Via The Guardian's Poverty Matters blog, Robtel Neajaj Pailey writes: Ebola has caused Liberia’s cauldron of dissatisfaction to boil over. Excerpt:
“We dodged bullets during the war, now Ebola is going to kill us?” my aunt asked me in distress one evening in mid-July, as we sat commiserating at my house on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.
Back then, Ebola seemed like a looming threat in the way that armed conflict had 15 years earlier. But by the end of the month, the Liberian government had declared a state of emergency and, days later, the World Health Organisation designated the Ebola outbreak in west Africa an international health emergency. Ebola has now killed more than 1,000 people, with the number of deaths in Liberia surpassing those in Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Yet before the highly infectious disease permeated Liberia’s borders from neighbouring Guinea in March, the country was plagued by a crisis of citizenship. Relations between the Liberian state and its citizens were already volatile.
Before Ebola hit, a group of disaffected citizens clashed with riot police at the Mittal Steel concession area in Nimba, north-central Liberia, in early July as they protested that an iron ore concession agreement had not benefitted local people. The government branded the assailants “thugs” and “unlawful”, making appeals to parent company ArcelorMittal before a formal investigation of the grievances.
This was the beginning of the bubbling cauldron. Ebola simply tipped the pot over.
When looters invaded a treatment centre on 17 August, declaring that Ebola was not real and that the government was using it as a ruse to shore up donor funding, this revealed a crisis of citizenship.
When Liberians decide to hide suspected Ebola patients in their homes because they do not trust the healthcare system, this reveals a crisis of citizenship.
When healthcare workers avoid going to work because their colleagues have died without the proper protective gear or training to safeguard them from infection, this reveals a crisis of citizenship.
Those with money have the wherewithal to leave Liberia while others remain barricaded in their homes, shielding themselves from a silent killer with no cure. This also reveals a crisis of citizenship.
These actions are not those of illiterate, unreasonable people, but indicative of the desperation of poor people who have seen the state fail them repeatedly.
People in my country were angry before Ebola, and there was great cause for their ire. Liberia’s reintegration into the global capitalist system has placed profits above people and GDP growth above human development.
On the surface, Liberia’s postwar economic recovery is laudable – steady growth rates of 5.3%, 6.1%, 7.9% and 8.3% in 2009-12, respectively; $1.3bn (£783m) in foreign direct investment between 2006 and 2010 in traditional sectors such as forestry, rubber and mining; and increases in export revenue from $175m in 2006 to $295.2m in 2011.
But these developments have not rendered fundamental changes in the lives of most Liberians, 64% of whom still live in abject poverty.