AIDS Crisis, Civil War Face Powell in Africa

Article excerpt

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell expects to focus attention on the AIDS epidemic sweeping Africa and civil wars in Congo, Sudan and Sierra Leone when he sets out on his first official trip to the continent tomorrow.

The eight-day trip will begin in Mali, where Mr. Powell will discuss with West African leaders a long and vicious civil war that is spreading from Sierra Leone into Guinea and Liberia.

He then flies to South Africa to see firsthand the ravages of AIDS, and to Kenya and Uganda, where he will tackle the civil wars in Sudan and Congo as well as offer support for democracy.

Mr. Powell also will voice U.S. concern over the authoritarian drift in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe has encouraged murderous attacks on white farmers and backers of his political opposition. More recently, attacks have been aimed at white-owned industrial enterprises.

Mr. Powell, whose parents were born in Jamaica but who was raised in the Bronx, has said he sees the tour as more than simply a trouble-shooting trip aimed at addressing U.S. policy concerns.

"I have a personal interest because I am an African-American," Mr. Powell told New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis in an interview published Saturday. "But beyond that, perhaps the greatest disaster on earth is unfolding in Africa: AIDS. So it seemed to me that I should go to Africa early on."

President Bush last week announced a $200 million U.S. contribution toward a global AIDS fund. He and Mr. Powell indicated this would be a down payment toward the $7 billion to $10 billion from international sources that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan estimated is needed to halt the spread of AIDS.

"The objective [of Mr. Powell's trip] is primarily to illustrate the engagement of the secretary and the Bush administration in Africa and Africa policy," said Nancy Powell, acting assistant secretary of state for Africa and no relation to the secretary of state.

In a briefing for reporters at the State Department Friday, she noted that Mr. Powell already had met in Washington with the presidents of Congo, Nigeria and Rwanda. "He will assess some of the changes in Africa, both positive and negative," she said.

Mr. Powell also will hear requests for access to U.S. markets by African countries and firms, especially under a recent U.S. law aimed at boosting U.S. trade with Africa.

A senior administration official, speaking Friday about the trip on the condition of anonymity, said the administration is "very concerned about Zimbabwe, [where] the rule of law is breaking down."

"Two American companies were harassed [Thursday] in Zimbabwe - we will review this with [South African President Thabo] Mbeki," said the official. …