Roundtable: China Deals with Africa, AIDS in S. Africa, French Naps

Guests discuss China's business relationship with Africa, the jump in AIDS cases among South Africa's professionals; the Bush administration's plan to expand random drug testing in schools; France advocates napping in the workplace. Tony Cox is joined by Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture; economist and author Julianne Malveaux, president and CEO of Last Word Productions, Inc. and political consultant Walter Fields.

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TONY COX, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Tony Cox in for Farai Chideya.

On today's Roundtable, China's president is on his second tour of the African continent in a year's time. Just what are the ties that bind them? Random drug testing in schools, it's a limited program now, but the Bush administration's plans to expand the testing are running into a buzzsaw of opposition.

And where's the best place to take a nap? At work, of course, according to our friends in France. Joining us to talk about all of this are political consultant Walter Fields, economist and author Julianne Malveaux, who's president and CEO of Last Word Productions, Inc., and Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip-Hop Culture."

Hello, everybody.

Mr. WALTER FIELDS (Political Consultant): Hello.

Ms. JULIANNE MALVEAUX (Economist and Author): Hey.

COX: All right, topic number one - China and Africa. Chinese president, Hu Jintao, is visiting Africa for a second time in a year and the third time since he's been in office. His goal is to strengthen ties with the continent, which of course is rich in oil and commodity reserves and can provide, you know, desperately needed natural resources to help sustain China's ballooning economy.

Now Africa supplies one third of China's imported oil, and the president's first stop was Cameroon. And the tour is going to include stops in Liberia, Sudan, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique.

So Julianne, let me ask you this. China has already made economic overtures to certain African countries, offering what China calls strings-free financial aid in what can only be described as a jab of the American policies toward Africa. But doesn't China's interest go beyond the purely economic?

Ms. MALVEAUX: Oh, absolutely, but the economic under-girds this. As you know, China is one of the fastest growing economies in the world now. One in four consumers lives in China today, Tony, one in 10 Chinese households has an automobile. In 10 years it's projected that will be one in a - twice as many, which means in terms of the pressure to bring more oil to China, Africa becomes a market.

That has implications for the United States because, as you know, we ourselves have some challenges with our future oil supply. So some of this is about oil and economics, some of these is about global positioning. China positioning itself vis-à-vis the United States.

The United States in the past has attempted with China and with other countries to attach strings either to aid or to relationships, talking about various behavioral kinds of things, human rights kind of issues.

And so China in some ways I think is poking its nose back in the face of the United States. But then there's more. There is a whole issue of the export market in China - in Africa rather, whether or not Africa will be the market for some of these cheap Chinese goods that are being produced. And Thabo Mbeki has appropriately said, just a minute, we want to do some of our own manufacturing.

One might think that China is extending the global model that the United States has used because labor costs in the African continent - you do have manufacturing in Uganda, in some other places, but those labor costs are much lower than labor costs in China.

So they basically have caught the same globalization fever that many of the other G8 countries have caught, and they're exploiting it because they have the money. But let us not ever think that these dollars are sort of strings-free. One of the things that the People's Republic wants from African countries is recognition of them, as opposed to Taiwan.

And there are other implications of some of what they want until you literally see the imperialism, which basically define China's early relationship with Africa coming back. This is imperialism, pure and simple.

COX: Let me bring Walter Fields in here. What's your take on the global positioning issue, Walter?

Mr. FIELDS: Well, clearly, there's been a realignment of the world. And I think Chinese leadership is smart enough to understand that Africa is an immature market, number one, and it is immature in terms of its government structures. So there's a real opportunity to exploit both.

You know, one of the real dangers here is, because it's an immature market, you will get the effect that Julianne just mentioned, the flood of cheap imports into African nations because they don't have the ability to manufacture goods themselves.

And that will do more long-term harm to these African nations than short-term good. So I think the Chinese government is looking at the world, they're certainly looking at their position vis-à-vis the United States, and trying to figure out where they need to position themselves economically and politically.

Remember, our nation has a very tenuous relationship with most of Saharan-African nations. Even during apartheid, United States was on the wrong side. So I think China is looking at Africa saying there might be an opportunity to build some alliances here simply because the United States has dropped the ball in most of instances in terms of its relationship with the African continent.

COX: Well, Yvonne Bynoe, China has been urged to use its influence in Sudan to help end the genocide in Darfur, but so far without results. So whose side is China on? China's, I suppose.

