As Africa's leader meet at the 54-nation African Union (AU) summit in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, to discuss the Ebola crisis, expectations of firm action will be tempered by criticism over the continent's poor record in the early stages of the epidemic.
Health workers and cash have flooded in from the United States, Britain and Cuba as part of a UN-led surge to battle the Ebola epidemic which has seen nearly 9,000 deaths in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. However, it was only in September, 10 months after the virus emerged and a month after it was declared a 'health emergency of international concern', that the AU held an emergency summit.
AdvertisementThe three hardest-hit nations have expressed thorough disappointment that their continental neighbors seemed initially to be much quicker to shut borders and ban flights than to deploy resources. Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma hinted at his disillusionment in August when he greeted a $500,000 donation from Gambia with an ill-disguised dig at his other African neighbors. He said, "In moments like this, we will remember our friends including those that are rallying round us and those that show true spirit of African solidarity. We expect African countries and organizations including ECOWAS and the African Union to rally round and show solidarity which the Gambian president has demonstrated."
Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel was more explicit when she blasted African leaders in November for an inadequate response to the Ebola epidemic which demonstrated a lack of regard for human life. The AU itself has recognized its shortcomings. Even at the height of the epidemic, AU members were able to deploy just 100 volunteers to west Africa, a quarter of the number provided by Cuba alone.
The bloc's chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma admitted at a meeting with the heads of the United Nations and World Bank on October 28, "With the wisdom of hindsight, our responses at all levels, continental, global and national, were slow, and often knee-jerk reactions that did not always help the situation."
AU leaders are now discussing the economic recovery of countries affected by Ebola, setting up a 'solidarity fund' and planning a proposed African Center for Disease Control (CDC). The World Health Organization (WHO) said that laboratory-confirmed Ebola infections had dropped below 100 new cases a week for the first time in more than six months, and it had shifted its efforts from slowing the spread to stamping it out completely.
Meanwhile President of Guinea, Alpha Conde has warned that the retreat of the virus has brought with it the danger of complacency. Last week on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which brings together 2,500 of the world's most influential business and political leaders, he said, "We have to see how to compensate for the damage that Ebola has inflicted on our economy and our finances." He has also called on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is owed $480 million ($557 million) by the Ebola-hit nations, to forgive the debt, a request which has been backed in part by the United States, IMF's largest shareholder. He added, "The consequences are extremely serious for our economy. Business executives no longer come to our country."