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Africa: Wanted - leadership on AIDS

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The New Humanitarian
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JOHANNESBURG, 8 December (IRIN) - African leaders are to assemble in the Nigerian capital Abuja in April next year as the next step in a process of building continent-wide political commitment to action against HIV/AIDS.
The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit, to be organised by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, follows on from this week's African Development Forum 2000 (ADF-2000) in Ethiopia, hosted by the UN's Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). The theme of the ADF meeting was 'AIDS - The greatest leadership challenge'. Attended by some 1,500 delegates, the five day forum attempted to address roles and responsibilities for leaders at all levels in society to galvanise an African-led response to the epidemic.

The realisation that African leadership has been lacking in tackling HIV/AIDS, despite the fact that the world has known of the virus for 20 years, prompted ADF-2000 and the planned Abuja summit. Six African heads of state, from Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Senegal and Botswana - selected to add weight to the process - addressed the ECA forum, as well as UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.

Although acknowledging the structural political problems bedevilling a number of African countries, an ECA report suggested that "in Africa, many political leaders have national power that exceeds that of their counterparts in Western countries." But in the context of the weakness of the state and Africa's prevailing poverty, "responding to HIV/AIDS can only be undertaken in the context of a wider leadership approach to a range of social, political and economic problems affecting Africa," the report said. "This can be done only by a combination of leadership (at a national and international political level), alongside social mobilisation at all levels within Africa."

ECA communications chief Peter da Costa told IRIN that the momentum of ADF-2000 would carry on to Abuja. On a continent where 25.3 million people are infected with HIV, and 2.4 million died this year as a result of AIDS, "the onus is on African leaders and there is no question that the challenge has to be taken up," da Costa said.

He added, however, that the issues addressed at ADF-2000 went beyond leadership, and encompassed effective policy formulation and implementation. "It's now about government ministers in different sectors allocating budgets to the appropriate areas. The significance of Abuja is there, but at the end of the day it's about policy."

But Clement Mufuzi of the Network of Zambian People with HIV or AIDS was less certain of the willingness or capacity of African leaders at Abuja to go beyond words and towards action. "Getting the message is one thing, implementing is another," he told IRIN. "Governments have their bureaucracy, their own metal feet."


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