Wednesday, February 8

'A' Constant Gardener

To Yvette Pierpaoli and all the aid workers who lived and died giving a damn.

Not even the mesmerizing music of the movie could hide the dark tragedy that’s been eating away Africa. This would not be the first movie in recent times depicting Africa as the dumping ground of all things evil, or in the case of The Constant Gardener, the testing ground for medicines. (Lord of war showed illicit arms dealings in Africa). Based on the novel by John Le Carré (David Cornwell), TCG depicts a love story in the milieu of illegal pharmaceutical testing in Africa. The movie was shot in Kenya among other places. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz are magnificent in their roles, with Fiennes slipping in masterfully playing the diplomat husband of Weisz. Something about British actors who never seem to fail on the silver screen. Weisz through some turn of events get into investigating the backroom deals of pharma’s in Africa. She gets killed and it’s Fiennes who traces the rest of the story. The screenplay is absolutely fresh and amazing and the cinematopgraphy is beautifully swift. Find out more about the movie at the official site;[TCG]

The world is a sick place. How do we explain Africa? The basic idea of the movie is this; the following are based on my own theory but basically tells the story of TCG. We have this one hypothetical pharmaceutical company called Orion Pharma which employs about 10,000 employees worldwide or so. Every one of them needs to be supported, amounting to a huge amount of salary every year. We have sick people all around the world. We have pandemics killing millions yearly. In the movie, the ‘future’ pandemic is TB. Testing drugs in develop or developing countries means regulations and years wasted without profit. So take the medicine to Africa and test it there. Africans are poor; they can’t pay for the medicine. In the pretext of giving it free to them, the drugs are tested on the unsuspecting victims clearly represented as sponsored by the Pharma and specially masked as an AIDS drug (while throwing in a free TB test). You test once to find the other disease and the drug is actually meant to be a TB drug. And yes, along with the Pharma workers, throw in arms dealers, Mafiosi styled gangs and a few innocent diplomats, aid workers and local doctors. Test the drugs. Burry the dead in unmarked mass graves, a job done by the local gangs. Finally get the working drug formula after a few tries, patent it, and sell it to the developing world and rich countries for huge amounts of money. The company execs get rich, the local governments get their bribe and the thousands of employees get their salary. That’s how the world works. What happens to the Africans? Who cares? Disposable drugs for disposable people (a line from the movie).

With biotech and medicine becoming more important in the wake of emerging pandemics such as the bird flu, the pharmaceutical field is a hot bed for scientist and industrialists alike. Normally drugs or medicines take no less than four years to enter the market, but of course in serious cases such as the bird flu, the clinical trials took around 6 months to a year. Even then, Tamiflu the destined drug for bird flu is showing signs of weakness in certain cases. While countries are becoming more aware of the fact that any widespread pandemic will badly cripple the world economy, in the case of TCG, an outbreak of TB would paralyze the world market in a short few years. The race to create new drugs takes years and millions if not billions of dollars to be spent on research. Top it up with different licensing regimes in different regions; we have a complex market but not so complex global players. As usual the giants of the industry will want to rake in profits to support its huge operations while maintaining its spotless image. But in the world of medicines there is no spotless image, and one wrong move will cause billions of market capitalization to vanish in seconds in the stock markets. To steer away from any unwanted happenings, drugs are tested in obscure countries, regions namely Africa and to some extent Asia. And if that’s not enough, research publications are withheld and often distorted to minimize the evidence of side effects popping up. By the time people starts dropping on the streets dying, the company would have in its coffers enough money to bail out its CEO’s and paid enough insurance to cover the future lawsuits. That leaves Africa as dead as anyone can imagine. Where is the silver lining in this? Actually the big pharma’s do build clinics and schools and for all its worth, what’s a few thousand African lives compared to millions of dynamic citizens of the rest of the world. 95% of the world economy, industry and research are safely situated outside of Africa. We are safe, high and dry and could thank our African cousins for sacrificing themselves for us.

There is another part to this story. No civilization can remain stupid forever. All civilizations around the world had its own timeline to develop culture and intelligence. The pharma’s must not let that happen in Africa. So comes in arms dealers and oil prospectors. You see, there are a few countries with huge oil deposits in Africa. If they manage to get the oil out and as fast as possible drain the natural resources of the countries concerned, the people will remain poor and uneducated. And to make them more cooperative, supply arms to local gangs and warlords so that manpower would come easily to them. It’s also a tested way to silence those who speak out, the occasional lost social activist and generally blind the UN into thinking the whole scenario is an internal conflict. It doesn’t stop there does it? Africa is also full of diamonds and other resources. Mine them too and to cover the whole operation install a few democratic government in strategic corners of the continent so that the refugees have places to run (and later bring in aid agencies sponsored by the oil industry and big pharma’s). And also to let the tired company execs go on safaris and desert holidays. Surely a roasted lamb meal in the middle of the desert under the clear skies scattered with stars as beautiful as conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone is a holiday not to be missed. And to maintain the momentum, just move around this huge puzzle a few times in a year so that the world is alert that Africa needs help and we all can go to giant concerts to sing songs to dead African children.

Who said all problems have solutions? They might have, but if we just maneuver the problems in certain ways for a certain amount of time, everything will remain as they are as long as we want it to be. No solution. As for Africa, the future has no more stories to tell about this great land we all came from, only the occasional Blogger with a sudden spark of thinking, devising a way to let the readers ponder the situation for a couple of hours. And all along the time, tell them what a fine movie it is. It is.

For walking are the feet for,
and for talking is the mouth for,
and the brain, is not to be restrained anymore…

Ghost Tags:


still_figuring_out said...

i do not mean any insult, but sometime back, someone told me this;

"no karma? of course there is. otherwise why do we have Africa?"

we spend billions on a war, but not on children dying every day from hunger.

karthik m said...

as you say africa will have its day... along with worrying for them... let us encourage the works like 'The Constant Gardener'... changes wont be over night... slight changes in our hearts due to these sort of works will burst out collectively ... one day, exposing the justice... globally!


it rains around the world sleep welcomes the dream, and  enigmatic souls awaken along the eternal shores of destiny