ISS Africa Discusses the Impact of Ebola on Fragile States

The Institute for Security Studies has published a discussion of the issues faced by Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, countries that were already emerging from protracted periods of crisis and war when the ebola virus struck.

It seems like a cruel twist of fate. The three African countries where the Ebola virus has rapidly spread and caused over 1300 deaths since January – namely Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – have all been emerging from protracted periods of crisis and war. And now this.

The outbreak, which started in Guinea in December last year, has led to untold suffering in countries that have seen more than their fair share of hardship. Apart from the toll on individuals and families who have contracted the virus, citizens who have not been directly affected by the disease also risk being stigmatised on their own continent.

Several countries have closed their borders to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and a number of others, including Zambia and Kenya, have banned flights coming from these West African states. This week, 7000 Guinean pilgrims to Mecca were turned away because of fears that they would spread the disease. This is devastating for those who had saved up for years to make the all-important trip.

War, political strife and economic mismanagement have, however, led to mass-scale destruction of infrastructure – stifling economic development and leading the most educated of the population to find solace elsewhere. Greg Mills, Director of the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation, lists these failures in his newly published book, Why states recover – a look at what the international community, but also locals, can do to help recovery in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Malawi, Kosovo and Zimbabwe.

Asked about the effects of Ebola, Mills said: 'The Ebola crisis is a corrective, for all of the cheerleading about Africa's recent and welcome economic growth spurt.’ According to Mills, the crisis is showing up the flaws in the institutions of these countries, ‘illustrating what a long road there is still to travel to realise even basic development conditions in some regions, let alone in creating the jobs [that these societies need].’

He explained: ‘It is a reminder too of the damage done by 40 years of GDP stagnation – not just to physical infrastructure, but also to institutional infrastructure; the skills and other “software” necessary to make things work. The history of the countries where Ebola has now traumatically taken root is also an indication of how difficult the transition is from state failure to recovery – and that the period of recovery is at least as long as the period of decline.’

Jakkie Ciliers, the Executive Director of the ISS, and Timothy Sisk, a professor at the University of Denver, believe that international financial institutions have a crucial role to play in supporting the reconstruction of fragile states. Interventions like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative can also help to force governments and private companies to cease the selfish exploitation of resources that benefit only a small elite. ‘Fortunately, state fragility is not cast in stone. With the necessary domestic ownership, leadership and external support, more countries can move from being more fragile towards greater resilience,’ they write in their study on more fragile states.


Read the full article at the Institute for Security Studies website. 

Photo courtesy of European Commission DG ECHO.


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