Saturday, March 10, 2007

Der Spiegel: "African Despot 'Cures' AIDS"

Iran beat him to it:
It's hard to make a name for yourself as a tyrant in Africa; the standards are pretty high. Jean Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic, believing himself to be the thirteenth apostle, had himself crowned emperor and is said to have enjoyed the occasional meal of human flesh. In Congo, the kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seko built an airstrip for his chartered Concorde jets in the middle of the rain forest. Now, the president of the West African state of Gambia is doing his best to add his name to the list.

Yahya Jammeh, 41 years old, has been the president of bitterly poor Gambia since seizing power in a putsch in 1994. In the three so-called elections since then, he has not relinquished his seat. Among his achievements to date have been giving Gambia's 1.6 million citizens an impressive triumphal arch -- just like Napoleon gave the French -- as well as founding Gambia's first and only university.

Now he has gone a step further. A few weeks ago, Jammeh summoned his followers and a few ambassadors, dignitaries and TV reporters to announce in a garbled address that, having made some fantastic discoveries, he is now capable of curing AIDS (as well as asthma). The president admitted to his astonished audience that the therapies still had a few limitations -- he could only cure AIDS on Thursdays. Asthma, on the other hand, could be treated only on Fridays and Saturdays.

An estimated 20,000 Gambians -- about 1.2 percent of the population -- are infected with HIV. Jammeh claims to have successfully treated nine of them in January, and 27 more in February. He takes equal pride in the 500 asthma victims that he's cured. And he promises to take action soon to eliminate other diseases, since he claims to have a "mandate" -- apparently from none other than God himself.

International aid organizations are horrified to find that thousands of infected Gambians are hoping to be treated by the president. Jammeh says he'll heal anyone, young or old. He won't take payment, but he does make one stipulation: those who are taking anti-viral medication must stop doing so immediately. Two respected HIV/AIDS experts promptly handed in their resignation in protest.

Dressed in white from head to toe, the head of state stands before his patients, mumbling prayers and waving the Koran. Then Jammeh rubs green glop on their skin, sprinkles them with gray liquid from an old Evian bottle and gives them something yellow to drink. Bananas -- administered orally -- round off the treatment. After repeating the procedure for several weeks, he proclaims the patients healed. All of them. Without exception. [...]
The rest is worth reading.

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