Progressive Africa regimes should be encouraged at Colin Powell's recent trip to their continent. Usually that part of the world gets scant attention from the United States, but when the nation's first black secretary of state goes there so early in a new administration it sends a strong message that the continent is becoming a top foreign policy priority.
Powell's trip was not just a goodwill tour either. He had some important things to say concerning the two most critical issues confronting Africa - preserving and advancing democracies and combating AIDS, which is taking a horrendous toll.
With regard to democracy, Powell warned longtime Kenyan strongman Daniel Moi not to sabotage next year's elections and to step down peaceably when it is over.
Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who has virtually launched a civil war against his enemies, including most of the white population, got a stinging rebuke from Powell. The secretary not so subtly used his prestige to galvanize opposition to Mugabe.
Powell also shocked his hosts with some straight talk about AIDS. Only recently have Africa's 43 governments begun to admit, much less deal with, the magnitude of the deadly AIDS epidemic - 25-million Africans carry the AIDS virus. That's about 70 percent of the world's infected people.
President Bush has pledged $200 million to an international fund to fight AIDS, Powell said, and that may be just the beginning, but only if the African governments themselves own up to - and agree to deal with - the tragic problem many of them have been reluctant to admit they even have.
As a start, Powell pushed for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's plan to channel the global anti-AIDS war chest toward prevention, care of AIDS orphans, and medicine.
The role for African governments calls for, first, educating their citizenry about AIDS prevention and, second, teaching them about treatment, which is often an extremely complex regimen involving medications that must be taken at very exact times during the day.
Powell's visit and his words are clearly intended to say that if African nations help themselves, the U.S. and the rest of the global community will be there too.
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