AIDS and the future of plagues
In Africa, unlike Western Europe, borders mean something. They separate entire psychological mind-sets. A few years ago, a group of white South African soldiers guarding the border with Swaziland treated me with contempt as I ventured across it, for being stupid enough to foray into the heart of darkness. (Swaziland is actually a beautiful and well-run little country which is making great strides in conservation and education with the aid of gambling dollars from the nearby South African city of Durban.) And when I later stepped across the border from Zimbabwe into Zambia at Victoria Falls, I was transported from a lively tourist scene into a land of depressing discouragement. Nobody in Zambia seemed to have the energy to figure out how to rake in some of the tourist money flowing into Zimbabwe a few steps away.
The tourist sees nothing, however, of the true weight of misery that contributes to this sense of discouragement and hopelessness. Throughout this century, sub-Saharan Africa has been marked by dramatic population growth, punctuated by immense slaughters and by vast movements of whole peoples. The resulting destruction of traditional ways of life has caused repeated outbreaks of disease.
Uganda is one of the countries hardest hit by the current AIDS epidemic, but this is only the latest in a series of disasters over the years. In 1907, an outbreak of sleeping sickness killed half the population. More recently, during the I970s and I980s, two of the outstanding thugs of the twentieth century, Idi Amin and Milton Obote, directed the killing of a total of at least 800,000 people who happened to belong to tribes different from themselves. A million refugees were forced to