Tag Archives: ebola

Looking at the mindset and the histories behind the expansion of Ebola and NATO

In a world that is increasingly more densely interconnected, and, theoretically, more informed, one can easily observe how misinformation/disinformation is easily spread around.  It is also easy to observe that those who have the most to win from any given development shall resort to anything in order to ensure their own victory.  In this kind of situation, sometimes described as a “crisis”, uncomfortable questions will tend not to be asked, and when asked the dominant profiteering mindset, centuries in the making, will likely lead to silencing any uncomfortable questions that might arise, and, naturally, the even more uncomfortable answers.   To examine some of the origins and ramifications of this mindset would require much more space and time than this brief essay.

In order to understand the logic and reasoning coming out of an institution like NATO, one should understand how its rise is intimately connected to the history of how the United States was settled.  In both cases, the central element is the conquest and shaping of power through military means.  This process has led to an understanding and practice of justice, in the US and beyond its borders, determined by violence.  Beyond its borders, NATO has become the most powerful instrument in the US military arsenal to impose its view of humanity, its understanding of justice.  NATO has allowed the US and its allies to impose its own understanding and practice of justice by any means necessary, including circumventing the UN.  The institutionalization of violence (through NATO) to achieve complete and total control over all segments of humanity has gone so far that the deep and wide historical interconnections between the expansion of NATO and the expansion of Ebola tend to be seen as having nothing to do with each other.  The logic and reasoning operating in the mindsets of those who are in charge of NATO is no different from the logic and reasoning operating in the mindsets of any rapist anywhere in the world.  In the process, collectively and individually, they tell themselves “nothing will happen to me”.

In a world split apart by a conception of justice imposed through violence, what is the difference between corruption and competition?  To which institutions can the average citizens of Haiti, Gaza/Palestine, turn for justice?  To whom can Congolese citizens, today, turn when the so-called “international community” is unable, unwilling to ensure that a sitting president respect the legal prescriptions enshrined in a Constitution?  To whom can the average black citizen in the US turn to see justice carried out when the country, through the 13th amendment of the Constitution, opened the way for the prison industrial complex, specifically aimed at limiting the freedom of the former slaves?

To which court on this Planet, could the Congolese citizens turn for justice to be served from the combined destruction inflicted by slavery, colonization, post-colonial dictatorial rule?  Although French President Chirac was willing to call slavery a Crime Against humanity, he was not ready to face the legal consequences of such a recognition.  The nature and depth of the profiteering mindset that led to the dehumanization of large segments of humanity are hard, if not impossible, to measure because the roots of how it came about are multiple, contradictory, and, more often than not, defy reasoning based on humane considerations.

The prevailing mindset among those who see themselves in charge of the destiny of the US is no different from the mindset still pervasive in countries that have engaged in, and benefitted massively, from slavery, colonization, apartheid.   Such a mindset is the one that continues to be at work among the officials in charge of the destiny of NATO.  While the historical processes through which massive financial, economic gains were made, no healing processes were ever set in motion to deal with the massive destruction that became the permanent legacy of those who have survived the destruction in the US Native American reservations, and/or in most of the former colonies.

Like any coin, mentalities have two sides: on one side there is a mindset typical of colonizers, namely that colonization was an altruistic process, and on the other, there lies the knowledge that this altruistic process, more often than not, had to resort to murderous violence in order to maintain itself in place.  In the Congo, for example, archival records related to King Leopold’s rule, were burned in order to prevent access to that kind of information.  Colonization went hand in hand with what was described as “pacification campaigns” whose objectives was to “settle” the country.  These campaigns were conducted by the military, not unlike what took place in North America.  As one observes the expansion of NATO into Africa, via Africom, it is clear that military force has never been absent from the process of making the Continent serve the economic and financial interests of the global corporations.   In the minds of those who most profited from the various phases of enslavement, colonization, Africa MUST continue to be subservient to the dictates of the dominant economic system that grew out of those earlier processes.

