The international response - more so from the US - to the Ebola crisis in West Africa has little to do with aiding Africa, but rather ensuring control over its resource wealth. Where will the cooperation or competition between US and China leave Africans?
The 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ two-day summit hosted by China, took place against the backdrop of the spread of the Ebola epidemic, which has devastated a number of West African countries. In fact, Ebola constitutes both a common challenge and a great opportunity for APEC member countries to cooperate and help Africa eradicate the Ebola virus, which has killed nearly 5,000 people so far.
However, the conceptual framework underlying the United States and China’s response to Ebola is somewhat different and raises a lot of questions: For the United States, the Ebola epidemic requires a military response, so it has to provide its military logistics, command and control expertise, under the “Operation United Assistance”, because Ebola represents a “security threat” for American people (the United States initially deployed 3,000 troops to West Africa, some are military medical personnel of course, but the majority are non-medical in which case Ebola becomes a Trojan Horse because we do not know how long they are going to stay there). President Barack Obama also requested $6.18 billion in emergency funding from Congress to fight Ebola “worldwide” (USNews report 2014).
China and Cuba consider their response to the Ebola health crisis as an act of solidarity with other developing countries. So far, China has dispatched 1,000 medical workers to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and Cuba has dispatched 165 doctors there to contain the Ebola Virus and to provide specialist training for local health workers (Cuba already has more than 4,000 health workers in Africa as part of its international medical solidarity campaign).
Chinese aid to West Africa’s efforts to deal with the Ebola epidemic has totaled 234 million Yuan ($38 million) according to CCTV (2014), including medicines and medical equipment, food and cash that had been dispatched to the region in three batches. Chinese President Xi Jinping has further pledged $81 million in Ebola aid to help fight Ebola in the three West African countries at the heart of the crisis, according to Associated Press. In addition, China sent 17- ton shipment of medical supplies and equipment (including protective gowns and gloves) worth some $820,000 to the Democratic Republic of Congo where 67 cases of Ebola were reported since August, resulting in 49 deaths. It includes protective gowns and gloves to be used by medical workers treating the victims.
We African people welcome the overwhelming international response in the fighting against the Ebola epidemic which has afflicted us and express our gratitude to China, the United States, Cuba and all other partners, global and regional bodies.
However, it is worth suggesting that what is important now is to strengthen local initiatives, which is what China and Cuba have already been doing. For instance, we in the Democratic Republic of Congo have experienced Ebola seven times (historically the Ebola type of virus first broke out in Germany - that is why it is called Marburg Virus), but in Africa, Ebola epidemic first broke out in Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, and re-occurred seven times, so much so that Congolese health practitioners and medical experts have developed a wealth of experience (just like some Chinese military and civilian personnel helping Africans overcome Ebola now in West Africa because they themselves had accumulated a wealth of experience after a long fight against the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China in 2004). Now, those Congolese practitioners are currently providing their expertise to other African countries affected by Ebola. In fact, China had only to provide Congo with equipment and local Congolese experts did the job themselves, so much so that now Ebola has been declared over in the Democratic Republic of Congo (it hit the Djera region near Boende, the chief-city of Tshuapa District, Equateur Province). This local competence and capacity have to be recognized and strengthened
In addition, top African business leaders, including billionaires Aliko Dangote, Strive Masiyiwa, Patrice Motsepe, in joint collaboration with the African Union, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), have established an emergency fund to help countries hit by the Ebola outbreak. A pledging meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised $28.5 million to deploy at least 1,000 health workers to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia (BBC 2014). That is good news for Africa’s self-confidence, ready to take its destiny into her own hands.
And since in September 2014, the United Nations Security Council declared Ebola a threat to global peace and security, what that also means is that APEC’s future - its security and its prosperity - is inextricably intertwined with Africa, to paraphrase U.S. President Barack Obama.
It is worth adding that APEC’s future - its security and its prosperity - is inextricably intertwined with Africa because Africa is the richest continent on earth, boasting a large quantity of natural resources including oil, diamonds, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and cocoa beans, but also woods and tropical fruits. Although it has 50% of the world’s gold, most of the world’s diamonds and chromium, 90% of the cobalt, 40% of the world’s potential hydroelectric power, 65% of the manganese, millions of acres of untilled farmland as well as other natural resources, much of its natural resources are still undiscovered or barely harnessed. Therefore, APEC - the world’s largest regional economic group, whose member economies together account for about 40% of the world’s population today, half of global trade and 60% of total Gross Domestic Product - cannot do without Africa, and vice-versa. What APEC can do is to support African countries, bilaterally and regionally, in their quest to overcome Africa’s paradox of being by far the world's poorest continent in terms of living conditions for the average African person. There are numerous reasons for this, including the history of centuries of slavery and colonization, as well as a corrupt leadership, armed conflicts (often foreign induced), lack of effective institutions, lack of technology and infrastructure to transform African resources on the spot to create jobs and markets for African people, Western policies which create an unfavorable environment for Africa to trade fairly with the rest of the world and so on. In this regard, Africa should look at China like a mirror, learn from China’s experience of transforming itself into a major global power in a short time, and free itself from the West’s stranglehold.
