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Black skin, white maps

Black skin, white maps
The 21st century world is no better a place to live in. What has changed? The nature of status quo, perhaps? That a bipolar world doesn’t exist anymore although it is another matter that in the undercurrent that flows globally, we have inched towards a very strange and baffling monopoly of sorts? While rich nations more often than not, continue to make technological advancements (some of them a little bizarre too) most of Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia still remains on the tenterhooks of even getting their basics right.

Let’s take the example of United Nations and its sister concerns. What good does it do? Does it stop racial profiling in the 21st century? Does it make the world a more inclusive place to live in? Has it been able to mitigate Africa’s crises? Has it brought more equality in Latin and Central America where drug cartel owners still continue to thrive? Has it brought a permanent solution to the woes of the Arabic world or has it been able to address the problems of many Asian countries which are over populated, are inflicted by unending diseases, malnutrition and lack of planning? The answer to it is a simple no.

However much of its presence is ratified by powerful countries like the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy, fact of the matter remains that it is a behemoth with no powers of its own, largely depending on the capitalist world’s largesse. One of the interesting characteristics about the UN and its bodies is, that especially in Third World countries its missions are largely taken care of not by locals, who may have a better understanding about the many problems their country faces but by expatriates who though are believed to take the global view in to stride are often found wanting when it comes to understanding the dynamics of a particular nation. In the same line of thought, let us analyse how the Ebola virus in particular and other epidemics in general were dealt with by largely North-North decision-making countries and international bodies.

When the Ebola virus broke out in 1976 in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the first time, the former was just a 20-year-old independent nation and the latter was only 16. Largely Arabic ethnic, Sudan then neither had the wherewithal nor the resources to fight the tragedy that had befallen it. It was also the year when the Ansars, followers of Mahdi sect of Islam led a bloodied and yet unsuccessful coup to remove President Col Gaffar Nimeiry. This also became the basis point of the Sudanese Civil War, which started from the 80s. Although, Sudan, a former colony of Britain and Egypt, was an emerging economy always, considering its access to oil and shale gas, the United Nations had by then become bound to send peacekeeping forces into the turbulent regions of Sub Saharan Africa. Sudan continues to struggle with internal strife that resulted in the division of the country and is ranked at the 166th position on the Human Development Index (HDI) list.

Democratic Republic of Congo on the other hand is one of the poorest nations of the world and is ranked 186th or second last in the HDI list only ahead of Niger, placed at the 187th rank. DRC, a former Belgian colony is extremely rich in natural resources but political instability has never let this nation rise. Considering its presence in the African rainforests, the country is largely swathed with tribal population. With the world’s second highest infant mortality rate, next only to Chad, DRC has had a terrible history of pneumococcal disease, with pneumococcal meningitis being the most prominent.

There is reason why this piece of information has been shared. Most of the African countries had been colonized by European nations almost until 1960 when the then British PM Harold Macmillan made the famous Winds of Change speech in the South African parliament on 3 February, 1960. After that speech and with the global influence of the imperialist powers waning, most of Africa was set free to deal with itself.

Traditionally ethnic and tribal, Africa soon saw the emergence of independent nations; nations whose people were considered to be the less humans always. With absolutely no development and with economies as frail as a dandelion, these nations had but no choice to accept the west’s financial sovereignty, give them status of their benefactors while they ushered in a blatant era of financial imperialism. The current Ebola outbreak is no different either. And why is it so? Firstly, the affected countries are Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. Secondly, these nations are some of the poorest nations of the world. Thirdly, all were colonies and except for Liberia which attained freedom in 1847 but continues to have more than 80 per cent of its population below the poverty line. Fourthly, all the five nations have almost negligible human development with Sierra Leone being the worst placed at the 183rd position.

Fifthly, as expected the United States and its controlled global bodies start hyperventilating but which essentially is gibberish. Gibberish why? Because when on 27 August, 2014 an article titled Ebola: the failures of the international outbreak response appeared, there was collective hue and cry. In fact it is commendable that Thomas Nierle, President of Médecins Sans Frontière, the largest NGO working in the area and Bruno Jochum, Director General showing extraordinary insight decided to bring to light the almost negated international response.

While WHO and United Nations can sing themselves eulogies, the article analysing their cavernous responses wrote, ‘MSF has accumulated significant experience in dealing with Ebola outbreaks over the last 20 years. During the same period, operational capacities in the United Nations system have been gradually reduced through reforms. For example, the restructuring of the World Health Organization in Geneva has led to the closure of its viral hemorrhagic fever unit. Member states should be held accountable for an unceasing reduction of response capacity. A destructive spiral has materialised, leading to what we see today: lack of leadership, deficient coordination and, last but not least, a striking absence of operational capacity. This is compounded by the fact that the international community simply doesn’t feel responsible for responding to what is happening in regions that are not perceived as politically or economically interesting.’

The question that naturally needs to be answered again is that why international bodies even exist when the order of the globe has to be maintained by a solitary nation, which has amassed so much power especially after bipolarity ended? Most of these agencies have become invariable fiefdoms and shall continue to remain the same, if the world order doesn’t necessarily change. MSF is also French but with the expertise that they have, their opinion cannot be negated. Outcry in the United States reached a point of no return when SARS and Anthrax broke out. Esotericism reached such a dubious low, that United States, which then was still reeling with the aftermath of 9/11 considered it to be a case of biological warfare by militants. Its claim could have been right had it been able to substantiate it with facts but that never happened.

Even if MSF asked those pertinent questions and even if that rhetoric is being elongated here, would it deter the United States to get its act in order and stop being the big brother to the world? But since Newton’s third law of physics is also practically applicable in every situation other than science too, an international weekly journal of science, Nature published from the United Kingdom, US’ closest ally has eulogised the effort by saying, ‘It is encouraging that the United States last week committed 3,000 military personnel and US$750 million to lend logistical support to civilian efforts to tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Civilian efforts also received a major, if belated, boost from United Nations intervention, with a Security Council resolution.’

I am left to wonder, how would have the US and UN line tottering international and Indian media would have reacted if Ebola could have happened in the most fortunate part of the world? In the words of MSF, It is shortsighted of developed nations to limit their response to the potential arrival of one infected patient on their territory. If the aim is to avoid further spread of the epidemic, we have to control transmission of the virus. And this is only possible by caring for patients in West Africa. Today and again, Médecins Sans Frontières asks for more- not more lip service, but more action.’ This is exactly what is expected in times such as these.
Devang Chaturvedi

Devang Chaturvedi

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