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Humanitarianism in Crisis: Ebola in West Africa Research Paper


Introduction: Ebola Crisis and the Concept of Humanitarian Politics

Despite its comparatively recent emergence, the Ebola epidemic has already become infamous everywhere across the world community. Because of the humanitarianism approach, whither the UNO promotes as the key tool for handling the problem, as well as the individual concerns of the current world leaders, the problem of Ebola has shifted from the healthcare domain to the political and economic one.

Healthcare background: Ebola epidemics in West Africa

Though the Ebola disease has a rather long history (WHO Ebola Response Team 1), its reoccurrence in 2011 took the healthcare services by surprise and was not addressed properly, which resulted in its rapid development. Caused by ebolaviruses, the disease affects kidneys and liver, triggering a severe fever, headache, sore throat, etc. (Dixon and Schafer 548). Due to a rapid drop in blood pressure, which occurs as a result of a major loss of blood, the disease is extremely hard to treat. First contractions of Ebola were witnessed in 1976; in 2014, an outbreak of Ebola occurred in West Africa, causing a lot of people to die (Qui et al. 1).

Political background: key tenets of the humanitarian politics

Academic sources define the policy of humanitarianism as “assisting people in need of help –an action based on notions of saving humans and humanity from real and perceived danger” (Shrestha 2). As soon as the 2014 Ebola epidemics started, it was decided that the politics of humanitarianism should be adopted in order to address the issue. The residents of West Africa have been receiving medical assistance and essential support since. Nevertheless, the support of the areas of West Africa that have been affected by the virus seems to have exhausted itself due to the threats that the involvement in the issue may lead to.

Research Hypotheses: Humanitarianism Politics vs. the Politics of Fear

Null hypothesis

The changes in the course of the humanitarianism politics, which can be observed at present among the states that assist West Africa in handling the Ebola crisis, have nothing to do with the moods that are created among the citizens and authorities of the aforementioned states with the help of the traditional and especially modern media.

Hypothesis A

The current crisis that can be witnessed in the context of the Ebola epidemics can be viewed as the crisis of humanitarianism politics, as the fear-mongering reports in traditional and modern media shape people’s attention towards the issue, therefore, altering the geopolitics and isolating West Africa politically and economically from the rest of the world.

Hypothesis B

The crisis that occurs in West Africa at present can be related to the failure of the humanitarianism politics resulting from its marriage with the militarist politics and, therefore, the use of the Ebola crisis as the means for using the crisis as a tool in political confrontations between West Africa and the U.S., which, in its turn, is bound to trigger a major political conflict, and the politics of fear, therefore, blows the conflict out of proportions.

Methodology: Defining the Tools for Addressing the Issue

Research type: qualitative study for addressing a humanitarianism related concern

Seeing that the issue requires the development of a theory rather than the proof of the one, it will be desirable to choose the qualitative research design. Indeed, the study is obviously aimed at establishing a synapse between the variables; consequently, the adoption of the qualitative approach seems most reasonable for the study in question.

Research method: general research as the key to understanding the issue

As far as the research method is concerned, the general research has been chosen as the key tool for the data analysis, as the information concerning the Ebola epidemics can hardly be tested with the help of any other research design.

In order to gather the data required for the research, it will be needed to analyze the latest resources on the political implications of the current Ebola-related international policies, especially the ones that concern humanitarianism and the military plans that the United States supposedly have for West Africa. Peer-reviewed academic resources will be analyzed in order to obtain key information.

Literature Review: Analysis of the Policies towards the Ebola Crisis

Despite its comparative novelty, the issue of Ebola epidemics and the humanitarianism policy issues that it has spawned have already been discussed vastly. Recent researches claim that what at first was an attempt of the U.S. and Europe to put a stop to epidemics has lately turned into fear-mongering fueled by political goals that may compromise the ethics of international relationships (Tamboo 45).

Though the subject matter is very touchy, the fact that it is viewed as either a threat or an opportunity for making a political statement by the governments involved cannot be doubted: according to Kinsman, the unrests that the threat of Ebola contraction triggered in West Africa, were seen “as a gold mine to deliver a political statement” (Kinsman 24).

