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Ebola Epidemic Political Blame-Game

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In recent months and continuing, the Liberian and international media has been and is active in the process of educating and informing the public about the spread of the Ebola virus and its deadly Epidemic, with socio-economic and political analysis and its impact on the Mano River sub-region of West Africa, especially, our country, Liberia. The local, daily updates of new cases of infections and deaths in our densely-populated City of Monrovia and suburbs of body removals and burials are, indeed, scary and deeply troubling and worrying.

As if these reports and analyses are not daunting enough, there has been and is, simultaneously, a raging, passionate, political “debates” – accusations/denials, charges and counter-charges by and between the ruling, political leadership, its beneficiaries/supporters; political-party politicians seeking political power; watch-dog, civil society groups; human rights activists and related, concerned participants. 

The subject of this “debate” is a wondering, demand for answer to the question, who is responsible, to be blamed, for the uncontrollable spread of the Ebola Virus with the speed of light, now in about 9 of the 15 counties of the nation affected and increasing, according to the authorities – the nation’s heath delivery system; the ruling, political leadership; the helpless victims; our partners-in-progress or the international, humanitarian assistance system?

Verbal Tug-of-War

It all started or began with a gentle, political criticism by businessman, presidential hopeful, Mr. Benoni Urey, of the sitting President’s alleged “globe-trotting”, characteristic of traditional, democratic politics, when he said, “At the time when Ebola virus was (or is) taking away the . . . lives of Liberians, President Johnson-Sirleaf has chosen to board a plane for overseas in the name of seeking development assistance for Liberia . . . She (the President) needs to spend some time here at home and focus on the matters that confront the country and people, rather than trotting around the world (FrontPageAfrica, April 7, 2014)”. The response was as swift as it was vicious, also consistent with traditional, democratic, political process.

However, as the political criticisms – of the ruling, political leadership of alleged ineptitude, public dishonesty (corruption), nepotism and inefficiency, linked to the spread of the Ebola virus – increase, exponentially, with rumors of a Diaspora-based group organized to seek “interim” replacement of the ruling political leadership, its attack-dogs sprang into action.

First, the Police took action against the Chronicle Newspaper with a padlock on its doors, closed down the paper from publishing for “investigation” of allegedly publishing names of some highly-placed, political notables said to be linked to the alleged, interim arrangement.

That “investigation” now expands into published request of the Ministry of Justice, by the Police, for authority to “question” legally-immune, constitutional officials who are political untouchables, an investigation which is likely to give rise to a Pandora Box of constitutional crises, among others, given the level of the constitutional officials sought, reportedly, by the Police for “questioning”. The resulting state or condition of suspicions, fears, concerns, imagined loss or threat of loss of high-profiled positions in government and social standing has become or boomeranged into a dangerous guessing game that is, also, likely to lead to national, socio-economic and political instability, if the condition has not, already, begun and prevailing.

Second, there is the apparent militarization of the Ebola containment. We argued elsewhere that this apparently excessive, traditional military approach (with shoot-to-kill) of the quarantine/containment of the Ebola Epidemic, with tear gas, guns and related, modern weapons of instant death in the hands of over-zealous, young soldiers, appear to produce adverse effects and collateral damages. Major cases in point were or are the shooting and, later, death of young, 15 year-old Sheaky Kamara and a second young man, also from the over-crowded, ocean-side, West Point Community, with a bullet removed from his stomach.

We held that the “Ebola Epidemic is not a violent, externally-organized . . . military threat; it is a quiet, but deadly, threat to the health of its victims. Therefore, it is reasonable that we answer this threat in kind, the mobilization of our trained/experienced, civilian health specialists and workers, properly protected against infection, with massive media action to inform/educate citizens on preventive measures, with specialized, military-personnel health-support.  Police, not traditionally-trained soldiers, to provide escort protection for security, maintain law and order, with their guns and related killing equipment less on display”.

