Non-Shock of the Week: AIDS A Threat To African Democracy.

Reuters just reported a story about a meeting that the South African based Institute of Democratic Alternative of South Africa (IDASA) held recently that dealt with the issue of how HIV/AIDS is a threat to the development of democracy in Africa.

In IDASA’s press release, Kondwani Chirambo, who manages IDASA’s Governance and AIDS Program noted:

“Our findings show that there has been a sharp rise in the number of elected leaders that have died prematurely of illness in a number of countries” says Kondwani Chirambo who manages Idasa’s Governance and AIDS Programme. “There is no evidence that AIDS is the cause of every single death but if you compare the trends before the onset of the pandemic and after, we do see that patterns of death mimic the mortality pattern of the general population. From that it can be inferred that HIV/AIDS has been a factor in those deaths.”

Although this conference seemed to be focused on AIDS-related deaths of elected officials as a destabilizing factor in democracy (which is something to be concerned about), I would also offer that the high mortality rates of the population in general also cause political/social/economic instability. If people in their most productive years (20’s to 50’s) are the people who are dying from AIDS, you lose not only elected officials, but people to carry out virtually every other role in the economy and in the society as a whole. How do you create, develop, and maintain any kind of infrastructure of institutions? Who builds roads? Who teaches schools? Who farms?

Historians are also beginning to grow interested in the political and social instability cause by other pandemics, like the Bubonic Plague aka The Black Death. Samuel K. Cohn. Jr, a historian at the University of Glascow wrote in the American Historical Review

“HIV/AIDS and the threat of biological warfare have refueled interest in the Black Death among professional historians, biologists, and the public, not only for assessing the toxic effects of the bacillus but for understanding the psychological and longer-term cultural consequences of mass death.”

In addition to HIV itself causing political instability, what about the instability that drives the epidemic? Environmental abuses that eventually create droughts and famine, World Bank/IMF policies that make domestically produced products more expensive than imported ones (impeding African nations ability to compete in the global market) forcing people to crowd under-resourced urban areas in search of work? African nations that have asked not to be simply given anti-retrovirals, but to let them create industries to manufacture and distribute them locally? The list goes on…

In short, the problem of HIV’s impact on political instability in Africa is a much needed conversation. Not trying to tell folks what do do, but I will say that being solely concerned about staffing government positions does nothing to address the issues underlying widespread disease for the masses of Africans inflicted with the disease. Nor does filing those positions really and truly make for a “democratic” government—just as much corruption and malfeasance can exist at the government level where HIV is not a widespread concern among those seeking government office. One need not look past the United States for a relevant example.

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