Ebola Outbreak Casts Pall Over U.S.-Africa Summit

Obama Administration Still Touts Trade and Partnership with Africa

Stacy M. Brown | 8/9/2014, 11 p.m.
President Barack Obama used the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit as a platform to strengthen ties with African nations as 50 ...
Cameroon President Paul Biya and wife Chantal arrived at the Joint Base Andrews Naval Facility in Maryland ahead of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. (Courtesy of PRC.com)

President Barack Obama used the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit as a platform to strengthen ties with African nations as 50 of the continent’s leaders spoke of investment opportunities, trade, oil and democracy.

However, as with many high profile international events, particularly those that take place in the nation’s capital, another issue took center stage at the summit.

“There are major discussions … on the margins around civil society issues, the Ebola crisis, democracy and government and other areas,” said Melvin Foote, the founder of the Constituency for Africa in Northeast.

Still, many conversations ultimately led to talk of the Ebola crisis as administration officials repeatedly attempted to focus on other matters.

Just a couple of days before the summit began on Monday, August 4; major television news outlets like CNN devoted most of their coverage to the arrival in Atlanta of an American patient with the Ebola virus.

And, on Tuesday, with the conference in full swing, another American who contracted the deadly virus also arrived in the country from West Africa.

“The [African] presidents seemed to bristle at a question from Charlie Rose about a recent Ebola virus outbreak in West African countries. They used the query to call the focus on Ebola in the U.S. press a distraction from Africa’s democratic and economic development,” said Dan Friedman, a summit pool reporter who works for the New York Daily News.

Rose, an anchor with the Public Broadcasting Service, hosted a panel discussion on Tuesday, August 5, with presidents from Senegal, Rwanda, Tunisia and Tanzania and South Africa.

“It’s an unfair vision of Africa,” Senegal’s President Macky Sall said. “It is not an African disease,” he said, noting that Ebola moves across borders through air travel.

Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete, who previously pointed out that his East African nation isn’t affected by the outbreak, said he has struggled to convince western journalists to cover Africa as a diverse country of unique nations rather than a vast disaster zone.

“The whole of the continent of Africa is being perceived as if everywhere, everybody is suffering from Ebola,” Kikwete said.

A reporter from the Associated Press said the Ebola virus, which has killed approximately 900 individuals in West Africa, certainly cast a pall over the summit.

Leaders from Sierra Leone and Liberia canceled their plans to attend and U.S. health officials set up medical screenings for those traveling from the West African nations.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have continued to send experts to West Africa in an attempt to bolster its staff investigating the outbreak.

Also, officials at the United Nations called for growing international support to assist West Africa’s health crisis, which they said requires hundreds of doctors, nurses and health professionals to combat.

“We need materials. We need money, and this we need quickly and we need a lot of it,” said World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Gregory Hartl.

WHO Director Margaret Chan called the outbreak unprecedented, presenting challenges they’ve never previously confronted.