AIDS in Africa to be ‘Main Topic’ of Meeting Between President Bush and South African President Mbeki
Although South African President Thabo Mbeki's absence at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS yesterday was "notable," AIDS in Africa is "the main topic" President Bush plans to discuss with Mbeki today in their first meeting since Bush was elected, the Associated Press reports. Although Mbeki has "backed off" questioning of the connection between HIV and AIDS, "he has not publicly defined a leadership role for himself" in fighting AIDS in South Africa, the country with the highest number of infected individuals (Ross, Associated Press, 6/26). NPR's "Morning Edition" reports that today's talks will focus on bilateral relations between the United States and South Africa and that "expectations are low." Mbeki is expected to "drum up support" for increased trade and is "likely to see eye to eye with Bush on economic issues," but some activists feel the agenda is "too narrow" and that Mbeki should reinforce his country's role as a leader in the fight against AIDS and poverty ("Morning Edition," NPR, 6/26). Mbeki's popularity has "plummeted," and his presidency is "tarnished by missteps and gaffes," the Washington Post reports. Mbeki is no longer regarded in Africa as an "erudite economist" comparable to his predecessor Nelson Mandela, but is more often compared to former President Richard Nixon, "whose thick skin and grievances against enemies real and imagined led to his political downfall" (Jeter, Washington Post, 6/26). Princeton Lyman, a former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, said, "People got very concerned about how [Mbeki has] handled the AIDS crisis. They also think he is becoming too touchy about criticism and lashing back at his critics. They are looking for steadier hands [from] him, and I hope he demonstrates that on this visit" ("Morning Edition," NPR, 6/26).
Opportunity for Bush Administration
Hosting Mbeki is also an opportunity for the Bush administration to demonstrate its committment to Africa and to the fight against AIDS. White House spokesperson Mary Ellen Countryman said, "South Africa is a very important country for us. They are a leader in the region and we want to show support for President Mbeki's efforts." American University economist George Ayittey said that Bush can take Mbeki to task only if Bush "acknowledges that the United States itself has a weak position" on fighting AIDS (Associated Press, 6/26). The Bush administration sees South Africa as "an anchor for its Africa policy." Timothy Bork, resident associate of the Africa Policy Initiative at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that although there is bilateral support for increased AIDS funding, it must go "hand in hand" with other goals in Africa. Bork said, "We don't want to be putting our resources into AIDS prevention and not be concerned about what kind of conditions those people are living under. And certainly we know that AIDS prevention is going to be more effective in economies that are stronger and better governed" ("Morning Edition," NPR, 6/26).