The fear politics mentioned above, however, is obviously being fueled among the residents of the United States and Europe, as the governments of these states attempt at evaluating the situation. Indeed, it is obvious that the governments of the states that are in one way or another related to the issue in question are attempting at pointing out the threats, which the involvement in the conflict will ensue (Kinsman 25). Herein the paradox lies; on the one hand, a case in point is a breeding ground for making powerful political statements; on the other hand, by participating in the discussion of the subject matter, the governments of the states seem to tread a very delicate territory, which may affect their own wellbeing. Herein the hesitation and lingering associated with the Ebola crisis lie.

Hence, it is obvious that the humanitarian politics adopted towards West Africa is suffering a serious crisis due to the introduction of military goals into the initially neutral attempt at helping those in need. Some researchers, in fact, have gone as far as stating that the international collective action, which was aimed at fighting the epidemics, suffered a major failure: “The escalation of the present Ebola epidemic points towards crucial shortfalls in humanitarian action” (Philips and Markham 1181). This recent refusal from taking a more active part in cooperation with West Africa is obviously to the detriment of the relationships between the latter and the U.S. Therefore; it can be concluded that the humanitarianism policy is being combined with the military one, thus, showing that the states volunteering previously for addressing the issue are now obviously reluctant to provide any assistance to the residents of West Africa whatsoever.

Researches show that there are several valid explanations for the phenomenon in question to occur, the political conflict between the United States and some of the states in the West African area being the key one. Recent researches have shown that the relationships between the above-mentioned states have deteriorated over the past few years (“Small Arms and Conflicts in West Africa” para. 1). In the light of these issues in the relationships between the U.S. and West African states, the military politics of the United States may be seen as an attempt to take the superior position in the relationships with the African authorities (Wan para. 1). The endeavors of the United States to take control over the political, economic and social life of West Africa, though somewhat dubious, may be deemed as reasonable because of the recent concerns voiced by the Human Rights Watch; according to the latter, the area in question has been known for disturbingly high rates of human rights abuse (Affa’a-Mindzie para. 3). The specified issue must be blamed on the lack of control over the military conflicts within the area, as well as the fact that these arms are distributed among both soldiers and civilians: “Quantities of arms have flowed to the region despite the rampant misuse of such weapons by state and non-state actors alike” (“Small Arms and Conflicts in West Africa” para. 2). The concerns of the USA government for the safety of the people inhabiting the troubled West African regions are, therefore, rather understandable.

The aforementioned idea can be supported by the fact that the sharp focus on the West African issue has been retaining its high propriety for an impressive amount of time despite the emergence of other concerns (Wan para. 2). According to the recent report, the states that have taken part in addressing the Ebola crisis in West Africa have displayed “the collective failure to respond in a manner that might have avoided or at least limited the scale of the present Ebola epidemic” (Philips and Markham 1181).

In other words, the humanitarian policy has obviously suffered a major failure in West Africa due to the integration of the military goals into the plans for addressing the Ebola crisis. This proves Hypothesis B, in accordance with which the combination of the militarism and the humanitarianism policies towards the states of West Africa.

One must also admit that the existing media tend to depict the current situation in West Africa in a rather unsettling manner, which causes panic rates among the citizens all over the world to rise drastically. A single glance at some of the specimens of modern and traditional media descriptions of the Ebola epidemics will reveal that very few sources portray the problem in a relatively objective manner, whereas most seem to be overstating the actual danger (Eichelberg 1285). The given approach, in fact, is quite well known in 21st-century politics under the name of fear-mongering and is viewed as a tool used for very particular goals of shaping the attitudes towards certain phenomena among general audiences (Adeyanju and Oriola 33). In fact, the U.S. resorted to a similar strategy when managing the health issue in Chinatown, New York: “Even without a single case of SARS, the community was identified quickly as a site of contagion and risk. The American public, including Chinatown, had become infected with an epidemic of fear, not of disease” (Eichelberg 1285).

A range of studies has confirmed that, by expatiating the Ebola-related concern to the nth degree, media sources create the opportunities for people’s attitude towards the subject matter, as well as the population of West Africa, change under the pressure of fear: “the media problematized the case by cross-articulating a health scare of Ebola with immigration, crime and ‘race’” (Adeyanju and Oriola 32). Therefore, the shift of the focus in the humanitarianism policy of the United States may trigger another political concern, which is related to the subject of race. By stirring fear among the general audience towards the representatives of the Black communities in West Africa, state authorities create a strong tension in the relationships between members of the American/European and African cultures. As a result, humanitarianism endeavors may be stifled easily once the fear factor is incorporated into the environment created by traditional and modern media. Hence, it can be concluded that fear-mongering, which the authorities of the United States and Europe are encouraging with their current political strategies, shapes the policy of humanitarianism, reducing the significance of compassion and cooperation to a minimum.

