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Sierra Leone is a country located on the west coast of Africa. It gained independence from Britain on April 27, 1961. It is bounded to the north and northeast by Guinea, Liberia to the south and southeast and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Sierra Leone is not only bounded by these countries, but also shares common values, traditions and culture. While these countries benefit from each other, they suffer equally from the negative effects of organized crime, war and diseases. In addition, Sierra Leone unfortunately has been a victim of spillover effects from these countries such as the 1991 civil war resulting from the 1989 war in Liberia and now Ebola from Guinea.
Sierra Leone, as a war-torn country, has been struggling to erase war-related scars. These scars from 10 years of agonizing and despicable violence brought us to our knees and dehumanized us, but our resilience and love for peace prevailed over the forces of evil. Today our nation is facing a new war apart from malaria, typhoid and HIV/AIDS that threatens our existence. The Ebola virus is the new and most significant challenge that Sierra Leone is facing as a nation along with the rest of the world.
After 23 years of bad governance, social and economic marginalization, gross human rights violation and dictatorship, in March 1991 the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) with the support of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) attacked Sierra Leone. It is said that the country’s “army was caught with its pants down.” It could not prevent the killing of tens of thousands of civilians and the destruction of property, which lasted a decade. While the nation was making great strides toward sustainable peace and development, after 23 years again of mixed war and relative peace, the nation is facing a new war. The new enemy is the one that has received global attention in recent months, this time around the enemy is elusive and shadowy, and its method of conquest is unconventional, indiscriminate and disproportionate. Killing tens of hundreds and extirpating the nation’s economy. Is it a coincidence?
The first case of Ebola in Sierra Leone was recorded in May from the same chiefdom and same district and spread out to the rest of the nation in subsequent months just as the civil war did. The new war this time around caught our health system with its pants down, with our health workers useless in combating Ebola.
I was deeply troubled by those who point fingers at the government even though it was proven that the virus was real and killing people too fast, as the government has a way of eating state funds, their actions did not help to contain Ebola or save us. The civil war left a great deal of negative effects on the nation and a legacy lasting forever. So the new war is Ebola; Ebola is destroying not only our lives and livelihoods, but it is deeply affecting our socioeconomic and cultural existence.
In 2013, a World Bank report on economic growth of nations, Sierra Leone was ranked the fourth fastest growing economy in the world with an annual growth rate of 11.1 percent. Even though it continues to face development challenges, this was welcoming news for a nation that has come from a protracted war. Yet the new war against Ebola is deteriorating the economy. According to experts, recovering from the economic effects of Ebola will be huge and challenging.
The new enemy is a formidable one and its method of conquest is known to be from contact with bodily fluids of an infected person and not the use of machine guns or explosions. Sierra Leone has a rich culture of hospitality – shaking hands, embracing one another, visiting families and honoring the dead are deeply rooted in our societies. Nevertheless, to fight this enemy successfully we require radical changes in our cultural settings. Hence no hand shaking, no public gatherings, no washing of corpses, no eating bush meat, regular hand washing and reporting all sicknesses to the nearest health facility has been the nation’s attack strategies to fight the new war.
Internal and external government efforts were tremendous in resolving the civil war. In the new war the government is playing its role as well. Last August, the government declared a three-day nationwide shutdown and it was said to have committed $1.6 million to deploy 21,000 youth around the country who engaged in door-to-door sanitization. Nevertheless, cases continue to shoot up and recently the government has halted many activities including Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
Today, checkpoints are set up around the country to control the movement of people as well as to take the temperatures and use chlorine to wash hands of commuters entering and leaving any town or city. The media is heavily involved again in sanitization and informing the nation of events happing on the battle field through electronic, print and social media.
At the beginning of the war in 1991 there were other serious conflicts going on in Africa. During this period the international community was engaged on all fronts, responding to emerging conflict like ours very slow. After 23 years this event has repeated itself. Today the international community is battling to eliminate the continent’s deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis and, now, Ebola. Sierra Leone has a war-torn society with an embryonic health system requiring urgent support from the international community.
Following a series of negotiations and mediation the Lome Peace Accord was signed by parties to the conflict, which marked the starting point to peace. In accordance with this agreement, the U.N. Security Council adopted resolution 1270 of Oct. 22 and established the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). By 2002 it had disarmed more than 70,000 ex-combatants. In the same year the government declared the end of the war. On paper the war was over, but on the ground, war-torn Sierra Leone was at the beginning of the long route to recovery.
Today, in addition to a series of efforts from the international community, the U.N. Security Council has again adopted a resolution – Resolution 2177 of September 2014 – and established the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) to bring an end to the new war. Unlike UNAMSIL, UNMEER coordinates events in all the three mostly affected countries and any other emerging one; its personnel as well is mainly composed of medical specialist and not khaki boys or war gurus. It aims at stopping the outbreak and preventing further outbreaks among its other priorities. The new war, when ended, will leave indescribable scars on the country, but one thing that will endure is the strong will of the noble men and women of this nation to see it grow.
- Originally published by Daily Sabah.
- An intern at CESRAN International, a U.K.-based international think tank, consultancy and research institute – www.cesran.org