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Recriminations and lamentations by MEPs and the UK Parliamentary Watchdog

OCTOBER 8, 2014 By Dr. Michael N. Wundah

“This is not the time for unsavoury recriminations; it is not the time to shed crocodile tears either in the name of belated sympathy. Africa does not need rhetoric for the sake of domestic political consumptions and photo opportunities. Rather it is time for those we call our partners, our true equal partners to step forward and commit substantial resources including experts and logistics facilities so as to cure our sick compatriots and prevent more deaths. Please, please don’t sacrifice us to the Ebola virus!”

Those were the words I muttered to myself in silence tearfully as I listened desperately and carefully to two hours of frantic, traumatic debate dubbed: “The European Union Response to the Ebola Virus in West Africa”. It wason the 17th September 2014 at the Headquarters of the European Union in Strasburg.

I believe that it was the day the Good Lord pricked and appealed to the consciences of human nature. It was the historic day the Good Lord spoke to the rich to act now and save a catastrophic situation in West Africa. It was a hectic debate and sometimes tempers rose to fever pitch. It was contentious characterised by pheltoral of recriminations, punctuated by useful suggestions. Together those present in the chamber urged their organisation, the EU, to act now and tackle the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa.

Considering the magnitude and deadly impact of the virus, this is neither intended to romanticise nor hyperbolise issues in this article. Hence, I have reproduced here selected quotes verbatim of the speeches made on that fateful day in EU chambers.

The rationale of the article is threefold. First and foremost, I want to underpin the fact that the responses made by the west and their allies have been lukewarm to the extent that they bordered on deliberate inaction. Secondly, my strategy is to emphasise that instead of committing resources in order to tackle the virus when it broke out in March, the international community, including the United Nations (UN), World Health Organisation (WHO) and several flight operatives British Airways inclusive, rather fanned the flames of panics compounded by unprecedented decisions. These unprecedented decisions have brought the spread of the virus to a catastrophic point and induced capital flights. The remaining tour operatives, economic development partners and investors have threatened to pull out, which will definitely put the revived economic growth in the region in jeopardy.

Thirdly, this article has been inspired by the bid to expose the fallacies of the benign philosophy inherent in the overused cliché of the west: “Equal Partners”. For decades now since the end of the Cold War, the west has dubbed the relationship between them and Africa as one of “Equal Partnership” that is mutually beneficial.

Needless to go into the history of this partnership, but judging from the attitude of Britain and her European partners to the Ebola virus in the countries of their so-called Equal Partners, one is but constrained to argue one important point. That is until the affected countries take their own destiny in their own hands, they will risk catastrophic consequences when they are put to the dire test in the future.

Without belabouring the point I will take you straight to the selected contributions of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) which constitute their responses so far. It has to be noted that the EU represents various countries of the European Union and they have different political ideologies. Meaning, they hold different political beliefs and opinions. But thankfully, in this case, they presented a united front on the Ebola issue and spoke passionately with one voice. Read on:

Vicky Ford MEP, British Conservative:

The UK Research community is trying to find a solution to this disease. The EU needs international mobilisation on the health and economic front. I must confess that we have been slow to act. However, we salute the actions of President Barack Obama and the United States of America.

Marrelle de Sanez MEP, French Liberal:

Money alone is not sufficient. Logistic assistance including staff and mobile labs are necessary. We can’t wait until it spreads to neighbouring countries including Ivory Coast and Mali.

Marina Albiol Guzman MEP, Spanish Left:

United Nations and European Union have turned their backs on the affected countries. Is it only when the disease threatens our borders that we shall be forced to act? Cuba’s contributions so far have been amazing. They have donated 165 medics including doctors and nurses.

Francoise Grosette MEP, French Centre-Right:

Solidarity of dignity, respect for human rights must be supported. These are our values. We can’t abandon these countries; Ebola could spread beyond the borders of Africa. It was discovered in 1976 and yet we failed to act.

Maria Heubach MEP, German Green:

Help in areas including military equipment and staff are very necessary now. We must also put pressure on the United Nations to help with logistics and money. We can’t wait any longer if we want to avoid this catastrophe. Take action now; there is no more time to decide decisions to take. Act now! We can show people that we are not only with them in our thoughts but with actions.

