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December 18 2014

"Africa is not Ebola" by Lekpele Nyamalon

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By: Lekpele Nyamalon, The Perspective, Atlanta, Georgia December 8, 2014

I read an op-ed in the New York Times penned by the legendary singer, songwriter, and activist, Angelique Kidjo ,titled  ‘Don’t let Ebola dehumanize Africa’ She told a wonderful and soul wrenching experience of how she, who lives in  New York had faced stigmatization and attracted stares only because she is African. The Western Media has blown in frenzy of stories of the Ebola virus shattering parts of West Africa and reinforcing strongly entrenched stereotypes of a Continent that is always painted with a brush of gloom and doom.  For many, Africa is simply a land of misery.

In my Country Liberia, a campaign started ‘I am a Liberian, not a virus’ to send a message against stigmatizing Liberians-one of the highest groups of people to be stigmatized with the virus.  Another group of Artists-The Arterial network, launched a similar campaign, ‘I am a Liberian and Ebola is not my Identity’ and ‘Fight Ebola not Liberians’.  These are strong messages going out to the rest of Africa and the world that Ebola is not an inherent identity of Africa. For too long, the pictures of starving African kids, skinned to the bones, with scary images of skeletons have greeted International audiences as trademarks of the African continent.  Stories of coup d’etats, corruption scandals and misrule have all summed up the perception of the continent as one of the worst places on earth.  Ebola has joined the circus and is soaring. 

This belief about Africa has exposed Africans living in every part of the globe and by extension every black man. It has united in adversity the African living in the smallest village in Liberia to the African living in the gated neighborhood of New York.  Even those born in western cities of African descent are profiled as potential carriers of Ebola.  This image brings two messages: 

It profiles every African regardless of his place of birth, medical or recent travel history. Every black man walking is a potential incubator of Ebola and needs to be bundled, quarantined or possibly evacuated. There could be random testing done in populated black neighborhoods for likely carriers of the virus. The fear and hysteria of the black man has risen to unprecedented levels.  Every walking African could be secretly followed for slight signs of fever, weakness or vomiting. Secret surveillance systems could be upgraded to automatically tap the activities of African Communities. Hospital medical files could be routinely checked for frequent African visits and cases. Possible serious privacy breaches await many Africans.  Africans simply cannot hide. They belong to one package.

Perhaps, this could be a blessing in disguise to Africans, to reawaken the spirit of Pan Africanism. The black man, hidden in the pockets of Africa, or roaming in the slums of Kibera, playing soccer on the pavements of west point in Monrovia, or working a white collar job in Washington needs to have one sense of consciousness and use it to his advantage. We are a united flock- we suffer together, why not work together? Ebola has shown that the world is a global stage and everyone is a neighbor. Thomas Eric Duncan could jump on a plane and show symptoms of Ebola in America, sending chills across the world that everyone is at risk. 

Africans and those of African descent, by themselves should work together and rebrand the image of the continent. Self storytelling is a part of telling the world who we are, where we’ve come from and what impacts are Africans making the world over. We’ve negated that responsibility to a story teller that had not been so generous to us, closing an eye on the positives and zooming out the negatives.

In Liberia, where the Ebola virus has been rife, taking the highest toll in the region, there has been scores of survivals.  They survived with inner strength, strong will, with courageous health workers attending to them. Those stories are buried while only survivals in western medical facilities are heralded as heroes. There is a Liberian doctor, Philip Ireland, whose story to survival is touching. He ascribes his survival to God and lauds the efforts of RESH (Renewed Energy Serving Humanity) a local psycho social organization that provides counseling to patients and survivors of Ebola. Mr. Earnest Smith, a social worker, was on the frontline, donning on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and entering Ebola units to provide counseling. There is Dr. Jerry Brown, a dedicated medical doctor at the ELWA Hospital in Monrovia. These are a few of the unsung heroes and underground soldiers fighting the menace. 

Ebola is like a nuclear proliferation that needs concerted efforts and should not be used as a tool to stigmatize and brand an entire continent or group of people. The victims of Ebola are Africans, there are not the creators. Ebola should unite Africans and redefine our collective purpose. Like Kidjo, don’t let Ebola dehumanize Africa.  Stop blaming the African victims.

About the Author: Lekpele Nyamalon is a freelance writer and lives in Monrovia. He can be reached at 

Find out more about Arterial Nework Libera and their campaign here! 


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