Outbreaks & Outrage: How Ebola is Highlighting Western Ignorance of Africa (again)

When my parents presented me with a political jigsaw map at the age of six, I knew that Geography was going to be one of my strong points.  I could tell you the capitals of every African nation but not much else.  It wasn’t really until my time at the University of Glasgow that my understanding of the continent began to have deeper meaning.

Humanity has always had a fear of the ‘unknown’ but is usually remedied by our willingness to learn and understand.  Despite this obvious human endeavour, Western society continues its old, ahistorical and objectionable images of the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent.  What are we teaching our kids in Geography class these days?  I suppose when J-Lo places ‘Africa’ lyrically amongst a list of cities and countries, we need better educational tools.

Brazil, Morocco
London to Ibiza
Straight to L.A. New York
Vegas to Africa
— J-Lo's contribution to Geography

Take the recent ebola outbreak.  Despite originating in Guinea, both the US and UK have observed examples that our ignorance over the continent continues.  The Washington Post reported multiple cases of individuals and groups being segregated from school and work because of their travels to East Africa.

So frustrated was one British chemist, that he decided to make a simple map showing the vast swaths of the continent don’t have cases of Ebola.

Well Anthony, we feel your frustration; so we thought we’d help take this debate one step further by geo-visualising how close each country was to ‘ground zero’ of the recent outbreak, in terms of the number of stops made by commercial flights from Conakry International Airport. Although this initial map is over-simplified and rudimentary, looking at the vulnerability of nations based on their connectivity to international ports of entry has its merits.

Data analysis conducted by Steven Kay using data from OpenFlights.