Joelle Melin MEP, French Non-Attached:

Cooperation between EU and African Health Ministries is vital in order to protect EU borders. The Council is in denial of the seriousness of this disease. Politicians should wake up and take their responsibilities.

Peter Liese MEP, German Centre Right:

The debates about Ebola should not be politicised. EU should not barricade themselves from the rest of the affected countries. It is in our interests too to help these countries. Donating stockpiles of aid is not enough, we must do more. The EU should be ready in the future to respond to the dire needs of these countries.

Maria Arena MEP, Belgian Socialist:

We have not been quick enough to respond. We need a coordinated approach, equipment and lab hospitals. Humanitarian armies are necessary. We call on the Commission to give resources to the affected countries. Civilians and military including rapid response capabilities are required. Contributions have been long in coming. Our reaction is not a response, it is a duty.”

Gilles Porgneaux, French Socialist:

We need the following: isolation wards, mobile labs, equipment and treatment centres. Member states should convey a meeting/conference of Health Ministers in order to tackle this problem.”

Catherine Beatles MEP, British Liberal Democrat:

Too often pharmaceutical companies ignore the development of vaccines for these diseases for financial reasons. We need equipment and people and budget. EU resources are little but we must prioritise and target vital projects we should spend on, and Ebola should be top of such priorities. No more time to spare but act now!”

Reflecting on the confessions and lamentations of the EU parliamentarians as well as world experts, it is but fitting that we call a spade by its right name. It is nothing other than the true spade that it is. The MEP representatives are united on three key points: the EU, UN and the west were too slow to act. Even with their minimal response, they have not only given too little and too little; they have abandoned the affected countries. Most critics and analysts have argued that their belated responses are prompted by the massive response of President Barack Obama.

Unfortunately inertia or lack of vital actions in situations as serious as the Ebola virus is uncharacteristic of the EU and UN. I say so because they pride themselves on the protection and preservation of human rights and human dignity. The west, especially Britain, needs to take decisive actions for which traditions they are renowned.

Making sense of the urgency on behalf of Europe, including the UK, one has to say that the proactive and massive response of the United States recently is the obvious answer. Failure to take the necessary actions of which by the very admissions of the MEPs, that they are guilty. This contradicts their beliefs and avowed commitments to the values of humanity. The EU is a strong and historic exponent of the values of the Bill of Rights. In summary, this bill reckons that it is part and parcel of man’s unfettered rights to live in peace and dignity. It means protection against that which threatens mankind’s life and that includes tyranny as well as diseases.

The Ebola disease is a heinous threat to the outlined and other related rights. The human dignity of the affected countries is at risk. In Sierra Leone and Liberia health workers, including medical doctors and nurses, have been lost to the virus. The resumption of schools and colleges is still put on hold because children as well as teachers have lost their lives in affected areas. These countries are virtually locked down as a measure to stem the tide of the rapid spread. Hence, it is part and parcel of the responsibilities of the EU and allies to protect these countries, including Sierra Leone, against the continuing devouring ravages of the Ebola disease.

The fact is that the so-called values of “Equal Partnership’’ which underpins the relationship between the UK and her former colony – Sierra Leone, her historic and trusted ally are under serious threat. It is high time the international community recognised thatordinary speeches, promises and rhetoric are no longer enough. The affected countries need nothing less than proactive and coordinated actions.

The quoted MEPs are not the only dignitaries that have acknowledged the wider ramification of the virus and the inadequate responses of the international community. For instance, addressing officials on the Ebola outbreak, the IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, said among other things: “The Ebola outbreak is a severe human, social and economic crisis that requires a resolute response from the international community.”

World Bank and other global economic leaders may have acted too late and too little but they have been vocal about the socioeconomic consequences of the Ebola disease. They uphold that unless the disease is contained fast, the economic consequences will be another catastrophe the affected countries will have to contend with. In the worst-case scenario, Guinea’s economic growth could shrink by 2.3%, while Sierra Leone’s growth would be reduced by 8.9%. But Liberia would be the hardest hit with a reduction of 11.7% growth.

We appreciate the donations made by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It has revealed that it could provide Guinea and Sierra Leone with an aid to fight the spread of the Ebola virus. However, the money has not been approved by the IMF’s executive board yet. The intention is that the extra financial package helps cover gaps in the West African nation’s finances.

Read Part 2 of this piece in our next edition…