret service building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on April 14, 2014. (AFP Photo / DimitarDilkoff)

The anti-government protestors in Ukraine during the winter received visits from several prominent Western politicians, including US Senator John McCain, and Victoria Nuland, from the US State Department, who handed out cookies. But there have been very large anti-government protests in many Western European countries in recent weeks, which have received no such support, either from such figures or from elite Western media commentators. Nor have protestors received free cookies from officials at the US State Department.

Surely if they were so keen on anti-government street protests in Europe, and regarded them as the truest form of ‘democracy’, McCain and Nuland would also be showing solidarity with street protestors in Madrid, Rome, Athens and Paris? I’m confused. Can anyone help me?

A thousand people gather in front of fences blocking the street leading to the Spain's parliament (Las Cortes) during an anti-government demonstration in Madrid (AFP Photo / Javier Soriano)
A thousand people gather in front of fences blocking the street leading to the Spain’s parliament (Las Cortes) during an anti-government demonstration in Madrid (AFP Photo / Javier Soriano)A few weeks ago I saw an interview with the US Secretary of StateJohn Kerry who said, “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretexts in order to assert your interests.” But Iseem to recall the US doing just that on more than one occasionin the past 20 years or so.

Have I misremembered the ‘Iraq has WMDs claim’? Was I dreaming back in 2002 and early 2003 when politicians and neocon pundits came on TV every day to tell us plebs that we had to go to war with Iraq because of the threat posed by Saddam’s deadly arsenal? Why is having a democratic vote in Crimea on whether to rejoin Russia deemed worse than the brutal, murderous invasion of Iraq – an invasion which has led to the deaths of up to 1 million people? I’m confused. Can anyone help me?

AFP Photo / Pool / Mario Tama
AFP Photo / Pool / Mario TamaWe were also told by very serious-looking Western politicians and

media ‘experts’ that the Crimea referendum wasn’t valid because it was held under “military occupation.” But I’ve just been watching coverage of elections in Afghanistan, held under military occupation, which have been hailed by leading western figures, such as NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen as a “historic moment for Afghanistan” and a great success for “democracy.” Why is the Crimean vote dismissed, but the Afghanistan vote celebrated? I’m confused. Can anyone help me?

An Afghan policeman keeps watch as Afghan voters line up to vote at a local polling station in Ghazni on April 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Rahmatullah Alizadah)

An Afghan policeman keeps watch as Afghan voters line up to vote at a local polling station in Ghazni on April 5, 2014. (AFP Photo /Rahmatullah Alizadah)

Syria too is rather baffling. We were and are told that radical Islamic terror groups pose the greatest threat to our peace, security and our ‘way of life’ in the West. That Al-Qaeda and other such groups need to be destroyed: that we needed to have a relentless ‘War on Terror’ against them. Yet in Syria, our leaders have been siding with such radical groups in their war against a secular government which respects the rights of religious minorities, including Christians.

When the bombs of Al-Qaeda or their affiliates go off in Syria and innocent people are killed there is no condemnation from our leaders: their only condemnation has been of the secular Syrian government which is fighting radical Islamists and which our leaders and elite media commentators are desperate to have toppled. I’m confused. Can anyone help me?

AFP Photo / Amr Radwan Al-Homsi

AFP Photo / Amr Radwan Al-Homsi

Then there’s gay rights. We are told that Russia is a very bad and backward country because it has passed a law against promoting homosexuality to minors. Yet our leaders who boycotted the Winter Olympics in Sochi because of this law visit Gulf
states where homosexuals can be imprisoned or even executed, and warmly embrace the rulers there, making no mention of the issue of gay rights.

Surely the imprisonment or execution of gay people is far worse than a law which forbids promotion of homosexuality to minors? Why, if they are genuinely concerned about gay rights, do our leaders attack Russia and not countries that imprison or execute gay people? I’m confused. Can anyone help me?

