AFRICANGLOBE – From the comforts of Southern Africa, the news of the “Ebola epidemic” in “West Africa” presents a scary situation. “Are you sure you want to go there? Are you not afraid of Ebola? What if you catch it?” These are some of the routine questions that my wife and I were bombarded with by concerned friends and acquaintances in Zimbabwe as we prepared for a holiday in Ghana in August.
I kept telling them that the distance between Ghana and the nearest country to suffer from the current Ebola outbreak, Liberia, is about three hours flight away by the fastest jumbo jet. I am writing this column from Ghana, and not one case of Ebola has been reported in the country as I write, even though nearly 1 500 people have died in the “epidemic zone” of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
The anti-Ebola preparations in Ghana have been top-notch. Medical facilities have been readied in anticipation of the first case or cases. And public education on radio and TV has been consistent in telling people what to do if the Ebola Virus Disease (VCD) ever crosses the borders into the country.
I don’t blame the Zimbabweans or the other Southern Africans who think that as soon as you touch the soil of Ghana, Ebola will be lurking at the next corner waiting for you. That is not the case.
The reporting of the current Ebola outbreak by the Western media and their dutiful followers in the African media has been very, very poor, because it has been rid of context, to the point where people who haven’t been to “West Africa” before genuinely think that all West Africans are at risk. No, that is not the case.
In fact, the use of the generic term “West Africa” in the reporting is wrong, as “West Africa” is made up of 16 countries; and if three of them are hit by the current outbreak, it is disingenuous to tar the whole 16 countries with the same brush and make it look as if the whole 16 countries are in the throes of the epidemic.
If three of the European Union’s 27 member countries are hit by an epidemic, it will not be reported as a European epidemic. It will be regarded as local to the three affected countries, and their names will always be mentioned. Why the same cannot be extended to the outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, is a problem in the heads of the correspondents covering the story.
A Bit Of Geography Will Do
Equally, the reporting has not explained that the epicentre of the current outbreak straddles the point where the borders of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia meet. This point is known locally as the Parrot’s Beak on account of how it looks on the map drawn by the Europeans at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, during the era of the Scramble for Africa; and this area is only divided by a river or two.
In effect, it is the same local area slashed up, divided, compressed, and forced into three countries by the damned Europeans who sat at that conference in Berlin and shared the continent of Africa among themselves.
Like everywhere else in Africa that suffered from the pencil and ruler of the Europeans, extended families were divided and forced into two or three countries while still living in the same villages and towns before the pencil and ruler were applied.
As such, if epidemics like the current Ebola disease happens, brothers and sisters only have to cross the river that the Europeans designated as the “international” border between them to attend the funeral of the brother who has fallen victim to the epidemic.
If they are unlucky to be infected by the virus, they will cross the river back into their homes in the “new” country or countries that the Europeans created for them. The “epidemic” will then be reported as having affected two or three countries, and in no time it will be a “West African” epidemic.
Context Is Important
In Zimbabwean terms, it is much like the area where the borders of Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe meet, or the Tongas who lived peaceably in that area until they were divided by the European borders.
If an epidemic hits the local area, and there is a bereavement on the right bank of the Zambezi River now called Zambia, the Tongas on the left bank now called Zimbabwe will only have to cross the river to attend the funeral of their departed loved ones and cross back into Zimbabwe after the funeral.
In no time the epidemic will be reported as affecting two or three countries, but the reporting will not say that it is the same local area divided into two or three countries.
If the reporting then goes on to call it a “Southern African epidemic” and scares people from visiting Swaziland and Lesotho because of this epidemic, it will be a gross exaggeration and an injustice to the people of Southern Africa. This is what confronts West Africans today.
Apart from one passenger from Liberia who collapsed at the Lagos Airport and later died in hospital from Ebola, the current “epidemic” has been largely local to the local area straddling the borders of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
As such, next-door neighbours like Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal have not been touched at all. To think that countries farther away from the epicentre, like Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Niger, etc, cannot be visited because they are in West Africa, is the height of ignorance.
There was an Ebola outbreak in Uganda in mid-2012. And nobody suggested that Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and DRCongo -near neighbours of Uganda’s – or East Africa as a whole, should not be visited. So why is it different in West Africa?
Moreover, Uganda’s outbreak did not affect the East African region, it remained local to Uganda. In fact, Ebola has the characteristic of being local if it is diagnosed early and quarantined. The previous outbreaks in DR Congo and Sudan remained local to the two countries. Why West Africa is being treated differently this time beggars belief.
The American Connection
In all this, the real story that has gone unreported is the American involvement in what has now become the epicentre of the so-called West African epidemic.
Before the current outbreak, American scientists had been doing research on haemorrhagic fevers, including Lassa and Ebola, in the very countries now affected by the current outbreak – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Did the research go wrong? Did the researchers use the local area as a laboratory for their experiments? What happened exactly? These are questions the Americans have to answer. And immediately!
But not surprisingly, the Americans would not say more than telling their citizens that Ebola can only be contracted by touching a person who has already been infected with, or died from, the disease.
That “human to human transmission is only achieved by physical contact with a person who is acutely and gravely ill from the Ebola virus, or their body fluids” and that such transmission “is almost exclusively among caregiver family members, or health care workers tending the very ill”.
According to the Americans: “If you are walking around, you are not infectious to others. You cannot contract Ebola by handling money, buying local bread or swimming in a pool. There is no medical reason to stop flights, close borders, restrict travel or close embassies, businesses, or schools . . . You will not contract Ebola if you do not touch a person dying from Ebola.”
But the Americans would not say that long before the current outbreak, their scientists had been doing research into Ebola and other haemorrhagic fevers in the very three countries now in the throes of the current epidemic.