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Decolonizing Ebola Rhetorics Following the 2013–2016 West African Ebola Outbreak

Marouf Hasian, Jr.

Decolonizing Ebola Rhetorics Following the 2013-2016 West African Ebola Outbreak defends the position that, despite the supposed “lessons” that have been learned about the spread of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) after the 2013–2016 West African Ebola outbreak, there remains a need to “decolonize” the rhetorics of Ebola prevention and containment. The author asserts that the failure of governments, aid organizations, and global media to confront the structural and material legacies of colonialism in West Africa will prevent global communities from adequately dealing with sporadic Ebola outbreaks. Central to the book’s argument is that far too many communities in the “global North” are unwilling to spend the hundreds of billions of dollars that are needed for the prevention of endemic and epidemic diseases in the “global South.” Instead of coping with the impoverished legacies of colonialism, organizations like the World Health Organization support the use of small groups of “Ebola hunters” who swoop down during crises and put out EVD outbreaks using emergency health techniques. The author demonstrates how Western-oriented ways of dealing with EVD have made it difficult to convince West African populations—wary of emergency interventions after a long history of colonial medical experimentation in Africa—that those in the West truly care about the prevention of the next Ebola outbreak. Decolonizing Ebola Rhetorics ultimately argues that as long as global journalists and elite public health officials continue to blame bats, bushmeat, or indigenous burial practices for the spread of Ebola, the necessary decolonization of Ebola rhetorics will be forestalled. The author concludes the book by offering critiques of the real lessons that are learned by those who try to securitize or military Ebola containment efforts.

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Chapter 2 Colonial Ecologies of Fear, Contested Infectious Disease Control, and a Genealogical Overview of West African Stigmatization, 1800–1945

Colonial Ecologies of Fear, Contested Infectious Disease Control, and a Genealogical Overview of West African Stigmatization, 1800–1945



In September 2014, the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, pleading for more external aid to help with the Ebola outbreak. Earlier the American commander-in-chief had offered to build a 25-bed facility in Liberia, but the Liberian president was trying to make it clear that Liberians needed much more aid and that this particular Ebola outbreak was spiraling out of control. Given the way that previous EVD outbreaks had been handled, U.S. decision-makers, like many global elites, were having a difficult time understanding the magnitude of the problem. “I am being honest [with] you,” President Sirleaf remarked in one key passage, “that at this rate we will never break the transmission chain and the virus will overwhelm us.”1

The implicit message was clear: If Ebola overwhelms us, it will be heading your way. EVD that wasn’t contained in Liberia might hit places like Nigeria and then move to other regions. The relatively poorer nations of the global “South” were not the only spaces and places that might be threatened by this lack of containment. As readers might imagine, what Roberto Esposito has called the immunizing functions of global “North” survival efforts kicked in.2

Several weeks before Sirleaf sent that letter to then-President Obama the World Health Organization, on August 8, 2014, had declared that the “Ebola Epidemic constituted a public health emergency of international concern,”3 but ←39 | 40→that announcement did not immediately mobilize...

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