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)
US President Barack Obama shakes hands with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)

We are told in lots of newspaper articles that the Hungarian ultra-nationalist party Jobbik is very bad and that its rise is a cause of great concern, even though it is not even in the government, or likely to be. But neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists
do hold positions in the new government of Ukraine, which our leaders in the West enthusiastically support and neo-Nazis and the far-right played a key role in the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected government in February, a ‘revolution’ cheered on by the West. Why are ultra-nationalists and far-right groups unacceptable in Hungary but very acceptable in Ukraine? I’m confused. Can anyone help me?

Chairman of the far-right parliamentary JOBBIK (Better) party Gabor Vona (C) reacts for the result of the parliamentary election with his party members at Budapest Congress Center in Budapest on April 6, 2014. (AFP Photo / Peter Kohalmi)
Chairman of the far-right parliamentary JOBBIK (Better) party Gabor Vona (C) reacts for the result of the parliamentary election with his party
members at Budapest Congress Center in Budapest on April 6, 2014. (AFP Photo / Peter Kohalmi)

We are told that Russia is an aggressive,  imperialist power and that NATO’s concerns are about opposing the Russian ‘threat’. But I looked at the map the other day and while I could see lots of countries close to (and bordering) Russia that were members of NATO, the US-led military alliance
whose members have bombed and attacked many countries in the last 15 years, I could not see any countries close to America that were part of a Russian-military alliance, or any Russian military
bases or missiles situated in foreign countries bordering or close to the US. Yet Russia, we are told, is the ‘aggressive one’. I’m confused. Can anyone help me?


Neil Clark is a journalist, writer and broadcaster. His award winning blog can be found at www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter


Published time: April 15, 2014 10:06







Nana Baakan Connections

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"Venus Noire" ("Black Venus") Film & Review

“Venus Noire” 

(“Black Venus” – Controversial Hottentot Venus Film)

Part 1

Part 2

It’s been over a year since I saw Venus Noire (Black Venus) at the New York Film Festival in the fall of 2010, and it never received a stateside release; actually I’m not sure it got much of a release outside of the international film festival circuit and a few European territories.
So I’m betting most of you have never seen French/Tunisian filmmaker Abdel Kechiche’s problematic though worth-watching Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman, otherwise derogatorily known as the Hottentot Venus film, which starred newcomer Yahima Torres in the title role.
The subject matter certain isn’t one that will attract audiences to the theater en masse; and the fact that the film is almost 3 hours long, with subtitles, likely didn’t exactly make potentially interested American distributors salivate at the film’s box office potential.
But if you’re in Los Angeles during the month of February, and you’re at all interested in seeing the film, here’s your shot! It’s either now, or you wait for a stateside home video release (though it’s on DVD in parts of Europe and Canada; just not in the USA). 
But I’d recommend a theatrical viewing.

It’s a challenging work, and one that I’m sure will piss a lot of people off, not only because of its content, but also the manner in which it’s handled by the director. It’s just something you should see for yourselves.
I wrote a lengthy review of it last year, after I saw it; and, as I said in that write-up, I was left with conflicting thoughts on the film. Unfortunately, I never got to see it again, even though I wanted to. I’ll be at the PAFF this year, so I just might see it again on the big screen, if my schedule allows for it
In the meantime, below you’ll find my initial review, as well as a trailer for the film, a clip from it, and an interview with star Yahima Torress…

