Three years of research, 400 pages of text, a 52-page introduction, and we learn that politicians and other voters are dying from HIV in Africa.
The Institute for Democracy in South Africa has recently published a massive tome, The Political Cost of AIDS in Africa which “reveals that the fledgling multi-party democracies in parts of the continent are being undermined by sickness, incapacity and premature deaths among elected leaders as well as within the electorate”. Well, well. Who’d have thought it?
By definition, when over one in four voters is infected with a fatal disease that kills prematurely, voters will be dying prematurely. Since testing negative for that fatal disease is not a condition of office, it seems inevitable that some of the people dying are also politicians (the study points out that HIV is never acknowledged as the cause of death for a politician, but then most non-politicians with HIV in southern Africa are not exactly trumpeting their HIV status, either). If dead voters undermine democracy, as the study suggests, then yes, HIV will undermine democracy in southern Africa. HIV won’t undermine democracy as much as the acts of some of the region’s elected luminaries, such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, of course, but hey ho…
Now reverse the question. Not “how does HIV make for bad politics?”, but “how have bad politicians made HIV?”. What is really shocking in southern Africa is that political leaders, starting with South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, have fanned the flames of HIV with their denial, their prudishness and their lies. And those of the voters that are still alive have, for the most part, allowed them to do it. In other words, voters are getting leaders that reflect their own views. That’s democracy.