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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 9 | Oct. 7, 2004

Letters to the Editor


I was pleasantly surprised to open up the UBC homepage to find an article on AIDS in Africa on September 3rd 2004. As an ardent proponent of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, I was glad to finally see this topic placed on the forefront at a Canadian institution of higher learning. As an African student at UBC, I have learnt to expect very little in terms of representation in the UBC mainstream discourse. I was quite appalled to read further and watch stereotypes of my people replicated by an ill-informed and ill-researched article.

Not in a single sentence did the article seek to tap into the resource of Malawian students or indeed East or Southern African students at UBC.

Indeed, as always, the African experience was glossed over, ignored and unacknowledged by the writer whose focus was on so called expert Western sources.

As a ‘world class’ institution of higher learning it is indeed disappointing to watch UBC replicate the power dynamics that have plagued the politics of the North and the South. It is time that Westerners ceased to speak for Africans, for we are capable of and interested in speaking for ourselves. As the President of Students Against Global AIDS, my goal is to teach about the complexities and the multifaceted nature of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. I derive my knowledge from a lifetime of experience, not a six-week summer project. It is out of the same frustration that has led me to respond to this article, that I placed a proposal to teach a student directed seminar on the politics of HIV/AIDS in Africa. I could easily share a number of pictures from the rural areas in my home country. But without an understanding of the rich African culture and the complexities of post- and neo-colonialism it would be too arrogant for me to purport to speak for the continent through a handful of digital experiences. As VP Academic within the AMS, I look forward to recognizing the World AIDS Day on December 1st 2004, a world-wide celebrated event that has in the past received little or no attention at UBC.

I have no problem with Canadian students including a component of International Studies in their educational experience. If anything, I believe that this international perspective is critical in shaping ‘exceptional global citizens’. However, I do have a problem with these experiences speaking for and being held more highly in regard than the lived experiences of those in and from Developing countries. We do not seek western pity, instead we seek respect. For without this respect, the west continues to violate the freedoms and rights of those in developing countries.

The two dominant images of Africa are wild animals and safaris and poverty and strife. And while we do not disagree that these two images are present in Africa, there is a lot more to the continent. What this article should have and could have acknowledged was the successes that have been achieved in Uganda and Senegal where the HIV/AIDS statistics have actually reduced. In Uganda, the prevalence rates have reduced from 14% to 8%. The article could have acknowledged that part of the reason why there is such limited access to treatment is because the rich pharmaceutical companies of the west would rather make astronomical profits than save millions of lives. The article could have presented a more balanced picture of the AIDS crisis in Africa. But the article was not interested in doing so. The moral finger-pointing on Africans for not accepting western remedies such as condoms without recognizing the sexual politics of southern Africa and the fact that a condom may be meaningless in a situation where one sometimes has little freedom to exercise the choice to have sex or not presents a simplistic and poor analysis of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa.

It is time that Africa was represented for what it is. Moreover, it is time that Africans were empowered to speak for themselves. In the 21st century, with technology at its peak, we need not rely on others to tell our story. We are capable of telling it ourselves.

Brenda Adhiambo Ogembo
VP Academic and University Affairs, Alma Mater Society
President, Students Against Global AIDS

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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