And finally here’s my 2010 review:
 So there I was waiting for the subway train after my screening of Venus Noire (Black Venus), and what did I see plastered almost all over one of those ubiquitous tunnel newsstands? Covers for various magazines, many unabashedly featuring the barely covered-up plump bottoms of predominantly black women in seductive poses – 2 dimensional images of voiceless bodies, objectified, exotified, envied, denigrated, and more; depending on the viewer.
And with that picture, Obvious Guy asks, so, really, has much changed in the 200 years since Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman found herself victim of the same kind of mixed gaze? Of course, there’s the perceived independence, and even false sense of power and control some might claim those in the present-day wield over their spectators (an illusory brand of feminism as I’ve heard others suggest), and they aren’t introduced in cages by a man carrying a whip (well, actually, some are), and Saartjie’s experiences were more direct and literal; but, frankly, the similarities can’t be ignored. I even considered that Saartjie’s torment was strictly race-based, and a result of its time; but I was able to dismiss that notion in realizing that there still certainly exists a racial “otherness” that precedes and influences the various gazes I mentioned above. For example, I still (unfortunately) hear stories about enthralled white women asking black women if they can touch their hair, ignorant of the sensation the request itself provokes.
The film opens in 1815, France, some time after Saartjie’s death, as a French academic, addressing what look like his peers, with a physical mold of Saartjie’s body on display, makes his scientific and historic case for why her “species” is inferior to theirs. The lengthy opening lecture is met with applause from his audience of all white men. The matter-of-fact nature of the entire sequence is revelatory in that it shows just how ignorant, yet assured of themselves these leaders of the world were, and helps explain their callous treatment of their perceived inferiors – a trend that continued long after they themselves perished.
Following that opening sequence, we travel back in time, 5 years, to 1810, London, some time after Baartman had been taken from Cape Town, with promises of wealth, via exhibition, in Europe. And so the tragic tale of the “freak show attraction” known as the Hottentot Venus began…
Like those women on the magazine covers, Saartjie is mostly mute throughout the film, her body language representative of her thoughts, and clearly, she isn’t exactly cherishing the spectacle that’s being made of her physical self – much of it some will find difficult to watch, as it should be. Writer/director Abdellatif Kechichemakes sure of that, with numerous scenes running quite lengthy – possibly 10 minutes or more in some cases.
Given the style in which the film is made, it felt almost like a documentary. Kechiche does little to distract from the narrative; the performances from the entire cast are realistic (you believe them), including Yahima Torres(as Baartman), Andre Jacobs, Olivier Gourmet, Elina Lowensohn, Francois Marthouret, Michel Gionti, andJean-Christophe Bouvet; there’s virtually no soundtrack (any music heard occurs naturally within the scene); the mostly hand-held camera moves but, oddly, you forget that it’s there – partly due to the stark nature of the physical settings, and also of the subject matter itself; you may feel guilty enough to look away, but you can’t.
In reading some early reviews of the film before I saw it, I expected to be turned off by what some seemed to suggest would be gratuitous on the part of the director. But I didn’t feel what they felt, and I do wonder if the reactions to Venus Noire will be similar to a film like Precious (a story about a character whose physical self was also arguably a character in its own right), in that they will be separated along color lines. I could certainly make sense of a white film critic being made uncomfortable by the inhumane treatment Saartjie endured; her captors are white. And as I’ve already suggested, one can’t help but see connections to the present-day race- and sex-based prejudices that still exist. There’s a reason (amongst many) that films that center on whites-as-saviors-of-“others” continue to be produced. They like to see themselves in that light. Rarely do we see stories told that detail the inhumanities whites have dished out intently and indiscriminately on the darker-skinned “others” across the world, without retribution. In a way, it’s like a revision of history.
But no one comes to save Saartjie here; she lives a brutal life, and dies just as punishingly, with the film not necessarily making it clear who we are supposed to point our fingers to, for blame.
Although, I felt numb to it all, and I wonder if my reaction would mirror those of other people of African descent. By most accounts, I should have been appalled, disgusted, and completely turned off by Kechiche’s lengthy scenes showing all the horror that Saartjie endured before her early death. But, little of it actually disturbed me.
In thinking about it further, I realized that it wasn’t necessarily because the filmmaker had failed in creating moments within the film that would elicit specific reactions out of me (although, who am I to say what the filmmaker intended); I felt numb because, again, as I eluded to above, we have and still are so bombarded with similar parades of images of women’s bodies (specifically black women’s bodies), accentuating specific attributes, whether still or moving, that what I saw on screen, as revolting as it was, seemed almost, dare I say, “ordinary” to me.
