The conflict that broke out in Northern Mali in January 2012 delayed yet again a long awaited return to the place where I had undertaken fieldwork, and long before that, spent one whole year of my adolescence. While my parents worked for a Norwegian NGO, I lived for one year in the then drought-stricken town of Gossi making friends that were now eagerly awaiting my return. More than one year after the French intervention drove the Islamists back to the fringes of Northern Mali, it was finally considered safe for me to set out towards Gossi. That is, my best friend initially very much wanted me to come, but was soon discouraged by his father and younger brother, who no longer lived in Northern Mali, but in the capital Bamako. The younger brother, a captain in the National Guard, frequently went to North Africa on training missions, and during the conflict was sent there by the military authorities to keep him out of harm’s way when he, as a Malian Arab, risked being conflated with the rebels, who were predominantly Tuareg. In fact, his entire family, whether in Northern or Southern Mali, fled to Burkina Faso during the conflict. Visibly shaken by his own experiences and by what had befallen others, the father urged me not to go lest I be abducted. These days, he said, conflicts between different communities had created so much bad blood that people might designate a person connected to a rival group as a potential kidnap victim only for the sake of inflicting harm upon them. Continue reading
In the limited attention the international media has paid to Liberian, Sierra Leonean and Guinean people’s experiences and thoughts on Ebola an interesting metaphor has frequently come up – that of comparing Ebola to war.
“The Ebola outbreak has been like someone firing live bullets” – Emmett P Chea, Liberia (http://www.bbc.com/news/29331061). “Just imagine living somewhere where you are being invisibly terrorized” – Lucy Sherman, Liberian in the US (http://www.abcactionnews.com/news/hillsborough-regional-news/ebola-worries-from-home-follow-ut-student)
This has been in the context of either comparing the virus to war generally, as above, or comparing it specifically to the civil wars that Liberians and Sierra Leoneans have endured. Continue reading
Posted in Ebola
The following is the complete address given by Colgate’s Mary Moran, professor of anthropology and Africana and Latin American studies, at Duke University in September. It was written for oral presentation, is unrevised, and should not be cited or circulated without permission.
When I submitted the title for this talk about two weeks ago, I was very much thinking of the term “survive” in its metaphorical sense. Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman elected president of an African nation, faces the greatest challenge of her career, and unprecedented criticism both at home and abroad for failing to rebuild the national health care infrastructure and for her handling of the present crisis, including calls for her resignation (VOA news, Sept. 2, 2014).
I am a political anthropologist, not a medical one, and my intention here today is to try to place the government and public response to ebola in Liberia squarely in its local, historical and social/cultural context. But metaphor became concrete reality with a Front Page Africa headline on Sept. 10, “Ebola Hits Seat of Liberian Presidency; 1 Dead, 1 Quarantined” reporting that an administrative assistant to the Foreign Minister had died from ebola while her husband, also infected, was a staffer in the President’s office, two floors above in the same building. Continue reading
Monrovia: October 3, 2014
Not so many years ago, I was part of a team monitoring and preparing humanitarian interventions to address the effects of drought in a certain region in eastern Africa. In our meeting room in London, we assessed the needs based on the latest information; our goal was to preposition lifesaving supplies and experts for rapid deployment. Then news about the rains emerged. This I greeted with optimistic fists. The crops will emerge again, waterholes will be filled, and the cattle will have their grazing fields.
The communities that have lived through several experiences of drought were less enthusiastic, members of the response team that had worked in drought affected regions were cautiously optimistic. Their experiences told them something that we would later come to understand. Continue reading
In a speech addressing the international community, United States President Obama criticized the world leaders for their slow and inadequate response to the Ebola outbreak. Authorities warn for an exponential increase in the number of infections and even consider the possibility that Ebola could become endemic.
Like other anthropologists who have woken up mid-career and found the countries where they’ve lived and worked awash in mass deaths (and let’s be real… that’s quite a lot of us), my initial response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was to hope that the experts had the situation under control, and bury my head in the sand.
Soon, the epidemic outpaced the global health response, and the calls for help grew more urgent, but anthropologists’ phones have stayed startlingly quiet. While leaders at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and the World Health Organization explained how factors like culture, weak governance systems, human behavior, and social organization made the outbreak unintelligible to the global health community, academics who work in the region like Danny Hoffman, Rosalind Shaw, Mats Utas, Chris Coulter, Mary Moran, Susan Shepler, Adia Benton, Mike McGovern, Sasha Newell, Gwen Heaner, and Marianne Ferme, not to mention anthropologist from the global south like Sylvain Landry Faye, have remained untapped as resources for understanding and creating innovative new approaches to attacking the Ebola outbreak at its source.