A group of us are trying to start a social media campaign to bring attention to the aviatic quarantine that has been put on the countries experiencing the ebola epidemic.
The suspension of flights to and from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea only adds to the sense of uncertainty, panic and stress. How can entire countries be put under quarantine?
The group is an e-mail thread and there's 30-40 recipients. Only a few people are active on that list, contributing with ideas and comments. I had some emotional outbursts in my head during the virtual discussion and, I realised how differently vested I am in Liberia as compared to most people on that list.
At one point in the conversation, it felt like most of these people really do not understand what it actually means to be quarantined because many are still able to avail the SN Brussels flights (only one of two airlines still operating to and from Liberia). Some of them were evacuated by their organisations and are out of the country. Some persons did not seem to understand that there are other regional airlines who have suspended flights to Liberia, too.
I guess one really has to have a vested interest, a fully settled life, an apartment with all of one's worldly belongings, and a business that provides you with your daily bread and butter to feel desperate because of this quarantine. Not only am I emotionally attached to my life, friends, and staff but I really do not want my staff to feel like they are working for someone who abandoned them. I am also worried about business in general.
I also had one of my rants inside my head when it was pointed out that people in the West are also frightened of ebola. It reminded me of the concept of Fortress Europe and Fortress America: it is the idea that the West is able to close its borders to immigrants seeking better economic opportunities and/or seeking political asylum. It is the idea that the West is able to keep itself safe from the chaos of the Third World. And, to keep itself safe, it will even invade other countries preemptively in order to stamp out future threats. Needless to say, it is quite ironic that the West can do that given its colonial history. Europeans did not need a tourist visa when venturing into, exploring and colonising Africa, the Americas or Asia.
This cartoon below was printed in the New York Times and it is trying to say that ebola is not an African disease and should not be treated as such. It made me think: are diseases racial? The small pox was introduced to the Americas by Europeans and, in addition to massacres, pillage and stealing of lands, also played a part in decimating local populations and civilisations.
But anyway, we came up with a few memes. See here:
|Designed by Ilyas Qureshi|
|Designed by |
The inspiration for the text comes from this article: "Ebola: Can we learn from SARS?"
|Designed by Bai Wakokai|
The campaign really hasn't kicked off yet: the group still has to decide on a main slogan, decide on a hashtag, a main poster and to figure out how to get the attention of the groups who can actually convince airlines to start flying. Needless to say, the action of airlines is political and some of it driven by fears of flight crew themselves:
"My understanding is that BA cancelled flights as the staff refused to carry out their jobs on those journeys. Same happened with Air France. after an internal petition, they suspended its flights to Sierra Leone yesterday. "
For KQ, this is the perspective we got from Kenya:
"I have been following this discussion keenly and while other have talked about BA and other air companies from the west - let me weigh in on how I think messages designed for Kenya/ns should be crafted. From the onset KQ was reluctant to suspend flights even though it’s cabin crew were very very scared to fly into Liberia and Sierra Leone and after a barrage of attacks from frozen stiff kenyans and declarations/calls/orders from the National assembly that KQ suspends flights - ministry of health caved in made and the decision not to allow citizens of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea hailing from these countries not to be admitted in Kenya. KQ was seemingly left high and dry and so it had to stop it’s flights. The popular phrase in the mouths of Kenyans that took to the media (both traditional and social) was “prevention is better than cure” and that it was “reckless” to continue flying into Ebola affected nations. Kenya itself has been going through some challenges with insecurity with the rag tag somali group Al Shabab that have made western nations issue travel advisories against Kenya and something that Kenya has violently attacked at every opportunity to do so. The president has chastised the west at every opportunity given to him for issuing these travel advisories by claiming that “Kenya Feels Abandoned in the War on Terror” and even went ahead to quote Richard Branson in saying “...we should actually face up to the enemy, invest more, be more in Kenya” and in light of GOKs action to ban flights - this is hypocritical to say the least! From where I stand any message that is fashioned towards GOK via the ministry of health and consequently KQ should should remind them of that! It should ask them how they would feel if the west used the statement “prevention is better than cure” when advising it’s citizens to take precautions and stay away from Kenya? it should ask them how they would feel if a trip to kenya was classified as being “reckless”. The message should also use their own words to remind them that West Africa feel “Abandoned in the war on Ebola” and just as travel advisories make Al Shabab victorious - banning flights same exact thing with Ebola. It should remind them at banning flights additionally has the unintended result of Kenya looking like a fair-weather friend, keen to do business in West Africa when it is smooth sailing, and abandoning the region when the going gets tough. Reminding them that these tough times will pass but West Africa will not forget the ill-treatment it received so far but there is still room to mend this strained relationship."
I shared the memes above on Facebook and also sent messages to contacts to share it. There was very little reaction to it. I don't know if the graphic design or the text or both are not hard hitting enough. Maybe it is not catchy or clever. It certainly made me appreciate successful social media campaigns like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the #Bringbackourgirls.
What makes certain social media campaigns so successful? How do they create simple but easy to understand messages and, then how do they go viral?
Both the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and #Bringbackourgirls have borne criticism. For every Ice Bucket Challenge video where either celebrities or 'normal' people are performing the challenge, there is an extremely clever and sarcastic meme talking about for instance women all over the world sometimes have to walk a kilometer to get water. There was even a response from Gaza where they started a rubble bucket challenge to highlight the devastation of the conflict.
What else have I learned through this project? That people are extremely selective about causes. Most Muslims can't get enough of sympathising with the plight of Palestinians but how much empathy do they have with suffering in the rest of the world?
I hope the campaign takes off and, not only shames everyone but also brings to attention the crisis in general.