Results and Their Analysis: When Humanitarianism Meets Militarism and the Politics of Fear

As the results of the study have shown, the crisis of humanitarianism in West Africa can be explained by the politics of fear and militarism, which is promoted to the population of the U.S. and Europe with the help of modern media. Therefore, the null hypothesis regarding the complete absence of any changes in the current strategy of the humanitarianism politics caused by militarism and fear-mongering has been proven wrong. Hypothesis A, which renders the connection between the variables of the changes in geopolitics and isolation of West Africa economically from the global trade realm, has been proven. Likewise, hypothesis B, which views the reasons for the crisis of the humanitarian policies as the effect of the confrontation between West Africa and the United States, has also been supported by numerous pieces of evidence and, hence, can be considered proven.

Conclusion: What the Crisis May Possibly Result in

Though one must admit that at some point, the humanitarianism initiative was launched by some of the states in order to address the issue concerning the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, the politics of fear-mongering took its toll over the key responses to the African crisis rather fast. Since the link between the recent changes in the policy of humanitarianism, the militarization strategy introduced by the United States recently and the fear-mongering technique, which is obviously being utilized with the help of both traditional and modern media, is rather strong, the null hypothesis still does not seem to work. The problem of the Ebola epidemics is, therefore, of a primarily political nature; because of the issues that the United States and Europe have been having with the states located in the area of West Africa, the healthcare concerns are being left behind, which makes the essential issue of providing assistance to those in need and searching for new and more efficient methods of Ebola treatment shrink away from the spotlight.

Works Cited

Adeyanju, Charles T. and Temitope Oriola. “Not in Canada’: The Non-Ebola Panic and Media Misrepresentation of the Black Community.” African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies 4.1 (2010): 32–54. Print.

Affa’a-Mindzie, Mireille. “Strengthening the Rule of Law and Human Rights in the Sahel.” International Journal: Stability of Security and Development 2.2 (2012), 1–12. Print.

Dixon, Meredith G. and Ilana J. Schafer. “Ebola Viral Disease Outbreak — West Africa, 2014.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 63.25 (2014), 548–551. Print.

Kinsman, John. “‘A Time of Fear’: Local, National, and International Responses to a Large Ebola Outbreak in Uganda.” Globalization and Health 2012, 8.1 (2012), 15. Print.

Philips, Mitt and Áine Markham. “Ebola: A Failure of International Collective Action.” The Lancet 384.9949 (2014), 1181. Print.

Qui, Xiangguo, et al. “Reversion of Advanced Ebola Virus Disease in Nonhuman Primates with ZMapp.” Nature 514.7520 (2014): 47–53. Print.

Shrestha, Christie. Research Paper No. 208. 2011. Web.

Human Rights Watch. 2004. Web.

Tamboo, Ernest. “Non-Conventional Humanitarian Interventions on Ebola Outbreak Crisis in West Africa: Health, Ethics and Legal Implications.” Infectious Diseases of Poverty 3.1 (2014), 42–53. Print.

Wan, James. “Experts Weekly: What Next for US-Africa Relations?.” Think Africa Press. 2013. Web.

WHO Ebola response Team. “Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa – The First 9 Months of the Epidemic and Forward Projections.” The New England Journal of Medicine 10.1(2014), 1–15. Print.

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"Humanitarianism in Crisis: Ebola in West Africa." IvyPanda, 28 Jan. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/humanitarianism-in-crisis-ebola-in-west-africa/.

1. IvyPanda. "Humanitarianism in Crisis: Ebola in West Africa." January 28, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/humanitarianism-in-crisis-ebola-in-west-africa/.


IvyPanda. "Humanitarianism in Crisis: Ebola in West Africa." January 28, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/humanitarianism-in-crisis-ebola-in-west-africa/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "Humanitarianism in Crisis: Ebola in West Africa." January 28, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/humanitarianism-in-crisis-ebola-in-west-africa/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Humanitarianism in Crisis: Ebola in West Africa'. 28 January.

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