The dry season’s dust has again settled on Conakry’s streets, aside from a few marks of ashes and rubble on the sides of the main avenues, everything seems to be back to the bustling normal. Just about ten days ago, things looked quite different in the Guinean capital. On February 20th, a nation-wide general strike in the education sector culminated in violent demonstrations, which took the government by surprise. Seven people were shot dead by state forces, thirty were injured and a dozen arrested, numerous vehicles were burnt, and a gas station and a police commissariat were pillaged. Though Conakry has experienced plenty of similar events during the past decade, there are a number of reasons not to write this off as simply another instance of urban violence. Continue reading
Passage from a medical journal from 1982: The results seem to indicate that at least Liberia and Guinea have been included in the Ebola and Marburg virus endemic zone. Therefore, the medical personnel in Liberian health centres should be aware of the possibility that they may come across active cases and thus be prepared to avoid nosocomial epidemics.
Signs here and there in the city remind us of the recent Ebola crisis. An empty bucket outside a shop, hand sanitizer in the fancier restaurants, but not much more. Monrovians do not mention it much, unless you ask. It is not like the previous civil wars which people still like to refer to. If Ebola in Liberia was like a silent war, it also appears to have a silent aftermath. Riding a shared taxi I ask my co-passengers about this. Why do you keep talking about the war, that took place so long ago but not the Ebola crisis? A woman answers: the Ebola epidemic was simply too fearful. In the war you would know where the enemy came from, Ebola on the other hand came from nowhere and everywhere; it was an invisible enemy. Which one would they prefer? The war, is the unison answer amongst fellow passengers. And when I did not stress it anymore we quickly moved into other less ‘fearful’ topics. Continue reading
The recent Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea has spurred a range of responses from all over the world. Some of these responses exemplify the ongoing stereotyping of Africa and Africans. Public discourse, unfortunately, still has the tendency of addressing Africa as a country, a war ridden space full of sadness and its inhabitants as savage and helpless. But stereotypes are not limited to these images of misery.
Other stereotypes romanticize Africa and Africans, they convey an image of the exotic and unspoiled continent. Moreover, various perspectives convey an image of poor people as a noble poor. These images may be highlighted in the context of Ebola, but they are always present. They are part of many people`s understanding of Africa, part of ignorant perspectives on the continent and the people. Continue reading
Like other anthropologists who have woken up mid-career and found the countries where they’ve lived and worked awash in mass deaths (and let’s be real… that’s quite a lot of us), my initial response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was to hope that the experts had the situation under control, and bury my head in the sand.
Soon, the epidemic outpaced the global health response, and the calls for help grew more urgent, but anthropologists’ phones have stayed startlingly quiet. While leaders at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and the World Health Organization explained how factors like culture, weak governance systems, human behavior, and social organization made the outbreak unintelligible to the global health community, academics who work in the region like Danny Hoffman, Rosalind Shaw, Mats Utas, Chris Coulter, Mary Moran, Susan Shepler, Adia Benton, Mike McGovern, Sasha Newell, Gwen Heaner, and Marianne Ferme, not to mention anthropologist from the global south like Sylvain Landry Faye, have remained untapped as resources for understanding and creating innovative new approaches to attacking the Ebola outbreak at its source.
This weekend, Newsweek published a relatively controversial article about the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Here’s the cover:
I found myself frustrated not only by the cover and the article, but also by the editor-in-chief’s condescending response to his critics:
Not exactly the kind of response you want from an editor-in-chief, right? I vented to Facebook friends about the magazine cover, the thin claims of the article and its editor-in-chief’s rude response to critical tweets. One of my friends pointed out that the magazine has been propagating race-baiting click bait for a while now. (Yes, I used the word ‘bait’ twice, and we, the scholars, have bitten). So it shouldn’t be surprising to see the old trope of apes standing in for black folks or sexually charged Grubb Street prognostications regarding ‘back door’ entry of Ebola into the US gracing its front pages. (As one tweeter noted, It doesn’t take a semiotician to see what’s going on here).