“Shock and Awe” was the name of the operation aimed at “pacifying” Iraq, in 2003.  Shock and Awe has always been present when the dominant mindset feels threatened, and/or decides that severe punishment is the only way to ensure peace.   The list of this kind of practice is long and diverse: the slaughtering of the Native Americans went through many episodes, one more barbarous than the other, from the infamous “Trail of Tears”, to well known massacres, to the use of Native American land to conduct nuclear testing, or, more recently, find a place where to get rid of nuclear waste.

When Napoleon decided to reinstate slavery in Haïti, his instructions were clear: no prisoners, and to make sure that those who dared to free themselves are so severely punished that they will not want to try again.  The latest war against Gaza, by Israel, supported by its usual allies, was meant to deliver the same message of Shock and Awe.  It is as if the West is so certain of the justice of its mission, its mindset, that it has become incapable of seeing the realities of the violence of that mission, differently understood and upheld by diverse constituencies, driven by fanaticism rooted in religion, ideology, cultural and moral identities and certitudes.  Media have become powerful means of glossing over injustices, and barbarities committed by the defenders of the West, while highlighting the barbarism of those that have become part of the Axis of Evil.

And now, from August through September 2014, humanity is witnessing the ultimate spectacle of the forces that are pushing for the expansion of NATO doing as little as possible to prevent the expansion of the Ebola virus, in West Africa. Those African voices that might have been expected to speak up in defense of humanity have remained strangely quiet, as if they are powerless because, in their mindset, power has become and must remain the sole property of the powerful.  This mindset is the direct and indirect legacy of injustices, crimes carried out with impunity.  How did African leaders, currently in power, reach the point of annihilating their own conscience and become accomplices to liquidating their own citizens, following and/or anticipating the orders coming from the managers of global dehumanization?

It is as if Humanity has entered a theatre with signs everywhere calling for SILENCE, regardless of the crimes being committed.

Public advocate of public health, Paul Farmer, has come out, strongly, in favor of how the Ebola expansion could be stopped, especially from the technical point of view, but also by pointing out the fact that health systems in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea (the hardest hit countries by the virus, so far) are medieval in terms of organizational structures, confronted with a virus in the 21st century.  But there is an uncomfortable explanation as to why these health systems cannot cope with the Ebola expansion. Paul Farmer preferred to avoid engaging into that uncomfortable explanation.

Throughout the 80s-90s, the IMF and World Bank’s program of Structural Adjustment, obliged African countries to privatize state-owned firms, including those in health and education, and to drastically reduce state budgets for social services.  In the place of state leadership in public health each country was left with a highly fragmented gaggle of NGO’s each with their own agenda (these were to increase dramatically in the 1990’s as the HIV/AIDS epidemic expanded).   But in the discussions currently taking place, few voices are being heard concerning the role the Bretton Woods institutions played in creating the very situation that has made the current Ebola virus expansion so difficult to contain.  Is it unreasonable to ask why officials of these powerful international institutions have not been taken to task for having imposed unjust, unfair policies which have resulted in massive suffering?

Should one conclude from this example that power is meant to guarantee impunity and immunity from prosecution?  In other words, the dictated privatization of health care (and education) by the WB and the IMF has created other processes that could be described as a desertification of responsibilities, through which responsibility can no longer be traced to individuals, and therefore, prevent prosecution.  Put differently, one could say that the rule of law operates differently when confronted with power.  As is well known, corporations’ liabilities are such that its owners and managers, legally speaking, can always wash their hands.

In an article detailing the historical process through which US exceptionalism has been created, Tom Engelhardt demonstrates that, while the US has always liked to see itself in the most positive light, the actual record is not so bright.  This state of affairs should then lead one to look at the side of exceptionalism, which in the US, at least, is rarely looked at.

In its ideological battles (at one point G.W.Bush used the word “crusade”) against “evil”, it seems as if it has never occurred to US leaders that how this was being carried out had the look, the feeling of evil, for those who were at the receiving end of the onslaught.  In the long history of the US, “evil” went hand in hand with what David E. Stanner called the American Holocaust, in a book with the same title.

