Ebola: Africa needs support, not reckless scaremongers

Nearly every corner of the African continent is currently engaged in frantic efforts to stem the tide of the deadly Ebola disease that started in Guinea, spreading to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other parts of West Africa. 
Oscar Kimanuka
Oscar Kimanuka

Nearly every corner of the African continent is currently engaged in frantic efforts to stem the tide of the deadly Ebola disease that started in Guinea, spreading to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other parts of West Africa. 

Mobile telephone companies are bombarding their clients with messages on how to avoid contracting the Ebola virus through mobile phones. The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently assisting governments across the continent to be in a state of preparedness and take no chances with the current onslaught of this deadly virus.

However, despite the arrangements being put in place to thwart the unforeseen dangers of Ebola, there are people out there who are now bent on boycotting conferences and meetings as well as visits to many parts of our continent.

This is such a long-held international ignorance and the lingering perception of Africa as one country and not a continent with 54 countries!

Take the example of Namibia, so distant from West Africa, whose Chamber of Commerce and Industry was expecting a delegation from Brazil at the beginning of this week.

The said mission was cancelled at the last minute owing to fears of Ebola. Someone remarked, rather angrily, ‘Africa is a diverse continent, not just a country!’ Namibia is not alone in experiencing boycotts.

While it is true that the Ebola outbreak has so far killed more than 1,500 people in the affected areas, the risk of transmission in those countries is already having serious impact on travel to several countries, including those that are far from the affected areas. 

Ghana, while not far from the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, has reportedly cancelled any would-be international conferences in the country for three months for fear of the potential spread of the deadly Ebola virus.  

Some carriers like the Korean Air have suspended flights to some parts of East Africa. Conferences scheduled to take place in countries like Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Equatorial Guinea have reportedly been cancelled, some indefinitely.

What is all this? The international media have always focused on Africa as a continent beleaguered with intractable problems of corruption, poor governance records and dysfunctional state institutions. 

The good stories that come from our continent rarely receive attention. 

While the media are understandably pre-occupied with momentous events in Europe and North America, the temptation has been strong to ignore the second largest continent and the cradle of mankind not simply because Africa still appears remote and strategically inconsequential to the rest of the world, but rather because its seemingly grave problems and acute suffering appear to be beyond redemption.

While the Ebola outbreak has reached crisis proportions, it is said to pose no particular risk to air travelers according to health officials and airlines. In fact air service should, according to experts, continue to serve affected areas to help thwart further spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Already, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has advised that aviation constitutes a “low risk” for Ebola transmission and has gone ahead to advise airlines to screen passengers at airports in infected areas, apply rigorous procedures including isolation when handling suspected cases, and disinfect planes afterward.

It may sound easy to allay fears about a fatal disease like Ebola with no known cure or vaccine; it is quite another thing to persuade people to carry on with their normal routines and leisure trips to the affected parts of West Africa.  

What affects one part of our continent surely affects the rest of us. Our airlines should desist from issuing a blanket approach when cancelling flights to West Africa.

I have heard of Kenya Airways cancelling flights to parts of West Africa from this week. I hope that RwandAir and other East African Airlines will not follow suit.

Africa needs support not reckless scaremongers. We need to protect our tourism, trade and other endeavors that contribute to the growth of our economies and people.

Africa is a truly rich continent whose riches, oil, gas, minerals and more have driven rapid economic growth over the last decade. To sustain this growth that improves the lives of our people, the continent will need an economic transformation that taps into our other riches: the land and fertile soils, extensive fisheries and forests and, above all, the energy and ingenuity of our people.

These are the stories to tell.

The writer is a consultant and visiting lecturer at the RDF Senior Command and Staff College, Nyakinama.