Drowning in Ebola: How war and western intervention helped spread the deadly virus
It is only now that Ebola has reached Spain and the United States, that the epidemic is no longer seen as just an African issue which the west can ignore.
FROM WATCHING the news, it appears as if all 17 countries that make up West Africa are drowning in Ebola.
In 1976 it was the infection of Belgian nuns and health workers that brought the virus to the attention of the medical world. The first known cases were in the Democratic Republic of Congo and today's South Sudan.
An outbreak was again reported in 1995 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Uganda. There were outbreaks in these countries in 2003, 2007 and 2012.
Then, we come to the present outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and to a lesser extent Nigeria. The international health organisations, the African ruling elite and various experts have had four decades to work on this disease.
But now that Ebola has reached Spain and the US it is no longer seen as just an African issue.
Another painful lesson from the 2014 outbreak is the lack of a unified response to find solutions to the epidemic. Maybe when the outbreak was confined to Central and Eastern Africa, it didn't occur to the authorities in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea that they might one day have to deal with an epidemic themselves.
War started in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996 around the same time as the second Ebola outbreak occurred. The conflict has continued since then, with fighting still reported as recently as last year.
Uganda has also been through phases of war between 1971 and 1979 and then again from 1986 to the present day. Sudan has also seen war from 1955 to 1972 and later from 1983 to 2005.
South Sudan only recently saw military skirmishes between two ruling-class factions. From 2003 to 2012 there has been war in the neighbouring Central African Republic. Liberia was engrossed in a civil war between 1989 and 1996 and from 1999 to 2003.
There was war in Sierra Leone too, from 1991 to 2002. And last year Guinea saw violence and protests and inter-group clashes leading to deaths at the hands of the security forces.
This list of wars illustrates how the allocation and use of available resources sets the wrong priorities and diverts resources away from sectors like health and education and into war. The diversion of cash spent in funding military conflicts, buying arms and servicing fighters could have instead been spent on health.
This is yet another good reason to step up the building of a strong global anti-war movement, as we have yet another example of what can happen when resources are devoted to war instead of helping ordinary people.
The inability to deal with the current Ebola outbreak is also a reflection of the post-colonial leadership crisis in Africa, as the colonially trained African elites do not have the interests and the welfare of the people at heart, but have surrendered the continent to Western governments, international financial institutions and multinational corporations whose interests in profit only encourages the arms trade.
These twisted priorities have led to scientific and technological personnel – who could have helped in the field of health – leaving to practice in the West. Africa's great “brain drain” has only created more problems for African countries.
The Ebola epidemic will only be solved when the issue is seen as a global problem needing a collective solution, and when Africa stops being the imperial playground for western economic and strategic interests.
Explo Nani Kofi will be speaking at the Hundred Years of War conference in London on 25 October 2014. Details below.