Some Say Powell Trip to Africa Shows ‘Commitment’ to Continent, While Critics Find it Just ‘For Show’
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Mali today, the first stop on his African tour that is "likely to be dominated by talk of AIDS," Reuters reports. U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State Nancy Powell said yesterday that Powell "wanted to examine the nature of the AIDS threat," adding that the visit also provides "a chance ... to look at what both Africans and the U.S. government and other Americans are doing to combat the disease in Africa." State Department officials said that Powell's tour, which takes him through Mali, Uganda, South Africa and Kenya, will also allow him to "find out first-hand" about the impact of HIV/AIDS on African nations.
Praise and Criticism
Powell's tour has "challenged widespread assumptions that the world's poorest continent is not high on" President Bush's foreign policy agenda, Reuters reports (Diallo, Reuters, 5/23). Sheila Sisulu, South Africa's ambassador to the United States, said, "Given the doubts about the commitment of the administration to its engagement in Africa, it's significant that within the first six months ... they are visiting [the continent]" (Douglas, Newsday, 5/23). Some AIDS advocates also have supported Powell's move. Dr. Paul Zeitz, co-director of the Global AIDS Alliance, said, "We are pleased to see the secretary of state traveling to Africa, and we hope the trip becomes an opportunity for him to hear from a broad range of voices about the AIDS catastrophe" as well as the burden of debt on those countries (GAA release, 5/22). However, some critics have said that Powell's trip is "all for show." George Ayittey, an economics professor at American University, said that the trip is a "symbolic" gesture aimed at "convinc[ing] African leaders and the African-American community that the Bush administration has not abandoned Africa" (Newsday, 5/23). Zeitz added that his group is "concerned" that Powell "seems to bring little with him in terms of any new flexibility in U.S. policy on access to AIDS treatment, on deepening debt cancellation, or in terms of significant increases in U.S. financial assistance to the AIDS fight" (GAA release, 5/22).
Funding Still Under Fire
Powell has said, however, that the Bush administration's priorities for Africa include providing "relief" to HIV-positive individuals (AP/Raleigh News & Observer, 5/23). Powell defended the Bush administration's decision to allocate $200 million toward a global HIV/AIDS fund, a contribution that critics say is "inadequate." Powell said, "I don't think America has anything to apologize for," adding that the funding was "seed money" and that "more would come later" (Raum, AP/Newsday, 5/23). The GAA likened the $200 million allocation to "putting a band-aid on cancer" (GAA release, 5/22). A New York Times editorial today states that although Powell's concern about HIV/AIDS in Africa is "entirely appropriate," the Bush administration's allocation is "inadequate." The editorial notes that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has stated that $7 billion to $10 billion is needed each year to combat the virus. "Surely the United States can afford to contribute a larger proportion of that total," the editorial concludes (New York Times, 5/23).