Saturday, October 18, 2014

architects of death and chickens coming home to roost...,

newpol |  To understand the gravity of the situation in Liberia, in Sierra Leone and in the south of Guinea, it’s necessary to look carefully at the particularities of this sub-region. I note here four characteristics that constitute an explosive cocktail.
  1. At the end of the 1980s, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the south of Guinea were at the center of armed conflicts for the control of natural resources.
  2. After the reestablishment of relative peace in the early 2000s, there was a surge of foreign investments, accompanied by land-grabbing and the expropriation of the small farmers who had been weakened by war.
  3. The increasingly rapid destruction of the forests endangered many animal species and pushed their microbial parasites to search for new hosts at the margins of their traditional ecosystem.
  4. The collapse of the state institutions that had been established when these countries became independent led to the transfer of their tasks to outside and local non-governmental organizations, private companies, and even to Western powers.
It is the combination and interaction of these four characteristics that has made these countries an ideal terrain for the diffusion of the Ebola virus.

Wars for the Control of Natural Resources
The civil wars that bloodied Liberia and Sierra Leone starting at the end of the 1980s had largely been carried on by groups—whether those in power or those in rebellion—struggling over the control of natural resources, in particular diamonds (which because of these circumstances came to be called blood diamonds) as well as lumber, with the complicity of large multinational corporations. Those wars were the cause of the death of some 200,000 people, not to mention the thousands of wounded, mutilated, raped women, orphaned children, and those displaced and turned into refugees. The vast forests where Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea touch have been particularly ravaged by the battles in which the Guinean army confronted the Liberian forces, which were allied to the rebels of Sierra Leone.[1] In addition, this remote area where the capitals of the three countries are found has continued to be the scene of repeated violence, almost to this day, either in the district of Kolahun (Lofa County) in Liberia, or in that of Guéckédou, Guinea. It is in the latter that the Ebola epidemic broke out in December 2013.

Liberia and Sierra Leone recovered from their civil wars and attained a relative stability, supported by the diplomats and the special forces of Great Britain and the United States, whose action has been continued by United Nations peace-keeping missions there, so that by 2005 in Liberia and 2005-07 in Sierra Leone there had been put in place a semblance of representative democracy and business-as-usual resumed. The international index of “economic freedom” (of the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal) showed a continual improvement in commercial freedom, in the monetary and tax systems and in investments in the two countries, and only the rights of workers and public services have worsened.

No doubt about it: the international competition for the control and exploitation of natural resources has returned with a vengeance, dispensing with the mediation of costly armed bands, as part of the new scramble for Africa. During the last five years, from 2009 to 2013, according to the World Bank, the GDP of Liberia has grown on average by 11.1 percent per year, and Sierra Leone by 10 percent. Overall, Guinea remains behind, with a growth rate of 2.5 percent, though it is true that is has not suffered a destructive conflict in the whole country.