At the weekend, the Sun newspaper reported that the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle would not be accompanying the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry on his visit to Zambia due to the threat of the Zika virus. According to an ‘insider’, Meghan “expressed serious concerns about travelling to a country with even the smallest Zika threat.” Crucially, the article went on to add that “there have been no recorded cases of Zika virus disease in Zambia, but countries bordering the African nation to the north are considered risk areas.”
The latter comment should have been the story but many newspapers and websites lurched on the zika virus risk. Zambia has never recorded a single incident of the zika virus, a fact which the Zambian High Commission to the UK has confirmed and one that has been confirmed the UK’s own National Travel Health Network and Centre. In fact the UK Foreign Office’s Foreign travel advice to Zambia neither lists the zika virus as a threat nor presents the ‘risk’ as coming from neighbouring countries.
Ironically, it is Fiji and Tonga, two islands visited by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last month that have been classified as carrying the risk of the zika virus. Somehow, it was ‘safe’ to visit these countries despite official Foreign Office advice against doing so but ‘risky’ to visit Zambia which the Foreign Office does not advise against visiting.
By The Sun’s logic, pregnant women should also avoid California, Arizona and Texas as those states border Mexico which carries the virus. But of course, such advice would be ridiculous and were Prince Harry visiting California, The Sun would not have seriously reported of insiders cautioning against such a visit. The only plausible explanation for such a trope against Zambia is therefore that double standards are at play when it comes to Western perceptions of Africa.
Such comments add to the outdated narrative of Africa as the “dark continent” and the more recent “sh*thole countries” remark peddled by the US President. These lazy stereotypes are a convenient excuse for those who choose to mask their irrational bias behind outdated narratives that are easy to sell to a Western audience.
Sadly, they damage the reputation and economy of countries such as Zambia where tourism is major contributor to GDP and undermine the efforts of health professionals in the country who work tirelessly to ensure that the country is safe and healthy.
A further irony about this episode is that Prince Harry is in Zambia to commemorate the end of the WWI where brave and often forgotten Zambians fought for Western allies after the war in Europe had ceased. In those days such brave men were treated differently to the white soldiers they fought for. It is sad that on a visit where Prince Harry is meant to recognise their brave efforts, the treatment of Zambia in the British media still reveals underlying double standards and bias towards Africa.