- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2001

KAMPALA, Uganda — Secretary of State Colin Powell took off through the dense mists over Lake Victoria Monday after a heavy downpour following meetings across Africa with AIDS patients, struggling democratic leaders and sufferers of the worlds deepest poverty.
He went to Africa to initiate a major U.S. attack on AIDS, which is killing millions there, to try to resolve civil wars in Sudan, the Congo and Sierra Leone, and to boost U.S.-African trade. Although he made progress in many of these areas, perhaps the biggest change may have been in Mr. Powell himself.
He went as the first black secretary of state, seeking to show gratitude and honor to his ancestry, but what he offered was profoundly American — advice on hard work, democracy and the rule of law. At the end, however, as he left Uganda, he softened his message, noting that some countries have no belts to tighten and no chance in the near future to build roads, factories, schools or an honest civil service, which are the foundations of democracy.
"Some countries are so heavily reliant on foreign aid, its not clear when they will be able to stand on their feet," Mr. Powell said as his plane banked east to avoid flying over war-torn Sudan on his route from Africa to a NATO conference in Budapest.
He also spoke for the first time of "culture," noting that Africans cannot simply discard the traditions of centuries of tribal life for alien practices of confrontational democracy.

A return to his 'roots'

Mr. Powell told reporters five days earlier on his flight from Washington to Mali, his first stop on a four-nation visit, that he went to Africa even though crises were breaking out in the Middle East, the Balkans and elsewhere, in part because of his interest as a black man.
"Well, obviously Im moved by the fact that I am the first African-American secretary of state to visit Africa," he said. He recalled earlier visits before he joined the Bush Cabinet when he visited slaver ports in Sierra Leone with his wife, Alma.
"To know that — even though I came from Jamaica, and Alma came from, we dont know where exactly — but to know that somewhere back there a few generations, our ancestors came through there … was rather meaningful for us."
But if Africans imagined that the "emotional twinge" Mr. Powell said he gets from being of African ancestry would lead him to favor them with gifts or ignore their failings, they were proven wrong. He brought a message of "tough love," calling for Africans to help themselves in the struggle against AIDS, to reform their economies and establish the rule of law.

Leaders called to account

The message resonated across the continent in newspaper headlines as the secretary of state called for the "big men" of Africa who have clung to power for decades to allow their citizens freedom of the press and politics and fair elections.
Mr. Powells revolutionary message was most explicit in his policy address Friday at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. He reminded his audience that the United States "was committed to forgo 100 percent of the bilateral debt owed to us by 19 African nations." But he warned that "sustainable development is closely linked to wise economic policies and democratic, accountable government."
He reminded the audience that some African leaders had stepped down peacefully — in Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Zambia and South Africa.
"There are, however, many who seem reluctant to submit to the law and the will of the people," he added. "After more than 20 years in office, Zimbabwean President [Robert] Mugabe seems determined to remain in power." Mr. Powell called on him to allow Zimbabwes citizens to "make their choice as to how they will be governed in the future."

Stepping on some toes

That message did not prove popular. Zimbabwean diplomats rejected Mr. Powells words as interference in the internal affairs of their country and of Africa.
The clash between entrenched African leaders and U.S. support for democracy was visible again at his next stop, Kenya, where Mr. Powell held a press conference with President Daniel arap Moi, who has been in power since 1978 and seeks to change the constitution to allow himself a third term in next years elections.
Mr. Powell — perhaps realizing that the confrontational approach to a "big man" in Africa only makes him dig in his heels — praised Kenya, where the opposition and journalists have been harassed.
"Kenya is an example of an accomplished democracy… . I came away with a clear understanding and belief in the constitutional system that exists here in Kenya, which will provide for an election in the year 2002," said Mr. Powell.

Moi rebuffs questioner

But Kenyan journalists and other observers at the joint press conference in Nairobi scoffed at the idea, saying that everyone in the city expects Mr. Moi to run again. An American reporter put the question to Mr. Moi point-blank: "Mr. Powell yesterday spoke in South Africa about some African leaders that remain too long in power. Can you say unequivocally that you will not be set for a continuation of your 20 years in power?"
"President Moi almost lost his cool," reported the People On Sunday. He glared silently at the press crowd for about half a minute — apparently unused to such direct questions in Kenya, where resident foreign correspondents say they fear his intelligence services and possible expulsion.
"I think its too much to always try to underestimate the intelligence of the African people," he said. "Those who decide the destiny of Kenya, for instance, or other countries will be the people themselves.
"So I dont know what is worrying you." He then turned away without another word, ending the press conference.

