The Ebola crisis and capitalism

At the time of writing this article, 29.10.2014,  the official death toll from the Ebola epidemic, mostly in part of West Africa (Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia), is 4922. The actual death toll may be substantially higher as many people are being sent home to die. Past outbreaks were largely localised to rural DRC, which made it easier to contain as the areas were isolated and cut off from the larger towns due to poor infrastructure. But is it simply that the latest outbreak is within a greater urban setting, with more transport infrastructure, that has led to its rapid spread? No. We argue that the very nature of capitalist relations in Africa is primarily responsible for this.

The case of Sierra Leone

In 1930 diamonds were discovered in Sierra Leone and it is estimated that up to 1996 about $15Bn (about R150 bn) worth were extracted. Yet the govt of Sierra Leone only gets about 3% of the declared profits and only 0.1% of the declared profits are directed to all social services, of which a tiny part goes to health care. Thus it is not true that Sierra Leone lacks resources; the country is being plundered by capitalist monopolies and only the spare change is used to prop up the health care system. De Beers/Anglo American controls the world diamond market and thus is directly responsible for the high rate of plunder of Sierra Leone.

De Beers had set up its International Diamond Security Organization, a bunch of mercenaries, to hunt down artisanal diamond miners until they gained total control of the diamond market in Sierra Leone (and a few other places like the DRC/Zaire).

During the periods of civil wars in Africa (when Savimbi controlled 75% of Angola’s diamond fields; when dictator Mobutu Sese Seko took over after the assassination of Lumumba in Zaire; after Laurent Kabila had come to power in Zaire/DRC; during the civil war in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002, when the mercenary group, the Revolutionary United Front, RUF, controlled most of the diamond fields in Sierra Leone), De Beers processed these diamonds, much of it through Israel.  Today Israel has deals with the govts of Sierra Leone, DRC, Namibia, Botswana, SA and others, for the shipment of diamonds to them for cutting and polishing.

The sham Kimberley Process which was set up by De Beers as a cover to maintain control of the world diamond market, classifies conflict diamonds as ‘uncut diamonds’ that are used as funding to overthrow governments. Once a diamond is cut, however, there is no way of saying where it has come from; De Beers and Israel have always opposed a full audit of where they source their diamonds from.

If De Beers really had no control over the blood diamonds, it would have reflected in a decline in the world prices. No such trend has ever been observed.

Once the diamond supply started to dry up, the capitalists turned their efforts to mining iron ore, aluminium, Titanium and other metals. The diamond companies started up African Minerals, which is a BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) company. Gibril Bangua, a local capitalist who kept diamond plundering by De Beers going during the civil war years was rewarded with a 2% stake in African Minerals, AML. Standard Bank has financed the mining by African Minerals  of the Tonkolili iron ore mine, which has proven reserves of 10 000 million tons, the biggest find in the world in the past 20 years. In the first half of this year, while thousands were dying of Ebola, this mine showed a profit of almost $ 9 million. Within the ownership of African Minerals is Timis Diamond corporation, one of its biggest shareholders, which is listed in Bermuda. Thus African Minerals makes use of fake companies to export the wealth from Sierra Leone and, on paper, reduce the profits, by inflating the costs, just as many mining companies, like Lonmin and others do. The wealth from the Tonkolili mine could have been used to set up, overnight, a whole network of isolation wards with all the necessary care, but profits for Anglo American, Standard bank and other capitalists, was more important. Incidentally, London Mining also operates in Sierra Leone.

As a result of the plunder of Sierra Leone by the international banks and mining monopolies, the public health system is in collapse: Not a single public hospital has a constant supply of electricity. Some have no electricity; Most times, if you go to hospital/clinics you have to bring your own medicine.

There are no production facilities for medicines, thus all has to be imported. This places the entire population at the total mercy of the unscrupulous major pharmaceutical companies.

As a result of the massive exploitation of the masses, sanitation and running water is scarce. Thus the conditions, created by capitalist plunder, has caused a disaster waiting to happen- the abject poverty conditions are fundamentally what has laid the basis for a rapid spread of Ebola.

