A new report says
HIV/AIDS is hurting political development in southern Africa, in part by the
loss of experienced politicians struck down by the disease. The group says southern Africa
has only two percent of the world's population, but nearly half of the 38
million people infected with HIV/AIDS. VOA's
William Eagle reports from Washington the report by a South African research
group will be the focus of a panel discussion and webcast at the upcoming 17th
International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.
The new report says there is an attack on
democracy in southern Africa that no one is talking about - AIDS. The study by the Institute for Democracy in
South Africa aims to publicize what it calls the disease's silent impact on
politics and electoral processes of the countries of the Southern African
Nations says the region has only two percent of the world's population, but
nearly 70 percent of the 33 million people infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
Legislatures at Risk
most affected are the region's legislators.
notes a growing number of deaths since 1985 among politicians under 50. Local media attribute the deaths to a short
illness or unknown causes, despite the fact that politicians and the wealthy
generally have access to good health care.
For example, between 1984 and 2006, well over half
of all deaths that occurred in the parliament of Zambia are attributed to
HIV/AIDS. During that period, there were 146 by-elections, compared to only 14
within a decade of independence in 1964.
The report says in
Zimbabwe, death has now become the biggest cause of vacancies in parliament.
Between 2004 and 2007, IDASA found that more than half of the by-elections held
were due to MPs dying from undisclosed illnesses. The report says the numerous
by-elections have worked against the opposition. In some cases it has lost a
slim majority of the polls, partly because the ruling party has more resources
The study notes that most legislative bodies have
not publicly addressed the issue. However,
the speaker of
Malawi's parliament announced eight years ago that AIDS was responsible
for 28 of the 31 legislators that had died between 1994 and 2000.
Chirambo is one of the authors of the study that looks at conditions
in Namibia, Malawi, Tanzania, South Africa, Senegal and Zambia, Lesotho, and
Opposite Distract: Disease and Power
is tension between disease and power," says Chirambo. "Politicians will tell you once the [news]
gets out, their own party can marginalize them, and the opposition can use HIV
as a weapon in the electoral process."
"There is not a single member of
parliament [in the region] that lives [openly] with HIV/AIDS despite the
statistics," he continues. "[Because of the stigma],
we know of only one [local government] counselor in South Africa [who is
publicly] living with HIV/AIDS. No
legislator in [southern Africa] will admit to [carrying] HIV ... They will only talk about being
says the deaths often leave constituents without a representative to press for
funds for local development.
countries like South Africa," he says, "there is an expectation of [improved] service
delivery, and historically disadvantaged South Africans judge their local
governments on the performance of their counselor [their local government
representative]. [Discontent can lead to protests and instability] if that
counselor dies or is ill and not able to meet the constituency's
says there is also a literal price to pay: Funds must be made available to
update voter lists bloated by the names of dead voters, and in some cases, to
pay for by-elections to name new legislators. He estimates that about 20,000 voters die every month
in South Africa, where health officials say almost 70 percent of deaths among
people under 50 are AIDS-related.
Different Systems, Different Impact
says AIDS has less impact in countries using proportional representation to
choose parliament members, compared to those that elect directly by a simple
majority of voters.
proportional representation, when a legislator dies another is chosen from a
party list. But in direct election
countries, new elections must be called to replace legislators who have died.
The research from Tanzania shows that six
constituencies on the mainland -- Kisesa, Mbeya Vijijini, Ulanga Mashariki,
Kasulu Mashariki, Rahaleo and Kilombero -- had no MPs between 2000 and 2005.
Their legislators had died during the 2000-2005 parliamentary sitting and no
elections had been held to fill their seats.
HIV / AIDS can also affect
political movements. By-elections can also swing the balance of power in
parliaments where one party holds a majority by only a slim margin. Some activists say that in South Africa, the
illness has disproportionately hit the staff and members of the Inkatha Freedom
Party, based in Kwazulu-Natal Province, one of the country's regions hardest
hit by HIV/AIDS.
Tinkering along the edges
suggests some changes for reducing the cost of replacing the legislators in
He says, "You
can tinker with the system - amend the law so there are no by-elections, but
[a] substitute system for each constituency - maybe running two [party
candidates] for [office]. The second
takes over [in case of death or illness]."
says Senegal uses this method to replace legislators who are chosen directly by
voters, rather than chosen by party list.
can also encourage voluntary testing of its members, so they can get the
necessary help in time. He says
Botswana and Lesotho follow this policy, though the legislators refuse to go
public with the results, and the silent impact of the disease continues.