5th of November 2014 | Declaration of Afrique-Europe-Interact concerning the Ebola-Crisis
Preliminary note: On the basis of a common debat within the european section of Afrique-Europe-Interact, the filmaker Richard Djimelie F. and the writer Rodrigue Péguy Takou Ndie habe written the following declaration. Both come from Cameroon and live as asylum seekers in Brandenburg.
When in September 1976 the Belgian physician Peter Piot from the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp discovered the Ebola virus, nobody would have thought, that 38 years later this evil virus would strike the whole world with terror. In this text we want to look at this epidemic and how it is being dealt with from a socio-political perspective.
For months the deadly Ebola epidemic has worked its way through Western Africa with deadly concequences. In mid-October the death toll is up to 4000 victims. Couldn't these deaths have been avoided or at least limited? How has the UN World Health Organization (WHO) acted towards this illness from the time of the discovery of the virus until today's total disaster?
It is alarming to see that only now, after things have got out of hand, the WHO is starting to raise the question of a possible vaccine – although in the past there had again and again been complaints from the affected countries and their populations who have been exposed to the risk. It is alarming to see that the President of the United States as well as the European countries have only started to take the threat serious when the virus had started to cross their own borders. Only then the Western and international awareness was awakened – including real efforts to tackle the crisis.
Now the measures taken are dramatic. We are witnessing a new form of embargo, of quarantines and strict border controls. Travelers from Africa, especially people from the affected countries, are being pushed back for the simple reason that millions of the Ebola virus are supposed to hide under a black skin. If not pushed back they are being examined and intensively questioned, a humiliating, frustrating and racist practice.
At the internal borders of the West any Black person who doesn't feel well is immedialtely suspected of carrying the deadly virus. And a person who has been to a West African country is directly put into quarantine at the return, even if he or she doesn't show any symptoms of the Ebola fever. Thus the barriers at the national borders grow higher and higher and if nothing will be done against it, we might become witnesses to the introduction of new racial borders. Many Africans get the impression, that in the name of protection against the Ebola virus, they are being deprived of their right to travel freely.
The Ebola virus has destroyed whole families and has also completely destroyed national economies as well as the households of individuals and families, which had already been in a precarious state. In addition, it has left behind orphans and many people became unemployed. A lot of people who had had only a small income were forced to give up their jobs because of the illness and were therefore completely financially ruined. Many who had been self-employed lost their economic basis when they used up their money for the medical treatment. Moreover, the fear of the virus has forced the people to close themselves in at home, close their shops and reduce the contacts to other groups of people, among them their suppliers and clients. In the villages of the effected countries, this often happens to those who supply these areas with craft and hygiene products such as toilet soap or first aid medications. Will these outcasts, who have lost the basis of their livelihood to the epidemic, take the risk to remain faithful to their love of their country? Or will they rather take the risk of the so-called adventure and seek refuge in Western countries, where leprosy, AIDS, malaria and cholera no longer hamper the people to work and earn their living?
Have the European immigration laws and the Geneva Convention expected migrants who set out because of conditions like these? Because soon people with these kind of stories will arrive here. Rejected by the embassies, they will set out across the sea, passing Melilla, Ceuta or Lampedusa and arrive in Europe. This will be the indirect and the long-term consequence of how the Ebola virus has been dealt with. Will they get a residence permit or will they immediatly be moved into deportation camps?
This situation has been repeating itself for decades. But has it been taken seriously enough to raise the question on how the public health system is dealt with in Africa? Certainly not. What kind of sense is there in the sovereignty of a head, if he or she is not able to give medicine to the people? Those who govern Africa are protected from the diseases and their social effects, they quickly fly to Europe to treat a simple flu or a little cold. Africa appears clearly divided into two halves: on one hand the Africa suffering from AIDS, Ebola, Malaria, and Cholera and on the other hand the diabetic Africa.
