One aspect of Benton and Dionne’s writing that I found interesting was the securitization of Ebola. In 2014, Obama began framing the crisis as one of security as opposed to health, and this had its pros and cons.
The authors state “Western governments’ designation of the Ebola crisis as a crisis of security for the West also seemed to put Africans who were ill and dying in the same category as politically motivated terrorists” (223). But the United States’ decision to focus on the national security perspective had more consequences than that. The most significant result was the creation of fear amongst the American population. Politicians placed an emphasis on the disease’s potential to infiltrate and ruin modern life, which inevitably garnered everyone’s attention. In this, they were able to capitalize on that fear, allowing for more bi-partisan policy proposals and the ability to pose a generally more unified front to the international community that shows America cares about Ebola.
This has both advantages and disadvantages. One one hand, I think it is important to get the American public involved in international politics – to care about something even when it happens in a place so far away from our shores. Alternatively, new policy proposals could prove too heavy-handed, fuel discrimination, and lead to an undesirable end (tighter border control in the face of dying refugees, for example). We saw a similar situation most recently in the attacks on Paris. Right-wing Conservatists used this tragic event to push their agendas. By capitalizing on the fear of the American public, they have pushed for more border security, and governors across the nation have pledged to not let Syrian refugees into their states, though they technically do not even have the authority to do so. If we look at it through this lens, then we have no choice but to place West Africans with Ebola in the same category as ISIS terrorists, which is exactly what Benton and Dionne want to avoid.
The US has had some positive impact on the Ebola crisis, in that because America’s international role in fighting it has increased, more foreign aid has been sent to West Africa. But this also creates some issues. Does the US’s response take away from that of the African continent? More assistance to Africa means more international actors, but a crisis such as this desperately requires a coordinated attack. Who can lead such an attack? Without a proper leader and coordination, a response to a crisis like this can only be slow and ineffective. This was part of an argument used by Benton and Dionne. They even go so far as to say the slow response contributed to the severity of the outbreak. Whether you agree with that assertion or not, it is clear that there are pros and cons to the securitization of the Ebola crisis.
Benton, Adia, & Kim Yi Dionne. 2015. International Political Economy and the 2014 West African Ebola Outbreak. Afr. Stud. Rev., 58 (01), 223.