The Politics of a Health Crisis: Why AIDS Is Not Threatening African Governance

By De Waal, Alex | Harvard International Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

The Politics of a Health Crisis: Why AIDS Is Not Threatening African Governance


De Waal, Alex, Harvard International Review


Africa's HIV/AIDS epidemic has engendered many nasty surprises. In the 15 years after the continent's first AIDS cases were reported on the shores of Lake Victoria in the early 1980s, the virus spread further and faster than any epidemiologist predicted. Early predictions stated that it was impossible for more than 10 percent of the adult population to become infected; this ceiling, however, was soon broken as infection rates reached 20 percent, 30 percent, and even 40 percent in some populations, at which point the lifetime chance of a teenager contracting and dying from the disease became almost a complete certainty. Life expectancy crashed in a manner unprecedented for a peacetime population, with some southern African populations seeing expected longevity plunge from about 60 years to fewer than 40.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Scholars of historical calamities observe that one disaster often portends a second calamity. Economists have projected that the loss of national income due to AIDS could send some economies into a tailspin--described as "Adam Smith in reverse" by Malcolm McPherson of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Management specialists expected that loss of skilled workers would result in essential services such as schools and clinics, not to mention army and police forces, grinding to a standstill. Drawing upon studies of how the rural poor survive famines, I coined the term "new variant famine" in 2002 to describe the vicious interaction between drought and AIDS which was unfolding in southern Africa at that time. I argued that households hit by the disease would be unable to cope with the extra demands of a food crisis and would be plunged into indefinite destitution. Political scientists feared for Africa's stability. How could democracy function when, as one Kenyan nurse protested, "All the voters will be dead?"

Some of these fears are indeed materializing. Others still loom. But some have been proven unfounded or at least exaggerated. Foremost among the dire predictions that have not come true is the expectation that the epidemic would cause a governance crisis, leaving conflict, repression, and anarchy in its wake. Africa has these ills aplenty, but AIDS has not been indicated in their etiology.

Marginalization of AIDS in African Opinion

Since 1999, the University of Cape Town has conducted public opinion surveys in a growing number of African countries. These "Afrobarometer" surveys are a rich source of data on what ordinary citizens think. They have revealed a simple but surprising fact about public opinion: namely that AIDS is never at the top of the list of issues of concern for a population. That position is occupied by unemployment, poverty, famine, and crime, depending on the country in question. Although "health" occasionally comes in at number two, AIDS very rarely breaks into the top three, or even top five issues, though in some countries, notably South Africa, it has been climbing the ladder of concern.

AIDS occupies a commensurately marginal place in African political life. No African government has been overthrown because of its AIDS policies. No election has been decided on this issue. In fact, in South Africa, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) was reelected with an increased majority in 2004 despite President Thabo Mbeki's notorious denial that HIV causes AIDS. True, South Africa has seen street protests over access to treatment, but the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which organizes them, has no counterparts elsewhere in the continent. Furthermore, its agenda is reform and not revolution. Surprising as it may seem to AIDS activists from elsewhere, many TAC leaders remain loyal ANC members. Their dispute with Mbeki is not the insurrectionary fervor of the ANC toppling apartheid, but rather one wing of the new political establishment struggling to bring its errant colleagues back in line.

Why is it that a disease which will kill one in six adult Africans and more than half of adults in the continent's southernmost six countries is not the subject of overwhelming political passion? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Politics of a Health Crisis: Why AIDS Is Not Threatening African Governance
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.