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Africa And Aboriginal Tuesdays: Bush Attacks...AIDS by Armstrong Williams

Bush's rather straightforward plans for Iraq have obscured the other major battle he is currently engaged in-an astonishing war to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa.

Presently, the disease is ravaging the continent. Nearly 30 million Africans-including 3 million children under the age of 15-are infected with the disease that claims more than a million lives annually in Africa. Only a fraction have access to life extending drugs. The rest are slowly dying, leaving a generation of orphans in their wake. According to a recent government study, an estimated 30 million children in Africa will lose at least one parent to the disease by the year 2010. Most of these children will have to drop out of school, exacerbating the cycle of poverty, ignorance and fear that is pulling apart the continents economic and social structures.

To date, the response of the US government has been largely symbolic. Despite the ballooning toll in human life and suffering in Africa, the US budget for total nonmilitary aid-including AIDS prevention, as well as literacy programs, efforts to revitalize the healthcare system, etc.--has remained stuck at $10 billion for the past decade. In 2001, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated Africa required roughly $10 billion to manage AIDS alone.

Last week, President Bush heeded this call, by dedicating $15 billion over five years to combat the spread of AIDS/HIV in Africa. That triples what our government previously expended on AIDS prevention and represents the largest boost in nonmilitary foreign aid in years. The professed goal of the plan is to cut the death rate in Africa from HIV infections by half and new infections by 60% over the next three years. "Facilities across Africa will [now]have the medicine to treat AIDS, because it will be purchased with funds provided by the United States," said the president.

So why aren't America's civil rights leaders praising the president for combating the African holocaust? After all, several such organizations have listed the AIDS epidemic in Africa as among their chief concerns. In their legislative agenda for the 107th Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus recognized "the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on...Africa" and pledged "to support a comprehensive global policy aimed at ending the scourge of HIV/AIDS around the globe." Jesse Jackson similarly observed that "The AIDS plague in Africa is the worst global threat since the bubonic plague…" and acknowledged that "billions are needed…" to fight the plague abroad.

These same groups have regularly blasted the President for not doing more to stymie the Africa holocaust. "They [the Republicans] could not even mention the words Africa, Appalachia, or AIDS once," snarled Jackson at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. In June, Senator Durbin (D-Ill) warned "if we follow the course the White House has charted, in just a few years, we will be dealing with millions more poor, hungry, desperate orphans whose mothers have died from AIDS because we did not address treatment as well as prevention." And when the president recently canceled a scheduled trip to Africa, a senior research fellow at Africa Action, the oldest U.S.-based advocacy group on African affairs, accused the president in a published commentary of not valuing African lives.

All of these groups have been amazingly silent on the President's commitment to combating the spread of AIDS in Africa. No apologies. No retractions. And no offers to help.

"You would think this would be an opportunity for the African American medical community to step up and say thank you and this is how we can make a difference," observes former US Ambassador, Harold Doley. "Instead there is deafening silence, and that is wrong."

Columnist Cedric Muhammad attributes this silence to cultural conditioning: "Whenever President Bush does something that may be good for Black people around the world or in harmony with a civil rights agenda his motives are questioned by these groups. We most clearly saw this in the Adarand case where the Bush administration made absolutely beautiful arguments in defense of a minority contract program. He received no credit. To a lesser degree we saw this with his increased funding for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the faith-based initiative. They are so compromised by partisan attachment that they would rather be on the opposite side of the administration than support any good work that it does or even take the opportunity to influence it for the better. The movement has been completely absorbed by partisanship. So influencing the administration in harmony with their interests and agreeing with the President on issues doesn't matter as much as party loyalty - for better or worse."

Sad. If a person takes steps to end a holocaust, you don't question why they stepped forward. The important thing is that the holocaust has been eradicated.

Armstrong Williams can be contacted via e-mail at:

Armstrong Williams

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

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