While it is still too early to be able to count the cost of the Ebola epidemic on the economies of the three West African countries effected, there is little doubt that the impact will be dire. Two of the three countries involved enjoyed double-digit growth rates before the disease struck. Can they recover?
According to the African Development Bank, in 2013 Africa continued to defy the global economic slowdown with growth in sub-Saharan Africa posted at 5% (including South Africa). West Africa, with a growth rate of 7% (same as in 2012), was the gold medallist among all the subregions, including North Africa. In March 2014, a little-known disease started to pose a very serious threat to that enviable position.
Last September, after a series of very positive electronic and telephone exchanges, and a meeting in Burj A1 Arab in Dubai, an Australian company that was keenly considering the possibility of investing in a mining project in Mauritania suddenly developed cold feet.
The reason, according to their chairman, an Africa-optimist with very long experience in the continent, was that no one was excited about West Africa any more: the cause--Ebola! Australian geologists were resigning their jobs and returning home and there were rumours of an Ebola case in Queensland.
Shortly after this decision, another Australian investor who was looking at a project in Sudan sent me a message: "I have decided to look a bit closer to home". The fear of Ebola was greater than the distance from Sudan to West Africa!
In the second week of November, eight months after the first announcement of the outbreak, Ebola had claimed 1,142 lives in Guinea, 2,836 in Liberia and 1,169 in Sierra Leone. Isolated cases were reported in Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain and the US.
Throughout our history, mankind has been afflicted by one epidemic or the other. Since the second part of the last century, we have been subjected to a record number of universalised diseases (such as malaria, AIDS and now Ebola), which have spread at incredible speed across boundaries. This is because while, on one hand, technology has reached heights never seen before, on the other hand poverty, population pressure and many other challenges associated with modern development have made us vulnerable to new forms of diseases.
More than the much-feared, but now known, diseases of malaria, cancer and AIDS, for example, the obscure Ebola strikes terror even from its very African-sounding name! The disease...