The View From Olympus: Don’t Shop At This WAWA

Americans know WAWA as a convenience store, but to anyone familiar with West Africa it has another meaning: West Africa Wins Again. The phrase refers to the impossibility of getting anything to work right in that benighted region. I recall reading the story of a classic WAWA that began when a Western visitor returned to his hotel room to find the sink had fallen off the wall. The hotel’s engineer was called, and the Westerner suggested that when he fixed the sink, he put some props under it so it would not happen again. The engineer nodded, and the visitor went about his business. When he came again to his room, he found the sink duly propped up–in exactly the position he found it before, hanging at a crazy angle pointed toward the floor. West Africa Wins Again!

Now, with no understanding of West Africa, President Obama has decided to send about 3000 American military personnel to the region to fight the Ebola epidemic. To the folly of a war without troops against ISIS, we will add an exercise in futility against Ebola. The only result will be the mother of all WAWAs as our efforts have no effect on Monsieur Ebola’s progress while they expose thousands of American troops to a hideous disease. Brilliant.

The press continues to be full of stories illustrating the impossibility of the mission. When Liberia briefly established a quarantine in a neighborhood in its capital, the average bribe residents had to pay to go through the lines was $0.50. Someone I know who has done business in West Africa told me, “The best thing about the place is that the bribes are so cheap!” Local regulations required anyone flying out to do so on the national airline. Not wanting to commit suicide, he desired to leave on a European plane. For $100 he got the country’s Minister of Transportation to personally escort him on board.

The September 19 New York Times reported on the result in Guinea when a team of health workers went to a village to give the people accurate information about Ebola and how it spreads. The villagers stoned them to death.

The September 23 Times reported in a front-page story that the Sierra Leone Health Ministry had reported just ten deaths from Ebola in the capital of Freetown. But the Times quickly found that just in the last eight days 110 Ebola victims were buried in just one of the city’s cemeteries. The story quoted the World Health Organization as saying that the official numbers “vastly understate the magnitude of the outbreak.”

International health experts here had no explanation for the striking discrepancy between the government’s tally of the dead in the capital and the cemetery crew’s statistics. Several of them noted the general confusion surrounding official statistics here from the beginning, with one leading international health official saying: “We don’t know exactly what is going on.”

West Africa Wins Again!

The essence of WAWA is the impossibility of making anything work. Incompetence, ignorance, corruption, and every other impediment to function you can imagine–and many Westerners cannot–exist on a colossal scale. There are almost no exceptions. Should you find one, a local witch doctor will probably put a curse on it so that the locals run away. The world portrayed in Through the Looking Glass is a rational world compared to West Africa (and much of the rest of Africa as well). You had might as well try teaching calculus to camels as trying to make anything work in West Africa.

So into this mess we will now send American troops, who will have no authority, no power, just good intentions. The road to West Africa, like the road to that other place (to the degree they can be told apart), is paved with good intentions, and the corpses of those who had them. An earlier age knew the warning, “Beware, beware, the Bight of Benin, for few come out though many go in.”

Beyond futility, increasing our involvement runs an ever-greater risk of bringing Ebola here. The more cases there are, the more the virus has has opportunities to mutate. If a mutation creates a variety of Ebola that spreads through the air, not just direct contact, we will have gone from bubonic plague to pneumonic plague, which was worse. We have already established the dangerous precedent of bringing American Ebola victims here. Multiply their numbers, add the mutation, and presto!, we have a plague on American soil that could rival the Black Death in its effects.

Once again, America’s womanized culture cannot resist the argument of “Oh, the poor (fill in the blank).” Womanish sentiment overrules all reason, all facts, all prudence. It’s as if the country were governed by a basket of kittens.

In the unlikely event that anyone wants a realistic picture of Africa and the bottomlessness of its futility, there is a book on the subject: Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief. Set in East Africa, which generally works better than West Africa, it tells the story of what happens to Westerners’ good intentions on the black continent. The sacrificial troops on their way to fight Ebola might find it amusing; Waugh was a brilliantly funny satirist. Of course, no one in Washington will be interested in the warning the book conveys. That may be the biggest WAWA of all. favicon