But, this political blame-game epidemic now rivals the Ebola Epidemic; in that, there is the increasing probability to tear apart the political leadership of the nation, a prospect which, in turn, could spell the destruction or doom of the nation. Yes, the nation is now overwhelmed by “fear and trembling”, apparently, arising from the harmless, traditional, political checkmate process began with an apparent, honest, nationalist commentary by businessman-politician, Mr. Benoni Urey.

The Critical Answer

Throughout the 167-year history of our nation, we had been and are a nation at war with itself. Consumed by and addicted to power-plays, ethnic/tribal, socio-cultural bigotry – rivalry, jealousy, fear, segregation/discrimination, antagonism, hatred, public dishonesty (rampant corruption, now roaring); indeed, we were and are engaged in “wheeling-dealing” from smoke-filled, closed-door back rooms; we “mango-mango”, “deedeeba” and, successfully, reduced our nation to the prevailing “failed state”, unable to perform, now face-to-face with or looking, hopelessly, into Friedrich Nietzsche’s “abyss”, now the profoundly, deadly Ebola Epidemic, wondering, asking, “why”?. But the answer and reasons are all there, here and now, because “the problem with us is us” (Bishop Bennie Warner).

Elsewhere, we explored Raymond Leslie Buell’s rhetorical question (“What is Wrong with Liberia”, the land mass) posed in chapter 2 of his book (Liberia: A Century of Survival, 1847-1947) which is his (Mr. Buell’s) answer, by retrospective, contemporary reflections in our article, “What is wrong with Liberians”, in the search for answer to the question of what is wrong with us, the Liberian people, not the land, which, in turn, will lead and, indeed, led to the answer which, in  fact, provides the definitive, reasonable answer to our question at hand of “Who is responsible, to be blamed, for the rapid, uncontrollable spread of the Ebola Virus and the deadly Epidemic”?

Here-under, we present, abridged, our analysis/conclusions of that “retrospective, contemporary reflections on the facts of our history.

The Need

Our History tell us that the Liberian nation, as a people, was born out of a Need – enduring, abiding human quest for freedom, justice, equality of treatment and, yes, the respect for the dignity of the human person and freedom for the pursuit of happiness. Our founding Fathers were two groups of Peoples with different, historical experience – socio-political and economic, but came together in response to this common Need.

One group was the African-Americans – emancipated, freed peoples of “color” from the North and South Americas. They came (“returned home”, according to writer Queh) and settled on this land of their ancestors, a flight from slavery, race, socio-cultural segregation/discrimination, servitude and human bondage, in search of human freedom, justice and equality, on a land of their own. The other group was the African-Africans, on their own land, but also a flight from autocratic, despotic rule by African, tribal chiefs, monarchs and slave merchants who sold their own people to western slave traders; theirs was, also, in search of human freedom, justice and equality.

Critical Precondition

Achievement and realization of this Need, however, depended or rests upon the ability and commitment of individuals, a people and/or nation, to create the enabling, socio-cultural, economic and political condition(s) incidental to or for its enjoyment. Economists and other, relevant, socio-economic and political development experts have argued and defined the major enabling, pre-condition for the realization of this Need as the “Premier, Multiplier Effect” or the primary, multiplier effect of public policy priority in national, economic development.

Thus, according to development economists and related experts, the realization of this need depends upon, first, the prescription, development and application/implementation of a Primary, Public Policy, defined as “Premier, Multiplier Effect” in national, economic development, particularly, by building/developing Modern, Transport & Communications System, nationwide, of All-weather Highways & Roads. In other words, proverbially, seek ye first the kingdom of transport & communications and all others shall be added unto you. Demonstration of the logic of all-weather highways and roads built nationwide is inevitable:

It has been shown, and prevails successfully, that where and when all-weather, modern highways & roads are or have been built between points A & B, citizens and businesses relocate along the new highways and roads. They buy land and build homes, motels, hotels, restaurants, shops, service stations and rest stops for motorists/travelers.   Effective/efficient, modern communication system of highways & roads facilitate not only convenient, mass movement of people, but also the production, distribution and exchange of goods and services; facilitate national and international trade & commerce, and enormous opportunities for investment and employment.