From music videos, to magazines… however, less obvious and even deceptive are those studies, surveys, investigations into the so-called black experience that suggest an “otherness;” different, and thus must be observed and studied like monkeys in a cage. Whether it’s CNN’s redundant, surface “Black In America” series, the recent article about how black people use Twitter, or more direct, scientist claims that people of African descent are less intelligent than whites, and so on.
I’ve rallied against most of these ideas and occurrences on this blog and elsewhere, and will continue to do so. However, the point here is that this long-standing, continuous assault on our senses, all suggesting an inferiority as the basis for marginalization of a group of people, have had an effect on how I react to similar instances (real or fictional). Numb – which can be a dangerous place to be, because it could lead to a lessened desire to act against like injustices.
Saartjie doesn’t speak very much in the film, as I already stated; usually only when spoken to; we don’t really get a sense for how she feels. Certainly, as I said above, her body language leaves little doubt that this isn’t the kind of life she thought she would be leading, or that was promised to her by the man who brought her to Europe (he lied, telling her and her slave owner that she’d essentially be a song and dance act, not the circus freak show he would eventually convince her to be); but I would have liked to hear her wrestle with her predicament; here she is, seemingly a willing (coerced) participant in an act, sharing in the benefits afforded by the booty (no pun intended), though unequally, with her captors; but struggling to come to terms with the truth of who (or rather what) she is to the ignorant, yet curious and enchanted audience that pays to watch her perform. To contemporize it, think of the strippers who are “trapped” by the money they earn used to feed, house and clothe themselves, but who struggle with the impact the work they do has on their lives, and the perception others have of them. Not exactly the same thing as what Saatjie endured, but I’m trying to make sense of what I felt was one of the film’s notable deficiencies. We see Saartjie through the eyes of her captors and the audiences that pay to see her – as a lottery ticket, and a spectacle respectively – but we get few glimpses into the mind of the woman that the body belongs to.
From the film, we know she despised her treatment, she’s outright defiant in moments, and the filmmaker does attempt to humanize her, giving her some 3-dimensionality; and I never once felt like he was being exploitative; but, as is, it’s still questionable just how much control she really had over her predicament (although we know that she was a slave). In the film, she remains something of a mystery, and I can’t say whether that was all intentional on the filmmaker’s part, as, I’d guess, he tried to piece together a personality based on limited availability of information, written by others about her.
There’s also that saying about the the presence of mental shackles even in the absence of tangible ones.
Director Kechiche’s film isn’t a lecture on the matters it documents. Each scene is presented “as is,” without any obvious commentary, you could say. It’s neither what I’d describe as a call to action. You are simply witness to an ugly injustice, an accomplice even, and your reaction to it is just that… your reaction, based on your own life experiences, which will also determine what you choose to do about whatever it is you felt, assuming you’re inspired to act in any way.
Don’t go into this looking for a biopic of Baartman, as you will be disappointed. It’s more a document of a very specific part of her life, that which she’s most known for. And despite the title of the film, she instead feels like one of several equal players in this tragedy, instead of its star center. There’s also what I’d call a disconnect between the filmmaker and the material. Like I said, he doesn’t necessarily take sides. In fact, the film played out more like a series of filmed news reports.
It does take a few creative liberties, however, the script remains fairly close to the true story of Saartjie Baartman. At almost 3 hours in length, some editing could have been done to trim it a bit, without losing its substance; and that running time makes it a tough sell for audiences outside of the expected art-house crowd – especially here in the USA.
Although, I certainly hope it does receive a wide enough release. I’m curious about global reactions to the film. I suspect most aren’t at all familiar with Saartjie Baartman’s story, or are even aware of the derogatory “Hottentot Venus.” In a way, I actually envy those who’ll be seeing the film ignorant of the real-life story it’s based on. Most importantly, it means that one is less likely to spend time comparing the film’s details to what they know of the historic figure the characterization is inspired by. I can only imagine what their reactions would be, but I expect sharply contrasting sets of opinions.
I’m left with conflicting thoughts on the film, and I wasn’t even sure how I would review the film. I feel like I could write volumes on the experience I  had watching it. But maybe that’s all a good thing. I think a second viewing might be helpful in clarifying my thoughts. If anything, it’s not a film one walks out of the theater and immediately forgets. Other reviews I’ve read thus far have expressed concern about the film being hard to watch – not because it’s a bad film, but due to the contemptible scenarios Baartman lived through as explicitly documented in the film. As I’ve said before, the subject matter is already controversial enough, that any film made about Baartman will find it impossible to escape controversy. Kechiche’s handling of it is obviously crucial, and I’d say he handles it better than I expected. It certainly should inspire further discussion, especially with regards to contemporary correlations.

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