Africa Update: Libya, Nigeria, Kenya

For the latest news from the continent, NPR Africa Correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton offers an update on Libya reacting to the release of several foreign medics who allegedly infected more than 400 children with HIV/AIDS; the continuing court battle between Nigeria and New York-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer; France's new policy in Africa; and Kenya's version of The Simpsons.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

It's time for Africa Update. Today, a court battle between Nigeria and New York-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, France's new policy in Africa and "The Simpsons" Kenyan style.

First, NPR Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has the latest on the release of several foreign medics in Libya. They were convicted of allegedly infecting more than 400 children with HIV/AIDS.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: The five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian-born doctors, who is now a Bulgarian citizen, were alleged way back in 1999 of having infected 400 children - more than 400 children at the Benghazi Hospital in Libya with HIV/AIDS. Now, they have denied the charges all along. But they've been to court twice so far. They've had two trials. And the last time around, they were convicted again to the death penalty. But at the last minute, Libya's highest judicial body decided to commute that. And then after even more negotiations and last minute talks from the European Union and the French president's wife, the first lady of France, Cecilia Sarkozy, a whole lot of them were allowed out of jail very hurriedly in the middle of the night and back to Bulgaria. Now, Libya's foreign minister, Abdel-Rahman Shalqam, says what Libya's - he feels Libya has got out of this decision. Have a listen.

Mr. ABDEL-RAHMAN SHALQAM (Foreign Minister, Libya): While waiting for full partnership to the European Union (unintelligible) and our partners and the wisdom both of Libya and Sahara that will help us to protect our partners from illegal immigration and also scholarships for our students and cooperation and rehabilitation of the hospital of Benghazi.

QUIST-ARCTON: Now, Benghazi Hospital is, of course, the one where the children were allegedly infected. But this is not the end of the story, because since Libya released the six foreign medics, Farai, now many people in Libya, including the children's families, are saying that it shouldn't have happened because as soon as the five nurses and the doctor hit Bulgarian soil, the president of Bulgaria pardoned them, which meant they were allowed to go free. The Libyans are now saying that's absolutely wrong. They should have served out some sort of prison sentences in Bulgaria while going through the judicial process if they were going to be pardoned by the Bulgarians.

CHIDEYA: I want to move to a long running story that hasn't ended yet. Nigeria suing Pfizer, the New York drug giant for $7 billion. What's going on there?

QUIST-ARCTON: In a way, it's a similar, sort of, story. It's an African country again accusing foreign nationals of having caused the death and in this case, the disability of Nigerian children. This story also goes back to a decade ago when Pfizer apparently was trying out a new drug called Trovan, an antibiotic. And it was used during an outbreak of meningitis in northern Nigeria in the state of Kano.

Now both the state government in Kano and the federal government in Nigeria are suing Pfizer because they say it was an illegal trial, that Pfizer did not have the proper authority to try out this drug, and they're blaming Pfizer for having caused the deaths of a number Nigerian children and the disability of others. Pfizer has denied all wrongdoing. But that's not the end of the story because it's still continuing. Although the courts in Nigeria have decided that they are going to delay the trial until October.

And, Farai, just a last point, apparently, the U.S. FDA gave the green light for adult use of Trovan, this Pfizer drug, back in 1997. But the drug was not approved for use by children.

CHIDEYA: So, as you mentioned, you have this relationship between Senegal and France that goes back for centuries. And there is a French president. We just referenced his wife in relationship to the issue of the Bulgarians in Libya. What's the mood between Paris and Dakar?

QUIST-ARCTON: Hah, it really depends who you are. The Senegalese are actually feeling quite offended by President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit because he gave his speech to the youth at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar last Thursday. And it was in a way a lyrical speech, in a way a bit of a mystical speech. Many Senegalese say a very insulting speech.

He touched on slavery. He touched on colonialism. He said he wasn't coming to teach the Senegalese and the African youth any lessons. But they say that he then proceeded to pontificate and to lecture them for 50 minutes - preaching and telling them what to do. Have a listen to these young Senegalese and their reaction to French-African relations.

Unidentified Man #1: As usual, French presidents, you know, are here for themselves. I think that we have to reconsider our cooperation with France. The policy and the system that prevailed previously, we have the same - which doesn't profit to us.

Unidentified Man #2: His policy is not good because Senegalese population - the younger generation need to go abroad. But Sarkozy now is against this. And it's not normal.

Unidentified Man #3: Okay, our relationship between Senegal and France. They can be helpful towards us.

CHIDEYA: And the President Sarkozy visited Libya, Senegal and Gibbon. What did he have to say there?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, everybody was expecting him to come out with a sort of policy statement on French-African relations. And when he was a presidential candidate before he actually won the elections in France, Nicolas Sarkozy had said he wanted to - well, everybody in Africa is interpreting it as cherry picking from Africa's educated elite.

He said wanted selective immigration. And everybody understands that to mean that he doesn't want people who are going to sweep the streets of Paris and you have Malians, Senegalese, Guineans, all sorts of Franco and Africans working in France - and they have been doing for years. But he wanted only to have Africans who are highly educated.

But all the people say, but that's just going to exacerbate the brain drain from Africa. And that President Sarkozy just wanted the best and wanted to leave those who were looking for a better future for themselves and their family is completely out of the equation. So I don't think he left this continent very much more popular than he arrived here. And he probably lost, I would say, a few friends, definitely.

CHIDEYA: And now we have something entirely different.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Simpsons Movie")

Unidentified Man #3 (Voice Talent): (As unidentified character) When disaster threatens our world.

Ms. JULIE KAVNER (Voice Talent): (As Marge Simpson) They're going to destroy Springfield.

Ms. YEARDLEY SMITH (Voice Talent): (As Lisa Simpson) Dad, do something.

Mr. DAN CASTELLANETA (Voice Talent): (As Homer Simpson) This book doesn't have any answers.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, you've guessed. That's a clip from the new full-length " The Simpsons Movie." Well, America's well-loved animated characters have shown up at a rather unlikely location in western Kenya. Ofeibea, what's the story with that?

QUIST-ARCTON: Yes, Farai. "The Simpsons" have apparently surfaced in the small Kenyan village of Tabaka. And it's the Tabaka classic carvers who are carving soapstone characters. "The Simpsons" in soapstone. And they're being exported all over to the U.S., to Italy, to Britain, we're told. And yet most of these carvers have never even watched "The Simpsons" on television, let alone the movie that's due out. Listen to Daniel Oikumugundei(ph). He's the chief carver and he describes how the work started.

Mr. DANIEL OIKUMUGUNDEI (Chief Carver, Tabaka, Kenya): I made a full Homer Simpson, which was very heavy. I've seen it once in television. I carved Maggie, Simpson head, son, Bart, Homer, Otto and the Chief Wiggum.

QUIST-ARCTON: I'll tell you what, they look gorgeous. I'm not as familiar with "The Simpsons" as you are, but these carvers say they have become so familiar with the characters that they can almost carve them out of this beautiful soapstone with their eyes closed.

Farai, what is actually most important is that from before when they were getting about a dollar a piece for their carvings, they're now getting six dollars a piece for each Simpson character that they carve. So the Tabaka classic carvers in their Kisii soapstone are beginning to earn a better living because of "The Simpsons." That's got to be a good story surely.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely. Globalization gone wild. Well, Ofeibea, thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

CHIDEYA: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is the NPR correspondent in West Africa. She joined us from her base in Senegal.

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