Consistency and certainty in the response to HIV and AIDS issues are considered very critical. So much that, on account of the enormous power and influence that leaders wield, it is always crucial that both in deed and word, situations where people find themselves second-guessing their thinking and direction should be avoided at all cost.
This position was shared by Uyapo Ndadi, Director of Botswana Network of Ethics and Law (BONELA) in an interview with the Telegraph last week, after an incident in which Chairperson of the National Aids Council (NAC) and former President of the Republic of Botswana, Festus Mogae, uttered words, at the Council’s meeting which many felt could signal a confusing message to stakeholders and the nation at large.
“Personally, I view Rre Mogae as a progressive leader, and that is why it was not surprising that it came out in the media that he has joined calls to provide inmates with condoms.
Moreover, he has had the privilege of being exposed to HIV and AIDS issues, both locally and internationally, thus making him a wealthy leader in the field of HIV and AIDS,” said Ndadi.
Mogae made a somewhat laughter cracking comment after a noticeable, but searching pause, in response to BONELA’s proposal to be allowed to present findings of a study on Men sleeping with other Men, and women sleeping with other women.
He said, as if in amazement, “…Women sleeping with other women, then continued “…Homosexuality! What a waste.” The participants then burst into what seemed to be a confused laughter, while at the same time trying to maintain an empathetic posture as if to reckon with the obviously embarrassed appearance in the faces of the BONELA delegation.
When the laughter subsided the former President then submitted that although it was illegal, the delegation be given an opportunity to present their findings, whereupon it was resolved that it could only be done in the next meeting as there was already limited time to tackle the issue, and a number of other burning ones.
On whether he took a pinch on the statement, the BONELA Director went diplomatic.
“I think his Excellency was making the representation jokingly. I don’t think he meant that. Otherwise such sentiments go against the position he so eloquently espoused in his letter to President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni late last year,” responded Ndadi.
Furthermore, “If indeed the sentiments he espoused were a true reflection of his views on the matter, then, with due respect, Rre Mogae will have to walk the talk, lest the nation be kept second-guessing the thinking and direction of leaders which can really be confusing to all, thus leading to misdirected, disjointed and inefficient responses,” concluded Ndadi.
In a letter to Museveni, dated November 2009, under the heading, “Mr. President, halt harmful provisions in anti-homosexuality and AIDS Bills,” Mogae as Chairman of the Champions of an HIV free Generation, said, “We, the Champions for an HIV-Free Generation, are on a mission to exchange ideas and encourage stronger and more visionary leadership in response to the HIV and Aids epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our mandate is to promote key policy, legal, cultural and behavioural practices, as well as messages that help accelerate the social outcomes needed to achieve an HIV-free generation.”
He added that it was under that mandate that he wrote to express the Foundation’s views regarding two Bills then being considered in the country at the time, which could impact negatively on HIV prevention efforts and services directed at the most vulnerable populations.
“Your Excellency, we respectfully express our concern at the provisions referenced in these two Bills and fear that passage of such legislation, which deviates from international best practice and recommendations, could lead to increased stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and Aids and the groups most vulnerable to the epidemic,” voiced the Chair of Champions.
It was stated that at the 2006 High Level Meeting on Aids, Member States reiterated their commitment, underlying the need for “full and active participation of vulnerable groups … and to eliminate all forms of discrimination against them … while respecting their privacy and confidentiality.”
One official of a nongovernmental organization, who had qualms with Mogae’s handling of the same sex issue, asserted that it should not come as a surprise given that the idea of harmonizing the laws to accommodate sexual minorities falls by and large within the domain of his campaign.
“Thus, given his influence and extent of appreciation of the stakes, he would be the first to recommend an inclusive legal environment,” she said.