The Unfound

It hasn’t been the best fortnight in the history of aviation, with three major disasters. The difference among them is that only two were weather-related, and those only made the news for a day or so.

The most recent crash was in the Sahara, and a number of French citizens were killed. It’s probably still news in France, but not on the international channels. Since the plane, leased by the Spanish to Air Algérie, was en route to Algiers from Burkina Faso, I guess some of those passengers were heading home for a vacation.

News is highly discriminating, and the human race has an incredible gift of carelessness.

Africa has always been a dark place in this way—in its disasters, wars, and epidemics. Like a black hole, Africa’s massive density seems to suck events into its core.

I’ve been reading a book called The Soccer War, which so far has very little to do with soccer and everything to do with Africa—well, it does mention that Ahmed Ben Bella and Abdelaziz Bouteflika liked to dash off and play a little football between meetings. That says a lot for politics then and now (Ben Bella was ousted in 1965, Bouteflika played a major role).

Bouteflika is the short guy on the right, you get brownie points for identifying the other two.

The Arab Summit in 1978. Bouteflika is the short guy on the right in the pinstripe, and you get brownie points for identifying the two ‘gentlemen’ on the left.

I have a literate readership, so I feel comfortable jumping from Algerian politics to Tanganyika—and by that I don’t mean the wildlife park in Kansas. There’s a story in the soccer book about a parliamentary debate in the former German East African colony, on a government motion to pay alimony to mothers bearing children of unknown father—it’s the usual quilt of tragedy and comedy.

My favorite bit is when a female member of parliament threatens to expose those in the chamber who themselves pick up, and presumably impregnate, young girls off the street. Gazes are averted. Shortly thereafter, the bill is defeated with ninety-five percent of the vote against, despite the comfortable government majority.

In my forays to the site of the Ugandan Observer, I’m never disappointed. It’s not just the subject matter, but the reporting style I enjoy. Not much has changed in Africa.

This morning there’s a long article about members of government allegedly being supplied with Chinese pickup trucks—the opposition MP pointing the finger has the wonderful name of Betty Nambooze.

The trucks in question, called Tunland, are made by a Chinese company called Foton—have you heard of it, or them for that matter? On the Foton website a smiling CEO shakes hands with the man from Daimler, as Foton starts producing Mercedes engines under licence. The press release tells all.

In the future, doors of all Auman trucks carrying the OM457 engine will be clearly marked with “Mercedes-Benz Power” on the outside. Such trucks will meet the needs of China’s truck industry and the demand of logistics companies for economy, high efficiency and power, thus laying a solid foundation for Foton to march onto the international market.

We’ll hear about Foton soon. And I’m a little worried about that march word.

Unlike this one, the stories in the African press are often terribly poignant, and are reported with a mixture of resignation and outrage. A kind of ‘can you believe this shit is always going on?’

One of the quietest stories, which should be one of the loudest, is Ebola. West Africa is suffering the worst epidemic ever of the virus. When something as deadly as Ebola is having a good moment, we should all be very worried.

The epidemic reached Nigeria this week, after Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The Nigerian foreign minister stated:

All ports of entry into Nigeria including airports, seaports and land boarders (sic) are placed on red alert.

Highly appropriate, since this is a hemorrhagic fever, and bleeding is one of the symptoms. What’s the count so far? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there are as of one week ago one thousand and ninety-three confirmed or suspected cases, with a sixty percent death rate. Now Nigeria is added to the pile, and we’ll see what happens.

Both rates have doubled in a fortnight, and Conakry has an international airport, where ten percent of the traffic is to Paris. Experts predict that if the virus reaches Europe, that may be the entry point. However, London also has good connections to other West African countries, including Nigeria.

The only redeeming feature of Ebola is that it’s hard to catch. Unlike SARS, and in that respect similar to HIV, Ebola propagates through exchange of body fluids. But HIV is more insidious, because it takes some time before you know you’re infected, and there’s a high probability you can transmit the disease over a fairly long period.

It’s these two features of Ebola that hold out hope in the face of a potential pandemic: it spreads only though sexual or other intimate contact, and it kills quickly. The U.S. National Public Radio provides a nice appraisal of risks, but despite all the reassurances, the chief doctor fighting the disease in Freetown has contracted it.

His quote to Reuters is somewhat different:

Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease. Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk.

We all need to pay more attention to Africa, for its own sake and for ours.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.


One Response to “The Unfound”

  1. Lourenço Says:

    Not so sure on the “ebola is hard to catch statement”. Although the R0 number is similar to HIV, it is transmissible through physical contact and saliva. The “success” of this transmission is highyl dependent on the period of the illness. This is also one of the reasons that HIV is considered biosafety 2, and EBV biosafety 4 (the highest level – I think there are less than 50 labs worldwide that can handle BSL 4 pathogens).
    A bit more information on EBV transmission:



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