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U.S. Needs Partnership with Africa to Stop Spread of AIDS, Former Zambian President Kaunda Tells UCLA Meeting
Kenneth Kaunda greets guests at African American Center reception in his honor.

U.S. Needs Partnership with Africa to Stop Spread of AIDS, Former Zambian President Kaunda Tells UCLA Meeting

Kenneth Kaunda, founding president of Zambia from 1964 to 1991, made an impassioned call for international solidarity against the "scourge of HIV/AIDS" February 27.

By Leslie Evans

Kenneth Kaunda, currently the Balfour African President in Residence at Boston University's African Presidential Archives and Research Center, warned of the risks to world and U.S. public health if the AIDS menace is not controlled in Africa. Today some 42 million people worldwide have full-blown AIDS. Of these, 30 million are in Africa.

Kenneth Kaunda's meeting was sponsored by UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, the James S. Coleman African Studies Center, the UCLA Black Faculty and Staff Association, the UCLA Black Alumni Association, the Dashew International Center, and the African Diaspora Foundation.

President Kaunda was introduced by UCLA Professor emeritus Richard Sklar, a well-known Africanist who had worked under Kaunda when Kaunda was chancellor of the University of Zambia before his long service as president. Sklar declared himself "a Kaundist by conviction," and lauded the former president for his "vision of nonracial democracy for central and southern Africa." He compared Kaunda to Jimmy Carter for his devotion to humane causes.

Following is an edited and slightly abridged text of President Kaunda's talk.

* * *

How can I thank you for the kind things you said about me? To the members of this distinguished academy it is an honor to be present at this esteemed institution of higher education. As much as I am enjoying my time in the archives at Boston University, Los Angeles is much more appealing than February in Boston.

Not only have I been made to feel at home because of the hospitality extended to me, but the climate here is very familiar to me because it is like the climate in Zambia. This is also a place that has been on the cutting edge of advocating enlightened policies toward the states of Africa, people such as Congressmen Ron Dellums and others. They placed the issues facing Africa on the America radar screen, from apartheid to AIDS.

On a different note I am glad to be here to have the opportunity to share some things about where I think the world is now and what impact Africa can have on that world today. In terms of where the world is today let me start with the most obvious: September 11 dramatically changed the world. Certainly the impact on the United States was the most dramatic, but all of those of us around the world felt a little less secure after that day.

We grieved with you because you are our brothers and sisters, but also because we too are victims of terrorism. In Tanzania and in Kenya the overwhelming number of casualties of terrorism were Kenyan and Tanzanian [among the 224 people killed in terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies on August 7, 1998].

We only have to look back a few months ago to see where terrorism reared it ugly head again in Kenya [in the suicide bombing near Mombasa on November 28, 2002].  The U.S. economy lost $1 billion after September 11. [President James] Wolfensohn of the World Bank has said that Africa's economies lost billions from September 11 from loss of tourism and trade.

As the Old Testament prophet reminds us, "Though there be weeping at midnight, joy cometh in the morning." As tough as things seem, I think thing we can know a better day, hopefully within our lifetimes.

These eyes have seen a lot over the 78 years the Lord has given me. I have seen the world band together to turn back the scourge of Nazism. I have seen Americans band together to turn back the scourge of segregation and bring equality to their country. I have seen Zambians band together and bring freedom to their country. I have seen the people of South Africa band together to usher in a new day and dawn for their community.

"Brothers and Sisters, We Need Each Other"

I believe it is possible to know true peace and authentic human community in our time. But just as those other things did not just happen, these things we seek will not happen by themselves. Brothers and sisters, we need each other.

You have a special appreciation for the special relationship between the United States and Africa. Nigeria presently supplies about 10% of your oil. Exploration by U.S. oil interests is increasing all across the continent, in Angola, in Gabon, to name just a few.

As the Near East continues to be unsettled this special connection will become even more important between the United States and Africa. U.S. security is tied to African security, economic security as well as physical security. My brothers and sisters, we need each other. But the need we have for each other is thicker than oil.

The world needs U.S. leadership. And the U.S. needs global partnership. Despite the unsettled state off things in the world today the United States has the world's most dynamic economy. It is the engine that drives global commerce. Despite 9/11 the United States still has the most powerful leadership. Despite Trent Lott reminiscing about the good old days of the old South, the United States remains multiethnic and multicultural.

In an age of suicide bombers and suicide hijackers who turn planes into guided missiles, American needs global partnerships. America's national security is related to the economic security of other corners of the world. In face of the threat of fanaticism personified by bin Laden, America can defeat bin Laden, but if it doesn't defeat bin Ladenism it will lose the war.

"Fanaticism Can Only Thrive in the Darkness of Despair"

Fanaticism can only thrive in the darkness of despair and desperation. When people hope and have hope and opportunity they are not interested in suicide. Through open trade the economies of the poor countries grow and the people have an opportunity to realize their potential. It is harder for fanatical elements to find a response where there is hope.

From American's side, trade and investment are what you bring. From our side, an atmosphere conducive to investment is what we bring.

I just left South Africa a few weeks ago and I can tell you that the new generation of leaders such as [President] Mbeki are just as committed to democracy and economic reform as we were when we formed our country. When the African Union was formed in Durban last summer it was an affirmation that South Africa is prepared to take its place as a leader of the continent. [The African Union, a prototype of a European Union kind of organization for the continent, was founded in Durban, South Africa, at an assembly of 53 heads of African states held June 28-July 10, 2002.]

