NOVEMBER 5, 2014 By Oswald Hanciles
The Ebola virus has been waging a war on Sierra Leoneans since May, 2014 – just like RUF leader Foday Sankoh led his ‘rebels’ to ignite his war on the people in March, 1991, and waged his war for eleven years. The problem with the Ebola Enemy is that it is unseen – unlike the RUF rebels who were horrifyingly visible. Fighting an invisible enemy that wages a war by simply infecting its enemies is a Herculean task. At the Miatta Conference Center in Freetown on November 4 2014, President Ernest Bai Koroma told assembled tribal headmen/women, councilors, and parliamentarians of the Western Area of Freetown that his government is now in a “new phase” in the Ebola War – this would mandate a “military approach”.
This “military approach” is what has necessitated the President getting the former defense minister, Major Palo Conteh (Rtd), as CEO of the new Ebola Command with the acronym “NERC”.
Referring to President Koroma as the “frontline commander”, Hon. Shekuba Amani Sannoh, Member of Parliament for Constituency 112, underlined the mood and tone of the President who said laws would be “enforced” with military dispatch against those who continue to violate the anti-Ebola logic of non-Ebola personnel washing of corpses of people. The President urged the ordinary citizenry to use “force” against those who “resist” the dictates of the anti-Ebola burial teams, contact tracers, etc. – and when necessary, call for backup from military and police forces.
“Comb Your Neighbourhoods”
The traditional leaders, and councilors, and especially youth, were exhorted by the President to “comb” their neighbourhoods: “You know everybody, and everything about your neighbourhood. If you don’t see a person for a couple of days and you suspect the person is sick and is hiding inside his/her house, report the matter. Insist that contact be made with the Ebola Surveillance Team”.
This strategy of energizing and mobilizing youth to “comb” their neighbourhoods to ferret out ‘Ebola suspects’ could be the most potent in this Ebola War. We are optimistic that the President would use the security forces to back up the youths who the President said should be “hard”. If this strategy had been used in the months leading to the January 6, 1999 invasion of Freetown, there would be no way RUF/AFRC rebels would have infiltrated and invaded the city.
Use of video images is still need to jar the senses of ordinary people
The tough approach still has to be backed with more “education” – using video images. I can hardly imagine that an ordinary sane person would be suicidal enough to continue to wash corpses, or touch corpses, when it would lead to his/her death. The problem with most of the intense “sensitization” is that they comprise almost entirely of words…words…words.
Words are meant to form pictures in the head. But, if all people see about the Ebola ‘sensitization’ are people in brilliant yellow ‘space suits’, they are likely to perceive the Ebola threat as a foreign phenomenon.
There could be need for new laws of public flogging for anyone over the age of 15 years who keeps sick people in his/her house, or washes corpses at home. There should also be laws against those councilors or chiefs who would not take action to effect the tough laws. The President’s threat of removing the symbols of their offices is not enough. They should be publicly shamed. Made to lose cash or kind. Locked up in cells. We should work on educating people that not taking tough leadership action could be tantamount to murder, or manslaughter, at best.
Alarming Ebola Statistics in Freetown, Port Loko, Bombali
The President raised alarm at the Ebola statistics which shows over 4,000 people have been infected in the country; and said that especially the over 500 infection rate in Freetown, over 500 in Bombali, and over 500 Ebola cases in Port Loko are simply “unacceptable”. People who live in the affluent sections of Freetown, or live in the center of Freetown, are not fully conscious that large numbers of people have moved into Freetown, but, everything about them is still provincial – from the mud houses they live in, to their traditional practices.
President Koroma said other people in the country should emulate what is being done in Kenema and Kailahun where “anybody with Ebola from outside those districts are quickly fingered by the community, and the people would insist they go into quarantine”.
During the war years, especially after 1994, the people in districts like Kailahun and Kenema had mobilized themselves, armed themselves, in their ‘Kamajor’ movement. They successfully kept at bay the nauseous and brutish RUF/AFRC rebels. What we are witnessing in those two districts is a rousing ‘war response’ by these people whose districts were the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak between May and June. We should promote what they are doing there – and have them to be ‘fallamakata-ered’.
Massive International Response to clear the Ebola Bottleneck
The “bottleneck” in the Ebola War is the lack of adequate laboratories – as people who die have to wait a couple of days before the laboratories can determine and report to their relatives that they had Ebola or would be Ebola free. The President said the British team that has arrived would help to mitigate this problem.
We have to cry, sing, and hold demonstrations such as that being vanguard-ed by Sierra Leonean citizen in the US, Amadu Massally: every second counts for us to get adequate laboratories for the Ebola War. We must not take no for an answer from the rest of the world. All the churches and mosques, and civil society groups with connections in the West and Asia, should bond together so that we get all possible resources for the war against the Ebola within days.
Hope was expressed by the President that the 300 beds in the treatment centers in Kailahun, Kenema, and Freetown would be increased to 600 by the end of November – which still falls short of the 1,500 beds the country needs for Ebola patients.
The “responsibility” for ending the Ebola pandemic would lay not with the large number of international people who are in the country (US, UK, Nigerians, Cubans, EU, AU, etc), but with the leaders showing leadership by “not compromising” with those who in spite of all the blizzard of “sensitization” still choose to do those things which would lead to transmission of the Ebola.
Bashing ‘The Lords of Poverty’
Like President Lansana Conde of Guinea did a couple of days ago during an interview with the BBC, President Koroma yesterday took a swipe at international organizations who appear to be benefiting from the Ebola Outbreak “riding their four-wheel jeeps”. “We need development and business people; not people in the Ebola Business”. President Koroma said that his government would insist on complete transparency and accountability in how international organizations are handling funds meant for the Ebola War.
What Presidents Ernest Bai Koroma and Lansana Conde have lampooned the West for and their high-powered humanitarian agencies have been standard practice since the end of the Second World War. Governments in Europe and America would announce, for example, that they have donated “$50million” for a worthy cause (HIV/flood/ drought/ or Ebola) – but, about 60% of the $50,000,000 would be gobbled up by ‘experts’ from these countries as ‘administrative costs’, as fees they pay for living in luxury hotels. While we denounce these ‘foreign vultures’, the Ebola outbreak gives us another opportunity to look inward – to cleanse our governance systems; to ensure that in future, Africans are more dependent on their own internal intellectual and physical resources.