By Siahyonkron Nyanseor
“Let me sleep on it” was the Unity Party (UP) government's response to the Ebola virus in Liberia. Well, the leadership of UP and the Liberian people – both at home and abroad have been sleeping on it for far too long. We have been making too many excuses for the “Old Ma” for which she has gotten away with similar practices she accused all of her predecessors - Tolbert, Doe and Taylor of violating. As the saying goes, “She has been given a free ride.” This indecisiveness by Liberians at home and abroad has put both Liberians and foreign nationals at risk in the country. And all we hear, “The Old Ma is trying!” Was she elected to be trying these eight years? Wasn't she the one who had all the answers to our problems because of her international connections?
I am reminded of an elderly Bassa Griot who is fond of saying, “Nee ju, cede bay niaan chen keh, zlue nyon jay cede chen nii, orr cede zlue nii. Meaning, when an unwise person ‘learns book’ (obtains education), his book knowledge becomes useless. This seems to be the case with many of our book people in the country and the Diaspora; they are ‘tongue-tied’ to speak truth to power. Instead, they join the chorus of cheerleaders while the majority of the Liberian people barely have food to eat, while the ‘do-nothing Legislators’ passed a lucrative retirement package for themselves.
Unwise people are not proactive! The record shows that Liberia was forewarned as far back as March this year about the Ebola virus; the government 'slept on it’ and did not put in place the proper educational programs, which could have included the necessary preventative measures to contain the virus. Now it has reached crisis proportion, and in the face of deaths, still many in the general population believe it to be a hoax. The Liberian people, including a Senior Senator, Cletus Wotorson (UP, Grand Kru) are in denial. He is reported as saying that, “… the Ebola noise made by health authorities was much ado about [nothing] and intended to extort money from donors”. What a misstatement! What was he thinking?
This is no time to sympathize with the President, when these eight years she did not care for ordinary Liberians. She took ‘good care’ of her family, relatives, friends and associates with the money earned from our resources, and the funds given by the international community as her own. How can she be excused when in eight years, there is no safe drinking water; electricity is provided by generators that pollute the environment with toxic substances that might likely cause lung disease and cancer in the population. I had a nephew and another person to die because he took his generator inside the house while it was still on for fear that if left on the window, it would be stolen. The toxic fume overwhelmed them and they died. With this kind of thing happening to ordinary people, how can she and her Unity Party administration be excused? The ordinary people including teachers have to ride on those things they called ROADS for two to three hours to obtain their monthly pay checks (salaries).
Just over two weeks ago, the older brother of a colleague of mine, a school principal in the southeastern county of Grand Kru died in an automobile accident along with another teacher when the motor cycle they were riding collided with an NGO vehicle on their way back from Barclayville, the county headquarters. They had traveled there to obtain their monthly salaries (pay checks). Both men did not die on the scene, but died on the way to seek medical attention on that horrible road called highway. This tragedy and many others are what some Liberians; including Dr. Abdoulaye Dukulé, a policy advisor to the president say we should not talk about because of the Ebola crisis going on in Liberia. Dr. Dukulé is absolutely wrong! Liberians should not be silenced because of this tragedy that has generated such raw emotions because it involves human lives. This Ebola crisis only represents a culmination of a deep leadership failure under the Unity Party government that we have seen in all spheres of our national life during these past eight years.
The automobile accident and many other tragedies around the country can be attributed to the President and her Unity Party government’s failure to be proactive. A case in point is the Ebola virus that Liberians are dying from.
For example, on March 26, 2014, FrontPageAfrica, published an article titled: “Liberians on Ebola, Want Stronger Government Effort.” The article revealed that members of the National Legislature received the news of the Ebola cases in Liberia with grave concern. As the result, the Senate and the House of Representatives’ Committees on health were delegated to work closely with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in finding ways to combat the virus.
It is reported that “…during their separate regular sessions, the issue of the outbreak of the disease was discussed with consensus for collaborative efforts with the Executive Branch of government through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in tackling the spread of the disease. Senator Peter Coleman of Grand Kru County, a medical doctor by training, who once served as Minister of Health of Liberia told his colleagues to take seriously the current news of the spread of the virus in Liberia by making interventions in the best interest of the population.
“Senator Coleman also stressed isolation and confinement of affected persons as some of the surest ways of preventing the virus from spreading to others and the need to make a national decision in terms of the provision of funding to the national emergency efforts. Also at the House of Representatives, a communication from Representative Eugene Fallah Kparkar (CDC, Foyah District), Lofa county where there are suspected cases of the disease was read in plenary.”
There were many suggestions from both students and other concerned citizens who wanted stronger Government actions to prevent the spread of the disease; some call for the closure of the borders between Liberia and Guinea as well as that of Sierra Leone. One Cooper Ikpah, a student at the University of Liberia felt that the government should declare Lofa County an emergency zone.
Ikpah went on to say, “I think government should declare it [Ebola] as a situation of emergency so as to curtail the spread of the virus. Look my brother Ebola Virus is almost dangerous as the situation of war so for the government to take it lightly is worrisome. The Government should declare Lofa now as an emergency zone; people who will be coming from Lofa to Town [Monrovia] should be tested because if this is not done those affected may spread it to other parts of the country.”