When the outbreak started in Jan-Feb this year, all the private hospitals closed down; the very ones who had the means to set up sanitary isolation units, with the necessary expertise, prevented an early clamping down on the disease. This shut down literally placed profits before life.

The functioning health centres are NGO hospitals. The biggest is the Emergency Hospital which is Italian company-funded. These NGO hospitals can pay almost 50% more than what the state health units can. Thus, while the country and region is being plundered, the health care is kept completely at the mercy of the small change that the capitalists deem fit. Italian companies control huge fields for rubber (which ships 250 tons per month to the Firestone factory in neighbouring Liberia); Italian companies are also active in construction, fishing, food processing and other areas. These capitalist take out far more than what is handed back to the NGO hospitals.

The deployment of troops by the govts of the UK, US and Germany, to West Africa

There are a number of reasons why troops from the imperialist centres have been deployed to West Africa. The first aim is to prevent the govts of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia from being overthrown by the masses. These govts are the main instruments for keeping the high rate of exploitation in place for world imperialism capitalism to benefit. Thus the deployment of troops was to prevent the masses from getting a permanent basis of good health care and was to maintain the capitalist basis not only for health to be commodified but for the continued domination by world imperialism capitalism of this region.

Secondly, seeing that in recent times, the deployment of troops by the imperialists have been opposed vigorously by the masses on home soil, this is an opportunity for the capitalist to re-assert their use of troops on foreign soil. Thus it is also a public relations exercise to roll back the gains of the mass movement of the recent period.

Thirdly, seeing that the US govt owns the patent to Ebola since 2008, the various drug companies are vying with each other to use the masses in West Africa as guinea pigs for untried vaccines. This partially explains why the Sierra Leone govt, according to the Economist, delayed for 1 month, the use of medicines and beds, which were sitting in many containers at the main port. If the disease had been contained too soon, there would be no market for a global vaccine, which would translate into hundreds of billions of dollars of profits for the drug monopolies. Rather chillingly, the Israeli govt has sent mobile clinics to Sierra Leone. The question, in the light of their ongoing genocidal attacks on the Palestinians, whether their motives are to help or use the masses as guinea pigs for an untested vaccine- the question thus arises whether the Israeli and possibly some of the other clinics set up by imperialist forces are deliberately infecting the masses with trial versions of ebola, all in the name of developing a so-called vaccine from the drug monopolies can make mega millions. The presence of Israeli mobile clinics is also the height of cynicism considering that the high rate of theft of blood diamonds from the region by Israel was a major factor in their being negligible health facilities and poor basic infrastructure and widespread poverty in the first place. [is it a coincidence that the Economist reported that a vaccine that worked on animals infected with Ebola, was developed by GlaxoSmithKline before this current outbreak? Is it also just a coincidence that very quickly, that the arch reactionary Economist is promoting a vaccine, as if this is the only way to deal with this outbreak? In other words, they propose to give everyone a dose of Ebola as a ‘preventative’. This is how sick and barbaric that world capitalism is today. The second biggest industry in the world today is the drug industry. For it to grow, they need the constant new development of new diseases. Too far-fetched? Wars since 1900 have killed over 100 million people. The biggest industry is the arms industry.  [a critical, grounded study into the real role of the MSF- Doctors without Borders, is necessary. Suffice to say that the massive rate of exploitation in Africa is what makes a volunteer agency, which provides 2000 health personnel to West Africa, yet another saving to the imperialist masters, who do not have to dish out funds for health care for even the most minimum requirements; whether MSF was infiltrated and deliberately spread the disease initially, requires further study. Any drug company could have paid a doctor to go and do their dirty work- with capitalism, such barbaric acts are possible.]

