Adopting an African approach to ‘getting HIV/Aids to zero’

The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is “Getting to Zero – Zero New HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths”. The theme was announced on 9 September 2011 in Cape Town, South Africa. This theme is backed by the United Nations “Getting to Zero” campaign and runs until 2015. It builds on last year’s successful World AIDS Day “Light for Rights” initiative encompassing a range of vital issues identified by key affected populations.

December 1 of every year are marked as special days to rethink critically on the impact of HIV and Aids and devise new methods and fresh approaches to combating the HIV and Aids phenomenon in the world. On this particular date, every part of the world envy the past and fear the future for the continued havoc AIDS continues to wreck on the human kind.

Africa is also part of that world which had fallen great victims to the epidemic than any other continent. Africans have suffered greatly the impacts of HIV and Aids variedly. Reports say that Sub-Saharan Africa is more heavily affected by HIV and Aids than any other region of the world. An estimated 22.5 million people are living with HIV in the region – around two thirds of the global total. In 2009 around 1.3 million people died from AIDS and 1.8 million people became infected with HIV. Since the beginning of the epidemic 14.8 million children have lost one or both parents to HIV and Aids.

In Africa, the social and economic consequences of the AIDS epidemic are widely felt, not only in the health sector but also in education, industry, agriculture, transport, human resources and the economy in general. The AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa continues to devastate communities, rolling back decades of development progress.

Compared to Asia, America, Australia and Europe continents, Africa has reaped more casualties of the HIV and Aids holocaust and predictability will follow the same trends if we not adopt immediate sound measures to address this challenge. HIV and Aids is really a challenge to the African continent.

Africa is losing not only her people to HIV and Aids but is also losing her most treasured cultures. It is a double loss. The challenge of this epidemic to Africa therefore is two-fold. First, Africa has greatest numbers of people dying to AIDS partly due to high poverty levels by which Africans fail to sustain their health. The governments of Africa are also struggling to withstand the economic demands brought about by the HIV and Aids.

The seconds; Africa is also paying more sacrifices to the fight against HIV and Aids. At this stage of the fight, Africa has already lost many of her cultural traditional practices that are significant, meaningful and play very positive roles in African societies. Most of the blame has been put on what has been described as ‘demonic cultures’ called so for exacerbating the spread and contraction of HIV. Different international bodies are working tirelessly to deconstruct African cultures bring in strange cultures basing on European models. It is this second loss of African valuable cultures that this article is concerned.

The article argues that Africa must adopt approaches that fit the African cultural and epistemological categories to fight HIV and Aids to zero. It further argues that Africa is not benefitting from the many sacrifices she has so far made. Many Africans continue to die and contract HIV.  The article also wants to suggest that, the ways to fighting HIV and Aids on African continent, does not lie in the erosion and annihilation of some of African traditional cultural practices that seem to play negative roles in the HIV and Aids fight.

The article is also critical of the attempts by governmental or non-governmental organization to free Africans from their cultures and looks at these trends as continued colonization of African cultures while hiding in the HIV and Aids caricature.

Last time, the whites, deployed monotheistic religion as a safe vehicle to colonizing African cultures. And now Africans must be suspicious and watchful of the European agenda set to kill African cultures completely.

Earlier, in the time Africa started her battles against colonial government Frantz Fanon in his Black Skin, White Masks made an observation about the fate of Africa and explored the ways in which the black colonized races internalized the ideas of their white colonizers. In a way, Fanon’s concerns were on how Africans quickly abandon their traditional cultural beliefs and practices to adopt the western categories and worldviews. He was also primarily concerned with how Africans internalize the western ideologies without putting that to further scrutiny and critique in terms of the significance and sustainability of the new western cultures they adopt.

Fanon, in his Wretched of the Earth made further observation that, the introverted western ideas lead to the colonized victim to regard their blackness and practices as having almost entirely negative associations.

Indeed, now, some of African cultures are being associated with many negatives and blamed for spreading HIV and Aids. At some extreme levels, the blame for the Sub-Saharan Africa as being the major victim of HIV and Aids has been solely put of African traditional cultural practices. Some of the practices that even have value and significance in our African societies have all been put in the negative categories. In particular, the HIV and Aids phenomenon has risen to a witch-hunting of all cultural practices that seem to perpetuate its spread and contraction.

Africa has a very rich culture. Historically, many practiced African cultures have been under threat from the evangelization missionary projects of the whites to the colonization of Africa. In addition, the whites have a very long history of plotting sinister agendas to African cultures. Black Africans- have again at one point in history been associated with animal rationality. G.W. F. Hegel (the German philosopher-1770-1831) in his Philosophy of History categorically described Africa as no historical part of the world which had no movements or developments to exhibit.

