As the Ebola virus that is currently concentrated in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone rages on, Africa seems to have been caught napping again leaving the response to the international community which is still to strike the right cords in a coherent strategy for the fight.
Complains have been flying right and left about paucity of funds, conspiracy theories making the rounds, and the unjustified stigma flying beyond the confines of the continent. An African resident based in Europe and not even a native of one of the affected countries was recently subjected to a grueling experience at an airport in a South American country where she had traveled to for work. In the U.S, there is debate going on whether or not flights from West Africa should be banned.
For sure with a virus like Ebola, precautions are worth taking and no one should fault non-African countries for taking precautions. The response of Africa itself has not helped matters at all and tales of Africans stigmatizing Africans are making their way into the international press.
The NY Times recently ran a story of the anguish that layers from Sierra Leone were subjected to in the last month or so while participating in the qualifying games of the Nations cup. As uncontrollable as fans may be sometimes, taunting Sierra Leone players with chants of Ebola are simply disgusting. Having them live in secluded hotels, cut off from the public is already demoralizing enough. On his return from the qualifying games to his Greek Club PAS Lamia, of Sierra Leone’s John Kamara was grounded from training for three weeks despite the fact that there were undergoing daily checkups while in Yaoundé Cameroon during the two leg game.
While Nigeria and Senegal may have gained credit for successfully taming the spread of the virus, the response of the continent as a united entity has fallen short. Where is the African Union? While Cuba is sending Doctors and the US and Britain sending troops, why have African countries not shown greater solidarity? Where are Nigeria and South Africa who are supposed to be leaders of the continent? The leadership fight should not only be about fighting for a fictional Security Council seat but showing the lead in marching the continent head on to confront crisis.
The Ebola crisis are a reminder for the continent to get its priorities straight. The gaping holes in health care services have been exposed in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The situation is not different in most other African countries where health care is not considered a priority. It is not just about resources, but getting the priorities straight. There are many African leaders who rush to Europe at the sign of any malaise, but why can there not invest in building adequate health care facilities?
When we compare amounts that have been embezzled from state resources, what is lost from mismanagement, one can only imagine the difference it could have made in using such sums to invest in infrastructure, education, and health care. Even the aid and loans received from the international community has often lined up the pockets of corrupt officials and not used for intended purposes.
On the international scene one has heard about forums where the President of the AFDB has spoken forcefully on behalf of Africa. The AFDB has equally dedicated resources to the fight against Ebola. What is done by the AFDB should not make African countries shirk the need for expressing solidarity with the affected countries. The D.R.Congo has pledged help, and Ghana seems to be talking of help too. If Doctors can come all the way from Cuba why not from Nigeria , South Africa, Kenya, Uganda etc.? Instead of renegading on hosting the African Nations Cup next year as Morocco did , how about King Hussein’s country thinks of the support it could give to the affected countries to curb the spread of the virus?
And what about the global stars from Africa? All those UNICEF Ambassadors, children are been killed by in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Africa needs their advocacy now.When it came to the Ice bucket challenge, there were so eager to come along, nominating others to take the challenge. How about that same enthusiasm is transferred in helping raise not only awareness but resources needed by these affected countries? The continent needs the global appeals of Genevieve Nnanji, Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, D’banj, P Square and all others who fly high the African flag on the global stage.
Back to government priorities in Africa, research is one area where funding is often not available. The brilliant minds are there, the intellect is in abundance, and there is the added advantage of knowing the continent. What about Traditional medicine, which has suffered from acute neglect over the years?
In the Ebola crisis comes the reminder that where ever there is a leadership vacuum in Africa, someone out of the continent will fill it up. It is not enough to murmur in silence why the USA sent the military to help Liberia in its response, the question should also be asked, what did African countries do? What did the African Union do to coordinate a response? What did the business moguls in the continent do when it came to rallying financial support or should we continue to think it has to be the Bill Gates and the Mark Zuckerbergs doing it? Africa has its own global brands in Dangote, Mo Ibrahim and others.
It is not late for Africans to rally together and not remain indifferent to the plight of those in countries affected. There are many who still long for a United Africa as advocated by Nkrumah. Such unity means the continent bonds in good and bad times. No one should make the mistake to think it is something limited to the three West African countries, the virus may have broken out in any of the other countries.
Far from dividing Africa, the crisis should reinforce the need to come together, the need for all Africans to speak truth and call on leaders to get priorities straight, the need to challenge African countries to make the investments needed in health care, infrastructure, technology, research ,education and others. Without these investments, and without getting these priorities right, the continent will continue to remain way short of meeting its potential. Nigeria and Senegal have already gained credit by keeping the virus under check, the continent needs to aggressively rally behind Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and send a message to the world that the continent can take care or at least take the lead in the quest for solutions to crisis of this magnitude. Africa should lead the world in the response to Ebola and not follow the world in response.