Powell Undertakes Four-Nation Africa Assessment Tour

Charles Cobb Jr.

Washington, D.C.

The Perspective
May 21, 2001

Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves Tuesday night for a four-nation visit to Africa, where he will have an "opportunity to assess some of the changes that are occurring in Africa, particularly looking at both the positive and the negative," says Nancy Powell, acting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs. "Various stops meet those criteria in different ways."

Secretary of State Powell co-chairs the Bush Administration Cabinet Task Force on HIV/AIDS. Throughout his Africa trip, he will "observe efforts to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic," the State Department said in an announcement. "He will meet with civil society representatives as well as government officials." On HIV/AIDS, said acting Assistant Secretary Powell, the Secretary of State's trip is "a chance to examine first-hand the nature of the threat posed by the HIV-AIDS virus and other infectious diseases, as well as to look at what both Africans and the U.S. government and other Americans are doing to combat the disease in Africa."

The Secretary is also anxious to look at countries "where there are transitions in democracy going on, peaceful elections, and also increasing regional cooperation," says Nancy Powell.

But the conflicts destabilizing important regions in Africa will be the focus of much of Powell's attention while traveling. On his first stop, Mali, where he will meet President Alpa Omar Konare, the bitter warfare that now involves Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea top the agenda. President Konare is Chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Community's role in peacekeeing and economic integration is "a theme we would like to promote in Africa," a senior State Department official said.

Sierra Leone's conflict in particular, concerns Powell. As part of an "African Crisis Response Initiative," the United States is training seven West African battalions for peacekeeping duty. The program was established in 1996 after the U.S. was sharply criticized for its failure to react to the Rwanda genocide.

Powell supports the United Nations-created special court to prosecute war crimes in Sierra Leone, and, while in Mali, he might issue a call for nations to meet the May 23rd deadline for funding it.

Powell will also travel to South Africa, Kenya and Uganda. Each nation is considered critical to finding a solution to nearby political tensions. With South African President Thabo Mbeki, Powell intends to "talk about what might be done both in the regional context and in the international context to help get Zimbabwe back on a more democratic path."

Speaking cautiously, the senior State Department official acknowledged that South Africa's role in moderating its neighbor could "work better." When asked if Powell might urge Mbeki to take a tougher stance on Zimbabwe, the official responded that the Secretary wants to "better understand," South Africa's role. "It's clearly not working for any of us right now."

In Uganda, Powell will encourage the government to work to bring Congo-Kinshasa rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba more fully into the peace process. In a press conference earlier this month, Bemba called on foreign troops allied with the government of Joseph Kabila to withdraw from Congo. "If they do not pull out, we see no reason to respect the Lusaka peace agreement," he said.

Reports of harrasment and arrest of President Museveni's political opponents continue to flow out of Uganda. It is unclear whether concern for the Congo peace process will keep that issue off the table.

Similarly, in Kenya, the last stop on Secretary Powell's itinerary - and a place where the process of constitutional reform remains stalled - democracy activists fear that U.S. concern about that issue may take second place to soliciting Kenyan assistance on neighboring Sudan. Concern about the war in southern Sudan, and related concerns about slavery, the exploitation of children, and persecution of Christians, has become a centerpiece of the administration's Africa interests. A policy review of that nation is underway, and Powell is set to meet with non-governmental organizations operating in southern Sudan.

Secretary Powell will leave Africa Monday morning for Budapest, Hungary to attend the Ministerial Meetings of the North Atlantic Council before returning to Washington.

Copyright © 2001 allAfrica.com. Distributed by The Perspective

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