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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Still Stuck In Africa...Let's Talk About Liberia And Ebola (Part II)

Links: Wikipedia Liberia
           The U.S. Has An Obligation To Liberia
           Mea Culpa To Dallas From The Liberian President

(Part II)
The second and third links I have chosen deal with the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia (and Guinea).  To get right to the point, when a serious outbreak of a hemorrhagic virus strikes a poor country where most of the population ingests less than one thousand calories a day  the body count can become shockingly high in a matter of days.  The truth is, this outbreak has not yet "exploded", for lack of a better term.  Perhaps this is because Ebola actually isn't that easy to catch, or because the Liberian and Guinean governments (and international organizations) have responded to the outbreak so
effectively.  The answer is most likely a combination of both factors.  On Oct. 15, The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 4,546 people have died from the Ebola virus with an additional 8,997 confirmed cases.  My source estimates are a bit different: roughly 18,000 cases (although not officially confirmed), mostly in Guinea and Liberia, but also a few in Mali, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, and Senegal.  I'm told that efforts to isolate the illness in Guinea and Liberia have been outstanding.  The International Red Cross, the WHO, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), and Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) have been working closely together and with the local Ministries of Health to provide isolation equipment, protective clothing, detection equipment, and a variety of other essential medical tools.  Even though the number of new cases appear to have plateaued, and wealthy nations are sending specialists and even troops to the region, many experts are concerned that we are only at the beginning of this outbreak.

Five hundred troops of the U.S. 101st Airborne are headed to West Africa.  The French are
already there, and believe me, when the Elysee Palace in Paris got wind of the U.S. deployment, orders were sent to increase the French presence in what was once part of French West Africa (excluding Liberia and Sierra Leone). I am very familiar with this part of the world, and although independence was granted to Mali, Chad, Niger, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, and Burkina Faso, a Frenchman is never very far away.  France was much more successful than the Brits in keeping relations pleasant with its former colonies.  It probably had something to do with the fact that the French allowed locally-selected political representation for its colonies in the French House of Deputies, and that France spent a fortune (and continues to do so) standing up and supporting the CFA franc as a currency for its former colonies, and get this, folks...the French treasury guarantees the CFA franc!  Can you imagine the Brits using their precious Sterling to guarantee the Kenyan Shilling
or the Nigerian Dollar?  Back at the ranch...I expect to see the French Foreign Legion deployed to Mali and Cote d'Ivoire in its entirety sometime soon, and the British will have to make their military presence known in Sierra Leone.  The U.S. gets Liberia, as it should.  Too many times in the last century and a half, U.S. administrations have refused to get involved in Liberian problems.  What a shame and what a terrible legacy.  This is one of the few occasions in which I will use the word "shame" and the United States in the same sentence.  Liberia was once a child of the U.S., much like Hawaii (which was a separate Kingdom) and Puerto Rico.  I believe that at one time or another we should have intervened and helped to put things in order.  It wouldn't have taken much because Liberia is a country that is rich in natural resources. However, as is frequently the case in many underdeveloped countries, the Liberian people have rarely seen the benefits from any of its national wealth.

Its certainly not too late to make a difference.  Considering that President Reagan's justification for military intervention and temporary occupation of Grenada was accepted, then without a doubt the United States had the bona fides to involve itself in Liberia's various coups and civil wars.  The flag is almost identical to ours, the towns are named Harper, Fishtown and Greenville, and the original settlers, former American slaves, drew up their original Constitution as a mirror of our own.  Why then did we chose to ignore Liberia for so many years?  Because it is in Africa, over there "somewhere", and didn't figure into our strategic national interests.  Fast-forward to 2014, and Liberia doesn't need a strong-arm presence to re-establish order.  Liberia has an honest, determined, brilliant, popular President who has been dealt the shittiest of hands by fate.  As for the French, U.S., and U.K. troops, their presence is intended to help keep order during evacuations, if such need arises.  So far they have not been needed, although the French contingent in Mali may have its hands full fighting a reborn "Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb" flare-up in the north.  My contact in Bamako, Mali is more concerned with the Al-Qaeda threat than she is Ebola.  The French military (and government) normally never hesitate to act where terrorists are concerned, as they demonstrated in Mali in 2012-2013, so I hope this mess doesn't turn into a two-front issue (Ebola in the south, Al-Qaeda Magreb in the north).  As I sit here at my computer, most of the involved parties are eyeing the border areas between Mali and Guinea/Liberia, and Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea/Liberia.  A number of gold mines exist in the border areas, with a number of mine workers coming from the infected countries.  Everyone is sitting on edge, waiting for the first confirmed case in Mali and/or Cote d'Ivoire.  As for the spread of Ebola, I will remain probably the last optimistic person in the U.S.  I expect that the number of cases in Liberia and Guinea will start to decline, so we can put this subject on the back burner, and return to our daily criticism of this administration and how it handles foreign affairs.

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