Via Politico SL News, a long, thoughtful op-ed by Isaac Massaquoi that deserves attention: Fighting Ebola: Could Sierra Leone have done better? Excerpt and then a comment:
From all that we’ve heard so far from our health workers, politicians across West Africa and the UN World Health Organisation, we have to accept that Sierra Leone is firmly in the claws of the Ebola epidemic and it will take a struggle of herculean proportions to free ourselves.
We have lost and will lose many more of our people probably before I finish writing this piece. Victory against Ebola is not in sight. Without doubt, this is the most serious catastrophe Sierra Leone has had to confront since Foday Sankoh brought a band of wicked killers across from Liberia. We have a few more weeks, even months to go, assuming we intensify the fight and are more honest and transparent with ourselves on this issue.
Inevitably, questions abound as to how come that unlike Uganda, we have been unable to isolate, attack and defeat Ebola after so many weeks with all the international goodwill. In fact the latest figures released by the ministry of health clearly tell us the disease is spreading.
Like in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the leadership of president Yoweri Museveni in his nation’s struggle against Ebola, was internationally acclaimed. Leadership styles are different but I think we are missing that vital convincing spark that this was a national emergency. In just a few weeks we have lost more than one hundred innocent souls. What does it really have to take to drum the message home that merely making speeches, throwing money at the problem and engaging in mindless spin are totally counter-productive?
There are a few things we have to admit as a nation: the attitude of our leaders to people living in the kinds of communities now under Ebola attack is very negative. It’s almost as if it’s the rebel war mentality all over again. Until the rebels came to Freetown, many people dismissed the war as a matter for the uncivilised rural poor.
Since independence, we have allowed many of our rural communities to be isolated and remote – even cut off from the rest of the country – to the extent that a study done by one international agency in the days of the NPRC of Valentine Strasser, recorded people in some parts of Koinadugu district as saying that Siaka Stevens was still the president of Sierra Leone. The people are physically and emotionally cut off from whatever we are doing in Freetown. All they know is that every five years politicians would go around, make promises to get them to vote for them. That’s all.
People living in border communities of Sierra Leone are heavily influenced by their interaction with people on the other side. My village lies just a few miles from Sierra Leone’s border with Liberia. The whole chiefdom uses Liberian money, they talk in Liberian accent and send their children to school in Liberia.
I am not comfortable with that but I can understand why it’s happening. It’s about the proximity of Monrovia to that border, it’s about trade, travel, inter-marriage and all that.
But why is it that Sierra Leonean influence is not seriously felt even in Cape Mount county where many Sierra Leoneans now live in the same way Liberians are influencing us on the other side. The truth is, our leaders have made no serious effort to instil Sierra Leonean-ness in the people. Come another election there will be big intellectual arguments in Freetown about who can vote in Gendema as an ORDINARY RESIDENT. If all those people had simply gone to their farms that day, the whole charade called elections would have been for the farce that it was.
Let’s confront this other issue head on: our health care system is just not robust and sophisticated to withstand the challenges of a modern health system. Yes, the free health care project achieved certain important results, just the fact that for once many pregnant and lactating women who would otherwise have never seen a doctor are now able to visit health centres is a great achievement. Apart from all the unbridled corruption and stealing of drugs that the project has suffered from, the government can still claim some credit there.
But it appears as if while we were busy celebrating free health gains in Freetown, other areas of the health sector were experiencing a chronic lack of investment leading to decay. So when Ebola attacked, the system in those abandoned parts of the country collapsed like a pack of cards.
By all means click through and read the rest of Massaquoi's article. I think he's put his finger on some crucial issues: Not just the ignorance of the urban West for a Third World country like Sierra Leone, but urban Sierra Leone's ignorance of its own hinterland.