Ooooh. The two Zimbabwean reporters at the journalist to journalist training undertaken by the US-based National Press Foundation didn't respond at all well to the interesting discussion today with Ethiopian Dr Debrework Zewdie, who directs the Global HIV/AIDS Programme for the World Bank.
Dr Zewdie was responding to queries about why the World Bank's AIDS programme wasn't involved in specific countries with significant AIDS epidemics, including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Myanmar.
Queries came from Robert Mukondiwa of the Zimbabwean government-owned Harare newspaper The Sunday Mail, Tamar Kahn of the Cape Town bureau of South Africa's Business Day newspaper and by Khin Zaw Win, an author and freelance journalist from Myanmar (formerly Burma).
"You can isolate a country. You can't isolate a disease," said Khin Zaw Win, who as a democracy activist who spent over a decade in jail, made it clear that he was not speaking on behalf of the military junta currently controlling the country.
"Myanmar is on our radar screen"," Dr Zewdie responded, noting that the bank worked through partners and non-governmental organisations in cases where it could not work with whoever controlled the nation.
Regarding South Africa, Dr Zewdie called it "embarassing" that the World Bank wasn't involved in a country where one in three adults had HIV/AIDS but noted that the African National Congress government had rejected their offers. Nonetheless, the World Bank was involved through partners such as the Global Fund and the USA government's PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) plan. She also praised the South African government's new evidence-based strategic plan, but said the next step would be to ensure that there were resources to implement the plan.
And the third country?
"Zimbabwe is in arrears. It did not repay money it had taken from the bank," Dr Zewdie explained at the session, which was an introduction to a plenary debate which will happen next week at the International AIDS Society's fourth conference here in Sydney, Australia. "At the end of the day, the bank is a bank."
But Mugove Hamadziripi, who chairs the society of freelance journalists in Zimbabwe, a country with the interesting habit of requiring reporters and newspapers to support the ZANU-PF government of leader-for-life Robert Mugabe through legislation and registration, disagreed strongly.
The thing is, Hamad refused to ask her the question. He sat there silently during the question and answer session. Afterwards, he just limped around the room (he's still recovering from a car accident) and confidently told other journalists that she was not telling the truth. "Zambia and Mozambique didn't pay their debts and they still get World Bank funding," he whined. Or maybe he muttered. Or said.
Interesting. So he was asked to raise the issue with Dr Zewdie, who was fielding more questions from a wide variety of interested journalists. And he refused, saying there was no point. Legitimate gripe? Or character assassination? You be the judge.