Ebola Crisis in Sierra Leone: A Failure of Leadership

by E. Obiri Addo

The outbreak of Ebola crisis and its aftermath in Sierra Leone can be attributed to “a crisis of governance” at both national and international levels, according to Dr. Fredline A. O. M’Cormack-Hale, Associate Professor at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. She was the inaugural speaker at the Manley-Yamba Lecture Series at First Presbyterian and Trinity Church in South Orange, NJ. She was a Fulbright Scholar attached to Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, West Africa in 2013-2014 and witnessed the crisis firsthand.
Dr. M’Cormack-Hale wondered how a country praised in March 2013 by the United Nations as “one of the world’s most successful cases of post-conflict recovery, peacekeeping and peace-building” would suddenly be caught off-guard by a devastating national crisis which has so far claimed over 10,000 lives. She referred to “Save the Children” definition of governance in terms of “whether there are existing protocols and guidelines in place for responding to different diseases,” and whether “there is participatory governance to enable citizens to influence decisions.” She concluded that Sierra Leone lacked these basics.
Professor M’Cormack-Hale argued that war-torn countries in the area, including Sierra Leone, had been urged by international donors to “prioritize concerns with macro-economic policies of liberalization, privatization and deregulation. They had not been similarly supported to build strong public health systems as a development imperative.” Overall, there was a preference for infrastructure over investment in strengthening the healthcare system. While Sierra Leone had initiated “free health system” in 2010, she noted, it was heavily donor-driven, with little corresponding expression of government capability. Consequently rise in demand declined because of poor access.
Statistically, she explained, Sierra Leone allocated 6.8% (2012) and 7.5% (2013) of its national budget to healthcare. However, there were huge disparities between allocated funds and actual expenditures. Sierra Leone, she added, has the world’s lowest life expectancy of 45 years for men and 46 for women; worst infant mortality rate of one in nine child-deaths before age one, world’s worst child (under five) mortality rate, with one in 6 dying before age five; and highest maternal mortality rate with one in 91 women dying during labor.
The Professor outlined domestic governance issues which included insufficient resources, poorly equipped facilities, and corruption, mismanagement, and lack of accountability at all levels of national life. She added that Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer listed Sierra Leone as having the highest incidencies of bribery. Waste and inefficiency in service delivery as well as severe financial loss affected funds earmarked for the fight against Ebola. “One-third of the Ebola budget was unaccounted for; there was procurement without proper vetting, and twenty ambulances procured from Dubai for over $50,000.00 had four missing , an issue still disputed by government officials,” she noted.
Dr. M’Cormack-Hale also raised concerns about lack of trust in government. This “trust-deficit”, she explained, affected the initial response as well as the management of the crisis. There was hesitation to believe Ebola was real. It was perceived as a “ploy to steal Western donor money.” It was also perceived as a ploy to depopulate Kailahun, the area where the disease first hit because it was an “opposition stronghold”. Additionally there was the “fear of hospitals, an evident lack of trust in health structures and officials.” Worst of all, she noted, it took two months for the government to declare a state of emergency.
Furthermore, she argued that the outbreak itself was poorly managed at the governmental level. The response was “blame-oriented” in which cultural issues were ignored. “Anthropological understanding of communities that could engage people in positions of trust and authority in local levels to help bridge divide” was totally overlooked, and so was “the blatant absence of gendered considerations and lack of sensitivity for burials,” she added.
Dr. M’Cormack-Hale concluded that the Ebola crisis provides opportunities to, among other things make long-term changes to address infrastructural and capacity weaknesses that contributed to the rapid spread of the disease; government leaders to “think local and incorporate local initiatives, trusted community leaders, cultural beliefs, and local know-how in government and international strategies”, and also to promote accountability at all levels of government and society.
The lecture was initiated to recognize two persons in church and society for their various contributions. Dr. Robert is Founder/President of the Center for Global Responsibility. He is a former professor of political science at Seton Hall University, and one of the several faculty members who laid the foundations for the SHU School of Diplomacy and International Relations. When he retired from active service in 2010, Dr. A. Zachary Yamba was the longest serving college president in New Jersey. Affiliated with the Essex County College for four decades, the Ghanaian-born Yamba is widely recognized as the catalyst for more than a quarter-century of extraordinary achievement that defines the College today. The program was chaired by Professor Kwame Akonor of the Political Science department at Seton Hall University.
First Presbyterian and Trinity Church in South Orange, New Jersey is widely recognized for its diversity, mission focus and community activism. It seeks to proclaim God’s love and justice through its many outreach programs. According to its pastor, Valencia Norman, by honoring the two outstanding persons the congregation also sought to bring the church and the academia closer in line with its Reformed roots.

Posted by on Mar 21 2015. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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