Zambia: beware of the Aids bandwagon; "African governments should be conscious of attempts by imperial forces to narrow down the continent's immense problems to only HIV/Aids and corruption," Zambia's former president, Frederick Chiluba, has warned. Martha Kabwe reports from Lusaka.
Chiluba was incensed beyond words by Lewis' remarks. He hit back, telling journalists in Lusaka that he was "greatly saddened" by what the UN secretary-general's envoy had said, because he had always advocated solutions that went beyond simplistic and foreign imposed solutions in attempting to fight HIV/Aids in Africa.
"To defeat HIV/Aids," the former president said, "we need to go beyond the use of condoms and anti-retrovirals. We need to address the fundamentals surrounding this HIV/Aids crisis by taking a holistic picture. We need to defeat the environment that allows HIV/Aids to thrive. We need to recognise that poverty, the high prevalence of curable diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, the shortage of doctors and healthcare infrastructure are primary burdens to be tackled."
Chiluba then warned: "African governments should be conscious of attempts by imperial forces to narrow down Africa's immense problems to only HIV/Aids and corruption. We need to address other issues such as foreign debt and unfair trading practices that consign the continent to underdevelopment. We need to address issues of high unemployment levels and illiteracy rates among our people. We need to tackle the issues of conflict and wars in Africa. We need to address these issues with the same fervent vigour so far displayed in the fight against HIV/Aids."
He said Africans were better placed to tackle their problems because they experienced them firsthand, and it was important to give room to local participation in finding solutions to the continent's problems.
"We welcome help and partnership but we also have local solutions," the former president explained. "I therefore urge our partners to take into consideration our capacities, our solutions and our feelings before they impose designed solutions. There is the need to allow effective partnerships between governments, agencies and institutions."
Chiluba vehemently denied that his government had neglected the fight against Aids. To prove his point, he said he had inherited no nationwide anti-Aids policy or legislation when he came into office in 1991, but he put one in place because he was deeply committed to the fight against Aids in Zambia and in Africa just as he was committed to the fight to eradicate poverty and the cancellation of foreign debt.
"If issues of poverty and underdevelopment are not dealt with, the fight against HIV/Aids will be in vain," the former president said, adding: "I am generally alarmed by the conduct of foreign envoys and ambassadors who have made it fashionable to pepper their statements with an allegation or personal attack against my government.
"Mr Lewis would wish to know that the crisis of HIV/Aids to me is not mere statistics, a tour or a project. We all are witnesses to the loss of beloved relatives, friends, colleagues and fellow citizens to HIV/Aids. Therefore, my experiences are not impersonal or theoretic. It is for this reason that I take great exception to these flippant remarks that allege that I did not use my office to effectively fight HIV/Aids."
He said that under his government, the National Aids Council was created for the first time in Zambia and the issue of HIV/Aids was discussed publicly. That broke the culture of silence then surrounding the issue of HIV/Aids in the country.
"I cannot remember the actual circumstances in which I met Mr Lewis although he states that we met at the African Union summit," Chiluba said. "Mr Lewis has stated that at the time he was a deputy director with UNICEF ... I believe he cannot assume to know me from such a brief encounter at an international conference where probably his bosses were also seeking to see me and exchange their views with mine on our commitment to the fight against all of Africa's challenges."
He said he would write to the UN secretary-general. Kofi Annan, to protest against the conduct of his envoy and hoped that Lewis' remarks were personal and did not reflect the views of the UN secretary-general.