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Sierra Leone
Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Ebola Double Talk (??!!)

By Oswald Hanciles

You may know about George Orwell’s 1944-published book and his scary prognosis of the future, titled, “1984”. The book popularized the concept of ‘Double Talk’ – that is, to try to convince people that something is ‘white’ when it is really ‘black’. Maybe, my Columnist ears were over-acute last week Friday, August 15, 2014 during the ‘Ebola Press Conference’ at State House, Freetown, when President Ernest Bai Koroma addressed, and fielded questions from, the Press – which included six international journalists from the BBC, Washington Post, New York Times, National Geographic magazine, etc.; I did hear words to kindle “Double Talk” or “Double Think” in my mind. Let us pore on Orwell’s samples of Double Talk: “War is peace.  Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength”; “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” Let us try NOT to play ‘The Blame Game’; but, rather, task our minds to play the ‘Double Think Game’.

Speak the Truth about the Ebola”

President Koroma several times said we should all fight a common enemy – the Ebola Virus; and not engage in ‘The Blame Game’; but, at the same time, he exhorted everyone to speak the Truth about the Ebola Situation: “If you are a health worker out in the Ebola frontline and you don’t speak the Truth if Ebola deaths are rising, you won’t help us. If you are not speaking the Truth about Ebola deaths, and raising the figures so as to attract more donor funding, you are not helping us…”

Speaking the Truth in the present would almost always mean going back into the Truth about the Past. As US Philosopher, George Santayana famously said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. The recent past about the Ebola situation is that TWO MONTHS before the first Ebola Outbreak in Sierra Leone, when it was then only in Guinea, I wrote THREE ARTICLES published in nearly all the leading newspapers, warning about dire circumstances if we don’t fight a “preventative war” against the looming Ebola Enemy, and advised nearly all the measures that have been employed only recently by government about two weeks ago. I also urged the health ministry to literally woo the Press, and expressly mentioned media gurus like Dr. Julius Spencer who should be immediately contracted by the health ministry. They did not listen!!

The first person to break the news about the Ebola Outbreak in Sierra Leone on FACEBOOK was Dr. Sylvia Blyden. She was ‘shouted down’ on national radio/TV…(And, that, was putting that mildly….). At the aforementioned Ebola Press Conference, former information minister, Hon. I.B. Kargbo, announced a ‘special communications committee’ as a sub-committee of the Ebola Operational Command.

Ebola Communications Committee

The members of this ‘Ebola Communications Committee’ are: Alhaji I.B. Kargbo as Chairman; communication/information minister, Alpha Kanu; energy minister, Henry  Macaulay; government spokesman, Abdulai Bayraytay, deputy government spokesman, Ajibu Jalloh; Dr. Mohamed Gibril Sesay, Special Adviser to the President; Dr. Julius Spencer, former information minister in the SLPP government of President Tejan Kabbah – who was said to be the ‘Liaison’ between the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and the government Ebola command. All the major local and international experts have reached a consensus that the major part of the strategy of containment of the Ebola virus is POTENT COMMUNICATION. So, this communications committee is primed to play a frontline role. Remember, we are not playing the ‘Blame Game’, but, the ‘Double Think Game’. So, take a second look at this Ebola Communications Committee and put it into perspective.

In April, 2014, the health ministry failed woefully in raising the right alarms about the Ebola Outbreak to stimulate the patriotic response we have seen over the past two weeks or so; failed to harness the power of media experts in the country; had made jingles aired on radio with WRONG ‘Ebola messages’ (for example, that there is no cure once people contract the Ebola virus!!)  – and, today, we have been presented with a ‘communications curative’, by Hon. I.B. Kargbo. But, George Khoryama is not among the Ebola communications committee!!

George Khoryama

Khoryama has about FORTY YEARS experience in journalism!!! He was Editor-in-Chief of the government newspaper, NEW LIBERIAN, in Liberia in the 1980s. He is a US-award-winning columnist in Sierra Leone. Also, Khoryama hails from the border area of Kailahun, and can speak the lingua franca there quite fluently – Mende. I think only one member of the  ‘Ebola Communications Committee’ can speak  Mende, Sidie Yahya Tunis, the ICT officer in the health ministry (I doubt whether he can speak fluent Mende). And, the epicenter of the Ebola Outbreak districts are in the Mende-speaking districts of Kailahun and Kenema.

I Didn’t hear Dr. Sylvia Blyden’s Name in Hon. I.B. Kargbo’s Ebola Communication Committee

Maybe, I was not listening keenly, but, I didn’t hear the name of Dr. Sylvia Blyden among the members of the Ebola Communications Committee. Dr. Blyden’s newspaper was the ONLY  newspaper giving full page prominence to the Ebola War when most other newspaper were almost giving it only a footnote;  about the only paper that had tried to give a ‘human face’ to Ebola Victims. And, one of the most strident in warning about the Ebola Situation in Sierra Leone on Social Media over the past FIVE MONTHS.

