Originally featured in the Scholar Spotlight, Centerpoint, November 2010.
His Excellency Festus Mogae
, who served as president of Botswana from 1998–2008, recently spent several months at the Wilson Center as a public policy scholar. During his stay, he conducted research, networked with senior policy officials in the U.S. government, the United Nations, and with NGO representatives in Washington and New York, and attended Wilson Center seminars related to health and governance.
Since leaving office, Mogae has advocated for governance reform in Africa, notably presidential term limits, and efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. Another critical initiative he is pursuing actively is HIV/AIDS prevention across Africa.
Mogae is the founder and chairman of Champions for an HIV-Free Generation, a group that assists current African presidents in dealing with the AIDS pandemic. This year, the delegation visited South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, and Swaziland and, most recently, Zambia in October. The group seeks policy and attitude changes among the leaders of these nations and also advocates for increased financing for AIDS prevention in their health budgets. “If [these countries] allocate their own resources, the donor agencies will see they are serious about this problem” and match funds, said Mogae.
“We take the view that a more outspoken leadership must come from the continent regarding the AIDS epidemic,” he said. “African leaders must not only care but also be seen by donor countries and agencies as leading from the front on these matters.”
The group includes Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano, Tanzania’s Benjamin Mkapa, Zambia’s first president Kenneth Kaunda, former Vice President of Uganda Speciosa Wandira, and former Chairperson of Kenya’s National AIDS Control Council, Miriam Were. Also in the coalition are two notables from South Africa, Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Constitutional Court judge, Justice Edwin Cameron.
The Champions coordinate with local health representatives based in Africa, from UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, PEPFAR, and the Gates Foundation, which prepare country reports on the status of AIDS. Then, armed with this research, the group meets with African leaders, including the presidents, finance and health ministers, local government and parliamentary officials, private sector, union, and civil society representatives, and church groups to lobby for policy changes.
“We highlight success stories on the continent so others can emulate them,” Mogae said. “We are calling for social behavioral change, but that can only happen if advocated and led by the top religious and traditional leadership.”
One particular challenge has been mother-to-child transmissions. He said in sub-Saharan Africa, in 2000, 40 percent of children born to HIV-positive mothers got infected but by 2008, the figure was down to three percent. The target is zero, he said.
Another major initiative chaired by Mogae is the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa, or, CoDA, a joint venture among the African Development Bank, the African Union Commission, and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. This global effort focuses on education, agriculture and conservation, energy and natural resources, and helping women. CoDA currently is organizing a symposium on women’s empowerment, he said, that will focus on education, and reforming land ownership and marriage laws.
These and other organizations with which he is affiliated aim to help shape policies and set priorities for Africa. He said, “We can’t ask the international community for help unless we first help ourselves.”
Dana Steinberg is the editor of the Wilson Center’s Centerpoint.
Photo Credit: AIDS sign in Gaborone, Botswana, courtesy of flickr user cordelia_persen.