Sep 12 2007

Ebola: a man-made pandemic in a fictional Congo

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:55 AM

Instability in eastern Congo breeds armed conflict, prompting diplomats to meet, scratch heads and issue declarations. Last weekend, the presidents of Uganda and Congo met in the latest effort to ward off a small war between the two countries. They are wrangling over possession of a small oil find in Lake Albert, which is divided between them along a fuzzy line that must become sharper. The risks of conflict along the border were highlighted this morning by a report in the Daily Monitor on five cases of Ebola being reported in Congo. The deadly cases are not near the border, but the re-appearance of Ebola at all is a reminder that instability breeds disease as well as well. When public-health authorities can’t function because of social conflict, diseases spread. Pandemics are as much socially-constructed as they are driven by nature. Ebola presents an especially difficult medical challenge. My own son, a junior in high school, spent this summer as an intern in a California biotech company seeking, among other things, to develop a basic defense again acquiring Ebola. Until a vaccine becomes available – and that’s perhaps decades away – traditional methods of prevention must do. And these methods depend on social order: cooperation, swift action against eruptions of the disease and careful consistent monitoring. In many parts of the Congo, where the national government has only a weak presence, public health is essentially an illusion.

The problem of course is that Congo, as a political entity, is an illusion. The country is too large, diverse and riven by durable differences to be managed from a single center. It is time to explore a truly federalized Congo that might over the next 10 to 20 years peacefully “devolve” into a several nation-states. Eastern Congo would be especially well-served by “devolution,” since the region – today the least stable in the current Congo – has natural economic, social and geographic links to neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. If Scotland can engage in a process of “devolution” from Britain, why cannot eastern Congo engage in the same process? Colonial maps cannot forever burden the serious and expensive efforts to develop regional integration, whether in East Africa or the sub-Saharan generally. The double-standard – whereby European countries can split themselves apart based on democratic processes but African countries are eternally bound by the borders of their former European masters — ought to end. That European governments often quickly oppose any talk of redrawing African are examples of both hypocrisy and stupidity. European governments spend billions of dollars holding together unwieldy African countries and in the end sustain only the fiction of real sovereignty. The Congo is perhaps the best example of this. Congolese elections, which cost European donors a hefty sum, accomplished the little more than to highlight the folly of holding this vast territory together under a single political rubric. Maintaining the fiction of the Congo, in short, is dangerous and ultimately futile.

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