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AIDS Expected to Dominate Discussions During Bush Visit to Uganda - 2003-07-05

The issue of HIV-AIDS is expected to dominate the public portion of President Bush's four-hour visit to Uganda next week during his weeklong tour of Africa. Analysts believe other issues also may be on the agenda for discussion, such as the war in the north and a proposal to remove presidential term limits in Uganda.

Uganda is commonly hailed as Africa's success story in the fight against AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. A little more than a decade ago, an estimated 30 percent of Ugandans were HIV positive. Now, thanks to a combination of education, monitoring, and caregiving programs, that figure has been reduced to an estimated six percent of Ugandans believed to be HIV positive.

Warren Naamara is country program coordinator at the United Nations AIDS agency in neighboring Kenya. He is also the former national director of the Ugandan government's AIDS control program. Mr. Naamara praises the United States and other countries for financially supporting Uganda's initiatives over the years, and he says President Bush's upcoming visit gives a very powerful message in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

"It's not about money but the social, philanthropic feeling of the population that, look, it's not the Ugandan population that are now going it alone or it's not President Museveni going it all alone, but you are not alone in this fight," he said.

But observers say AIDS is only one of many problems facing the country. They want Mr. Bush and Uganda President Yoweri Museveni to discuss other issues that threaten Uganda's stability, such as the 16-year civil war being waged in the north by a rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA.

The LRA's leader, Joseph Kony, is a self-styled prophet who once claimed he wanted to form a society based on the biblical Ten Commandments. But his motives for fighting are unclear.

Children are heavily affected by this conflict. UNICEF estimates that the LRA has kidnapped 8,400 children over the past year. It says the rebels force the abducted children to fight, and girls are often used to provide sexual services for LRA fighters.

To avoid these random abductions, an estimated 20,000 people in the north - mostly children - spend their nights in shelters in towns and return to their homes in the morning.

UNICEF's country representative for Uganda, Martin Mogwanja, says he hopes the northern issue will be on the presidential agenda.

"I'm sure that both President Museveni and President Bush will be aware about the severity of the conflict in northern Uganda, the impact that this conflict is having on hundreds of thousands of people, nearly a million people displaced now, and particularly the impact on children," said Martin Mogwanja. "So I'm sure that in the spirit of cooperation and friendship between the two countries, this issue will be one of the issues that should be discussed."

Another thorny issue is the length of time a president can hold office in Uganda. Reports have circulated that President Museveni is trying to amend the country's constitution to remove presidential term limits. That would enable him to run again for the presidency in 2006 instead of retiring, as is now required under the current constitution.

In May, President Museveni dismissed five ministers. According to Uganda's independent daily newspaper, The Monitor, three of these ministers are on record as opposing the amendment to remove presidential term limits.

An international relations professor at the United States International University in Nairobi, Macharia Munene, says that if Mr. Museveni is allowed to run again, it could spell trouble for the country.

"I think in the long run it will be detrimental to Uganda and to also the U.S. interests in the region," he said. "There are better ways in which Museveni can serve the people other than trying to adjust the constitution in a way that may create more problems. Uganda may become a little bit unstable because of the displeasure that the Ugandans might express. So I think it will be on the cards, they will discuss it openly."

Other issues that analysts say could - or should - be discussed during President Bush's trip include measures to protect Uganda and the region from terrorism, ways to increase trade between the two countries, and the granting of bilateral aid.