Thursday, December 12, 2002

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THE BATTLE FOR AFRICA: Last month I blogged about how AIDS would have a dramatic effect on the fortunes of states. Now the Economist has a fascinating story on the battle between former South African President Nelson Mandela and current president Thabo Mbeki on the AIDS issue. To understand the effect of AIDS on South African society, consider the following:

"The disease has already killed hundreds of thousands of South Africans and is set to claim the lives of at least 4.5m more, over 11% of the population. Already, 300,000 households are headed by orphaned children. Unsurprisingly, a recent survey showed that 96% of South Africans consider the disease to be a “very big” problem for the country.

AIDS is already striking hard at the professions, notably teachers and nurses. Some analysts worry that the disease has weakened the capacity of the army (with an infection rate of well over 23%) and the police. Life expectancy is slumping as child mortality rises. Ill-health is also entrenching poverty: for a middle-income country, surprisingly large numbers of people report being short of food."

The way to fight AIDS is to reward the provision of accurate information and innovation. The battle between Mandela and Mbeki is over the latter's steadfast refusal to tackle the problem:

"Mr Mbeki questions figures that show the epidemic has taken hold in South Africa. He argues that anti-AIDS drugs may be more dangerous than AIDS itself. He refuses to single out AIDS as a special threat, preferring to talk of general “diseases of poverty”, and will rarely speak about it publicly... Mr Mbeki also refuses to encourage people to know their HIV status and to lessen stigma around the disease. He will not take a public AIDS test, and has only once been pictured holding an infected child. Taking their lead from the president, no members of his government and very few MPs, civil servants, or public figures of any sort admit the obvious when their colleagues die of the disease."

Africa is becoming a vital part of the U.S. war on terrorism (click here and here). If the most powerful leader of the most powerful state on the continent continues to pretend that AIDS is not a problem, the already weak states of the region are going to get weaker.

posted by Dan on 12.12.02 at 03:24 PM