Ms. YVONNE BYNOE: Oh, that's definitely the case; China is on China's side. Actually, China stymied U.S. efforts to levy sanctions on Sudan as it was sending supplies to help the ruling party supporters. So China is in effect looking to strengthen its own position. And particularly I'm not sure that their interests have much to do with the African masses' interests.

They've been involved with Zimbabwe, supporting Mugabe. He's certainly has not supported his people in a way that will help them to grow and to thrive and prosper. They even helped build him a mansion, a luxurious house. So I don't see where that's going to do much for the African people. China does need oil, which has been said before; they're the world's second largest importer at this point. And trade between Africa and China has certainly grown.

So again, I think that what the danger here, which has been said by Dr. Malveaux and Mr. Fields, is that, you know, China is out for China. And you certainly have leaders in countries who are not supporting the people, they are there by force. And I'm not sure that the Chinese are going to make any headway into helping the masses of African people to free themselves from these leaders. Actually, they might do more to keep these leaders in place because - if it serves their own economic situation.

COX: One more point, Julianne, I want to come to you before we move on to topic number two, and it has to do with this issue of exploitation. And speak for us for a moment, if you will, about how in your view China's exploitation, if I can use that word, of the African continent may or not differ from the rest of the international communities exploitation in Africa.

Ms. MALVEAUX: I think China is just a bit less apologetic about it. I think that we would couch some of what we're doing in terms of our own search for oil and raw materials, natural resources on the African continent. We've used very broad-sweeping terms, you know, trade not aid, millennium two. But we're really doing some of the same things. We just have better names for some of our programs.

China is very up front about what they're doing, and I think that other countries couch what they're doing with Africa in somewhat humanitarian terms. I mean, the real issue is that if we care about African development, we being people of African descent in the United States and in the diaspora, then we need to look at this Chinese move askance.

And we need to talk about what our country's might be doing to counter some of this, as well as what we might be doing to make sure that African economies - and there are only about six of them that are really viable - growth from, as Walter put it, immature to mature, or at least adolescent economies.

COX: All right. You're listening to NPR's NEWS & NOTES. I'm Tony Cox. And in case you are just tuning in, with me on today's Roundtable are political consultant Walter Fields, economists and author Julianne Malveaux, who is president and CEO of Last Word Productions Incorporated, and Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book, "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip-hop Culture." We've been talking about the relationship between China and Africa because of the visit of the Chinese president on the African continent for the second time in a year.

Let's move on to topic number two, still on the continent of Africa but a little farther south. South Africa's AIDS epidemic has been associated with the country's poor population, but a new study reveals that it's devastating the wealthy and best educated people there as well.

Now, the University of South Africa released a joint report with a polling firm showing an increase in HIV infections among professionals who are at the heart of that country's economic redevelopment. In fact, the study found a 34 percent jump in estimated HIV prevalence among the country's professionals.

So Yvonne, perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise since AIDS doesn't discriminate. We know that, but researches say possible factors behind the increase include confused government messages about AIDS, greater disposable income and leisure, general apathy about safe sex practices. So what is the meaning, do you think, of such a development, especially if the informed people are getting sick too?

Ms. BYNOE: What it means is that South Africa is in a dire crisis in terms of how it can build and grow in the coming years if its most educated population is coming, is falling by AIDS. There's less hope that they're going to have the human capital necessary to build a viable country.

I think all the things that you mentioned certainly do play into why AIDS has not been abated. There is still a stigma, regardless of what is going on in the West. There is still a stigma, particularly in South Africa, about AIDS.

People still don't want to even say that they have AIDS. Part of that has been the government's policy from the onset of kind of saying that what the Western medicines and research was not viable for South Africa. I think that the sex practice is still problematic in the sense that safe sex or monogamy or whatever have you, whatever means that would to some extent reduce incidences of AIDS are not being put forth.

Some of it is cultural. Some of them issues go beyond just a rote policy. You have to get into the heads and hearts of people and how they've been living for decades. So I think that at this point this development is crucial and South Africa as well as other countries and people who are interested in the forward movement of South Africa have to get involve with crafting something that's going to be usable for this country as they move forward.

COX: Well, Walter, does this come as a surprise to you at all?

Mr. FIELDS: No, not at all. I mean one of the early missteps of the Mbeki administration in South Africa was the misinformation that the president himself related to the masses regarding AIDS.

And it doesn't surprise me that you're seeing increased exposure up the income ladder. Because remember, you know, even though you make more money, that doesn't necessarily mean that you are more enlightened. And I think sometimes when you are in a better social position you also take greater risk.

So oftentimes we see individuals who make more money, who do very risky things. You know, in the United States we talk about drug use, but we always talk about sort of crack cocaine. But you know something? Up the income ladder, let's look at cocaine, you know, powdered cocaine.