The deliberately collapsed health care services across Africa may be a factor in the rapid spread of ebola

The International Journal of STD and Aids reported a study in 2002, Volume 13, pp 657 -666, by David Gisselquist PhD, Richard Rothenberg MD, MPH, John Potterat BA and Ernest Drucker PhD that the rapid spread of HIV in South Africa was not explained by sexual transmission or accidents; they concluded that there was strong evidence that the collapse of the health system which resulted in unsanitary practices such as the re-use of syringes, was a key factor.

Considering the high rate of plunder across Africa by imperialism, and the resultant collapse of health systems on the continent, it is likely that the public clinics in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, unwittingly, became centres of infection of the masses. By extension, if the ebola virus were to reach the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, there could be a massive leap in the infections. That Nigeria has, for the moment, brought their infections under control, was because the govt was forced to act quickly.

How the semi-colonies subsidize the imperialist centres

The US state likes to project its ‘green card’ project as an act of humanity. The opposite is true. More than half the health care workers and professionals in the USA were trained outside the country. Thus the cost of support and training was borne by the masses of other countries, a substantial saving to imperialism. There are a number of health care workers and professionals from Africa that work in Europe and the USA, again a substantial saving to the imperialist centres. Further, many of these immigrants are prepared to work longer hours and for less pay than their counterparts in the imperialist centres- an even further cost saving to the imperialists.

When USAid and other imperialist agencies fund health training in the semi-colonies, this is often linked to the recipients going to work in the USA and the respective imperialist centres- thus this is a part subsidy for their own benefit.

The capitalist structure of the semi-colonies and the alliance with the local lumpen bourgeoisie is what keeps Africa dependent

The imperialist monopolies are the ones who control the wealth in the semi-colonies; thus they determine what happens to the savings and investments; they are the ones who dictate that Africa remains a producer of raw materials and that there is no broader development. Real local development would bring it into conflict with the profits of the imperialists who control world wide chains of production. The local lumpen bourgeoisie are in alliance with imperialism and have identical interests. The conduct of the Sierra Leon regime, by permitting the massive rate of plunder, is but one example.

World capitalist production is based on profits and not on what the needs of the masses are. That is why private clinics in Sierra Leone would offer surgery for breast cancer, while the rate of children dying at birth is the highest in the world, more than 250 per 1000 births, mostly through lack of basic health equipment.

The structure of capitalist society is on the creation of debt through car production, televisions and other commodities rather than what society needs. The resources in the country are diverted away from what is needed towards pure capitalist profit for the monopolies and banks. The structure of capitalism in West Africa results in a life expectancy of 26 years, this is even before the Ebola epidemic.

What we need

What West Africa needs is not charity but an immediate end to the capitalist system that steals the life away from the masses. The ebola crisis merely highlights this. The legacy in Africa is a result of the continuation of capitalism by the partnership of the local lumpen bourgeoisie, the very essence of what the stalinist national democratic revolution leads to. [ie the placing of the local middle class at the head of the struggle for Socialism, instead of the working class seizing power in its own name through mass action methods].

What is needed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and indeed any other country where ebola is spread, for the masses to march on the mines and banks, to occupy them and place them under workers’ control. The demand should be for imperialism to bring back the wealth that they stole over the decades. There should be protests at the embassies of the US, France, UK, Germany, Japan, Israel, to demand that the stolen wealth be returned.

What is needed is for the working class to organise revolutionary working class parties as part of a revolutionary International and overthrow the world system of capitalism. Socialism or death!


Workers International Vanguard Party-WIVPph or sms +27 822020617 ; email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. website ; 1st floor Community House, 41 Salt River rd, Salt River, 7925. [weare also on facebook].

Acknowledgment: We also acknowledge the work of Vincente Navarro in his book, Medicine Under Capitalism, published by PRODIST, of the Neale Watson Academic Publications, 1976.

Some other references:

  1. Dirty Diamonds-Armed Conflict and the Trade in Rough Diamonds (Ian Smilie)
  2. The Leverhulme Working paper on transfer pricing in the diamond industry
  3. The Economist – various articles 2014 on Ebola
  4. Website of Africa Minerals Limited (Sierra Leone).

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