Moreover, the now-prevailing rapid population growth, rural-to-urban migration; the unprecedented exodus of refugees from the atrocities of the civil war into the city of Monrovia as the only safe haven; the rise of the “consumption generation” without production, a fact which gave rise to the prevailing socio-economic and political constipation of the nation’s capital city, rendering it over-populated, congested, with uncontrolled street-selling and; the 24-hour, Monrovia bumper-to-bumper, uncontrolled traffic jams, the phenomenal increase in the volume of vehicular/pedestrian traffic much, much more than the roads/streets, paved, unpaved, designed and built some 45-50 years ago that cannot, now, facilitate safe, efficient flow of traffic.

Indeed, apparently, all vehicles imported to Liberia are concentrated in the Monrovia area, because of the critical absence of safe, efficient roads/highways in rural Liberia. 

It is in this respect that implementation of the communication system, particularly of all-weather roads/highways, constitutes the “multiplier effect” in national economic development. Add to this, the prevailing condition of the developing, modern information technology, then one has the recipe for success that will drive Liberia into the 21st Century economy, because modern, twenty-first century system of communications drives business which, in turn, drives the economy. Liberia, then, should and must plan and build a national system of all-weather highways and roads, linking all county capitals to one another and all productive, trade and commercial centers to the nation’s political, commercial capital city of Monrovia. 

Our History as a Nation
A. Relationship with the USA

Since political and economic independence in 1847, Liberia and Liberians, had been and are privileged to have and maintained historic ties, friendship and solidarity with, and enjoy socio-economic and political benefits, throughout the years, from one of the greatest, if not the greatest, most successful, economic and technologically-developed nation on earth, the United States of America. Throughout these years, up to the present, the United States provided Liberia with socio-cultural, economic, political, humanitarian and military support, numbering in the hundreds of thousands of billions of US dollars.

B. Our Founding Fathers and the work Ethic

One segment of our founding fathers, the repatriated, African-Americans, inherited and brought with them, into this country, the modern version of the work ethic, of thrift, love of and commitment to education, knowledge, hard-driving and competition as a pre-condition for the accumulation of wealth, equity, the good life and happiness. They built ocean-going vessels, produced, processed and exported several types of commodities, goods and services, in a vibrant, national/international trade and commerce. 

C. Education, Open Door and National Unification Policies

Upon becoming President of Liberia in 1944, Dr. William V. S. Tubman reinforced the quest for and love of education and knowledge, as the major, rational pre-condition for national economic development, by introducing the foreign scholarship program. This program or policy made possible the education and training of thousands of Liberians in the schools, colleges and universities of several, western countries, with the United States as Liberia’s leading choice.

Also, President Tubman announced and launched his Open Door Policy (Wreh, 1976) and later, his Unification Policy in a speech in the city of Voinjama, Lofa County. These efforts were in response to the realization that economic development and unity are critical ingredients for total development of the nation. Therefore, the President responded by creating the first four, new counties in the hinterland – Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Bong and Lofa counties in 1964. With creation of the counties came the inevitable, senate and house representations, then vehemently opposed and denied (Smith, 1964). 

This effort of the Open Door Policy by President Tubman was designed and intended as a public policy tool which would or could provide economic benefits, with political benefits of participation by legislative representation to hinterland citizens in rural Liberia.  However, Mr. Gus Liebenow describes, graphically, that the “. . . appearance of reform being far greater than reality . . . the Tubman engine ran out of steam . . . It was clear that the overwhelming thrust of integration . . . of the First Republic was still in the direction of accepting settler (African-American, founding fathers) rather than tribal norms of behavior. . . Detracting from the benefits to be derived from the extension to the tribal hinterland of suffrage and representation in the Legislature”, he wrote, “was the fact that elections had actually become almost meaningless exercises within the single-party state”. Continuing, he observed that “real power had gravitated even more effectively from the legislature to the president and those influential Americo-Liberians who surrounded him. Although education provided more bureaucratic jobs for tribal youth and lower-income Americo-Liberians, the really significant executive, legislative, judicial and ambassadorial positions were retained by the leading families at the core of the Americo-Liberian elite (Liebenow, 1987)”.

