Wednesday, June 8

Africa who?

Pundita has been asked to comment on the Commission for Africa . There is no "Africa," in the way there is Bharata or the Middle Kingdom. (India and China having had long experience with strong centralized government in large parts under various ancient dynasties.) There is a vast body of land.

"In scarcely half a generation during the late 1800s, six European powers sliced up Africa like a cake. The pieces went to Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Belgium; among them, they acquired 30 new colonies and 110 million subjects." (1)

The bottom line is that the fabulous natural resources of a vast continent are up for grabs and that the front in the war on terror has extended to several regions on the African continent.

Translation: the "Africans" are going to be helped whether they want it or not. The continent needs to be cleaned up--made safe for megabusiness plantations set up by developed-world transnational corporations. The cleanup means wholesale immunizations, tamping down militias, and so on.

The British government has essentially teamed with pharmaceutical companies and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to get the immunization aspect of the cleanup underway. You can save yourself a trip to Gleneagles by reading the following:

Gates' charity shifts policy
David Teather in New York
May 18, 2002
The Guardian
Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder and a recent global health campaigner, has invested $205m in nine large pharmaceutical companies. The investment has been made through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest charitable body in the US with an endowment of $24bn (£16.5bn).

It has become a significant force in international health issues and contributed $555m to programmes last year alone. The decision to take stakes in individual firms appears to be a shift in strategy, and for the first time aligns the charity's interests with those of the drugs firms.

The foundation had eschewed equity investments and held shares in just two companies - cable firm Cox Communications and Waste Management. Now it has ploughed $76.9m into Merck shares, $37.3m into Pfizer and $29.7m into Johnson & Johnson.

Mr Gates has already built some ties with the drugs industry. Merck chief executive Raymond Gilmartin joined the Microsoft board last year while Mr Gates helped Merck with AIDS programmes in Botswana - much of the foundation's focus has been on improving health in the developing world. Investment in drugs firms could leave the foundation open to criticism.

A representative sits on the board of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations which buys vaccines from some of the pharmaceutical firms in which the foundation now holds shares.

A spokesman for the foundation said the investments were independent of the charitable programmes. Mr Gates' belief in the importance of intellectual property protection for drugs in the developing world as a means of encouraging investment is also controversial. ...
Malaria Trial Could Set a Model For Financing of Costly Vaccines
By Marilyn Chase,
Wall Street Journal

April 26, 2005; Page A1
Next month, hundreds of African infants will get an experimental vaccine against malaria in a medical trial that could foster a multibillion-dollar collaboration of science, philanthropy and market savvy.Under two new funding strategies championed by Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and Britain's finance minister, Gordon Brown, rich nations and their private-sector partners for the first time would jointly guarantee the provision of vaccines against the worst scourges afflicting the developing world.

They are stepping in where market mechanisms have failed. While older vaccines for diseases like mumps and measles are more widely and cheaply available, vaccines for malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS, the developing world's top killers, are so risky and costly to bring to market that little progress has been made in these areas. The malaria vaccine about to be tested has been under development for two decades -- and at one point it was nearly abandoned. The annual death toll for AIDS, TB and malaria totals at least six million.

The new funding tools are aimed specifically at this market failure. In one approach, donor governments would guarantee that a company that produced a cutting-edge vaccine for poor countries would receive market-rate prices long enough to recoup development costs. This mechanism, proposed earlier this month, is called an advance-purchase contract.The other strategy consists of rich countries, for the first time, floating government bonds geared specifically to supplying poor countries with available vaccines now and new vaccines later.

Through a proposed International Finance Facility for Immunization, the billions of dollars expected to be raised would greatly expand the distribution of existing life-saving vaccines for diseases like polio and hepatitis, and ensure that newer vaccines reach those who need them.

Of course, the first battle -- coming up with vaccines for the worst diseases -- is still being fought. Meanwhile, there is concern among aid groups that the new funding proposals will divert resources from proven tools, such as mosquito nets.

Malaria is one of the scourges targeted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation set up by Mr. Gates and his wife, Melinda. ...
I don't wish to portray Bill Gates (or Tony Blair and Gordon Brown) as unscrupulous. They are applying systems thinking to situations on the African continent. In effect they are creating a new Juggernaut, having seen the limitations of the World Bank Juggernaut. But I repeat the lesson Pundita was taught long ago by a World Bank economist, and which I recounted in The Juggernaut:

Pundita, in the manner of Alice, asked the economist why he termed the Bank a juggernaut--an engine of destruction. He replied that World Bank projects stand as irrefutable proof that you can't fix anything in this world without breaking something, somewhere down the line.

