According to UNAIDS, the number of people infected with HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa fell from 2.2 million in 2001 to 1.8 million in 2009. It is estimated that one in six adults in Sub-Saharan Africa will die of Aids in their prime (that is the figure given on the back jacket blurb). In his book, Aids and Power, first published in 2006 in association with the International African Institute and the Royal African Society, Activist Alex De Waal, questions why, despite its devastation, Aids isn’t top of the agenda for each and every government on the continent? How do governments treat the scourge, he asks?
Two examples come in handy in the book – both extremes to some extent. There is South Africa and then there is Uganda. Each country shows a different aspect of the management of the epidemic. On the one hand is a state whose leadership was, in a word, denialist; on the other hand is a state whose leadership went about being open about its struggle. This was at a time when many a country would have been reluctant to admit to what could have become a tourist scarecrow. De Waal’s analysis shows there is more to this than meets the proverbial eye.
The analysis makes for challenging reading. To start with, there is the debate over prevalence and incidence and the factors that affect prevalence, many of which are often in direct opposition to the official explanations of success. Add to that the inconvenient truth that every society sees AIDS in its own way. If we take into account how the disease is managed, and the fact that Aids takes its toll over time, and, therefore lacks the shocking immediacy needed to reinforce certain messages, then widely held assumptions and claims start to falter. It also becomes evident that the response mechanisms used by many Donors tend to reflect their own models and priorities.
What ensues is a situation where management supercedes control with different stakeholders juggling for balance and influence as they pursue their agenda. Thus, a perfect storm continues to occur in which situational concerns far outweigh the gravity of a dire situation. And, as societies find the means to cope and other things, like poverty, are considered more important, the establishment in power takes on a role whose benefits are manifold.
De Waal’s book, Aids and Power, begs the question: Is the scourge of Aids a challenge to political authority or a means to political career benefits?