I always thought it was a bit sad, even disgusting, that the Indianapolis Museum of Art took money from Randall Tobias. I was recently reminded why I had these feelings.
Good Fortune is a provocative exploration of how massive international efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa may be undermining the very communities they aim to benefit. In Kenya’s rural countryside, Jackson’s farm is being flooded by an American investor who hopes to alleviate poverty by creating a multimillion-dollar rice farm. Across the country in Nairobi, Silva’s home and business in Africa’s largest shantytown are being demolished as part of a U.N. slum-upgrading project. The gripping stories of two Kenyans battling to save their homes from large-scale development present a unique opportunity see foreign aid through eyes of the people it is intended to help.
But screening it in a theater funded by Randall Tobias? For those of us who havent completely forgotten or forgiven the George W. Bush years, Tobias was appointed to be President Bush’s AIDS czar in 2003. His tenure was a disaster for both Africa and in the global fight against AIDS. He resigned in 2007 after he was linked to a “fantasy escort service.” Here is his record:
His ignominious tenure as AIDS ambassador was marked by a preference for pricey brand-name HIV drugs over cheap generics, which sharply reduced the number of people who could be treated. Ironically, given his regular “massages” from call girls, when we can surmise he ignored the abstinence-only instruction to “keep all of your clothes all the way on all of the time,” Tobias was also an avid defender of the President’s puritanical approach to HIV prevention.
Tobias was the hatchet man who forced every US grant recipient to publicly condemn prostitution–even struggling outfits doing the sensitive work of persuading destitute sex workers to use condoms. A forthcoming study from the Center for Health and Gender Equity of five Asian countries where commercial sex is driving the AIDS epidemic found that the policy has resulted in the closure of drop-in centers for street prostitutes and a scaling back of other successful prevention efforts.
It was Tom DeLay’s ethically challenged Congress that slapped the global AIDS initiative with a one-third abstinence earmark on prevention. Tobias promoted this approach so zealously that in some countries, like Nigeria, nearly 70 percent of all US dollars granted to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV were channeled toward abstinence.
Tobias might be a national disgrace, but back home in Indiana, I guess, you can always buy back your reputation. To me, the Toby is not just philanthropy but also a sophisticated use of hush money.
If us Hoosiers want to help Africa, lets learn the lessons from Good Fortune but also realize how culpable we are by whitewashing the history and deadly sins of people like Tobias.