Reading Post: The Global Politics of the Ebola Epidemic


Across all three readings related to the Ebola crisis in western Africa, a common theme that emerges is the persistent prioritization of foreign powers’ own interests over individual humanitarian concerns on ebola crisisthe African continent. It is entirely rational for states to protect their own interest; however, the repeated emphasis on the political and security aspects of the Ebola crisis and the minimization of African issues led to a global disregard for the individuals experiencing the epidemic.

The rhetoric from foreign powers about the Ebola epidemic shaped the crisis largely as a political and security issue, rather than about humanitarian concerns. For instance, China’s response to the crisis mainly stemmed from their desire to support their own national interests by upholding their image as a “friend in need” and by being seen as “doing something” (Taylor, pp. 51). Western states further designated Ebola as a security crisis—not primarily a humanitarian health concern—and thus “seemed to put Africans who were ill and dying in the same category as politically motivated terrorists” (Benton & Dionne, pp. 223). For instance, government officials compared a travel ban from West Africa to banning private travel to Europe during World War II (Abeysinghe), thus framing the issue as a military problem with little regard for the human stakes in the Ebola crisis. Even the official United Nations response to the epidemic (the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response) was created primarily based on international security concerns (Benton & Dionne). In Australia, “compassion” for people suffering from the epidemic was weaponized as a political tool for domestic political parties. Foreign powers and the international community focused on their own interests and de-prioritized the humanitarian aspect of the crisis at the expense of the people most affected by the epidemic.

Along with treating the Ebola crisis as a security or political concern rather than focusing on the fundamental humanitarian issue, during the Ebola crisis foreign countries additionally dehumanized, minimized, and distanced African concerns. Abeysinghe noted that the discussion about the crisis generally ignored how Ebola was deeply impacting West African states and instead focused on how Ebola could “infect” the West (pp. 454). Similarly, it was only after a few people who had contracted Ebola entered the U.S. that significant concern and action on the crisis emerged (Abeysinghe). The political cartoon by André Carrilho shown above captured the intense media focus on the few infected people in the West rather than the thousands affected in West Africa. In addition to this disregard for Africa, discourse about the Ebola crisis included “othering and exoticizing narratives” (Abeysinghe 464). Through this dehumanization of the people suffering through the crisis, concerns were again shifted away from the people of Western Africa. The West African component of the Ebola crisis was so ignored by foreign powers that U.S. Senator Scott Brown actually proposed that the U.S.-Mexico border should be closed in response to the crisis (Abeysinghe).

Overall these three readings indicate how the international community responded to the Ebola crisis with deep self-interest. This manifested in 1) the treatment of the epidemic as a security and political concern rather than a humanitarian one, and 2) the minimizing and distancing of the concerns of the people of Western Africa. Together these two components served to reduce the focus on the well-being and support of the people and communities most impacted by the disease.

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