And Immanuel Kant, another German philosopher- 1724-1804 echoed the sentiments of Hegel in making a remark about one Black African that, “this fellow is black from head to foot, a clear sign that what he said was stupid. These sentiments by some white men represent the white man’s old agenda to associate black skin with the negative. The white man systematized and categorized the traditional cultural beliefs and practices as containing no meaning and value.

The white man has not stopped using this ideology in defining Africans and their practices. And if Africans are not vigilant on the white man’s propaganda to colonizing some Africans traditional practices we will wake up after every element of our culture has been completely colonized. Our rich cultural heritage will be reduced to zero in the end at the time when HIV and Aids get to zero.

There is indisputable evidence that the white man has a sinister agenda against Africa.  At a time, a white man is calling for the abandoning of the African traditional cultural practices related to human sexuality, at the same time, at one corner of the same Africa, is campaigning for the legalization of prostitution taking this as a question of fundamental rights and freedoms. Yet, it a clear fact, prostitution is incomparably the fastest means to spread HIV and Aids. This is the major reason Africa is suspicious of the white man’s agenda.

Like in Malawi, there are traditional cultural practices like Chokolo (wife or husband inheritance) which happens when one of the couple dies and the brother or sister takes the place in marriage of the deceased husband or wife. There are also practices like Kulowa kufa (wife or husband’s cleansing) which is when one of the couple dies and the bereaved husband or wife have sexual intercourse with another person with the belief that the dead husband or wife might have contracted some curses or unknown diseases to the bereaved and the sexual intercourse is done once to clean all the evils that remained on the bereaved husband or wife.

Absurd, these practices might look, but have value and give a sense of freedom to its custodians and practitioners. It is easy for someone to trash these as meaningless, yet they give personal happiness and freedom to the owners.

This, notwithstanding, the main argument remains that; the extent to which traditional cultural practices help spread HIV and Aids is exaggerated. There are many factors that cause high levels of HIV and Aids infections far more than traditional cultural practices, yet those factors remain areas of no concern. The great war remains on the African traditional cultural practices while on the other hand they encourage and propagate some sort of moral decay by campaigning for homosexual, bisexual or trans-gender rights.

The fight against HIV and Aids on African continent should adopt an African approach. Africans might show resistance to some campaigns that set to destroy their culture as they see very wide gaps in the HIV and Aids fight.

We accredit the white man for the good will to bail Africans from the HIV and Aids burden and as we remain appreciative for these efforts he should adopt new measures that do not threat the Black African most valued cultures like working out on alternatives that are tolerant to African cultures.

The alternatives might include encouraging people involved in chokolo or kulowakufa to go for an HIV test before any marriage. That might make sense to Africans.

Simon Makwinja, lecturer in African Philosophy at Chancellor College of the University of Malawi observed that people are quick at pointing at the evil of traditional cultural practices as responsible for spreading HIV and Aids but are unable to find quick alternatives to such blame.

Other African approaches to getting HIV and Aids to zero might include encouraging young girls at early stages, to go for traditional initiation ceremonies where they mature on issues of sexual morality. Through initiation ceremonies, young girls cultivate sexual moral values that make them fear any contact with men before marriage. In the past, this worked very much to instill moral values among girls in African societies and led to behavior change.

Young men might also be encouraged to go for initiation ceremonies where they be circumcised at tender ages. Recent research indicates that circumcision is about 60 percent effective to reduce the contraction of sexual related diseases like HIV and Aids among men. African governments should promote initiation ceremonies in their respective societies and encourage local chiefs to set circumcision as a precondition to initiation into ones culture.

The deconstruction of  culture is not effective in African societies as mostly, the arrangement of sexual related issues are conducted in secret and one can be deceived to have ended kulowakufa like practices, yet, on the ground the practices continues even with high levels. The African approach alternatives are hence realistic measures than the outright dismissal of the traditional practices.

African cultures have long roots and history with substructures and superstructures. It is very unfair and yet more, illogical, to root out African traditional cultural practices on the passing winds.   Aids might be curable at some point in future and hence it is a passing wind. If Africans sacrifices their culture to HIV and Aids they risk regretting if AIDS become no a major threat to human life.

The secret to getting HIV and Aids to zero in Africa lies in adapting to the African cultural environment and adopting new approaches that are African friendly.
*At Chancellor College philosophy Society, we meet every Thursday at 4 pm in room T.  There, we engage ousrselves in critical discussions, debates and analysis on issues of national importance. We do this as part of our responsibility to contribute to national development. We feel we have a duty to share the little knowledge we have as one way of paying back to the government the education it provides us. 

We also call different organisations and individuals to approach us on issues that need our critical thinking and scholary advice like homosexuality, democratic decays, mysterious deaths, culture and whatever you have.

You get us on: E-mail: [email protected] or call 0995421090.

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