By Martin K. N. Kollie
For more than one and the half century, Liberia as Africa’s oldest independent nation has been confronted by series of competing challenges ranging from socio-economic misery to insecurity. After more than ten (10) years of uninterrupted peace, its security system remains volatile. The security climate of Liberia is still gloomy as a result of increasing public discontent and fundamental political differences.
Even though the presence of UNMIL since 2003 has created a relatively stable cloud of civility and orderliness, but more need to be done in order to avert potential insecurity and instability. As UNMIL finally leaves Liberia on June 30, 2016, there is a high demand to mitigate the existing security gap.
The need to principally promote democratic tenets such as the rule of law, good governance, public trust, inclusiveness, justice, and socio-economic parity cannot be overelaborated as UNMIL draws down its troop. It is time to engender a new diagram of genuine development for ALL if peace must remain an impeccable embodiment of our emerging democracy.
In March 2014, Liberia was beset by an unusual and incurable plague. The Ebola Virus Disease became known to all Liberians as it spreads rapidly beyond Lofa County after few weeks. For almost 15 months, our country along with international partners jointly mobilized to defeat this life-threatening disease.
This devastating outbreak overran our health sector to an extent that thousands of our citizens, including nurses and doctors had to die. There was widespread panic and fear especially in August 2014 as dead bodies were found in almost every corner. The socio-economic impact of this virus is too huge and government needs to intervene speedily as UNMIL draws down.
The blemish of Ebola remains visible even though we are celebrating a resounding victory. As a result of Ebola, Liberians have become jobless and choiceless. 4,769 lives were lost. The number of orphans, widows, and widowers has increased. Food insecurity, investor aversion, poverty, and unemployment have taken precedence.
The need to address pressing public demands through a realistic post-Ebola recovery strategy is crucial to sustaining peace and enhancing national security. National security begins with the people; as such, it is important to alleviate socio-economic disparity and patronage. As we bid farewell to UNMIL next year, we are of the strongest conviction that peace can prevail only if those who are in authority do not abuse public confidence.
We must make maximum use of lessons learnt from Ebola to make Liberia a more wholesome and peaceful society even beyond UNMIL’s transition. We can protect ourselves if we invest more resources to promote security sector reform. Building a vibrant and professional national security force is an indispensable step forward.
On May 09, 2015, the World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola-free after witnessing months of tragic scenes. This was indeed a joyous moment as citizens and non-citizens across Liberia jubilantly celebrated a long-awaited victory over Ebola. A Liberia after Ebola is what we now see, but are there lessons to learn? Of course yes!
Therefore, permit us to consider few important lessons learnt from our most recent encounter with Ebola that could positively impact Liberia’s progress beyond UNMIL’s transition.
Lessons from Ebola
1. Rebuild the health system
The Ebola virus seriously exposed our weak health sector. Liberia did not have sufficient public health infrastructures, adequate and trained medical personnel, modern equipment to really contain/combat this disease. Public Health Centers were unavailable to respond to the EVD promptly as construction of Ebola Treatment Unit became apparent. The crisis underscored a point often made by WHO: fair and inclusive health systems are a bedrock of social stability, resilience, and economic health. Failure to invest in a country’s health sector creates a dark cloud.
2. Improved Disaster Management and Response Mechanism
Liberia still lacks a conclusive disaster management framework in order to response to situations of emergency and complexities. As a result of this, we stand a very high risk. Ebola overran us because we were ill-prepared and did not have good surveillance mechanism in place to combat this deadly virus. Nigeria, Senegal, and Mali prevented and survived Ebola because they were fully prepared. We were also lacking basic prevention/control intervention and contact tracing methods. Strategic emergency response was lacking from the beginning. We made a mistake by not treating our first case as a national emergency.
3. Increase Public Awareness and Education on Public Health and Hygiene
Initially, many persons were unaware about the Ebola Virus Disease. They had little or no education. Ebola had to spread because local residents did not really know basic prevention and control measures. Anti-Ebola rules were unavailable. In fact, most Liberians were unable to adapt to the culture of hand washing and other good hygiene practices.
4. Alleviate Public Mistrust, Denial, and Poor Information Dissimilation
Even though, the government of Liberia informed citizens about the existence of Ebola in Liberia, but disbelief and denial were on the increase as a result of public mistrust. The people did trust what the government was saying from the early stage. There were also misinformation and doubts about Ebola from some government officials.
5, Promote Community Engagement and Collaboration
Community Health Mobilizers and peer educators were very late in engaging community inhabitants. Most community leaders and stakeholders had low understanding about preventing this virus. Building urgent collaboration with vulnerable communities was invisibly seen during the early stage of Ebola
6. Upgrade Research Capacity and Profile
Ebola has been known for 40 years, but this virus was very strange to Liberia when it first entered through Lofa County. Some of our nurses and public health technicians did not even know the process leading to preventing or controlling Ebola. The Research profile of Liberia is very low; as a result, citizens remain vulnerable to hazards. We need to train more researchers in different disciplines in order to curb future health crisis.
7. Empower Local Farmers and Reduce Food Insecurity
During the Ebola Outbreak, the price of basic commodities was sky-rocketing as a result of scarcity. Farmers had put down their tools. According to a survey conducted by World, 65 percent of local farmers said the 2014 harvest was smaller than 2013. Food insecurity has been and remains a maj or challenge.
8. Reclaim our Economy
Before Ebola, our economy was at the verge of collapse as a result of corruption, fiscal indiscipline, tax invasion, hyper-inflation, etc. Since our economy is dominated by foreigners, multi-million investment companies and business had to shut-down; thereby, leading to massive joblessness. According to a survey report by World Bank, 41% of respondents were not working as of January 2015. It is time to realistically empower local businesses and increase export over import. Youth employment is a matter of urgency as UNMIL shuts down its operation next year.
9. Promote Cordiality between Law Enforcement Officers and Civilians
The death of Shaki Kamara and injury of others exposed the incompetence of the AFL. How can a soldier use lethal force/weapon against armless civilians? This does not conform to international protocol. As UNMIL draws down on June 30, 2016, one of our pressing priorities is to promote good relationship between LNP/AFL personnel and civilians.
10. Recruit and Train more Security Personnel
As UNMIL leaves, our security strength in terms of manpower is very low. Does Liberia have the security to provide internal and external security for about 4.1 million people? Can our force ably perform the task of VIP protection, Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) – bomb disposal, Prison security, Management and monitoring the importation and use of fire arms, Maritime security, Border management and patrol, Static Guarding, and Cash Escorts?
This is a major lesson learnt from Ebola. Liberians managed to defeat this virus as a result of integration. They put aside their differences and confronted the virus with one determination and courage.
12. Adherence to the Rule of Law
During the state of emergency, orders were given by the government for citizens to abide by. Citizens, government officials, as well as security officers violated some of those laws or stringent measures. Even though few people refused to follow procedures, but Ebola couldn’t have ended if Liberians did not obey the laws.
In conclusion, if these lessons are put in place, Liberia will remain a peaceful nation even if UNMIL leaves next year.
About The Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth activist, student leader, an emerging economist, and a young writer. He is currently a student at the University of Liberia reading Economics and a member of the Student Unification Party (SUP). His passion is to ensure a new Liberia of socio-economic equality and justice for ALL. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org