How to be free: bad medicine

Bono may be cheerleading for its charitable wing, but corporate America is not waging a war on AIDS for the sake of its health, says Tom Hodgkinson

What do the Global War on Terror, the war in Iraq and the war on AIDS, TB and malaria have in common? The answer is that all three were started by George Bush.

We all know about the war in Iraq, but less perhaps is known about the US-declared war on AIDS. This war is administered by a group of 400 or so highly-paid bureaucrats working in tax-free Geneva. Its full title is ‘The Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria’, its sub-heading line is ‘Investing in Our Future’ and each year it distributes something like $2 billion of grants to ‘support aggressive interventions’ against these diseases. The money goes all across Africa and to South America, Egypt, and Korea.

It is to the Global Fund that all the money made by Bono’s Red scheme goes. His recent auction in New York raised $70 million, though that is a drop in the ocean compared to the money put in by governments around the world. Of the Global Fund’s $2.5 billion 2006 income, two billion came from governments and the rest from the private sector.

As William Morris wrote in the 1890s, all wars are about new markets – and that includes the US war on disease. Look at the maps on the Global Fund website and you’ll see areas where the US would like to get a foothold, both to gain access to the natural resources and to create new markets.

How is the money spent? Well, $2 million goes to fund eight or nine top managers. The Global Fund’s annual operating fees for 2006 were in the region of $85 million, and most of its salaries are paid for by the World Health Organization. It goes without saying that this money received by local groups comes with strings attached. A hell of a lot will go straight back to GlaxoSmithKline, manufacturers of the antiretroviral drugs used to treat AIDS, and which many commentators consider not only toxic, but also deadly. In other words, huge chunks of the money goes straight back into the US economy via tax-free salaries and drugs from American-owned pharmaceutical giants.

It’s a typical US strategy: identify an enemy, move in with piles of cash and an aggressive intervention, hook the locals on American products such as AZT or whatever then sit back and watch the share price rise. Quite strange that Irish pop stars should be contributing money to a George Bush war chest. Bono’s mate Geldof accompanied Bush on part of his recent trip to Africa, during which Bush remarked: ‘Africa in the 21st century is a continent of potential.’ Potential for whom?

Why is all this relevant? Because it shows the fine line between philanthropy and exploitation. It also demonstrates the never-ending need for the US to expand its commercial territories, whether by war, by aid or by business. It’s an episode in the American journey towards world domination.

Some see the American cause as a noble one. Through capitalism, the Puritan apostles probably do genuinely want to bring freedom, women’s liberation and comfort to all. They genuinely do believe in a Brave New World, where disease has been more or less wiped out and we all exist as happy consumers. They probably are well motivated. What do I know? Maybe Bush will save the world.

But the US’s interest in Africa looks to me like a case of white man as saviour. It’s a missionary programme; a plan of Americanisation, just as Britain’s missionary programme of the 19th century went hand-in-hand with its imperial ambitions. Money comes with ideological conditions, and ideology itself is totalitarian. An example is that, according to some Africans, the new white missionaries are telling young people to be chaste in order to avoid getting ill. You just need to look at American language to get the vibe; it’s half-militaristic, half-business: ‘investing’, ‘aggressive intervention’, ‘war’, with overtones of moral superiority.

Whichever way you look at the US’s global programmes, it’s important to realise that Bono/Geldof are now active fundraisers for its activities, passing the hat for the most powerful government in the world. Anyone interested in ecology, diversity and true freedom should disengage at once, and remember that charity begins at home.

Tom Hodgkinson is the Editor of The Idler and author of the book How to be Free (Hamish Hamilton, £14.99)

This article first appeared in the Ecologist May 2008

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