It's not possible to fully understand the economist's observation by studying one Bank project or even a few score. But it's a profound irony that the Bank could render the greatest help to humanity by publishing a book titled, The Book of World Bank Unintended Consequences from A to Z.

Is there a way to Beat the Devil? Solve problems that involve complex interactions of myriad factors without creating even bigger problems?

After many years of thinking on that question and being instructed by many wise people, and after seeing many unintended consequences with her very own eyes, Pundita says there is a way to get around the Devil if not exactly beat him.

First, it helps to remember Guru David's First Law of Large-scale Systems Design.

Second, if you hold fast to Common Sense Reasoning, you have a fighting chance of limiting the very worst unintended consequences of your bright idea for solving a problem.

What I call Common Sense Reasoning is a way of thinking that is common to all humans. It's asking oneself, "What would I do, if I were in X's place?"

Common Sense Reasoning does not confer omniscience; indeed, CSR is often wrong because many times we can't imagine what someone would do; we don't know enough about them, their culture, or their knowledge base to correctly imagine how they would think or act. But the effort to reason in such terms creates great emotional intelligence, which establishes a strong bridge of communication. It causes one to stop and question, to think of questions one wouldn't otherwise ask of another.

Despite the great value of CSR and the human tendency to engage in such reasoning, trying to put oneself in the place of another has fallen out of favor--even though Game Theory is based on CSR. The modern problem-solving arsenal, which includes statistical reasoning and scientific epistemology, has tended to overshadow the prosaic mental act of trying to imagine oneself in the place of another.

Yet with all the modern skill sets for reasoning at their command, time and time again World Bank project managers have torn their hair in anguish, saying, "If only we had thought to ask."

You would be amazed how simple, how basic, the questions might have been.

Here one might ask, "How much CSR do you need, to know what someone infected with malaria would want?"

Yes, well, if Pundita were a mosquito she would ask herself, "Now where would I like to live?"

Not in Pundita's neighborhood, that's for sure. Despite its lushness and steamy climate in the summer, there are very few mosquitos. Part of the reason is that the neighborhood is kept very clean--no backyards full of tin cans and whatnot holding standing water. And there are no feral cats hanging around, which means this neighborhood is Bird City.

The cats are kept inside by their owners. Perhaps this has something to do with my neighbor's Siamese cat, who had an unfortunate run-in with the Peregrine falcon member of Pundita's foreign policy team. Pegleg, as he has been dubbed by the team since the altercation, is now strictly an indoor kitty.

Whatever the reason, this neighborhood is dominated by birds, who feast on mosquitoes. I've never studied the patterns of malaria in various regions of the world, but in general when you see mosquitoes running riot you should study the bird population.

I'm simply giving an example of CSR in action. Asking the kind of questions that normally wouldn't occur to health workers battling malaria. This doesn't mean that more birds are a substitute for medicine. But if you want to think in terms of solving a problem, instead of having it bite you in the behind with your solution, CSR weights the odds in your favor--sometimes not by much, but just enough to avert disaster.

I'm trying to imagine what Félix Houphouët-Boigny would make of the Commission for Africa. His detractors grumble that he was corrupted by power and that he imposed too many Western ideas on his people. Whatever truth there might be in such accusations, they ignore the larger truth of where his people started from when he first ran for office, and where he led them. He was an incredibly wise person.

I used to know many Houphouët stories by heart. The one I remember best, after all these many years, as how he got control of his ministers in his old age. He was slowing down, unable to walk without assistance. So he consulted with his doctor; he explained that his ministers were losing respect for him because they were seeing his physical decline.

The doctor observed that it was a matter of rebuilding stamina; with old age had come a very sedentary lifestyle. The doctor warned that too much activity after all those years of being sedentary could damage his health severely and to build up stamina slowly.

Houphouët took the advice to heart. In private, he began with counting out his steps, and adding a few more steps every day, until after months of this he could walk miles without tiring. But all the while he did this, he kept up his old man's gait in the presence of his ministers.

Until one day....he called them to walk with him. To their astonishment he set off at a brisk pace, all the while issuing instructions and pelting them with questions of state. Very soon the ministers (who lived sedentary Limousine Lives) were huffing and puffing to keep up with him.

I think Félix Houphouët-Boigny would have taken control of the Commission for Africa; used it give his people an edge over the Harry Limes.

(1) From Scramble for Africa... by Thomas Pakenham.

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