U.N. Designates January 2000 "Africa Month"
by Mulegwa Zihindula
January 2000, designated "Africa Month" by the United Nations, has been set aside by the U.N. Security Council to tackle Africa's problems. Among issues on the agenda are the "devastating impact of AIDS" and continuing armed conflicts on the African continent.
In the opening session of the Security Council, many speakers, including Vice President Al Gore, said that in recent years more people in Africa have fallen victim to AIDS than to death through armed conflict. It is estimated that more than two-thirds of all humans infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, live in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the United Nations AIDS/HIV program (UNAIDS), countries in southern Africa are the most affected. In South Africa alone, it is estimated that by the year 2010 a quarter of the population will be HIV/AIDS-positive.
The disease has also had a devastating effect in Zimbabwe. According to recent reports, approximately 2000 Zimbabweans die from AIDS-related complications each week. Because of economic problems, the Zimbabwean government has not been able to allocate the necessary funds to fight AIDS. According to news reports, the government recently proposed a "3-percent AIDS levy on payable income tax" to fund anti-AIDS programs.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Zimbabwean churches, including the United Methodist Church, have taken the initiative in fighting the virus. At Nyadiri United Methodist Hospital in Mutare, people with AIDS symptoms, especially those with tuberculosis, often receive free medical treatment.
The epidemic has also been rampant in other parts of Africa. In Rwanda it is estimated that 1 out of 10 people carry the virus. A large number of Ugandans has also been infected, but the government is running an education campaign promoting the use of condoms. In Kenya, NGOs are working to educate the public about the threat of the disease, and the Kenyan government has invested in a campaign, concentrated mostly in the countryside, that promotes abstinence and discourages marital infidelity.
The other overarching issue on the U.N's agenda is the spread of armed conflict on the African continent. Several African countries, including Sudan and Angola, are involved in protracted civil wars that have left thousands of unarmed civilians dead. In Sierra Leone, a civil war that began in 1991 ended last year. Ethiopia and Eritrea are involved in a bitter border war to which civilians have fallen victim.
In August 1998, after the fall of a 32-year-long dictatorship in the former Zaire (renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo), Rwanda and Uganda, along with Congolese rebels, launched an insurrection to overthrow the new Congolese government. All belligerents in the Congo conflict signed an agreement last year to end the fighting, but there are reports of continued clashes.
The United Nations is scheduled to provide peacekeeping forces to monitor the ceasefire agreement, and analysts estimate that 250,000 troops will be required. The United States, which is to pay 31 percent of the cost for any peacekeeping operation, is calling for only 4,000 to 5,000 troops to be sent to Congo. France, another member of the Security Council, is reportedly saying that at least 10,000 troops are needed.
A special U.N. Security Council session to address the Congo conflict has been called by Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Congolese President Laurent Kabila and other presidents involved in the Congolese war are expected to attend the special session. As part of their initiative to seek a peaceful solution to the Congo conflict, Congolese churches are sending a delegation, led by United Methodist Bishop Onema Fama, to attend the U.N. meeting.
Date posted: Jan 24, 2000