Unlike Las Vegas, what happens in Africa does not stay in Africa. We have seen reverberations of the problems in the continent come to haunt us in America. It is no longer tribes verses colonial powers with months or years as well as geography separating what happens in Africa from the rest of the world.
Currently, there are several things taking place in Africa that directly impact on our daily lives. The Ebola virus is the first one that most of us think of. Although the origin of this strain of the virus is unknown, it is thought that one way the virus could have spread from animals to humans it the ingestion of fruit bats. Yes, as unpleasant as the thought of eating a bat might be, fruit bats are eaten in Africa, and there is some evidence that Ebola made the species jump via the fruit bat. Like with HIV, which is also thought to have begun in Africa, paying attention to the public health implications can save a lot of lives – not only in Africa but in the U.S. and Europe as well.
Ebola is like holding up a mirror to our problems as humans. The questions that this virus raises impact all of us. Who gets the limited drugs that have been developed? Is it acceptable that Western caregivers leave and stop caring for the patients they came to Africa to help? How do the lack of sanitation and lack of investment in infrastructure contribute to Ebola, and what is our collective responsibility to helping those people without adequate resources to develop infrastructure? Would people eat fruit bats if they understood zoonotic disease (the jump from animals to humans)? Is there enough food in Africa for people without eating animals that can spread disease?
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Africa also brings up the larger question of food aid. The United States and Europe, along with the United Nations, have attempted to deliver enough food to help people eat. But is it done wisely? Is direct giving helping local American and European farmers or would tractors and modern irrigation equipment "teach a man to fish?" There is a lot of pushback from citizens in the United States about giving food aid, but if that same aid were in the form of equipment, which would make Africa self-sustaining, would people object? Is this a subsidy for our farmers? What can we do as a nation and as a developed culture to give Africans the tools to help themselves? Can they produce food that we might want and, therefore, help their economies as well as bringing products that we might want to purchase?
We also have the issue that raises our fear level: terrorism. From Osama bin Laden having taken up residence in Sudan for many years before planning Sept. 11 to the Lord's Resistance Army, to Boko Haram, Africa has served as a breeding ground for terrorism. Kenya has seen its tourism business on the coast and, indeed, the entire country fall by half of its 2017 goal. In a country with massive unemployment, the fear of shopping in Nairobi or vacationing on the coastal beaches has stopped people from coming to Kenya.
There is another risk with regard to terrorism: the training of people who then go to other places in the world to export what they have learned in the bush as well as cities in Africa. Destabilized countries provide cover for groups that want to rule the world with terror practices. It is not going to go away until the Westernized world pays attention and helps Africa to develop its systems so that people have some power over their own lives. This would mean that terror groups that have money can't buy off officials so that they can operate in an area. It would mean empowering women so that they are not fodder for someone's agenda. There is a lot of work to be accomplished in the fight against terror, but poverty and lack of an educated citizenry makes a rich environment for terrorism to fulminate.
Climate change has made Africa more vulnerable to a lack of water resources. Not only are there food shortages because of this, but diseases such as malaria are increasing because of where people get water. In a full circle of today's problems, climate change is forcing people to move into cities to make a living and, therefore, increasing spread of diseases such as Ebola, which would have previously been confined to one area.
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What happens in Africa doesn't stay in Africa. As humans, we need to pay attention to what might be taking place continents away.
Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact [email protected].