One could go on for a long time because the so-called US exceptionalism has a darker side whose roots go deeper than the last few decades.  Once a mindset has been constructed, maintained at all cost around the notion that “nobody can stand in my way” or the notion that  “The American Way of Life” is non negotiable, then, clearly the stage is set for the kind of crises that are unfolding around the Planet, because, the example coming from on high, other countries that see themselves as allies of the US shall practice, in their backyard, the same kind of mindset.

At least for the purposes of this essay, before concluding, here are two brief dispatches from a friend Ibrahim Abdullah, historian, living Sierra Leone, written under the stress of confronting a disaster, with his family, on their own:

 Greetings from ebola land. Ebola continues to subvert normal everyday life as we are quarantined and containerised lest we infect ourselves and the outside world. With every passing day we pray for our individual and collective safety even as nation after nation continue to inform the world that they have the antidote to the deadly virus that is slowly snuffing out our people from the unjust world order that they have created. This is war; this is genocide; a human-induced assault on our people for which no one wants to accept responsibility. All of a sudden they all have a cure: first the Americans; then the Canadians; now the Russians and the Chinese. Are we to believe that they were each working independently of each other and that their individual research and progress evolved independently at the same pace so that all were ready and fully armed with an antidote when the crisis reached seemingly genocidal proportion?

 We may never know the answers to these questions yet we should not shy away from raising them. Why would the director of CDC in Atlanta troop to the epicentre of the disease and proclaim US support and commitment to the end only when the disease had expanded? Let us continue to ask tough questions because ebola is seemingly here to stay.

 We are not the least interested in narratives sans evidence; we want explanations based on evidence that speaks to our collective concern: the scientific truth! We are still well (enough) to fight.

 The ebola scourge took hold at a time when exams were over and schools are closed. The school year starts in September; Colleges October. Because of ebola schools won’t resume this month and College will remain closed until further notice. Everything is at a standstill; a snail”s pace and semi-non-functional. It’s as if we are waiting for something; a miracle or some extra – worldly force to proclaim the end of ebola.

 I go where it’s necessary: bank; office; supermarket/corner store; and to see my mom. But I spend less than three hours out of the house. Put differently I am essentially home-bound: reading and on the phone with students all over the country getting updates and feedback to compare with official narratives. The official figures are just that: official. The real figures are not disclosed for stupid political reasons.
The health system in the country has always been government-centered because it was free. But NGOs and missionaries entered the realm in the 70s to allegedly complement what the state does no do. The result has been utter chaos and unnecessary duplication. The result has been the proliferation of private owned pharmacies that double up as consulting backroom hospitals where the death toll is staggering. They engage in everything: from taking care of unwanted pregnancy to malaria and now to ebola! The state had to shut down these outfits last month when news got around that ebola patients were trooping to pharmacies. The health care infrastructure is buckling under the enormous weight of ebola precisely because of lack of facilities and skilled personnel. Meanwhile all private hospitals are closed—they can’t deal with ebola, they say!

 Like the slave trade before it, ebola is sapping the able-bodied in the rural areas; the energetic; those who farm the land so that we can eat. We’ve been down this road before: state complicity and external intervention and we survived even though broken.  We survived the slave trade; we will survive ebola.
 Warmest, Ib