One Titus Allen Sebo posted under Jay Wehtee Wion’s article titled: “Liberia’s Pandora Box Now Half Way Open,” carried on July 26, 2014 on FrontPageAfrica, wrote:
“…Ebola has nothing to do with the government. This sickness is just the first step on how God will deal with us if we don't live the life he want[s] us to live as Christian[s]. Can't you see that God is tired with our dirty ways? Man loving to man, woman loving to woman, people killing their friends for money???? Can't you see????? My people!!!!!!!!! and God has his own way of punishing his children, and he will give it to them one by one...this time around, [it] is Liberia. So please, let us leave the government out of this, and start praying for our self.... we know the government got to try, but we can't hope on them 100% cause no amount of money can save us right now, but to ask God to have mercy on us”.
The gentleman is almost right 100% - but did himself injustice by bringing into the discussion, the Dukulé Approach. This made him to miss the mark! The government was not elected to try and keep trying in eight years; they were elected to serve the Liberian people, not a select few! In a democracy, the people have two choices: to praise and to be critical of their government when they are NOT doing what they were elected to do, for which they took oaths.
You see, the Liberian people have parables for everything. Two that readily comes to mind in this situation are: “When you dig a whole, make sure you dig one for yourself because that’s the one you will fall in.” Another one goes like this, “What goes around will surely come around.” Dr. Dukulé, your boss lady dropped the ball! It is her leadership integrity and competence that Liberians of all walks of life are now questioning, including members of her own party, as to whether she is fit to continue in the position of the presidency because under her watch Liberians and foreign nationals who are dying could be alive had she and her ruling party made preparations to combat the Ebola virus.
I am in agreement with Jay Wehtee Wion when he said, “Ebola is going to be President Sirleaf’s ‘Watergate.’” When a leader is forewarned in March, but failed to act, and allowed the people she was elected to serve and protect to die senselessly because she neglected to put in place preventive protocols, that leader’s action needs to be questioned. The lack of leadership and inattention to the cries of the Liberian people on the deepening problems of corruption, nepotism, cronyism, youth and adult unemployment, presidential arrogance, social injustice, widening income inequality between the haves and have-nots, poverty, callous disregard for public opinion, and now the Ebola crisis, have become cumulative over time, showing cracks in a regime under its own political weight it has created. Moreover, this brings into question our moral foundations and values as a nation supposedly founded on Christian principles.
Liberia it is believed was founded on Christian principles, but does not follow those principles; instead, it copied the bad and ugly things coming out of the West, especially, America. Liberia is a classic case of not wanting to do away with the North America antebellum plantation culture of master and servant relationship. This practice has been perfected by the Unity Party leadership. They look to outsiders for everything; from healthcare, legal judicial precedents, national currency and approval of its local policies. This dependency have caused Liberian leaders not to plan ahead in the Ebola situation because America did not hand-feed them. Therefore, they did not put in place systems and preventive protocols to fight the Ebola virus went they were forewarned as far as March this year.
The Ebola virus is not a Liberian or West African disease. The Liberian government should have taken the lead to protect its citizens. With the world being a global village, every country should be involved in finding a solution, because it will take a collaborative effort by everybody in our global village to find a cure to the virus.
I will be remiss too, if I do not mention Africa’s post-colonial mindset that has contributed to our backwardness - in almost ALL areas. Despite our educational achievements, both on earth and in space (NASA), we choose to remain dependent and colonized. This mindset has conditioned us to be good at providing services for others abroad, while we neglect our own country and continent. Were Liberia and Africa to make progress in conquering diseases such as Ebola and other potential pandemics, it has to rethink its approach and become creative in using its resources to address the health needs of its people, and address its archaic and dilapidated health infrastructure.
As a patriotic African, I feel it is about time for African countries to come together and organize an African National Medical and Scientific Organization (ANMSO), whose sole purpose will be to conduct research, and find and develop vaccines to combat the various diseases that keep popping up on the continent. First, it could start on a regional basis through collaborative efforts - free of Anglo-phone and Franco-phone divide. The organization should be funded by African governments. We have resources to make this happen. From the start, no outside funds should be accepted! Africa has too much wealth and the best of minds, many of whom are employed outside the continent to continue to be in this predicament. Putting the right program in place, by this could jump-start the project. All these African countries ought to do is, hire competent African researchers, medical doctors, scientists, nurses and related health care workers to work in the interest of the survival of our people to combat virus outbreaks on the continent. This approach will stop us from running to outsiders for help each time we have an outbreak like the Ebola virus. It can be made possible if African leaders put aside their selfishness and greed, and commit to this project. We can do it! I foresee this happening if we put Anglo-phone/Franco-phone divide and politics aside.
Finally, let me leave with you the profound words of the late G. Henry Andrews, it reads:
“…Never again should we allow a president to maintain four to five security forces, stock them with his people, and mold them into robots that do his [her] every wish and command, good or bad, right or wrong, legal or illegal. Liberians must learn and live by the principle that the greatest right in the world is the right to be left alone as long as you don’t break the law. This is followed closely by the right to freely and fairly choose those who will govern you. The third great right is the right to hold your leaders accountable for their actions. In those rights lies the essence of democracy, no matter of what kind”. (CRY, LIBERIA, CRY, written by G. Henry Andrews)
Liberians, it is wake up time, the Government has been sleeping on us too long!
About The Author: Siahyonkron Nyanseor is the Chair of the ULAA Council of Eminent Persons (UCEP), Inc. He is a poet, Griot, journalist, and a cultural and political activist. In 2012, he Co-authored Djogbachiachuwa: The Liberian Literature Anthology; his book of poems: TIPOSAH: Message from the Palava Hut is now on the market. Nyanseor can be firstname.lastname@example.org