The West likes the Ebola story which, at first sight, seems to confirm our 'continentalist' views of Africa. The foreign pages in Britain aren't teeming with reports from Kikwit by Zairois journalists. There are few, I guess, even in Belgian or French newspapers, despite the fact that Zaire is one of the largest Francophone countries in the world. There is no shortage of able journalists in Zaire, but they are working as baggage-handlers at the airport, driving cabs, trading up on petty merchandise for meagre profits. There are good doctors too, who have little to work with and nothing to lose, once the point of no return is reached, as it was in Kikwit before the World Health Organisation arrived. (In clinical terms, infected medics represent phase two of the outbreak, and there've been enough of them in the epicentre to suggest that health workers in Kikwit take their duties seriously.) Yet the Eurocentric view of African disasters seldom allows for non-European skills to play a mitigating role and, for this reason alone, the coverage of the Ebola virus, with its stress on the strengths of the hospital staff, feels different.
LRB 8 June 1995 | PDF Download