AIDS, face-to-face

Kenyan newspapers next day said that the United States "expected Mois retirement in 2002." While that went far beyond what Mr. Powell actually said, it reflected a long-supressed desire for change in Kenya.
In the teeming slum of Kibera outside Nairobi, Mr. Powell witnessed a skit at an AIDS counseling and treatment center aimed at persuading young girls not to have sex — especially unprotected sex. Outside, a passing priest told of raising money to care for orphans whose parents had died of AIDS.
Millions of children have been orphaned in sub-Saharan Africa, and Mr. Powell several times during his visit mentioned one grandmother, whose 12 children had all died of the disease. She was struggling to raise more than 30 grandchildren.
One of Mr. Powells goals on his trip to Africa was to encourage African leaders — whom he said are widely respected by the common people — to speak out strongly about HIV/AIDS. But he was rebuffed in South Africa by President Thabo Mbeki, who has questioned whether HIV causes AIDS.
After a meeting between Mr. Mbeki and Mr. Powell, a reporter asked Mr. Powell if he had discussed his interest in South Africa reducing its AIDS rate, which is about 20 percent to 25 percent for the sexually active population.
"I didnt have to discuss that," said Mr. Powell. "The president is fully seized with the problem of doing everything possible to reduce the HIV/AIDS rate."

Some wrenching encounters

However, U.S. officials and AIDS experts said that Mr. Mbeki has failed to publicly stress how to prevent AIDS through use of condoms, monogamy and abstinence.
HIV-positive women at an AIDS center in Johannesburgs Soweto district said their government has not been doing much to stop AIDS.
"The government has always let us down," said Florence Ngobeni, whose husband and child have died of AIDS. Speaking directly to Mr. Powell, who was visiting the U.S.-funded center, she said, "But you have promised and always deliver."
"I see you as a role model to the men in South Africa. You have come to show us the light, even though you have not brought us anything, as the media said. Your visit means a lot for us."
Mr. Powell saw people with HIV/AIDS in every country he visited in Africa. One woman told him she only wanted to find someone reliable to care for her children when she died. Her son then stood up and said, "I support my mommy every day of her life. I love my mom."
Another woman said she had been getting anti-viral medicine for a while after she contracted AIDS during surgery from tainted blood, but the hospital had stopped giving the drugs and she was dying.
Major international pharmaceutical companies recently dropped a lawsuit in South Africa aimed at blocking the import or manufacture of cheap generic or copied drugs to fight AIDS. But so far no systems exist to administer the complex cocktails of drugs that must be used to avoid creating drug-resistant strains of HIV.

Museveni gets praise

By the time Mr. Powell reached Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni has ruled for 15 years, allowing elections but not political parties, Mr. Powell had dropped the calls for fresh leadership. Instead he hailed Mr. Museveni for his successful slashing of the AIDS rate in the country from around 30 percent of women of childbearing age in 1992 to about half that rate last year.
In Kampala, where U.S. scientists from Washingtons Walter Reed Army Medical Center and several American universities are soon to begin testing AIDS vaccines, Mr. Powell and his wife listened to a choir of HIV-positive people sing about their suffering. Then they sang and held hands with Mr. and Mrs. Powell to show their support for each other.
"I knew a lot about this academically before I came," said Mr. Powell. "Id heard all the stories about there being a pandemic, a crisis, and how it was destroying families, how it was destroying cultures. But you dont really get a full appreciation of it until you see the people.
"It really helps me and the members of my party understand so much better, and I hope in some small way well be able to convey to President Bush when we get home some of the passion of what Ive seen."

Africa's war addressed

Mr. Powell was able during his visit to Uganda to make some progress on ending the civil war in Congo and won a pledge from Mr. Museveni to withdraw most of the 8,000 troops he has in the Congo.
The secretary of state addressed the Sudan conflict while in Kenya, meeting with humanitarian groups working in the south of Sudan and sending his foreign-aid chief, Andrew Natsios, to meet with both sides in Sudans civil war. On Saturday, delegations from the Sudan government and the rebels are to meet in Nairobi.
But clearly the fight against AIDS, which will kill more than 20 million people in sub-Saharan Africa in the next few years, became the crux of his mission. Mr. Powell sought to reassure Africans that the United States values them as friends and is concerned for their welfare.
"We will go away from this place with a harder sense of dedication to what we have to do to help you in this war against this terrible disease," he said before leaving the Kampala, Uganda, AIDS center.
It is "a war that we must win and will win."


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