The scheduled Africa Report was released only last week, which documents the monumental changes taking place among all the countries of Africa. It makes clear that Africa is more than the sum of its problems. On the political front some of the most promising new young leaders are in Senegal, Ghana, South Africa. These are the kinds of partnerships America needs and the kind of partner Africa is prepared to be.

The Battle against HIV/AIDS

Another area where this partnership comes into play is in the battle against HIV AIDS. It was just starting to increase in the last days of my presidency. It took the life of my own young son. Who knows for certain where it really started? But you can only win when the fight against it is won everywhere. This virus doesn't respect national boundaries. This virus doesn't respect color. This virus is a threat to people everywhere. You in America have a head start compared to people elsewhere. You have been battle tested. We in Africa can learn from your experience.

One of the things I will do in Los Angeles is meet Bishop Charles Blake of the West Los Angeles Church of God in Christ to share experiences. But in addition to your experience we need access to resources to fight this scourge.

There are responsibilities on both sides. On our side we must be more proactive in prevention. That is critical to keep our people from dying of AIDS. We need to help those living with HIV.

Then there is a population that must live with the effect of AIDS, and my mind becomes soaked with tears when I think of them, and that is the orphans. This is an area where I could use your help.

"There Must Be Compromise between What Is Profitable and What Is Affordable"

We need more affordable prices from the drug companies. I believe that they are entitled to a profit. How else can they do research for the future? But there must be compromise between what is profitable and what is affordable. We cannot sacrifice people on the altar of greed.

Sisters and brothers, let me close by saying that the model of partnership I have talked about is not new. Here in Los Angeles you have shown what working across color lines can accomplish. You have made Los Angeles a world-class city. Americans working with Africans, working with Asians, working with Latinos can make the world in which we live a world-class community. It is a model of promoting a partnership based on trade and understanding. It is one in which we lift up the fallen, a partner work for our shared objective to bring our ties closer between the African and the USA.

[President Kaunda closed by leading the audience in a song:]

"We shall fight and conquer AIDS, in the name of great Africa
We will fight and conquer AIDS,
We shall fight and conquer, in the name of great Africa,
We will fight and conquer AIDS."

From the Question Period

Question: What is the limitation on effective education about AIDS? Is it lack of commitment or lack of resources?

Kaunda: It is both. Some leaders do not talks about AIDS. You need to talk to people about this disease without fear. On December 23, 1986, my son died of AIDS. I made a public announcement of this. I have since been invited to address many AIDS conferences around the world. We must tell people that the diseased person will not be cured by raping a 6 month old child. We must tell people that abstinence is the best protection. If you cannot resist, then use a condom. In some cases the Christians preached abstention but would not talk about condoms. The Christians died anyway.

Testing is very important. We must go all out to have testing. We must not insult and reject those who have AIDS. They are our own children. We must help and look after them.

And finally, we have poverty. In the West you are able to survive even if you are infected by the disease. You are able to eat three square meals a day. In Africa we are poverty-stricken, so the disease kills you very quickly. Our leaders must talk about this, but most of our leaders are not talking about it yet. My task as an old man is to go to our leaders and tell them how important this is.

Where you can spend a thousand dollars a month on each infected person, in Africa we can only spend $1. There are 25 million who live with HIV/AIDs. How many of them will have died by four years from now? We must tell our leaders what I am telling you here. Some of our good leaders were listening, but some are still not.

Question: I work on the area of HIV and AIDs. There is a parallel between AIDS on the continent and AIDS in U.S. inner cities where most victims are people of color like ourselves. There is a correlation between teaching people to protect themselves as individuals and slowing the spread of the disease.

Kaunda: I would like to meet you before I leave.

Question: Can you explain the problem in South Africa, the reluctance of the South African leadership to realistically address the problem up to now?

Kaunda: I think Mbeki followed the advice of some specialist from here. [President Mbeki has promoted the work of two dissident U.S. scientists, Peter Duesberg and David Rasnick, who deny that HIV causes AIDS. His government has also refused to make AZT available in public clinics, saying it is toxic although studies have shown it can protect the babies of HIV-infected mothers.]

Question: Kofi Annan [General Secretary of the United Nations] has said that in Africa AIDS has a woman's face. How can we slow this epidemic among young women? They need money for clothes and school and this economic necessity puts them at great risk.

Kaunda: Poverty in Africa is one of the most difficult subjects. The Children of Africa Foundation has opened 5 schools. All those children, their parents have died. There are 1.25 million orphans in Zambia. Of those, we don't know how many are going to go to school. We have 5 schools. There are some government schools too.

It is a terrible problem. I don't know. When we took over from the colonial power we used government very well. We built primary schools all over the country. We found 100 university graduates only, out of a population of 3 or 4 million, and 1,120 young men and women who had completed their [secondary] schooling.

One Zambia, One Nation--that was our view, no discrimination against any of the tribes. We built dispensaries all over the country. We built 9 general hospitals, one in each province. We produced many scientists, paramedics, teachers. A good many of those have died. AIDS has taken them. Our efforts went into education. Now it is very serious.

The majority of the orphans are not going to school at all. We tried to put right what the colonialists had done wrong, but we are overtaken by the AIDS problem. We have only the 25 schools for orphans.

Whatever you help us with, money or medicine, it will be used properly. Unless that happens the impact of this scourge on the nations of Africa will be so bad, is so bad already, so please, I don't know if I can put it any stronger than I have done.

African Studies Center