By Oswald Hanciles
The ‘Ebola virus’ is a living thing. Like all living things, it obeys the Infinite Divine’s imperative to survive. The Ebola virus makes a stupid survival mistake in ‘attacking man’. For once its victim, man, dies – the Ebola virus gets buried with it. The Ebola’s enemy now is man; the species with the highest intelligence created by God. It will be a shame on ALL Sierra Leoneans, and an insult on God who has given man the best brain, that the Ebola virus that has no brain at all can win even a few battles with man. If the collective leadership of this country fail to use its brains – collectively – then, the ‘brain-less’ Ebola virus will win many more battles. That is why in this ‘war’ the Ebola virus has declared on us, we must ANTICIPATE how the ‘enemy’ would strike, and, understand our own strengths and weaknesses, and be pro-active. Apparently, we are not aware of this: the Ebola enemy, like a ‘good military’, is using our weaknesses against us.
The health minister di try….but…
This is an excerpt from an interview recently conducted by the US-based COCORIOKO newspaper with the health minister, Miata Kargbo: “By then, there were 5 of them and 3 more (being tested for the Ebola virus in Kenema) were added to them, making 8. Because of the treatment we had given them, they said they were feeling better and wanted to go home, but we said we were not going to release them because one of them had tested positive for Ebola. The family stood their ground. The doctor even called and spoke to the husband and he started to agree. By the time I got home from work at 8 p.m., I heard that families had become very stubborn and vowed that we were not going to take their relatives anywhere. They threatened that they will soon start burning our vehicles and cutting off our heads…’
Such explanations to the public through the press are good. ‘Di minister done try, but…’ What Sierra Leonean society needs in future are wonderful stories on how the government, indeed, the entire ‘governing elite’ (in the private and public sectors), would outwit the Ebola enemy. NOT explanations on how the Ebola enemy would defeat ‘us’ by infecting “just five people” – using our people’s cultural attitudes against us!! The Kissi Teng chiefdom in Kailahun (like the Pujehun District chiefdoms closest to Liberia; the chiefdoms that border Guinea in the Kambia district; the same for Koinadugu) have been declared ‘Ebola war frontline’ zones. The ministry of internal affairs, the local government councils, the MPs, etc. should have helped to get the health ministry to better understand the THINKING of the people in the frontline chiefdoms, and, co-opted their traditional, political, and religious leaders into an ‘Ebola War Plan’ .
Money for Video Dramas a Must
Talking….talking…talking…can help. But, then, mere talking alone WILL NOT do in this Ebola war!!! Another mental weakness of the average African is our incapacity to SEE INTO THE FUTURE – and, especially to form PICTURES in the head when confronted with a NEW THREAT which is not immediate. I had suggested we do VIDEO DRAMAS. There is a burgeoning film industry in the country. Most are Freetown-based. But, we could recruit local actors to do films in Gissi, Mende, Susu, Temne, Limba, Krio....Of course, this is going to cost MONEY. Where would the money come from?
The Ebola War is not for health minister alone!! Finance minister, it’s your war, too
The health minister has been put into a position to be almost fighting the Ebola War….Alone!! The other ministers appear to be going about their normal businesses. If we need MONEY to do video drama then the finance ministry has to come up with IMMEDIATE cash. The finance ministry not coming up with immediate $500,000 NOW, for example, to wage war on the Ebola virus could lead to loses of BILLIONS OF DOLLARS for the country – both in the short term and the long term. The finance ministry could have to put other normal businesses like non-urgent foreign travels by government officials on the back burner for now. Let us not forget our ‘rebel war’ between 1991 and 2002. When the war started in 1991, it was dismissed as a ‘Kailahun matter’. The troops sent to the war front were supplied with disgraceful quantities and quality of arms and ammunition. Even getting adequate food was a problem for them. Within one year, it was these same soldiers from this ‘war front’ that overthrew the APC government!!! The NPRC government ‘threw’ a lot of money into the ‘war effort’ between 1992 and 1994. But, by 1994, a lot of money being ‘thrown’ at the war effort would end up in the private bank accounts of a few commanders. We need immediate money, but, the money spent has to be fastidiously monitored – the Anti Corruption Commission, Transparency International, Campaign for Good Governance, Society for Democratic Initiatives, etc….. should now prime themselves to be ‘frontline commanders’ also in this Ebola war.