In other words, although President Tubman’s vision of liberalism and national unification, as critical pre-condition for national, economic development were recognized, appreciated and rewarded by the Liberian people with a 27-year reign as president, the oppressive marginalization and denial of basic, civil and political rights of the people, by some Liberians, still continued.

Moreover, then came the inevitable, violent, 1980 Event. In a classic, prophetic observation, Raymond Leslie Buell held, in 1947, that “It seems only a matter of time when the preponderance of the ‘civilized Natives’ (indigenous Liberians) over the Americo-Liberians will become overwhelming. Once awakened to western ideas of democracy and freedom, the educated Natives will demand the right to participate in government . . . But whether the struggle (for political participation, equality and justice) becomes violent or whether the transition of power to the Natives is gradual (peaceful, for benefit of all citizens) depends on the wisdom of the present, governing class (of Americo-Liberians) . . . Undoubtedly, some members of the Americo-Liberian oligarchy do not wish to open up and develop the hinterland . . . (Buell, 1947)”.

D. Our Early Thinkers

From cradle to grave, education and knowledge had been hammered into the heads and conscious of Liberian generations throughout the history of this nation, not only for the sake of knowledge, as it were, but also because education and knowledge are a critical precondition to national development. Periodically, Liberia pays homage and honor to the memory of the nation’s early philosophers and celebrated intellectuals, such as Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden, who pioneered Liberia’s academic thought and practice.

The Recent Past & Contemporaries

A. Our recent past saw the emergence of the nation’s literary giants, men and women of letters and professors such as Drs. T. Dusomu Johnson, Doris Banks-Henries, Roland T. Dempster, Mary A. Grimes, Bai T. Moore, T. Ebenezer Ward (former President of the University of Liberia), etc. Contemporaries include power-house, academic/intellectual nationalists and historians as Drs. Amos C. Sawyer, H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr., Levi Zangar, Patrick L. N. Sayon, Joseph Saye Guannue, Togba Na Tipoteh, McIntosh Gaywea, S. Byron Tarr, etc.

B.  Emerged/Emerging

Then there are the emerged and emerging students of social and physical sciences; young, energetic, dedicated, fearless and questioning, academic/intellectual heavyweights such as Drs. George Kieh, Emmanuel Dolo, Nathaniel Gbessagee, Nya Taryor, Abugarshall Kai, Alaric Tokpa, Syrulwa Somah, Joseph Gbaba, Sr., Eminent, Writer/Publisher Siahyonkron Nyanseor, and the corps of young professors now at Liberia’s leading colleges and universities of higher education. Others with undergraduate and graduate education, training/experience in, almost, all disciplines, are returning home from foreign colleges and universities.

Our Partners in Progress

These include our traditional partners, the United Sates and USAID; United Kingdom (UK) and its associated agencies; the European Union (EU) and individual countries with their aid agencies; the United Nation’s UNDP, aid agency. Most of these countries have been with us through thick and thin throughout the years, with commitments to continue their contribution to our development.  The partners now include developing nations, such as India, the People’s Republic of China, the Empire of Japan, etc.  Social, economic, political, military, humanitarian aid has increased, considerably, after our 14-year, civil tragedy. It is reasonable to believe and hope that aid to Liberia will continue, at a greater rate and volume than in the past.

Natural, Human and related Resources

It is important, also, to note that our country is endowed with much more than its share of natural resources, in relative terms. To identify a very few, there are known deposits of iron ore, gold, diamonds, oil and, perhaps, natural gas; streams, creeks and rivers with several species of fish; and forests, also, with several species of timber. These are assets that are available to be exploited and utilized in capital formation for national development.