It would be easy to condemn the policy of the Western powers, who take advantage through complicity, but isn't it hard to believe that 55 years after what they like to call 'independence', the African heads of state still don't understand, that the economic development will not get on the way without a real health policy? How can this disease be defeated, if there are no hospitals or these hospitals are just a luxury for certain groups of the population? Is it possible to discover a vaccine, if there are no labs? How can a solution be found if the scientists themselves suffer from a deplorable state of affairs? If for paradoxical reasons the scientific research has no priority in development policy, then it dies in the process of planning, suffocated by corruption and the lack or misappropriation of funds as soon as they come from abroad. The public sector in Sierra Leone, for example, has been destroyed by a series of scandals. In 2013 seven practicing doctors and 22 other employees of the civil service were found guilty of misappropriation of development funds. They had misused money from the GAVI fund (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation). (1)
It must be clearly emphasized that the populations of the affected areas have simply lost confidence in their leaders. The people don't want to listen to their promises any more. Thus the clinics, which are in a pitiful state since independence, are seen as the place where a person is particularly exposed to the risk of catching a serious disease. Ebola is a terrible threat – for good relations among neighbours as well as for the country's economy. In the affected villages, people live in fear and distrust. Criminals take advantage of the situation to get to the top. This is the case in Guinea, where six suspects were arrested, who had murdered eight people, including three journalists, who had conducted a public awareness campaign on Ebola (2). Ebola is a global issue, a virus which has enough violent potential to cause the end of mankind and the world as we know it at any time. The virus will not disappear by putting the whole of Africa in quarantine. It is already known that this virus is very persistent, thus it is important to make progress with the research on a vaccine. So the promise of EU funding must be accelerated to help the affected populations and to finance this research as well as the construction of a health infrastructure. But as Africa is infinitely rich in mineral resources, the government is still responsible to protect the health of its population by investing in public health care and research to respond to the challenge of the various tropical diseases. It is equally important to stop sealing off the areas that are exposed to the risk, to make the supply with medication and humanitarian aid possible. Otherwise it would show clearly, that the lives of poor people and of the African health workers are less important than the lives of people in the rich countries.
Unfortunately, for the pharmaceutical industry it's all about big sales. Degenerated capitalists take advantage of this reality with their multinational corporations. They can count on the support of the imperialistic powers and on the complicity of their remote-controlled representatives, who in the function of leaders, set the tone at the summits of African States, just to advance their own business ventures. As service in return the sovereign always gets help to remain on the throne just as long as the kingdom of tropical disease exists. In this sense, the social health crises such as AIDS, malaria, cholera or the Ebola fever, with which we currently deal with in Africa, are the result of the irresponsibility that rules this continent. The irresponsibility which has sold huge parts of the land to foreign actors in the form of an economic program, which focuses on the exploitation of agricultural products and mineral resources, this irresponsibility has led to the fateful cooperation with the IMF and the World Bank (3). It has also led to signing neoliberal programms, known under the name of “structural adjustment measures”. Without hesitation, these countries have focused their economy on trade, expecting a “guaranteed” economic growth, as it had been promised by the IMF. They were caught in the trap of the industrialized countries, who wanted Africa to become a source of wealth for the global economy, a place that can be robbed of its riches, with no benefit for its people. As a result, the African countries have limited government spending, in particular through the reduction of public investment in the areas of education and health. The privatization of African companies has cleared the way for a new form of incorporation of Africa by multinational actors from abroad. Meanwhile, the local people, who should be the first to benefit from the use of their land, are living in extreme poverty and precarious health conditions until today.
As reminder: Liberia takes the 16th place in the production of diamonds in the world and is one of the world's largest producers of latex and rubber, while the staff of the health system doesn't have the necessary hygiene products. In addition, Liberia and Guinea are suffering, like Mali and Togo, under the land grab by international investors, who operate under the guise of public or private sponsorships. In 2010 a British agricultural investor of the “Guinea society” bought extensive lands for the development of corn and soybeans. It should also be noted, that the Italian energy company “Nuove Iniziative Industriali” has bought more than 700,000 acres for growing biofuels, while the people are dying of hunger (4). It should also be realized that as long as 99 years ago “Firestone Rubber” in Liberia bought one million acres of land, paying only 6 cents an acre. In addition, the Bolloré Group has the largest rubber tree plantation in the country – a purchase arranged by a subsidiary, the Liberia Agricultural Company (LAC). In May 2006, the UN Mission in Liberia (Minul) published a report on the catastrophic human rights situation on the plantation: child labor by children under 14 years of age, use of carcinogenic substances, prohibition of trade unions, arbitrary dismissals, use of private militias as law enforcement, exploitation of 75 villages … (5). In Sierra Leone Bolloré has leased 6500 hectares of farm land for the production of palm oil and rubber (6). Some sources speak of a lease of 20,000 hectares of palm trees and 10,000 hectares of rubber trees for over 50 years. In these countries the inhabitants of small villages which are struck by Ebola were chased away from their land and were forced to move into the forests to find food. Unfortunately, the forest entails risks that are invisible to the naked eye.
It is now up to the African people and its diaspora to take their fate into their own hands, demanding real change, and not remote-controlled revolutions. As long as the neo-colonialists still appoint crazy characters as heads of state who oppose a change, Africa will continue to beg from the West. The more it does so, the more it will be chained to its poverty. Isn't Ebola as old as so many African dictators are in power?
(3) Cornia G, R.Jolly and F. Stewart (eds) (1988), Adjustment with a Human Face: Ten Country Case Studies, Oxford University Press
(4) Farming pathogens, Disease in a world of our own making Available at: http://farmingpathogens.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/neoliberal-ebola/