We are seeing a positive cooperation between China and the United States, APEC’s two major powers, in fighting Ebola in Africa. For us Africans, this is a welcoming sign. Both the United States and China have dispatched their military personnel to build treatment centers, as well as send doctors and other medical experts to provide humanitarian aid and clinic support in order to contain the spread of Ebola at their own risk.
Such cooperation is also being extended in other sectors. For instance, before even the APEC leaders’ summit had started, Reuters (2014) reported that the United States was eying a China partnership on Africa power (improving electricity provision in Africa), quoting various sources including U.S. officials, adding that “U.S. collaboration with China would mark a significant shift in diplomacy between Washington and Beijing after long-running disputes over foreign policy, security, espionage and alleged human rights abuses”.
The proposal could include $5-$7 billion of commitments to improve electricity generation and transmission in several African countries, Reuters quoted one source involved in the initiative. In fact, U.S. companies, including General Electric, have pledged around $14 billion for projects as part of Obama’s ambitious “Power Africa” program aimed at boosting electricity generation across the continent.
Reuters suggested that the first main target of such U.S.-China energy cooperation could be the 4,300 - 5,000 MW Inga 3 dam project, as well as the separate 40,000 MW to 44,000 MW Grand Inga project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which could be the biggest hydropower project in the world followed only by the Three Gorges Dam in China; and which could meet half of Africa’s electricity needs.
However, this writer believes that such cooperation, whether in the medical field (fight against Ebola) or in the energy sector, will only be short-lived and will neither last nor will it be enhanced. There are three proofs for that:
First of all, as we have said again and again in the past, the United States’ recently adopted policies vis-à-vis China are exactly the same as those they adopt vis-à-vis Africa - such as the “pivot to Asia” or “Asian rebalance”, and “the African military command”. The objective in both cases is the same: military build up to contain China in the case of Asian rebalance, and to contain Africa in the case of Africom. This policy is especially focused on countries rich in natural resources, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo – the idea being both to contain it, and to instrumentalize neighbours to that end.
Secondly, we should take seriously the research findings of American scholars such as Francis A. Boyle, a law professor at the University of Illinois, who confirmed in an interview with tvxs.gr that US bio-warfare laboratories in West Africa are the origins of the Ebola Epidemic. We should not just dismiss such findings as rumors or conspiracy theories. Africans must not die silently and those responsible for bio-warfare against African people must answer for their criminal activities at the international criminal tribunal.
Furthermore, such revelations could put China in a serious dilemma: the United States lights the fire around the world (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ebola virus in West Africa…) and then asks China to shoulder major responsibilities of promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific in particular and in the world at large in general. China will soon be overstretched.
Thirdly, shortly before the opening of the APEC Summit, Mexico surprisingly derailed the Chinese bullet train deal due to “domestic factors”, just days after the contract was inked. However, given the fact that last month the Mexican government repeatedly gave assurance to the China-Mexico Industry Investment Cooperation Seminar during the sixth China Overseas Investment Fair held on 24 Oct 2014 in Beijing (as China Daily reported), stating that “China is not a threat to US in Mexico” and that any deal China signs with Mexico does not necessarily mean that “China is invading the US zone or backyard” (Cold War mentality and the Monroe Doctrine oblige, old habits die hard), it becomes very difficult to rule out a “U.S. factor” in Mexico’s abrupt cancellation of the lucrative high speed train railway contract.
So, how can the United States and China cooperate together in Africa long term if China is suspected to be “invading America’s backyard that is Mexico” and if Mexico, an APEC member, fears that things will be interpreted in that way? It will not work! The recently-developed narrative of “tripartite cooperation” supposes that China and the West will cooperate in Africa, to help Africa. However, it is hard to see the United States’ Cold War mentality dissipating for such a cooperation to succeed.
We in Africa want to judge our partners on the basis of their own merits and experience. For instance, China has been building dams for 2,000 years. So, based on such a long experience (as epitomized by the Three Gorges Dam), China should build the Inga 3 dam project referred to above. That is just plain common sense, not preferential treatment.
