Pestilence

This happened about a month ago in Guinea: villagers killed eight people who came to tell them about the dangers of Ebola.

It has been the topic of conversation ever since. Words most frequently used include “brutal”, “savage” and “barbaric”. While these words may accurately describe the killings themselves, they bring us no closer to understanding why this happened. As usual, in the bulk of media reports on events in Africa, there is an essential element missing. History.

From the perspective of an inhabitant of Guinea Forestière, the past 125 years or so have been marked by a litany of highly disruptive events, almost all coming from the coast. The list looks like this, in no particular order:

 

War

Colonial conquest

Forced labour

Land occupation

Forced movement of people

Cultural vandalism on an industrial scale

More war

Masses of refugees from across the borders

Illegal rebel camps

Mass displacement

Environmental degradation…

 

…and, as the French say, j’en passe. By and large, pre and post-independence, men with arms have had a bad reputation here. Historically, they have been mostly seen to vandalise, to rob, to loot and take people away.

It may well be that we now have the first government in history, ever since the French established Conakry late 19th century, that at the very least has good intentions. But that does not negate the view from the forest, which is, based on painful experience, that pretty much everything that comes from the coast, the capital, the government, is disruptive and violent. A convoy of cars appearing out of nowhere usually spells trouble. People have memories. The village has a memory. The region has a memory. Most reporting ignores that.

Here is a thought, then. After all, there is one item missing from that list above and maybe the thinking of the people in that village, Womey, when they saw that convoy appear, was along these lines: well here’s one thing that we haven’t yet received from the coast, the capital, the government: pestilence. And sure enough, that’s what they’re here to give us.

It is critical to understand where these killings have come from. History be your guide so that true lessons may be learned – and, may I add, not in the ritual sense so beloved by the development establishment. An uplifting story from elsewhere in the region suggests that this is beginning to be the case.

 

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