By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York
August 3, 2014
The US-Africa summit begins tomorrow (8/4/14) and lasts through Wednesday, August 6. It is billed as the largest high-level confab between the political representatives of the proverbial primeval continent and the world's most powerful economic and military power. The meeting, we are told, aims "to build on the progress made since [President Barack H. Obama's] trip to Africa last summer, advance the [Obama] Administration's focus on trade and investment in Africa, and highlight America's commitment to Africa's security, its democratic development, and its people." The foregoing statement is attributed to the media wing of the White House.
I suppose the allusion to the "people of Africa" has squarely to do with quality of life issues; for even as I write, nearly 800 Africans are reported to have died from the latest deadliest epidemic to strike the continent within the last ten years (See "US-Africa Summit: Obama Orders Ebola Screening of Mahama, Other African Leaders" Starrfmonline.com 8/3/14). This is not the very first time that the Ebola Virus is ravaging the African continent and some of its people. During much of the 1980s and the 1990s, the first known and widely publicized Ebola epidemic struck much of Central Africa, in particular the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Back in those days, when the hitherto staunchly CIA-backed President Mobutu Sese Seko ruled the proverbial roost, the former Congo-Kinshasa was called Zaire. It had been called Congo well before 1960, when Belgium, the erstwhile colonial overlord, granted the people of this richest part of the continent nominal self-rule. Amidst the apocalyptically chaotic history of postcolonial Congo, Mr. Mobutu would rename this vast stretch of mineral-rich tropically forested land Zaire, after the Nzadi River, I am told. Today, this largely well-watered greenery has reverted back to its "birth-name" of Congo, after the Ba-Kongo, the largest ethnic nationality among the inhabitants of the region.
I have digressed this far because during the outbreak of the first Ebola Virus was when vanguard African research scientists, if there exists any such category of humans on the continent, ought to have collaborated with their interested Western counterparts to find a lasting cure for the disease. Which is why I am not only annoyed, but also flabbergasted by widespread talk of doctors not having found a lasting cure for Ebola. I suppose the name of the virus comes from one of the Congolese languages, unlike Aids whose name takes after the acronym of its scientific identity and behavior.
And so unlike Aids, Ebola has tended to be primarily and largely envisaged as an African killer disease. Which has made the rest of the world able to go to bed and sleep soundly at the end of a long and hard day's work; because, after all, in classical Twainian terms, "It is only an African thing." And, well, an African killer disease it has remained these past twenty-and-odd years. That is, until last week the virus was widely reported to have infected an American physician. We would shortly learn, further, that at least two medical workers, including the aforesaid American physician, had been infected by the virus while working among the victims of Ebola in hopes of meliorating the strength and spread of the disease.
So far, the three countries most acutely affected by the virus are Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, all located adjacent to one another. Predictably, though, this contagious disease has shown itself to be no remarkable respecter of national boundaries. One or two victims have flown the disease to Nigeria, the most populous nation in the West African subregion. As of this writing, neighboring countries like Ghana that have not been affected by the Ebola Virus, at least not just yet, are being ravaged by cholera, an epidemic that ought to have long been consigned to ancient history, were African leaders passably public health-conscious.
Naturally, in Ghana, people are wondering how the cholera-depresed nation would fare, should the Ebola Virus decide to pay a whirlwind visit. The widely reported decision by President Obama to have leaders like Ghana's President John Dramani Mahama, who are attending the US-Africa Summit being hosted in Washington, DC, double-screened prior to their arrival at the venue of the conference, ought to send an instructive signal that the health and destiny of these filthy rich leaders are only as sound and valid as those of the very people whose health needs they have, for the most part, cavalierly and callously ignored for decades.
It ought to also motivate these African leaders to take public healthcare more seriously than ever before. To be certain, were Mr. Mahama to be paying even an informal visit to Ghanaians resident in the New York Metropolitan Region, I would personally call for him to be treble-screened for the Ebola Virus before I consented to share a common auditorium with the man. Forget about a handshake this time around, Little D.