- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2001

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell expects to focus attention on the AIDS epidemic sweeping Africa and civil wars in Congo, Sudan and Sierra Leone when he sets out on his first official trip to the continent tomorrow.
The eight-day trip will begin in Mali, where Mr. Powell will discuss with West African leaders a long and vicious civil war that is spreading from Sierra Leone into Guinea and Liberia.
He then flies to South Africa to see firsthand the ravages of AIDS, and to Kenya and Uganda, where he will tackle the civil wars in Sudan and Congo as well as offer support for democracy.
Mr. Powell also will voice U.S. concern over the authoritarian drift in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe has encouraged murderous attacks on white farmers and backers of his political opposition. More recently, attacks have been aimed at white-owned industrial enterprises.
Mr. Powell, whose parents were born in Jamaica but who was raised in the Bronx, has said he sees the tour as more than simply a trouble-shooting trip aimed at addressing U.S. policy concerns.
"I have a personal interest because I am an African-American," Mr. Powell told New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis in an interview published Saturday. "But beyond that, perhaps the greatest disaster on earth is unfolding in Africa: AIDS. So it seemed to me that I should go to Africa early on."
President Bush last week announced a $200 million U.S. contribution toward a global AIDS fund. He and Mr. Powell indicated this would be a down payment toward the $7 billion to $10 billion from international sources that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan estimated is needed to halt the spread of AIDS.
"The objective [of Mr. Powells trip] is primarily to illustrate the engagement of the secretary and the Bush administration in Africa and Africa policy," said Nancy Powell, acting assistant secretary of state for Africa and no relation to the secretary of state.
In a briefing for reporters at the State Department Friday, she noted that Mr. Powell already had met in Washington with the presidents of Congo, Nigeria and Rwanda. "He will assess some of the changes in Africa, both positive and negative," she said.
Mr. Powell also will hear requests for access to U.S. markets by African countries and firms, especially under a recent U.S. law aimed at boosting U.S. trade with Africa.
A senior administration official, speaking Friday about the trip on the condition of anonymity, said the administration is "very concerned about Zimbabwe, [where] the rule of law is breaking down."
"Two American companies were harassed [Thursday] in Zimbabwe — we will review this with [South African President Thabo] Mbeki," said the official.
While democracy appeared to be threatened in Zimbabwe, Mr. Powells stop in the arid former French colony of Mali, perched on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, was aimed at showing support for a country that has "a good record of elections, with a new election coming up, and 73 opposition parties," said the official.
Mr. Powell also will observe Malis efforts to stop AIDS, including joint projects with the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Infection rates from the HIV virus that causes AIDS are around 4 percent to 5 percent in Mali, and "it could go either way," said the official.
In South Africa, which has the largest number of AIDS victims in the world, Mr. Powell faces several complex issues.
Africans have been slow to acknowledge a link between sexual activity and the epidemic, and Mr. Mbeki once questioned whether HIV caused AIDS, a view he has since recanted.
Then 29 major pharmaceutical firms sued South Africa for trying to import generic copies of costly anti-AIDS drugs. The drugs are sold in the West for $10,000 to $15,000 per person per year, far outstripping the resources of a country where most people earn less than $1,000 a year.
The drug firms have dropped the lawsuit in the face of negative international publicity, but concern remains that without the creation of a huge and strict health system to administer the complex cocktails of drugs, people will take incomplete doses and allow new forms of drug-resistant AIDS to develop.
Mr. Powell also will review trials of new AIDS vaccines in Uganda and Kenya, where U.S. scientists are involved.
Along with AIDS, the secretarys agenda focuses heavily on the regions civil wars.
In Kenya, he will meet with humanitarian groups assisting victims of the war in southern Sudan, where mainly Christian and animist blacks have been resisting attacks by the government, which is based in the mainly Muslim and Arab north.
In Mali, he meets President Alpha Oumar Conare, head of the Economic Organization of West African States, which is running a peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone.
In Uganda, Mr. Powell meets with President Yoweri Museveni to discuss efforts to withdraw Ugandan and other foreign troops from Congo and end a civil war that has taken more than 2 million lives in recent years, according to some estimates.
From Uganda, Mr. Powell flies to Budapest on May 28 for two days of meetings with ministers of the North Atlantic Council, which will take up the risk of an ethnic war in Macedonia as well as moves to enlarge NATO.
Mr. Powell may meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, State Department officials have said.


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