So I - it doesn't surprise me that people are making more money and they are engaging in more risky behavior in a country where the misinformation has been sent out about the transmission of AIDS, and you still have some cultural overlay.

I think what's really important is that within the sub-Saharan African region, there are other countries, like Botswana, that have really worked hard to try to arrest the AIDS rate, and there are some answers to this.

So I think before we engage in sort of mass condemnation of what's going on in South Africa, we really have to take - and I spent a lot of time there, right after the fall of apartheid - and I think, you know, we really have to take a look at the challenges that South Africa faces as a nation.

And then I think you get a better understanding of why this sort of raises the antennae, because it is a problem, but it's a problem that is certainly solvable.

COX: I want to get to another topic before we leave. So Julianne, I'm going to ask - I'm going to beg off on this one for you and come to you with the next one.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, tell you what, let me just say one quick thing on this, if you don't mind, and that's just the April 2006 trial of former deputy president Zuma.

COX: Yes.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Just - let me just say that. And we don't have to even expound. I mean the man, you know, allegedly raped a woman who was HIV positive. He said, no, he didn't rape her. It was consensual. But he didn't use protection and he knew she was HIV positive. So it started about at the top, trickled down, say no more.

COX: Point well taken. Topic number three. Random school drug testing. Now, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy wants to expand random drug testing in public middle schools and high schools. It's already launching four regional summits promoting the controversial program, which is already in about 1,000 schools across the country and affects kids involved in extracurricular activities like sports. Now, some parents say it's a good deterrent; others like Marsha Rosenbaum of Safety First say no.

Ms. MARSHA ROSENBAUM (Director, Safety First): For one thing, real prevention of drug and alcohol problems is about quality drug education, after school programs and counseling. Schools, as we know today, are strapped financially and drug testing essentially drains essential resources that the school could be used to effectively prevent alcohol and other drug problems.

COX: So a good point or not a good point, Julianne?

Ms. MALVEAUX: Great point. Let's take it a step further. There have been several studies that show that schools that have drug testing and schools that do not have drug testing have no difference in the percentage of students who are using drugs.

So the testing costs money, doesn't do a lot, stigmatizes young people. This is more this Bush zero tolerance nonsense and it needs to stop. Our kids are not social experiments, they're children. If there are drugs in the schools and if young people are using drugs, then education is the first line of defense on that.

COX: We've got about two minutes left. If not this, Yvonne, then what?

Ms. BYNOE: Well, I think it has to be more education as to why you should not be taking drugs in the beginning, as Dr. Malveaux said. The studies don't show that these measures decreased drug used. What the students are doing, they're taking drugs that get out of your system quicker. They're moving to alcohol, which is not testable.

So if you want to abuse something, they're getting around the drugs, they're doing this binges after the drug tests have happened. So the education component really is where the money should be spent, not after the fact.

And also too, the whole idea that, you know, the testing alone is relevant, that depends on the school. Some school with the no-drug issue shouldn't have to waste resources on such testing. So I think it's a bit too much in this regard.

COX: We have about a minute left, and Walter, I'm going to drop this one really quick topic on you and let you have the last word on it, because I think it's really interesting. America and France don't see eye to eye on a lot of things. But lately the country there is launching a $9 million program to improve sleeping troubles, and the health minister says the best place to take a nap is at work. Now wake up, Walter.

Ms. BYNOE: Not at my office. That's all I have to say.

Mr. FIELDS: I am all for it.

COX: Come on now.

Mr. FIELDS: Whenever I get a chance to take a five or 10-minute siesta in the office, I do. You know, really, I mean, I think part it, the American culture is work, work, work, work, work, thinking that you can tax your body to that extent and still be productive. You know? And I think what you're beginning to see are people are napping out anyway. You know, people are napping on the train in the morning going to work. Or napping behind the wheels of their car, you know? So let's just make it official and say everybody should take a nap at least once during the day.

COX: Once during the day. I think people are learning how to take a nap with their eyes wide open.

Mr. FIELDS: I'm leaving here and I'm going back to the office and kicking my feet up.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Walter, it's alleged that you nap all the time.

Mr. FIELDS: Hey, alleged?

COX: In our New York bureau is political consultant Walter Field; and at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture"; along with economist and author Julianne Malveaux, who was wide awake and president and CEO of Last Word Productions, Inc.

Thank you, everybody. Don't forget to get your nap in.

Mr. FIELDS: Thanks a lot.

Ms. BYNOE: Thank you.

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