Of Ebola, Africa’s riches and misguided leadership

27 Aug

The Ebola virus continues to wreak havoc in Sierra Leone, DRC, Liberia, Guinea and possibly other African countries with no end in sight. As this calamity continues, some of the beleaguered African countries have started asking questions on the responsibility of other developed states, the UN and so on to come to their assistance. As a response to this outbreak, very tight travel bans have been imposed by numerous countries all over the world barring outbound flights from the affected countries. Clearly, this would not have gone done well with the affected countries as this affects economies and trade and generally places the countries in bad light. Sierra Leone’s senior government officials have come out guns blazing calling on the travel bans to be lifted by the African countries. I am of a different opinion. Rather than shout and scream at counterpart African countries for the travel quarantine, the Ebola affected countries must take this disaster as a time to reflect on how their riches can alleviate poverty in their own backyards, deal with the Ebola virus, and how their leadership has let down their citizens.

The first question that the Ebola affected countries need to ask themselves now is why they are suffering so much amidst so many riches in diamonds, rubber and other natural resources in their own countries. The money from these natural resources should be directed towards economic and social development but alas, half the time it is pilfered by government officials through corruption and spent on other unnecessary expenses which do not in any way contribute to the development of the said countries.

Ethical questions will be raised about the Western pharmaceutical countries which seem to have discovered and developed cures for this deadly Ebola virus on why they are not releasing the drugs to be tested on patients and so on. The same questions have been asked before about the HIV/AIDS virus. There are and can be very simple answers to such questions. These Western private companies are in business and they need to realize some sort of return on their investments. African governments through regional bodies and the African Union must now start asking important questions on how they can tap into these already developed research institutions by either building their own disease research and control centers. The other alternative is to build funds, kitties or whatever they might be called to contribute to the already established Western efforts. There might be no need to reinvent the wheel for the African initiatives. There has been talk about establishing research centers in Guinea or the center is already there but these systems need to start functioning and bringing out results.
More importantly, African governments at a political level through the African Union or their regional bodies such as ECOWAS, IGAD, and SADC etc. need to ask each other questions around their health, education, food and other related policies. It is one thing to sit and talk about how the West and China is screwing African countries but ignoring the fact that Africa has more riches and wealth which can be channeled towards these developmental activities. Pleading bankruptcy and lack of funds is now a tired story which is very boring and in some instances a mockery of African citizens’ intelligence. Misguided statements from senior African Government officials like the Sierra Leonean Ibrahim Ben Kargbo (Special Adviser to President Koroma) trying to threaten other African countries for not standing by them in their times of crisis should not be tolerated. The African Union and other African progressive governments for example like Kenya and South Africa need to ask these same countries tough questions on what they are doing to tame such crises in their own backyards. Africa cannot continue blaming other people for its own problems. In any case, other African countries have lost so much business from cancelled flights and goods that have not been delivered to and from the affected countries.

At a domestic level, clear problems of governance emerge. It defies logic to understand how and why communities would attack health centers where their own relatives were being treated. It shows a clear lack of communication and awareness from the government. A clear correlation exists between the lack of knowledge, education and poverty in the instances where Ebola has wreaked havoc in most of the communities in the affected African countries. It therefore becomes imperative that social programs to ensure that communities get enough and proper education so that they are lifted from the poor conditions they live in becomes very necessary.

At some point, there were blockades in some parts of Liberia and Sierra Leone. These were purportedly meant “to protect citizens from themselves” according to President Johnson Sirleaf. Fair enough, people were attacking health centers and bolting with the sick patients thereby exposing whole communities which could have caused a national disaster. So in instances like these, why would it not be fair for other countries to impose bans on people travelling from the same Ebola affected countries?

In a more misguided fashion and typical of failed leadership, most Libyan senior government officials had to be barred from travelling outside the country for one month. This was after there was an upsurge of them fleeing the country going to neighboring and overseas countries. That could not have been right! What kind of leadership is that? Ethical and leadership questions need then to be asked. If the countries such as Liberia plead poverty and bankruptcy when it comes to finding solutions or alleviating the plight of citizens affected by this disease, how then is it possible that at the spur of a moment hundreds of government officials and civil servants who clearly have access to government resources through corruption and privilege can purchase tickets and afford to live out of the country?

Clearly, diseases know no boundaries and thus any threat to these African countries should be considered a threat to the rest of mankind therefore calling for collective attention. However, Ebola again though difficult to treat has been in existence since the 1970s and the affected African governments have known this state of affairs. Bar the negative effects of wars and other devastating natural calamities, Africa must strive to come up with its own defense mechanisms to such problems. It is not good enough for the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sierra Leone Ebun Strasser – King to note that Ebola “took us by surprise and met us when we were ill prepared for it”.

More importantly, issues must be put in perspective at individual government levels, regional bodies and at the African Union levels:
– How much is needed to set up the research centers or center in any African country.
– How much money is needed to carry out media and awareness campaigns in the affected countries
– How much does it cost to train health personnel to be able to attend to the outbreaks
– What can be done to improve citizens livelihoods and food security so that they stop eating life threatening foodstuffs such as the Ebola carrying bats and bush – meat
– What and how much will the different African countries contribute towards these programs and initiatives

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