As indicated earlier, we have a great pool of highly-educated, trained and experienced, energetic, dedicated professionals; also educated, but a trainable corps of energetic and dedicated, young Liberians.

Yes, We Had It All

The foregoing review of our history shows that we have had and have it all – the Need; Knowledge (education, training/experience & commitment); and Resources (human, natural, finance and non-finance assets) – that which it takes or would and could have taken to cris-cross our small nation of less than 4 million, sparsely populated people, with an area of 43,000 square miles, by all-whether, super-highways/roads, the Premier Multiplier Effect in national economic development, the kingdom of transport/communications so that all others will be added unto us.  But we have not, did not apply this approach, despite the fact that we have had and continue to have the pre-conditions – Need, Knowledge and the Resources (human/natural).

Therefore, that the Republic of Liberia remains, and is, a nation laboring under the perennial burden of socio-economic and political under-development, a “failed state” unable to cope and for the cumulative and prevailing, public policy defects/deficiencies of ineptitude, inefficiency, public dishonesty (corruption), including the prevailing, uncontrollable spread of the deadly, Ebola Virus.

Indeed, this primary, public policy priority in national development had been and continues to be elusive.

Medical – Health-Care Delivery System

Successive, Liberian political leaderships failed, refused or ignored, miserably, the development and implementation of viable, national health-care delivery system. Brief review of the conditions leading to the Ebola Epidemic:

Hospitals

A full-service hospital consists of a building suitably, relevantly designed or renovated to suit or for the purpose; trained and experienced doctors (specialists); nurses (also some specialists) and supporting, medical laboratory technicians. Also, specialized medical, diagnostic equipment such as X-ray machines with modern laboratory, 24-hour power supply with computers to facilitate electronic, medical records-keeping and communications. We know of no dialysis service in Liberia.

A full-service hospital of this description is a rarity in Liberia, with the exception of the modern, recently constructed, “state-of-the-art”, Jackson Doe Memorial Hospital in Tapita, Nimba County. The major problem with this hospital is, again, accessibility due to the absence of transport/communications or no all-weather, safe and efficient roads. The citizens living in the remote towns and villages in Nimba and neighboring Grand Gedeh and River Cess Counties are unable to avail themselves of the Hospital’s services.

Doctors, Specialists & Nurses

During the 167-year history of our political independence as a sovereign nation, we have not trained specialized doctors and nurses for service in eye, ear, throat, heart and prostate treatments. At or about middle age, individuals develop eye and ear problems; in fact, more than 50% wear glasses because of problems with vision; males develop enlarged prostates which require specialized treatment by a Urologist. There has been, and apparently is, only one known Urologist in Liberia, a Doctor who is now retired.

Apparently, there is not such a policy requirement for in-service, continuing training for young doctors and nurses. This is a routine requirement in the health-care delivery service which enables doctors and nurses to keep abreast of medical techniques, innovations and developments.

Drugs

The problem of adequate safe and approved supply of drugs is a very serious problem in Liberia. Uncontrolled or non-regulated “pharmacies” and “medicine stores” are found in neighborhoods all over Monrovia and in County capitals with untrained “salespersons” selling “medicine” or faked drugs everywhere and at street corners. The prices of these drugs, imported into Liberia and denominated in US dollars are so expensive such that they are beyond the reach of most Liberians. No wonder that so many die of curable ailments.

Conclusion

Now, the prevailing absence of transport/communications or the failure/refusal to develop and implement efficient, safe, all-weather highways and roads nationwide by successive political leaderships up to the present, it is reasonable to conclude that such absence or lack of efficient, safe roads and transport is the contributing factor for the rapid spread of Ebola virus and the resulting Ebola Epidemic and, also, the failure of the donated medical supplies and funding to reach the designated villages and towns in remote areas of the nation.

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