Toward Global Healing

The mindset that was launched with the conquest of the Americas, underwent various phases of modernizations, during which Africa and Africans were considered less than humans and therefore no better than material property to be hunted down, exploited at will, appropriated, traded, disposed off.  At the same time, one can see how rape continues to spread, as if unstoppable because, so goes the assumption, it is the women’s fault.  The same mindset that is at work in the heads of rapists has also been at work in the ranks of the most powerful maintainers of “exceptionalism”.  As they rape figuratively and/or really, they tell themselves: “Nothing will happen to me”.    There is no algorithm that could ever calculate the suffering that has been accumulated and reproduced by a system that seems to now be on some sort of automatic pilot to carry on what it has been programmed to do: liquidate the poor, liquidate those who stand on the side of the poor, liquidate poverty in Africa by letting the poorest of the poor die.  When the Americas were conquered, no one, at the time, said the word genocide.  It came afterwards, when the results became obvious.  What the expansion of the Ebola virus is now showing, brutally, is that it is taking place because the mindset behind the expansion of NATO is no different from the one that is looking at the expansion of the Ebola virus as though it were a spectacle.  Is there a way out?  There is, but it will have to be radically different from the mindset that has led humanity toward self-annihilation.  Contrary to the propaganda that presents Africa as primitive, it was far ahead in its efforts to bring about respect for justice, life, sharing.  On a level playing field aimed at healing relations between people and between people and nature, Africa and Africans will contribute toward eradicating the mindset that has so dehumanized large segments of humanity.

Long before Europe’s encounter with Africa, in search of slaves, Africa had created a way of living rooted in Mâât, respect for just justice, righteousness, solidarity.  In the current crisis Africa does have practices and values to offer that would help overcome the notion that only the most powerful countries have an answer to the current crisis.  The healing principles should be to hear, loud and clear, without any restrictions those whose voices have been silenced, not just the so-called experts.  Every single human being must be treated equally.  Her/his life is as precious as that of those who claim exceptionalism as a protective mantle.

Exemplary solidarity from Cuba  http://www.who.int/features/2014/cuban-ebola-team/en/

Looking at Ebola from the perspective of one humanity

7-Nov-2014:   In response to the Ebola epidemic in Guinée, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the world noticed two distinctly different responses: one from the USA and France, carried out by their defense departments and the other from Cuba which demonstrated the kind of solidarity that is rarely seen nowadays, especially from the most powerful countries.   The latter seek ways of maintaining their way of living, their way of looking at humanity as a hierarchical structure.  The perspective of the powerful countries is not only a by-product of the way they look at their domination of the world during the last 500 years, and how they should benefit from the maintenance of that domination.  An understanding of what is right and just for all of humanity can be found by looking at humanity’s history from as far back as possible.   The most powerful countries and their militarized ways of responding to health issues is also related to their ways of ensuring that their view of justice, of science remains the unchallengeable one.  Shouldn’t scientific research, medical research be organized to benefit all of humanity?   If such a global approach to sharing knowledge were operational today, the response to the Ebola epidemic would most likely have been different. If knowledge about the best way of maintaining humanity’s health had been framed from the perspective of sharing, the response coming from Cuba might have been the rule rather than the exception.  The practice of keeping knowledge for a few, by a few, for enhancing their well being, to the exclusion of others, has been accepted as if that is the only way it can be done for the benefit of all.  This practice is in complete contradiction to all the utilitarian humanitarianism spread around under various names, including R2P.  Put in a different way: the Ebola epidemic is not just about a health issue.  It is about how the best knowledge can be mustered, and shared, for the benefit of all of humanity. Put in yet another way, how all of humanity reacts to a crisis like the Ebola epidemic hinges, crucially, on which narrative of its long history it chooses to accept. People of the Pyramids vs. People of the Spheres In his novel, KMT- In the House of Life –An Epistemic Novel (Per Ankh Cooperative Publisher, 2002. Popenguine. Senegal) the Ghanaan writer Ayi Kwei Armah has described this conflict between those he refers to as Sharers (of knowledge) and Keepers (of knowledge) in ways that are pertinent to how members of humanity could/should be looking at the current Ebola crisis.  This excerpt from the above book has appeared in Corinne Kumar’s edited volume Asking We Walk: Book Four: In the time of Spring. Streelekha Publications. Bangalore. 2013

Ayi Kwei Armah goes beyond questioning by imagining griots from those times battling for a different vision and, hence, a different narrative.  It is a narrative that shows an Ancient Egyptian society breathing live, seeking itself.   In the process of that search, one encounters groups that left behind the pyramids and others that left the spheres as symbols of their vision and understanding of the kind of society they would have liked to see emerge.

