The outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa is ugly. It has claimed over a 1,400 lives, tampering with the safety of communities and diminishing the number of health workers in already weakened health care systems in the three West African Ebola affected countries. The Ebola epidemic has seen a wave of media frenzy, analyzing and scrutinizing the determinants and effects of the virus on society from every angle, portrayed in every media format for the world to see, to bare witness only. Ebola is ugly, not only is it commanding a massive budget from international agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) and sourcing generous local private sector support; it is simultaneously affecting local commerce determinately and economically draining the struggling economies of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
The very ugly side of the Ebola outbreak is the African region and international response to it. The disappointing response by other African nations to converge in collaborative efforts to support affected countries is shattering. Shutting down borders does not necessarily protect nations like Senegal and Ivory Coast, who recently locked all or some of its borders air, land and sea to Ebola affected Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea over fears of the virus spreading. What decisions like that render is fear, paranoia and hamper relief efforts in what is suppose to be an interconnected continent. In one example, a high level U.S medical delegation was nearly blocked from entering Liberia because of cancelled flights. Brussels Airlines, one of the few airlines still serving West Africa, had to halt its flight to the region because Senegal refused to let its planes land in Dakar for crew changes. The extent of mistrust and lack of solidarity stretches to high-level diplomacy amongst African nation states -- the response often being, we will stop our flights, we will shut our borders and constructive solutions are not sought.
What the Ebola Virus outbreak has shown us, those of us living in the heavily affected countries, is we face the same stigmatization and ostracization by the global community, particularly African nations, as do Ebola survival victims within our own borders. No nation wants to deal with Ebola on their soil and fairly so, yet isolation of affected countries is not the solution and only highlights the deficiencies in African nation states ability to maintain a united front in the face of crisis. The African Union's (AU) response too has being snail pace. It was only in the month of August that a statement given by the Chairperson of Peace and Security Council Ambassador Alain Asime Nyamitwe of Burundi in which he stated that "it is important that African States and partners work together as a matter of urgency to provide a common and effective response to curb the Ebola Epidemic and think about sustainable mechanisms to help manage more effectively health disasters in Africa"
What connects most of Africa is the undeniable cultural thread visible in almost every community across the continent. We are inherently a communal culture. You cannot see a sick family member without going to their aid, you cannot abandon your wife, or husband, or child or niece when they are at their worse, naturally you will attempt to help. It is that natural cultural instinct that will continue to perpetuate a virus like Ebola because no matter the situation, family is family and intrinsically it is our responsibility to offer support and ease. The ugly side of Ebola lives beyond the lives it claims, it is in the loss of human trust and touch. This is what Ebola has taken away from us. The "Ebola handshake" evokes laughter, thereby making light of our predicament, but it also holds testimony to the inherent fear many of us live with as a plethora of information and misinformation proliferates radio airwaves, media platforms and chatter on the streets.
But who do we begin to blame? Where do we begin to look for swift tangible assistance? How do we begin to balance fear of being infected with Ebola and fear of dying due to starvation or the degradation of income? How does Africa begin to rise when Ebola threatens at a very micro level the very fabric of communal support and trust, and at a macro level what will diplomacy look like six to twelve months from now? What lessons will be drawn from this devastating epidemic? The message is clear, Africa is not rising, as the popularized term often indicates a consolidated unified upward movement from the continent, rather each African nation is grabbing life jackets to remain above water.
Another ugly side of the Ebola outbreak is the lack of leadership in the fight to contain the disease, the lack of immediate tangible support and the consistent fear the outbreak nurtures across all levels. We can document the human stories of courage and survival in light of the Ebola outbreak -- these stories will always prevail on a continent like Africa, just look at our collective history. Yet, let us not forget to also draw on the lessons of division and fear, breakage of weakened institutional systems and the lack of Pan-African support rendered at a time needed the most. Lest we forget the virus that ravishes lives, spares a lucky few, we must also revisit the term Africa Rising, Ebola's ugly face has shown us that Africa and Africans have yet to rise when and where it really matters.