Ebola and the Quarantining of West Africa’s Economies

By Akpan H. Ekpo

 The West African sub-region is experiencing the Ebola scourge. The Ebola virus disease, EVD, whose outbreak in Guinea occurred in May this year, has spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal. The Nigerian case was due to an American-Liberian who travelled to Nigeria on his way to a conference in Calabar, Cross River State. The federal and state governments acted fast and decisively in trying to contain the scourge. In fact, the federal and Lagos State governments deserve commendation in the manner they have handled the scare. I am yet to remember a time when the federal government has acted so positively towards the welfare of its citizens. Nonetheless, credit should be given to Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh for preventing the mass spread of EVD by insisting that the patient be quarantined in the hospital. She should be honoured by the Nigerian government.

There is no doubt that the EVD has affected socio-economic and political activities in Nigeria and the sub-region. It has even affected religious events. The impact of Ebola on the economy of Nigeria and other countries of the West African sub-region has been immediate with far-reaching implications now and in the medium and long-term. Airlines in the sub-region have cancelled flights to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The Gambian and Zambian authorities do not allow Nigerians to enter their countries. South Africa has instituted strict restrictions for Nigerians intending to enter the country. Countries in the West African sub-region have closed their borders thus prohibiting the movement of persons, goods and services. Consequently, the airline business has and would continue to suffer losses if the EVD scare continues. The implication of this is loss of jobs on a large scale. The loss of jobs would bring untold hardship on families, further accentuating the already harsh economic realities in the economies of the West African sub-region.

The hospitality industry is hard hit. Hotels have lost large numbers of guests; night activities are no more profitable. In a megalopolis like Lagos, there has been a 50 per cent drop in hotel occupancy. In Freetown, the hotel business is almost non-existent. The situation is similar in Monrovia and Conakry. Sierra Leone could not export her diamonds, and so the decline in revenues (foreign exchange) is obvious with all the inherent implications, among which is the lack of enough resources to finance development and government business. The African Development Bank which has provided some funding to some countries estimated conservatively that 4 per cent of the GDP on the affected countries would be lost due to the EVD. This is besides Nigerians and other West Africans being humiliated in Sri Lanka, Canada, UK, South Korea, among other countries. There is no doubt that the EVD, if not checked non a cure found for it, would negatively affect tourism, domestic economic activities as well as foreign direct investment.

However, the crucial issue to address is how the EVD palaver is being handled in West Africa and other African countries. Are we our brothers’ keepers? Are we making lives more difficult? What is the African Union, AU, doing? What is ECOWAS doing? It is in a time of distress that African countries need to demonstrate brotherliness and unity. Rather, African countries, those of West Africa in particular, have meted more draconian measures on themselves. Borders have been closed hindering the movement of persons and goods. Trucks carrying goods, particularly, food items are not allowed to cross borders within West Africa. Doctors Without Borders, the group assisting patients with EVD, cannot receive enough medical supplies because borders have been closed and flights are no longer allowed into the worst-hit countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Consequently, there would be a shortage of food and other essential items needed for all persons (Ebola and non-Ebola) to survive and reproduce themselves. All the countries in West Africa import almost 85 per cent of what they consume from Europe and neighbouring countries. Starvation, rather than EVD, may throw up more deaths.

The measures taken at the various airports to prevent the spread of EVD should be extended to border posts so as to allow movement of persons, goods and services. We should care for our brothers at this time of the Ebola crisis. This is the time to demonstrate the much-parroted African Unity. Cancelling all fights to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea is tantamount to quarantining the countries and holding their citizens hostage. This is unhealthy for these economies. Is the world ending and are we beginning to lack reasoning? The AU is yet to demonstrate any serious commitment in helping to reverse the EVD scare. The organisation is not walking the talk.

Fortunately, the EVD has gone global, prompting developed countries in fast-tracking efforts to develop a vaccine and a cure for the dreaded disease. It is interesting that some European airlines are still flying to the affected EVD countries. But almost all the known African airlines have stopped flying to the said West African states, a fact which is unfortunate in this time of distress. African governments should not make life more difficult for themselves and their citizens. It is tough enough to be African. The time for brotherly show of love is now.

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