Ebola war must involve big companies, churches, mosques…
And, the corporate bodies could chip in. Directly, or, indirectly, the Ebola virus winning more battles within Sierra Leone would adversely affect the economy, and, consequently, would affect ALL private companies operating within the country. The Ebola Task Force should have messages specifically targeted at corporate bodies – to get money from them.
Two months ago, I was in the Council of Churches of Sierra Leone (CCSL) building when the health minister lobbied for the support of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone in the Ebola War. She apparently got it. But, who is monitoring what these religious bodies are saying and doing in their churches and mosques on a daily and weekly basis? That is one of the weaknesses of Sierra Leoneans which the Ebola enemy could easily take (or, has been taking) advantage of. In a crisis, we would call conferences, seminars, or, the much-liked ‘workshop’, and talk…talk….talk… Then, we leave such meetings – and continue life as normal. Doing nothing, or, little, of what we would have learned about in such meetings. This must change!! There has to be LEADERSHIP to ensure that this changes.
The Ebola war mandate the use of private media gurus
There could be little need for the articulate health minister (or, any government official) to come and tell the people tomorrow like she explained recently to COCORIOKO newspaper: “We have been sensitizing the people in whatever language we could communicate with them, using loudspeakers, billboards and flyers…” Media experts have to be contracted, consulted, and recruited, to design messages, and, work on feedback mechanisms. You can use billboards and flyers, but, would they communicate the relevant messages with the appropriate intensity – to stimulate SPEEDY change of habits? We should link up with some of those media professionals who are good enough to make relative fortunes in a narrow market like ours doing media work. The government should not wait for those professionals to go begging for contracts – they should be fastidiously objective as they select the best among them. The Ebola war transcends a ‘health ministry’ matter. It is a ‘defense ministry’ matter; a matter for the Office of National Security (ONS), an information/communication ministry affair.
Wars mandate extreme measures, and have to have ‘Collateral Damage’
Some of our local journalists have been hyping up a rumor that armed police were sent to the Kissi Teng chiefdom in Kailahun to apprehend Ebola suspects. They made this to sound like a horrible thing for a government to do. What if it becomes a necessary thing to do? What is the use of maintaining a military with millions of dollars every year and when we are faced with one of our greatest threats to national security the troops cannot be used? We have to begin to think out of the box in this Ebola war. The physical presence of well-armed soldiers in the ‘frontline chiefdoms’ could send a message that….Or, before the troops go in, there should be media bombardment that people must be vigilant about movement in and out of Ebola suspect areas. Such a message could then be followed with the military’s intimidating presence.
Let me restate what I have published in previous articles on the Ebola menace. After 9/11, the US government established the Department of Homeland Security – to better coordinate all the formidable intelligence and security branches of the US government. They risked violating some of the US’ cardinal tenets of not invading privacy by allowing these security agencies to tap nearly ALL telephone calls; to peek into nearly ALL e-mail messages. And, those who were arrested as terrorist suspects, were incarcerated in Guantanamo, out of the jurisdiction of US law. The lesson for us is this: when a nation is threatened severely, there must be firm action by its leadership; the greater good has to take precedence over individual liberties.
Thinkers in government, in universities and media, in civil society groups, etc. ; producers and presenters, DJs, on radio and TV, must now be part of the Ebola war effort; and, where necessary, should be induced…. A ‘fire brigade’ approach by the health ministry to ‘defuse the immediate Ebola fire’ is laudable. But, a more strategic thrust is the only chance of success. The Ebola virus could be in every district right now – because we did not close our borders. We have to encourage people to let ALL recent visitors from Guinea and Liberia be ‘put out’ – to go for Ebola tests. We have to anticipate what could happen. Be proactive. We have to build up scenarios to PREVENT any more Ebola attack; scenarios of an Ebola attack – and scenarios of actions to take.