While non-African nations from the United States to China and Cuba
are deploying resources and health personnel in a U.N.-led surge to
aid Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, fast-growing Africa's states
and institutions are facing questions about the level and speed of
their own contributions.
With nearly 5,000 people already dead, added urgency comes from the
disease's spread in Africa's west, besides isolated cases in the
United States and Europe. Mali confirmed its first case on Thursday,
becoming the sixth West African nation to be touched by the
"It is very clear African governments are not doing enough, given
the resources that some countries do have," Gilles Yabi, a
Dakar-based independent West Africa analyst, told Reuters.
The world's second fastest-growing continent, but still its least
developed, appears to have been badly caught off guard by the sheer
speed and magnitude of the Ebola outbreak, which is straining its
still limited resources and governance capacity.
The three governments at the Ebola epicenter expressed hurt at the
fact that some of their own African neighbours were among the first
to shut their borders and halt flights in a "them and us" attitude
they said fed a wider stigmatisation of the continent fueled by
"If our continent is to rise to this challenge, we must do so
together," said Liberia's Information Minister Lewis Brown.
There is already broad consensus that the global community, and
especially the World Health Organization (WHO), lagged badly in its
response to the West African outbreak, the world's worst of the
hemorrhagic fever so far.
But at a time when the IMF sees Sub-Saharan Africa's growth
accelerating to 5.75 percent next year, there is disappointment at
the perceived slow response and lack of leadership by the 54-member
African Union. The continental body is often accused of letting the
outside world solve African emergencies, be they coups or wars,
natural disasters or health alarms like Ebola.
"It is embarrassing really, that Cuba should be sending more doctors
and nurses to fight Ebola than Africa combined," said Ugandan author
and journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo, Editor of the Mail & Guardian
Africa, a digital news publication.
The AU is deploying its own mission, known as ASEOWA, of initially
100 African medical and military personnel to the epicenter states,
which it hopes to swell with reinforcements from Nigeria, Democratic
Republic of Congo and East Africa.
This compares with deployments to the Ebola zone also underway of
more than 400 doctors and nurses from Cuba, and a 3,000-strong
military mission that the United States is sending.
"We as the AU are trying to mobilize with our member states. We have
written to our heads of state to get more human resources," AU
Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said on a visit to Monrovia
While Nigeria moved swiftly in mid-year to curb its own Ebola
outbreak, it was only in early September that the AU held an
emergency summit on fighting the disease. This was a month after the
epidemic had been declared an international health emergency by the
Yabi also criticised the "weak" response of the West African Health
Organization (WAHO), which forms part of the West African regional
"I think countries and all of us were caught unaware, and then
countries sometimes took inappropriate actions trying to protect
themselves," Dlamini Zuma said.
Nevertheless, USAID administrator Rajiv Shah welcomed the AU's first
medical deployment in its history. "They can do more, and are trying
to do more," he said.
Dlamini Zuma said the AU was lobbying African airlines that had
suspended routes to the epicenter zone to restore them, and was
canvassing local companies, business executives, artists and
footballers to persuade them to contribute to the Ebola fight.
[to top of second column]
'TALK LOUDER THAN THE WALK'?
Both the AU and its precursor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU),
have faced charges of being ineffective 'talk-shops'.
A West African diplomat at the AU said the continental body was
primarily a security-focused bloc. "Conflicts, terrorism and the
like have taken all the attention throughout this time and what this
also shows is the serious lack of expertise in any other field, such
as health," he said in Addis Ababa.
AU officials reject the criticism, saying lop-sided cover of the
Ebola crisis by the international media has focused on Western
nations and figures and minimised African initiatives.
"We prefer to act and act decisively rather than talk," said Dr.
Olawale Maiyegun, Director of the AU Commission's Social Affairs
Department, in emailed responses to Reuters.
Maiyegun said the AU and its individual members had made available
more than $6 million for the Ebola fight, including $1 million
released from the AU's Special Emergency Assistance Fund for Drought
and Famine for medicine and food in affected countries, $3.5 million
made available by Africa's biggest economy Nigeria and $1 million
provided by Kenya, he said.
International pledges total over $690 million made by 35 nations
including the United States and millions more in material and
personnel. The World Bank has committed $400 million and the IMF
advanced $130 million in zero percent loans.
The African Development Bank, which is funded by international
donors and lenders, has pledged $150 million.
The unmet need in the Ebola fight is about $1 billion, the United
Nations has said
"CREDIBLE" STATES STILL LACKING
Yabi said health emergencies such as the Ebola epidemic, along with
recurrent conflicts and wars, showed up a key persisting weakness in
Africa's buoyant economic surge: the challenge of building strong,
effective functioning states.
Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea's governments and health systems,
still weak from their civil wars of the 1990s, were simply
overwhelmed by the Ebola outbreak.
The Ebola emergency showed priority must be given to investment in
health and education, the AU's Dlamini Zuma said.
"So we need human capital, financial capital".
Unfortunately, Onyango-Obbo said, political will was often lacking
in Africa to allocate the resources to these areas.
"Generally, one senses there a "blackmail tradition" on the
continent, where it traps the international community and
institutions like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund
critical areas like health ... no one wants to see children and
mothers die," he said.
Meanwhile, he added, some leaders and governments used national
resources to buy fighter jets or presidential planes.
(Additional reporting by Dan Flynn and David Lewis in Dakar, Umaru
Fofana in Freetown, Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa and Alistair
Scrutton in Stockholm; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Giles
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.