Confronting challenges through good and bad times, they began to understand differently how to respond to good times and bad times.  As recounted, this story that happened centuries ago in the Nile Valley sounds as if it is going on around us today.  On how to deal with the knowledge acquired through that process, two groups emerged: “Some were for sharing; they saw sharing as the solution, the way to forestall disaster.  And then there were those who did not see the need to share.  They were for keeping knowledge among those who planted it” (Armah,2002:264).

And so, it is easy to see from Armah’s KMT that the battle between those who are willing to share and those who are eager to keep all the benefits of the society to themselves is not something which started 500 years ago, but thousands of years ago.  And so the battle lines were drawn between those who looked at knowledge as power and, thus, something to keep for themselves and those who saw greater benefits for everyone by spreading knowledge:  “If all society grows in wealth, nothing prevents us from enjoying our share of the general knowledge”. (Armah, 2002:266).  The Sharers, then and now, were/are speaking the same language.

Needless to say, those who were/are opposed to sharing knowledge, food, power, –the keepers—found/find all kinds of arguments to reject the principles of sharing.  There is no need here to recount all of the arguments going back and forth.  Here is how the keepers were making the case for knowledge as a source of power: “Imagine if the entire valley obeyed one king, sustained by keepers of knowledge.  It is not only the nobles who would gain.  The people themselves would live more safely, their livelihood secure.  As for us keepers of knowledge, nothing would separate us from kings.  We shall have all the land we need, and slaves to work it for us all our lives.” (Armah: 2002, 270)

The geometrical figure that most faithfully represents the thinking and practice of the keepers is the pyramid while the one that is the most perfect figure for the sharers is the sphere.   Asked to explain how such “a balanced system would work”, the sharers responded: “It would begin with an open house, the house of life.  In that house all children would be our children, all of us.  Since the entire inheritance of society would belong to every child, no gate in our house of life would be closed against the entry of any child.” (Armah, 2002:280)

The keepers and the sharers went back and forth explaining how they would implement the kind of society they envisioned.   The dialogue is presented to us as taking place between the pyramid and the sphere.  Here is a sample:

“Air fills the world.  Knowledge is scarce.” “Sharing it creates more.” “Keeping it gives the keeper great power.” “Power unshared is unstable.” “There is sharing and sharing.  At the top of the pyramid the keepers have knowledge in pure form.  At the bottom the toilers enjoy the dregs.  That is stability.” “The deceptive stability of inert forms.  If you want stability containing life, strong enough to contain change, look away from the pyramid.  See the sphere.” (Armah, 2002:284)

Further down, the dialogue continued:

“So in your pyramid, reason will not be the guide.” “All power belongs to the king.  The valley being unified, the king of the Two Lands is the King of Kings.” “And after he dies?” “He shall  not die.” “Now here is a new song.” “Listen well to it.  We the companions who work with the warriors are not traitors.  We have gone with the men of force not because we love force but because we live by results.  The rule of the warriors can be beneficial to us if it brings the results we want, but cannot achieve on our own.” (Armah, 2002:285)

Much later the saga between Sharers and Keepers described by Armah was repeated.  It happened between those who wanted to share the commons and those who, through enclosure, wanted to keep the commons for themselves.  They would love to turn the earth into a pyramid.  The earth, because of how it was built cannot become a pyramid, no matter how hard the keepers try.   The earth is the house of life.  And as the novel KMT ends, so will the Earth: it shall keep reproducing the House of Life.*  It shall keep distilling life, sharing its treasures, make sure that all have access to them.  Earth calls for unity, sharing always, all the time. From Armah’s novel, it is possible to look at how the Ebola epidemic is being confronted through the prism of the Sharers of Life vs. the Keepers of Death.  For the Sharers of Life, healing and health are not about how quickly to accumulate wealth.  On the other hand, in spite of its humanitarian disguises, the Keepers of Death are not interested in the sharing of access to knowledge that will enhance the health of all members of humanity without exception. Despite appearances to the contrary, members of the House of Life continue to live and spread the principles of the sharers that could also be called a language.  It is much more than a language, it is a way of living life, or to quote from Armah’s definition: a way of “moving into new beginnings in hopes of creating communities walking the paths of balance, living justice.” (2002:293).  In other words, the responses to the Ebola epidemic as exemplified by the most powerful nations of the Planet, on the one hand, and, on the other, by Cuba, do go beyond issues of health.