In addition it is worth highlighting the fact that, Japan, another key APEC member, is now lobbying many African countries because it wants a seat at the UN Security Council (probably to hedge against China’s rising power). We in Africa rather support China's position, which backs Africa to have a permanent seat at the UNSC. That’s long overdue!
Ebola has raised other issues the international community cannot afford to remain oblivious to in Africa. What the international community in general and APEC in particular can also do is to support African countries, bilaterally and regionally, in their quest to overcome Africa’s paradox of being the richest continent on earth in terms of natural resources and at the same time by far the world’s poorest continent in terms of living conditions for the average African person who still has poor access to sanitation, employment, housing, water and electricity, health and education.
However, history tells us again and again that the United States of America, particularly, does not do anything in Africa for Africa’s sake! First of all, Britain and America favored sending slaves back to Africa, especially back to Liberia and Sierra Leone (now hit by Ebola) not because they wanted them to be free but, as Mike Byfield (2013) quotes Abraham Lincoln during a pre- Civil War debate, because: “There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social or political equality”. Notably, after the Civil War had already begun, Lincoln as president offered compensated emancipation to slave owners in four border states that had remained within the Union: Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and Delaware.
Byfield cites Thomas Fleming, who, in his book titled “A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War”, argues that American whites feared that blacks who were over-procreating would one day supplant them. Hence, they developed the “back to Africa” solution for which Fleming gives three reasons:
(1) With few exceptions, American whites in all regions disdained blacks, rejecting the very thought of living with them as full neighbors.
(2) Southern whites, at 5.4 million, genuinely feared the 3.7 million blacks among them, with reason. South Carolina, the first Confederate state to secede, faced the starkest disproportion, with 291,000 whites and 402,000 black slaves.
(3) Puritanical New England idealists produced an apocalyptic vision of black emancipation which, far from assuaging southern fears, deepened them.
In his book titled “U.S. Neocolonialism in Africa”, published in 1974, Stewart Smith writes that after resettling “freed black slaves” back to Africa in the 1820’s and 1830’s, America maintained its hegemony over its former slaves in Liberia (using “divide and rule” tactics by establishing those who came back from America as a ruling caste governing the overwhelming majority of those who stayed behind), thus denying them the right to govern themselves and to enjoy the proceeds of their own land, resources and labour. Thus in 1926 the Firestone Corporation undertook to develop extensive rubber plantations using cheap labour in Liberia, ensured by a government which a League of Nations’ (the forerunner of the United Nations) investigation in 1931 charged with practicing “forced labour and semi-slavery”. This shows that the returnees were not free as such. As a consequence, the leaders of the Liberian government were forced to resign, but international control of a country which Washington had come to regard as its “special responsibility” was warded off and the American rubber monopolies continued their operations with minor modifications (the saying goes that, for every one dollar invested in Liberia, America gets a thousand dollars). By the end of World War II, the United States was consolidating Liberia as a commercial and major strategic naval outpost in West Africa. That is where the U.S. has been doing bio-warfare work – going back to the 1980s.
These bio-warfare laboratories in West Africa are the origins of the current Ebola Epidemic. This proves American Law Professor Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois right. “What we are dealing with here is a biological warfare work that was conducted at the bio-warfare laboratories set up by the USA on the west coast of Africa. And if you look at a map produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) you can see where these laboratories are located. And they are across the heart of the Ebola epidemic, at the west coast of Africa. So, I think these laboratories, one or more of them, are the origins of the Ebola epidemic. They did the same in Nicaragua and Cuba,” Professor Francis A. Boyle revealed.
* Antoine Roger Lokongo is a journalist and Beijing University PhD candidate from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
BBC (2014), ‘Ebola Outbreak Africa sets up 28.5m crisis fund’, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29967124
Byfield, M. (2013) ‘Why only the U.S. fought a war over slavery: Between hatred of the North and fear of black vengeance, the South resorted to arms’, The Chrstians.com, A Journal of Contemporary Christian History, 5 June, http://thechristians.com/?q=node/287, accessed 3 November 2014
CCTV (2014), ‘China sends 234 million Yuan in aid to West Africa’, http://english.cntv.cn/2014/10/17/VIDE1413498971630357.shtml
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Reuters (2014), ‘Exclusive – US eyes China partnership on Africa power – sources’, http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/11/07/usa-china-africa-idINL6N0SW67120141107
Stewart Smith (1974) ‘U.S. Neocolonialism in Africa’, New York: International Publishers, 1974, p.20.
USNewsreport (2014), ‘Obama asks GOP congress for Ebola Funds’, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/11/07/obama-asks-gop-congress-for-ebola-funds