Ebola and Tourism: The Killer Disease No One Predicted

Robyn Gleeson

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Photo Credit Luigi Guarino (Flickr).
Photo Credit Luigi Guarino (Flickr).

IF you were to take a look around Africa today you would see a continent with promise and hope. You would see major investments in human development, advancements in women’s empowerment and gender equality. You would definitely see a fast-changing, developing world, albeit with some work still left to do. But you would see Africa as it truly is.

However, acknowledgment of these achievements never seems to douse the crippling pessimism that has come pre-attached to this area of the world. The various challenges the continent faces are widespread and very much in the public eye, which is why the negative portrayal of Africa has become so popular among the developed world.

The latest on-going Ebola developments have offered some promising news on the growing control the continent has over the disease. With a death toll that has reached close to 10,000, reports have suggested that the rate of which the residents are dying has slowed down significantly in the last few months. This is due to a faster response rate by officials, a better knowledge of the virus and how it is spread by the African people, and also more funding for trial vaccinations. This has all been aided by developed countries, offering an olive branch to the worst disease-stricken areas.

What the public fail to realise now is with the epidemic finally seeming to slow its spread, a newer, deadly virus emerges. That is the racial stigmatisation now occurring due to the dramatised version of African reality, spawning a wholly negative outlook on an undeserving country. This is what could possibly cause the death of Africa, at least in the sense of killing it’s good name and quenching it’s achievements over the past few years in the public’s eye.

This may become even more damaging than the original virus itself because as time goes on, the inaccurate view of life on the continent may become cemented in the mind of the average working class individual. This could set Africa back tens of years in development terms with dire consequences to trading opportunities and economic funding.

This worrying fact has not gone unnoticed, especially by fellow Africans, with native Nana Richard Abiona being the voice of many. Known by his stage name, Fuse ODG, Nana is an aspiring artist who last year turned down the proposition of joining the latest Band Aid charity fund in aid of Ebola as he told The Guardian:

‘I was worried that this would play into the constant negative portrayal of the continent of Africa. I, like many others, am sick of the whole concept of Africa- a resource rich continent with unbridled potential- always being seen as diseased, infested and poverty-stricken.’

If we were to see beyond all that, we would also all know that seven out of ten of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa itself. However, we as an audience only get to see one side of all this and have been for quite some time now.

Nana, while not disputing Band Aid’s good intentions, feels the shock factor used since the ‘80’s in their campaigns should no longer apply to Africa, as the portrayal of the country is neither dignified nor true. In the process of all the good work being done for the citizens of this nation, a lot of destruction was also made. An imbalance of sorts has occurred as Nana states:

‘That image of poverty and famine is extremely powerful psychologically. With decades of such imagery being pumped out, the average westerner is likely to donate or buy a charity single that gives them a nice warm fuzzy feeling; but they are much less likely to go on holiday to, or invest in, Africa.’

This is where the problems occur. Investment is what Africa needs to continue its economic rise, but few people get to see real life on the continent due to the fact that there isn’t a huge tourist incentive according to the media.

Photo Credit Nana B Agyei (Flickr).
Photo Credit Nana B Agyei (Flickr).

The regeneration has gone on behind the scenes for many years now, as one of the popular African writer’s, Ntongela Masilela, states in his latest paper ‘The New African Movement- The Early Years‘:

“The brighter day is rising upon Africa.”

But we must question what good this actually does when no one is around to see it. At least, no one from the outside. People’s perceptions haven’t changed and they will continue not to change until Africa’s achievements are finally acknowledged by the everyday person and the media itself.

The damage Ebola has physically cost the continent is relatively small compared to what was predicted at first. The World Bank now says the Sub-Saharan economy is likely to spend approximately $4bn on repairing what has been dubbed the worst case scenario in African history. This will become a thing of the past over time thanks to the large containment actions by officials.

But the long term damage is what is worrying the people of Africa now. Nana is disheartened by what has been done to his country and even with the rest of the world trying to help, they are oftentimes making the situation even worse:

“I hope from the bottom of my heart that the disease can be eradicated in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. But though shock tactics and negative images may raise money in the short term, the long-term damage will take far longer to heal.”

Tourism may become a thing of the past for Africa and this is quite a shame because the world hasn’t seen the beautiful side of the country. This will slowly kill their economy, causing even more distress for the citizens financially. The fear factor is at large here, and it is as deadly as a virus, spreading it’s message across the lands with nothing to stop it. The lack of communication is immense and it’s hard to point the finger or analyse where this actually came from to begin with.

This new disease brings along with it a whole host of problems, one being that of racial stigmatisation. It is unfair to brand an entire country as impoverished, diseased and a hopeless place to live. It is unfair that the average African has to go through their lives, possibly worrying about what the outside world thinks about them, and fearing judgement based on their race. It is unfair to the African people that the public on the receiving end of miscommunication, don’t question what is right and wrong, what is accurate or inaccurate, what is helpful and unhelpful.

Nana is adamant that Africa deserves it’s dignity and who are we to decide what a country other than our own should be like based on wrong preconceptions? The responsibility now lies on the outside world to fix these wounds that have been caused by a lack of understanding and, unfortunately, they may take some time to heal.

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Robyn Gleeson

A little bit of everything.