In Mali, Powell Pledges Administration’s Support for Africa
In Mali yesterday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the $200 million contribution to the global AIDS fund recently pledged by President Bush is "evidence that the Bush administration won't skimp when it comes to fighting AIDS" and reassured observers that Africa remains a "priority" for the new administration, the Wall Street Journal reports. The visit to Mali is the first stop on a tour that will take Powell, one of the administration's "most vocal supporters" of Africa, to the "AIDS hot spots" of South Africa, Kenya and Uganda. Powell's trip gives the administration "plausible claim to world leadership" on HIV/AIDS because it highlights "how quickly" the administration is "significantly boosting spending on the crisis," the Journal reports. Powell called the initial contribution to the fund a "very, very creditable start," adding that the United States does not have "anything to apologize about" (Phillips, Wall Street Journal, 5/24). The United States is "giving so much more to this problem than any other country or group of countries that we should be very proud of what we have done and be energized to do even more," Powell told reporters aboard his plane en route to Mali (Barber, Washington Times, 5/24). Powell answered critics who say the U.S. contribution is "paltry" considering the country's "vast wealth" by stating that the funds are meant as "seed money" and that more will follow (Jeter, Washington Post, 5/24). Speaking to a crowd of "several hundred" people gathered outside a joint Mali/NIH-sponsored malaria research center, Powell said that the U.S. government was prepared to "do even more" to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the continent (Strobel, Knight Ridder/Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/24). The president, he added, has "made a commitment to do everything the United States can do to solve the problem of communicable diseases" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 5/24). Powell, who has said he feels an "emotional connection" with Africa, said he does not see the AIDS epidemic "as a black problem and as a black man looking at a black problem, but as a secretary of state of the United States looking at a human problem" (Nichols, USA Today, 5/24). Several people involved in crafting the contribution to the global fund said Powell "push[ed]" for a "substantial" amount of money during two "top-level" White House meetings, which resulted in the announcement of the contribution. However, Betty King, a senior U.S. representative at the United Nations, urged caution with regard to projected spending on HIV/AIDS. "We have difficulties with references to 'massively increased resources.' While we expect to continue to increase our support, we see the [U.N. General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS] as an opportunity for other donor governments and partners in the nongovernmental and private sectors to increase their commitments as well," she said.
Keeping Africa on the Priority List
Powell's trip has gone some way toward assuaging fears that Africa "wouldn't get as much attention as it did during the Clinton years," but some concern remains (Wall Street Journal, 5/24). Powell's trip, his longest so far, comes ahead of visits to such "traditionally high priority areas" as Europe and Japan. "We realize the importance of the continent, the opportunities of the continent and especially the problems that the continent is facing," Powell said. Beside the contribution to the global AIDS fund, the U.S. government has announced that it will host 35 African leaders in October for the inaugural U.S.-African Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum to increase market access for African nations. Powell also pledged support for the continent's young democracies. Before leaving Mali today, Powell will tour the African Crisis Response Initiative training center, where U.S. troops train foreign troops to deal with their own crises. The program, begun in 1996 as an "alternative" to sending U.S. troops into foreign conflicts, is believed to be in jeopardy because of remarks made this weekend by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who "indicated" in an interview that he would like to see U.S. involvement in the program ended or scaled back. Powell said the administration must "balance" its overseas commitments "against our [other] responsibilities" (Wright, Los Angeles Times, 5/24).
'Ambivalence' Over Powell
Observers in Mali said a "profound ambivalence" exists among many Africans toward Powell and that his remarks during the opening days of his trip addressed "both the good feelings Africans have toward him and the doubts and suspicions they harbor." Powell is a "difficult call" for many on the continent, according to Sipho Seepe, a South African political analyst. "This is the highest position that a black person has ever held in the United States ... There is a sense that you have a black person and so he understands poverty, he understands discrimination, he is more sympathetic to our humanity than some others might be. But on the other hand he made his name in a political party that has historically been hostile to Africa, that was an avowed ally of apartheid in South Africa," Seepe said, adding that Powell's military background also complicates views about him because it is seen as "supporting American imperialism," raising the question: "Who is Colin Powell loyal to?" Observers question if Powell's trip, his third to Africa, is a reflection of a changing attitude by the administration toward the continent or whether it is "emblematic of [Powell's] independence." Abdul Mohammed, an analyst in Ethiopia, said "Africans know for a fact that this is an individual act, by and large, and that the system has not really recognized Africa. If his coming to Africa prompts some significant action by the system, that will be a good thing" (Washington Post, 5/24).