Unisa Sesay

I didn’t hear the name of Unisa Sesay, the Director of Communications at State House. Unisa has FORTY YEARS of experience in journalism. He has worked for several top international organizations; was a stringer for some of the topmost media institutions in the world; and, as Director of Communications in NaCSA under the SLPP government, he ran what I would unequivocally state has been the BEST communication wing of any government parastatal in the history of Sierra Leone – ensuring that NaCSA was almost daily in the print and electronic media, establishing and managing the best archival system of any government agency in our history; and, today, regularly would be on national TV fielding questions.

What about Oswald Hanciles?

And, yes, I didn’t hear the name of Oswald Hanciles, Special Assistant to the President for Media Outreach on the Ebola Communications Committee. I have 37 years post-university experience in the media; was publisher/editor for GREENLOVE magazine in Liberia, which won international laurels for the cartoon magazine; was told I was probably the second non-Nigerian ever to be made editor of any newspaper in Nigeria when I was Editor of THE DEFENDER newspaper in Cross River State in Nigeria in 1993; and, probably, over the past 17 years back home, I can ‘knack chest’ that I belong to the top 1% of prolific columnists in the country. I have produced video documentaries in Liberia, and, THREE video documentaries in Sierra Leone – that means, I can write quality prose; do cartoon magazines (I did editorial and spot cartoons in THE DAILY OBSERVER in Liberia in 1981; and, also in Nigeria); and, do video documentaries. Those on my FACEBOOK page in Europe and America would tell you that I spend on average 14 hours daily on Social Media, especially between midnight at midnight and 6 a.m. when most Sierra Leoneans would be sleeping  – over the past five months, fighting Ebola War. Yet…..…

Jarrah Kawusu-Konte

I have often publicly published on Social Media that Jarrah Kawusu-Konte, the Manager of the State House Communications Unit, is “the most prolific staffer” to ever handle that position in Sierra Leone’s history. And, he is a ‘cyber warrior’, promoting and defending government; and, of late, feisty in the Ebola War. Yet, his name was not announced as part of the Ebola Communications Committee….

My apologies in bringing up this matter into the public domain, but, in this ‘Double Think Game’, it is just a strategic thrust. Over the past two weeks, Sierra Leone, along with Liberia, and Guinea, are EVERY HOUR being splattered on ALL the major media of the world – like CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, FOX News CCTV, SKY NEWS; New York Times, Washington Post, London Mirror, etc – for the Ebola Outbreak.  The cost of such negative publicity could be in HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS!!!!

Memuna Forna on Looming ‘Ebola Grave Economic Problems’!!!

UK-trained journalist, and public relations guru,  Memuna Forna (one of the daughters  of  medical doctor, and cabinet minister in Siaka Stevens APC government)  posted this sobering information to me last week: “According to Mike Noyes, ActionAid UK’s Head of Humanitarian Response, this outbreak could be economically disastrous for our poorest communities. ….  As Allan Metzger of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture points out, we are already feeling those consequences: ‘The Ebola outbreak has not only affected the country but the business community as a whole both regionally and cross border.’ When the private sector contracts, it translates into less employment, less taxes, less investment and we all feel the pinch…..Sierra Leone’s coffee and cocoa industries, centred in Kailahun and Kenema, have been compromised by the extent of the outbreak in these regions.  .” (Source –http://memunaforna.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/counting-the-socio-economic-cost-of-ebola/).

New Ebola Thinking

As the President urges us to speak ‘The Truth’, the Ebola Outbreak presents a wonderful opportunity for us to re-tune our psychology as to how we do things.  This mandates a change in harnessing the mind power of the best professionals there are.    This issue of the ‘Blame Game’ was brought up on Social Media last week. My counter was: if a football coach takes his team to championship tournament and the team suffers 7 to 1, and 5 to 1 goals defeat, and the entire team, owner, managers, fans …do not do a complete diagnosis of what went wrong…. Unthinkable for a serious club in FIFA!!!

President Koroma during the Ebola Press Conference stressed that we should cut through bureaucratic red tape – hence, this public appeal here.  It would take me too long a time to go through the labyrinth of government, and APC party, bureaucracy to address the ‘Ebola communications conundrum’. President Koroma also articulated the injunction for complete transparency and accountability in this Ebola War. So….. Let’s not wait until things go wrong again before we play ‘The Blame Game’ – let’s preventatively play the ‘Double Think Game’.

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