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Ebola: Has the AU done enough?

Analysis

Ebola: Has the AU done enough?

Secondly, several African countries have successfully dealt with Ebola outbreaks in the past, which suggests that the capacity to effectively deal with the disease already exists within the continent. No agency would be better placed to tap into and deploy this capacity than the AU. Nor are the countries that have dealt with Ebola the wealthiest on the continent. Most countries that have previously tackled Ebola outbreaks have been as poor as those of the Mano River basin, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Uganda. This suggests that if the AU had taken on a leadership and coordination role during the early days of the crisis, it may have prevented the worst. Moreover, many African doctors volunteering to assist with the outbreak have had to pay their own way, or go through international organisations, suffering the ordinary bureaucracy of immigration, even though the AU could easily have created diplomatic cover for them to ease their transit. In contrast, Cuba, a small country with a struggling economy and no history of fighting against Ebola, pledged 165 medical staff that were on the ground days later.

Compare the speed and vehemence of the AU’s response to the indictments of al-Bashir and Kenyatta to the speed of its mobilisation against Ebola.

Uhuru

Most importantly, the AU’s lackadaisical response is embarrassing because it comes in the wake of years of protestations regarding its “sovereignty”, “solidarity” and “self-determination” in light of the International Criminal Court’s issuance of warrants for Presidents Omar al-Bashir and Uhuru Kenyatta. Compare the speed and vehemence of the AU’s response to the indictments of al-Bashir and Kenyatta (left) to the speed of its mobilisation against Ebola. A few months after the court issued a warrant of arrest against al-Bashir, the AU had issued a statement condemning the warrant. Meanwhile, in response to the Kenyatta indictment, the AU has not just issued statements but organised various sessions and summits and called for punitive action against the ICC, including inviting African members of the court to withdraw.

In contrast, almost no resources or demonstrations of solidarity have been mobilised in reaction to Ebola. An extraordinary session of the AU was organised in Addis Ababa in September, but the resolution that came from that meeting only further embarrassed the Union. For instance, it revealed how depleted the Special Emergency Assistance Fund for Drought and Famine is. It also pointed out that an unimplemented resolution on the establishment of an African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDCP) exists. And 9 months into the outbreak, it highlighted that the AU had still not developed a comprehensive strategy for member states beyond reiterating what other organisations were saying.

So, who cares about the most vulnerable in Africa – the poor who have been failed by hollowed-out institutions, who are being devastated by the disease? Is solidarity a luxury item? Does the African Union care about Africans? It’s hard to argue that the answer is yes when by all appearances the agency has capacity that it chose not to deploy to protect ordinary Africans. It seems, at best, that the AU is an agency with a leadership vacuum that does not have the funds or institutional capacity to respond to the most pressing issues facing ordinary Africans. At worst, it is a hobbled caricature of international cooperation that exists to protect power from the consequences of its excesses. 

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Written by Nanjala Nyabola

Nanjala Nyabola is a writer and political analyst currently based in Antananarivo, Madagascar. She writes regularly for Al Jazeera, The Guardian and other publications, and provides analysis on political issues in Africa for various radio and television outlets in Kenya, the US and the UK. She holds a BA in African Studies and Political Science from the University of Birmingham, an MSc in Forced Migration and an MSc in African Studies, both from the University of Oxford, and a JD from Harvard Law School. Follow her on Twitter @nanjala1.

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