Jacques Depelchin
Berkeley CA

Ebola and R2P: An unfolding epidemic or an unfolding crime against humanity?

22-Oct-2014:  R2P or the Responsibility to Protect was invented by the most powerful countries to demonstrate their humanitarianism, but in reality to provide themselves with yet one more weapon in its endeavor to dominate the world.

Is it not reasonable to think that R2P would have been invoked to rally world support against the spreading Ebola virus in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone?  After all, even the head of the World Bank has criticized the failure of the rich Western countries to respond adequately to the epidemic.  But given the gravity of this failure, this “mea culpa” ends up being a sort of cover up.  Was the head of the World Bank, the IMF and like-minded institutions with a global reach willing to remember the role they played, through Structural Adjustment Programs, in further weakening all African health infrastructures, rendering them completely inadequate to a serious epidemic?  Dr. Paul Farmer, a personal friend of the head of the World Bank has described these infrastructures as “medieval”.

Given that recent history and the one that preceded it, would it be an exaggeration to describe the Structural Adjustment Program a crime against humanity? However, again, given the history of the relationship between the Western countries and Africa, the former are likely to be outraged at being called perpetrators of such a crime for their failure to respond adequately to the spreading epidemic.  For the Western countries, R2P is supposed to be used against perpetrators of crimes against humanity.  By definition, given their own self-serving, utilitarian narratives, these most powerful nations are not prepared to look at themselves as actively involved in perpetrating such a crime.

The way the Ebola epidemic is being dealt with by the most powerful countries of the world can only be understood if one approaches it through the mindset that emerged from the history of conquest, slavery, colonization and apartheid.  The Western countries enriched themselves through these historical processes that were rooted in systemic injustices.

For these injustices, no tribunal was ever set up.  One of the consequences has been an ongoing impunity with regard to what occurred in Africa.  Yet, the same Western countries have been quick to set up an International Criminal Court to make sure that crimes against humanity are punished.  The question is: who decides on whether or not a given behavior, a given historical process, should be investigated for creating an environment conducive to a crime against humanity?

How the most powerful countries have responded to the Ebola epidemic is not unlike the manner in which they have responded to the evidence of climate change.  The concentration of power, wealth into the hands of a tiny segment of humanity has led to the growth of an understanding of justice, truth, solidarity that is completely contrary to the maintenance of humanity.

The norm inscribed in the three pillars that constitute the foundation of the R2P automatically enjoins us to pose tough moral questions for those who have assumed the responsibility to execute that decision. President Sirleaf’s passionate letter to the world carried on BBC last Sunday, October 19, 2014, reminded the global community that ebola ‘respects no borders’. And the ‘bitterly disappointed’ Kofi Annan, another darling of neo-liberalism with impeccable credentials, was enraged to go further—‘if the crisis had hit some other region it probably would have been handled very differently’. This difference, shaped by centuries of history, teaches that one part of humanity is expendable while the other is not.

The one billion basket fund launched by the UN to reduce the rate of transmission has failed to attract donor support outside the $20 million pledge and the $100,000 donated by Columbia. But the cost of two F-22 Raptor stealth jets—going at $412 million a piece— gulping a whopping $67 billion to develop could eradicate ebola and malaria combined in one go.  From 8 August to 24 September the US spent nearly one billion dollars bombing ISIS in Iraq.

Jacques Depelchin, Berkeley, California
Ibrahim Abdullah, Freetown, Sierra Leone