Mother Jones Daily: Briefing

Kenya’s New Moment
An AIDS Advance?

Kenya’s New Moment

Kenya made African history this weekend by unseating its long-ruling establishment through democratic elections. The prognosis is a hopeful but uneasy one. Uhuru Kenyatta, the figurehead for Daniel arap Moi and the Kenya African National Union (KANU) — in power since independence in 1963 — has been defeated by Mwai Kibaki’s National Rainbow Coalition (NARC).

Pleased by the result, the BBC‘s David Bamford offers that:

“The people of Kenya are showing themselves to be the instrument of a historic and rare transition in Africa — the democratic removal of a hitherto-dominant political party, and its replacement with an untested alternative.”

Still, Bamford warns Kenyans to “remain wary for a while yet,” as opposition parties often “adopt the negative tendencies of their predecessors.”

With great expectations for the new regime, the editorial board of the Globe and Mail recounts the once-shining nation’s demise under the enduring leadership of Moi: corruption, poverty, endemic rates of HIV, tribal divisions, violence, and an unemployment rate as high as 50 percent.

NARC, say the editors, is “essentially a new party composed of old politicians.”

“Some are long-time dissidents who have worked to clean up Kenyan corruption for years. Others left KANU just a few weeks ago, acting expediently as they sought to anticipate the electorate’s decision. The party is led by a political veteran, 71-year old Mwai Kibaki, who spent a decade as Mr. Moi’s vice-president. He broke with him and founded an opposition party in 1991, running twice and losing against Mr. Moi.”

Strongly approving of the direction “10,000,000 change-starved” Kenyan voters have taken, the editors of the East African Standard gush with hope:

“The people have spoken unequivocally, and the avalanche of votes for the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) and its top package is decidedly a vote for change that is outstanding in its clarity and resolve.”

Despite the “mix-ups, slip-ups and chaos” of the election itself, the final outcome was not compromised, suggests the Standard. However,

“On our part, we will always reserve the right to audit the party’s pledges and delivery of the goodies of good governance to the Kenyan people as documented and on schedule.

When they slip, or seem to veer off the rail, they will always be reminded and judged against the mannerisms of the ancien regime.

The people have spoken. Now, Kibaki & Co must deliver.”

An AIDS Advance?

Hope may be on the horizon for AIDS sufferers.

For the first time in history, an AIDS vaccine has made it through the final phase of clinical trials, and results are due out early in 2003, Steve Connor reports in The Independent. While scientists are hopeful that the five-year study — carried out in North America and Europe — will lead to breakthroughs in treatment, Connor notes that great hurdles remain ahead, in particular the crafting of a vaccine that works on all of the disease’s different strains.

“But even if the Vaxgen trials prove a success, there still remains the question of whether the vaccine will be effective against the whole, broad range of HIV subtypes and strains in existence around the world. Dr Francis said: ‘That’s the biggest issue we’ll be facing. We don’t really understand the immunity to subtypes and that’s the biggest risk to the trial.'”

While the just-completed trial will mainly benefit AIDS patients in the West, another group of researchers announced that a vaccine targeted specifically at the South African strain of the HIV virus will begin human trials in 2003, Kristen Philipkoski reports in Wired. The new drug has already proven effective in monkeys, and will be tested on subjects in South Africa — where one-third of the population is HIV-positive — and the US. Moreover, according to researchers, the technology used to develop this vaccine could be used for other diseases like Ebola, smallpox and cancer:

“Basically we can drop just about any gene that you think would interact well with the immune system into it and you’d have vaccine,” Young said.

The news for AIDS advocates is not all good, however. Last week, the Bush administration shot down a trade deal that would have relaxed global patent rules on drug treatments and made it easier for generic drug makers to sell AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria drugs to poor countries crippled by these epidemics. Disgusted, the editors of the London Guardian called the US maneuver a “cold-hearted piece of realpolitik”:

“Forget the honey-coated pledges of support for development and warm declarations that global prosperity must be shared … The richest nation on the earth backed the arguments of the drug lobby over the cries of the weak and wasted. In doing so the US has emptied the current round of trade talks of a meaningful and substantial proof that globalisation could help the poor.”


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