UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 9 | Oct.
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
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
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
Brenda Adhiambo Ogembo
VP Academic and University Affairs, Alma Mater Society
President, Students Against Global AIDS