Ebola: Imperialistic epidemic control< Ruthless Criticism

Translated from GegenStandpunkt 4-14

Ebola: Imperialistic epidemic control

In 2014, the WHO recorded the most severe outbreak of Ebola fever in Africa to date. With 14,100 people infected and 5,100 dead in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the world’s states self-critically admitted at their annual plenary meeting that they had “underestimated” Ebola: The epidemic is nothing less than a “threat to security and peace” (UN Security Council) and ranks among the “three greatest threats of our time” (Obama). Against it, the head of the superpower is forging an alliance. He emphasizes “the USA’s willingness to lead” as well as the “strength of the international community,” without which the “aggressive virus” can’t be defeated. The US President promises a “marathon at the pace of a sprint,” the German foreign minister a “race to catch up,” and the G20 summit “the mobilization of all forces and more funding for an emergency aid program.”


The engagement of the world powers gets underway with a programmatic statement to the UN by the US President:

“So this is all progress, and it is encouraging. But I want us to be clear: We are not moving fast enough. We are not doing enough... This is also more than a health crisis. This is a growing threat to regional and global security. In Liberia, in Guinea, in Sierra Leone, public health systems have collapsed. Economic growth is slowing dramatically. If this epidemic is not stopped, this disease could cause a humanitarian catastrophe across the region. And in an era where regional crises can quickly become global threats, stopping Ebola is in the interest of all of us...I said that the world could count on America to lead, and that we will provide the capabilities that only we have, and mobilize the world the way we have done in the past in crises of similar magnitude … Stopping Ebola is a priority for the United States. I’ve said that this is as important a national security priority for my team as anything else that’s out there. We’ll do our part. We will continue to lead, but this has to be a priority for everybody else. We cannot do this alone.” (September 25, 2014)

– It is neither merely a health crisis nor a natural disaster that is yet again overtaking Africa: The President has been correctly informed by his experts. What has broken out is a classic plague of poverty that is spreading rapidly in the slums, paralyzing what little economic life there is in these countries and destroying any remnant of local medical care. The President takes notice of the epidemic, which has prime breeding grounds in such living conditions, in his own way: a lethality rate of 57% is extrapolated to “100,000 deaths per year,” which in turn translates into a “loss of growth of $30 billion” (IMF) – which not only “destabilizes” the local rulers, but also the “security of the region.” The US looks soberly at the contaminated region from the standpoint of its interests: the feared humanitarian catastrophe could attack the political stability of the entire globe – according to the consistently functionalist view of the risks and side effects for its world order. And in this respect, Ebola is indeed a challenge: it’s an imperative of national and international security to come to the aid of the affected people and states. Obama’s seemingly absurd ranking of the “Ukraine conflict, ISIS terrorism and Ebola” as humanity’s three greatest hostage-takers, makes sense: America identifies troublemakers who are currently plaguing this peaceful world.

– With this diagnosis, the world power already defines the only effective therapy: the leadership of the USA. Without America’s power and resources – “capabilities that only we have” – the epidemic can’t be contained, although this requires helpers. “We cannot do this alone”: This is how Obama formulates his nation’s responsibility to take care of world health as well as “anything else that’s out there” and assigns the partners their place alongside the leading power. The world power indicates what is currently important on the globe; it assumes that the other nations will give everything that happens the importance that America assigns to it and look to America for an answer to the question of what should be done next. So America leads by example and convenes a coalition of the willing to protect the world. Accordingly, self-respecting states are taking action and are being challenged to prove their capabilities as disease fighters.


The mobilization leads to results. No sooner has the USA elevated Ebola to the level of global security than a number of things are happening that weren’t before.

Then the ‘Forgotten Continent’ is declared an emergency area for a while. What is technically and medically necessary is done or tried. General Staff-style disaster control is set up with all due haste. America sends 900 field hospitals and 3,000 health advisors, Germany recruits volunteers from the Red Cross and the army, the EU increases its Ebola aid to one billion euros, and Chinese and Cuban medical teams are also on the ground. What sounds to the latter more like unpleasant bragging is credited to the Free World: It is freeing up resources that are normally there for other purposes, but without which no humanitarian catastrophe can be managed in this world: Money and military, dollars and euros, GIs and Bundeswehr. The exceptional character of such “white coat missions” (Ban Ki Moon) by no means casts a bad light on the norm, but rather gives this deployment of national credit and armed forces an outrageously good reputation: If an important interest can be found that answers the endless calls for help, then states really can for once be charitable, something their politicians promise at New Year! Then help is the order of the day: help with the ‘stabilization’ of a world of states in which the conditions of a need for help are reproduced over and over again. And then the field of the charitable world order ultimately becomes a field of national honor on which one can make an impression, e.g. with the “largest quarantine airplane of the world” (bild.de) …

When states announce a need and make money available, i.e. when it is no longer simply about caring for needs with a dubious ability to pay, then even the much-maligned pharmaceutical industry shows what it can do. Then everyone wants to be the first to register patents and start production. And in the end, the donation industry also gets going. No epidemic without charity! Bill Gates fills the collection boxes, “PAYBACK points against Ebola” are earned while shopping, and of course there is singing too.


In a world governed by democracy and a market-economy, one can’t simply expect that help will be provided just because it is needed and the necessary things are available. In fact, it is nothing but imperialist state interests and capitalist calculations of advantage that are used to judge and decide whether and how help is provided in the most urgent emergencies. Disaster regions are not becoming any fewer. But if an acute catastrophe arouses the interest of the world power, then it can happen that those affected are taken care of.