Goodbye Ebola, Hello Caution

KAY NIETFELD/ASSOCIATED PRESS

On 9th May 2015, the World Health Organization pronounced Liberia, “Ebola Free.” This is a huge success story for the small West-African country that has been dealing with a post-civil war crisis. When I visited the country in 2012, I got very concerned about the huge challenges that remained in Gthe aftermath of the war. There were serious infrastructural issues, especially in the energy and governance sectors. There was, however, a lot of hope and optimism in the enthusiasm of the contemporary Liberian youth to overcome the past horrors and forge ahead. It is therefore with cautious optimism that I envisage a post-Ebola recovery for Liberia together with her equally toddling neighbours: Guinea and Sierra Leone. The caution lies in the circumstances surrounding this crisis.

The gravity of the Ebola outbreak attracted the attention of the international community with the United Nations Security Council identifying that the “unprecedented extent” of the Ebola outbreak in Africa constituted a threat to international peace and security. The African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is reported to have convened a meeting to acknowledge ‘the seriousness of the security implications’ of the outbreak and expressed concern about its potential to undermine progress made by these post-conflict countries. The fact that these countries themselves are just emanating from conflict is itself a strong indicator of how the crisis could have implications for peace and stability. Reports of the UN agencies on the ground cited serious effects of the outbreak. According to the results of World Bank Group surveys, job losses and food insecurity are among the far-reaching and persistent socio-economic impacts of Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Of course, for those of us in the West-African region we constantly got the feedback that fuel and food ran low whilst schools, businesses, borders, markets, and most health facilities were closed.

The outbreak has left in its tracks a lot of stress on social relations. In Guinea, an Ebola awareness campaign team was assaulted by villagers who accused the team members of spreading false information about the virus’s mode of transmission resulting in the death of eight team members. In a similar fashion, violent clashes broke out in the West Point area of the Liberian capital Monrovia between inhabitants and security forces tasked with enforcing the quarantine that had been ordered a few days before, resulting in the death of a teenager.

It is therefore important that the government of Liberia, other affected countries and their neighbours stay vigilant to the ‘hangover’ from Ebola amidst the well-deserved commendations for victory over Ebola. There are still lives to be rehabilitated, lost time in schools to be recovered, relationships to mend, health facilities to re-engineer and compensations to pay. There are economies to rebuild, ambitions to manage, public order to maintain and local governments institutions to strengthen. It is my opinion that significant peace and security concerns arise because the epidemic will, in its tracks, introduce a great deal of community level changes to human interactions, institutional responsiveness and human security dilemmas that may be overlooked in the efforts to focus on the purely economic and health issues.

Ebola survivors leave their handprints on a wall of the Bong County Ebola Treatment Unit – the facility that saved their lives. / Adam Parr, USAID

There is a lot of pride that Liberia can take from this victory. The school children can continue to sing “bye bye Ebola”, “we are the winner” and “we will always overcome”. They are among the heroes and it is no mean achievement. The people and government of Liberia and their West-African counterparts have shown the world that with strong will, our challenges are surmountable. But a lax-attitude at this point could resurrect the last virus that was ‘buried’ on 28th March 2015. For the world to effectively respond to the call by the United Nations to do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure recovery of Ebola-affected countries, one of the first steps to take is to understand the extent of dynamic changes this epidemic has presented in terms of social interactions and human security at the community level. These are the key foundations to understanding and charting a holistic and sustainable recovery course for Ebola-hit countries. So as I join my fellow Africans, health workers and peace practitioners in Liberia to say a hooting adios to Ebola, we also need to beware of its by-products.

Dennis Penu

Dennis Penu

Staff Writer at InPRA
Dennis Penu is a Ghanaian, and a Principal Research Assistant with the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. He holds an advanced master's degree in Governance and Development studies from the University of Antwerp in Belgium and a research master’s degree in Peace and Development Studies from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.
Dennis Penu

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