|Posted by RCG-SL on October 20, 2014 at 11:45 AM|
By Alpha Bedoh Kamara
The economic devastation caused by the ebola pandemic in the three West African countries most affected: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, all in the Mano River Union, is creating a circle of unseen social instability, economic stagnation and breakdown on societal values.
While efforts by the international community are being centered in the prevention and containment of the virus, they should also be thinking about plans for post-ebola engagements with the governments and people affected because the situation which has already impeded business growth and international relations may adversely threatens the social stability of these three countries.
A report by the World Bank states “The most authoritative model, at the moment, suggests a potential economic drain of as much as $32.6 billion by the end of 2015 if "the epidemic spreads into neighbouring countries" beyond Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to a recent study by the World Bank,” according to http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-10-15/news/55059496_1_ebola-west-africa-world-bank
If efforts are not speedily put in place and the affected countries not made to stay on course in their development pursuit, their economic burdens will directly or indirectly affect all other nations, especially those countries and private investors doing direct businesses in the region.
In Sierra Leone, reports are indicating that one of the largest employers, the iron ore mining company, African Minerals with almost 10,000 employees, may downsize its workforce to 50 percent thus creating a panic situation to the already battered economy that still has a high rate of unemployment.
Sierra Leoneans are hopeful that the present health situation will not cause this economic potential to stall its activities and therefore are looking forward to what the world will do to salvage the nation and region from the grasp of ebola. The mining sector has over the years being the backbone of economic revenue for Sierra Leone and only, of late, that other economic activities are making a breakthrough and competing with this major sector.
For the previous years the National Revenue Authority (NRA) has reported to the Government of Sierra Leone positive outcomes as a result of the improvement of business activities in the country and enabling the implementation of infrastructures such as road networks, electricity and others, with almost 90 percent Government driven.
This wasn’t the situation when all economic development activities were donor driven and were also directed at ensuring the sustainability of the peace process after the 11 year brutal war was declared over in 2002. Sierra Leone after the war was a nation awakening from the ashes of devastation, mayhem and anarchy, and for the purpose of revamping the economy once more, the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, put in place policies favourable for the business environment. This development created a plethora of business ventures and investments in the country and thus reason for the growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and national revenue.
Unlike Africa Mineral Ltd., most other mining companies have packed their tools and fled the land as can also be said of most private companies owned by international investors. Unfortunately, the impact of their actions doesn’t only affect the country but directly or indirectly affects investors and the shareholders who pay taxes to their Governments.
All agricultural activities have also stopped causing a severe breakdown in the production of local foodstuff in Sierra Leone, a situation that has rendered business ventures in the industry unbearable and a great loss to the Government which has been seeing a steady growth in the agricultural sector and creating hope for the majority of Sierra Leoneans engaged in this sector.
Agriculture for over the years has been the major employment opportunity for the majority of the people in the rural sector who are mostly engaged in subsistence farming. There gardens and farms are there only hope of earning income to pay the school fees of their children and taking care of their welfare. In the East of the country where the first case of ebola was reported in Sierra Leone, cocoa farming is the major agricultural activity and the major source of cocao production in the country. But the stigma and international fear surrounding the ebola outbreak, has put on hold on all aspect of agricultural activities as the people now sit in their houses because of the fear of infection.
In just few months after the virus started to take its unholy hold of our region there were spates of social instability, distrust, suspicion and all forms of claims pointed at the governments of having an idea of the spread of the virus and the opposition political parties deliberately exploiting the gullible public and created their own strategies of progandas with aims to create disfavor for the ruling governments.
In Guinea, officials and social workers assigned to informed the people about the virus were mobbed and killed, causing international concern and fear that ebola might not only be a health situation but also an issue of security concern for the affected countries in the region.
In Liberia, a group of young people armed with sticks and iron bars attacked an ebola epicenter, ram-sacked the facility and caused the patients to run away claiming that ebola isn’t real.
In Sierra Leone, despite ongoing efforts and involvement of the international community and the presence of military personnel from the UK, Sierra Leone’s former colonial master, there are people that are still inciting others against the governments and undermining efforts to contain the virus.
The economic situations in Guinea and Liberia are not different from Sierra Leone and while efforts are being made to contain the virus in the region Western nations should also be made to know that ebola is not created in this region but an alien virus that has taken the region by surprise; and therefore, any efforts to further create measures to isolate these three countries will be tantamount to fueling apprehension and social unrest.
The three governments are trying to ensure the virus is controlled and finally stopped from spreading but the bigger challenge, which is presently being addressed, is social behavior and belief amongst our people.
Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have for decades almost shared everything in common with people from these three countries traversing the borders without the bother for documents. Intermarriages are common and most tribes share similar cultures thus creating an uncontrollable urge of family bonds spanning from one country to the other. It is common with people from the three countries sharing the same family line, especially with those closer to the borders.
The fate of Sierra Leone is also made critical as a result of the seemingly better medical facilities as compared to Guinea and Liberia because people from these two countries often come to hospitals in Sierra Leone for medical care.
A case in Lunsar, North of Sierra Leone, where a nurse was infected was as a result of a case of a man from Guinea who was allegedly and unknowingly admitted at a hospital in the township. The man died at the hospital but then the nurse also became ill and unknowingly infected her mother.
In Kailahun, where the first case of the ebola virus was reported, the incident was also as a result of residents in the border part of Sierra Leone allegedly crossing over to help a patient in Guinea.
It is for some of these reasons that when the outbreak started in Guinea, and then Liberia, Sierra Leone became a victim because of the movement of people from one part to the other, and considering the porous borders, the various governments find it difficult to control the spread of the virus.
The spread of the virus, like the wars that plagued Sierra Leone and Liberia, is annihilating the economies of these three countries and like the war; there is need for international consensus for emergency intervention in containing the virus. These three countries cannot now be able to do it by themselves but with the support of the international community can make it possible for their people.