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AFRO-NETS> Exclusion per capita income versus buying Windows 2000

Exclusion per capita income versus buying Windows 2000


This remark by the president of Botswana should make us feel ashamed 
in Europe:

<<It would be unjust to exclude countries such as my own on account 
of per capita income.>>

Yes indeed, last year (2000), I heard with stupefaction NGOs and 
European *state* agencies saying that Botswana is no longer a "devel-
oping country" and rich enough to afford to pay for consultancy, 
therefore these agencies were packing and going away.

A *state* European agency was ready to consult for Botswana on 
HIV/AIDS on the condition that Botswana would pay for it. I was baf-
fled to read this and I hope this European attitude has changed.

But I also heard a young businessperson of Botswana saying to me that 
he could not consider using Linux, because Botswana is benefiting 
from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

If the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides fund to Botswana, 
this is a wonderful thing. Let us rejoice! Let us dance a pata-pata 
dance for Bill and another for Melinda (perhaps also for the users 
who paid Microsoft licences and thus made this foundation possible).

If Coca-Cola provides free condoms, this is a great idea. But should 
all Botswana people stop drinking fresh water or other soft drinks, 
because they benefit from Coca-Cola?

It would make sense to spend state money to buy a PCR-equipment at 
the university of Botswana, instead of buying expensive laptops 
equipped with Windows-2000. The reason invoked by the Harvard AIDS 
Institute to exclude the university of Botswana from its research 
trials on the genotyping of the HIV virus sub-type 1C was the lack of 
a PCR equipment.

The space requested by the Harvard AIDS Institute at the Gaborone 
hospital (almost across the street from the campus) to build its 
"satellite overseas lab-unit" is de facto taking away vital space for 
beds and reducing capacity to accept patients.

It is entirely wrong from European *state* agencies to discriminate 
Botswana because of its success, i.e. its capita income.

It is equally wrong from the Harvard AIDS Institute (a research or-
ganisation partly funded by pharmaceuticals but also enlisted as a 
member of the "civil society" at the UN -- making it a quite ill-
defined institution) to exclude the university of Botswana from its 

By the same token, Botswana should not feel obliged to buy Microsoft 
products, because they benefit from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foun-

They should use Linux and employ the savings for AIDS-orphans for ex-
ample. Microsoft products are good for persons who want to have the 
extra luxury of a consistent "look and feel"; but in terms of 
*innovation* Linux is quite advanced, and it has all, sometimes even 
more than what Microsoft offers.

With second-hand computers, one can achieve a lot. I use a 133-MHz 
486-PC under Windows, but when I need to work on a programme involv-
ing complex computations then of course I tend to use Linux (in dou-
ble boot using the same old PC).

So I don't think that there isn't any valid technology argument to 
say that second-hand PCs and Linux would constitute a handicap for 
developing countries. On the contrary, a Linux user is a "better edu-
cated computer user".

The only upgrade, I would consider important, is a high-quality 
screen to avoid straining the eyes, and Linux does support all new 
hardware. If computation time would become a real issue, e.g. in 
medical image processing, then I would first consider parallel com-
puting using a network of old PCs before upgrading to a fast CPU, be-
cause parallel processing is a time and creativity investment that 
pays off even with faster CPUs. To my knowledge only Linux permits to 
consider such approach using a network of PCs. I don't want to say 
that Linux is better (it is a question of taste -- just like MacOS X 
is a quite nice and ergonomic Unix system, certainly one to consider 
in combination with Apache to open a web-site), but I do think that 
one can do a lot of savings by using Linux and second-hand PCs.

In the same line of thought, if Botswana does not pass a law similar 
to those of Kenya and South Africa allowing compulsory licensing and 
parallel imports of HIV/AIDS drugs, people around the world will con-
clude that this small country is under great private consultant pres-
sure not to do so. If it is a voluntary choice of Botswana not to re-
course to generic medicines, then a political debate with a vote 
would be more convincing.

I believe that Botswana has all the expertise to licence its own 
state university to produce small quantities of HIV/AIDS medicines 
under compulsory licensing. This would be a break-through: university 
based production & quality control of essential drugs.

Certainly Botswana has proposed some rather innovative solutions such 
as giving incentives to its people to adopt AIDS-orphans.

Christian Labadie

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