Another Look at the Ebola Crisis in Liberia
By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
Where there is no vision, the people perish…,” yes, that is in the Bible, folks, in the great Proverbs, particularly, in chapter 29, verse 18, and now, I guess, you’re saying, “Hallelujah, preach it,” but hold on; I’m not trying to preach anything. I’m simply taking you somewhere different than a preacher would take you. Where is this trouble-maker going? You may ask. Yes, I’m going somewhere. Liberia, West Africa, along with two of its neighboring sister countries, Guinea and Sierra Leone, have been grappling with the deadly Ebola virus and in just a few months nearly two thousand of its citizens have died from this deadly virus. Most of the dead, nearly 1,500, have died in Liberia alone. And Liberia, my home country, my lovely homeland of a vibrant and happy people, a people whose laughter is so contagious it steals the visitor’s heart, is dying out one family after another, whole families of dozens, annihilated in simultaneous attacks across the capital city of Monrovia and throughout the country. If we should defeat this virus and win this new war, the effort by the Liberian government, its citizens, and the world at large, has to be a peace effort. For how can the world declare itself a peaceful place when some of its nations are being annihilated by such a deadly virus? Here, I am approaching my discussion from the point of how a government cannot have security or peace when its citizens are dying like sick chickens.
For some reason, I always knew that there was a connection between good medical services in a country, the provision of the most basic needs for a nation’s citizens, and peace. Over the last several years during my research trips to Liberia and during a long five month stay for my 2013 sabbatical, I was troubled that the lack of the most basic needs, including but not limited to adequate medical centers, medical supplies and medicines, a serious educational structure and system, good water supply, electricity and roads connecting all parts of the country to the capital and throughout each section of the country, have hampered the peace process and the rebuilding of Liberia after 14 years of war. I was deeply worried, despite the heavy United Nations presence in the country and the false sense of security the Liberian government has enjoyed for the last decade. Today, Ebola has confirmed my fears. Liberia, with its false sense of stability and peace, is so troubled by that dangerous threat that Ebola could destroy the nation’s place on the world map and annihilate most of its citizens.
Peace is not the absence of war; peace is the ability of a people to benefit from all of that nation’s wealth and power, and silence is not the evidence of peace because silence itself could be the lack of peace. A nation is at peace when its people are empowered by their leaders and the laws of the land to enable them to function in a civilized world, and where the lowly as well as the powerful enjoy the wealth of their land. But this was not so in Liberia. Now that we are convinced that Liberia has failed its people, we must defeat Ebola and usher in a more abled leadership or at least an abled style of leadership.
You may wonder if, like many Liberian political aspirants, I am advocating for a change of leadership in the midst of this crisis, but I’m not. I do not believe in creating war while another war, the struggle with the Ebola virus, is ongoing. Anyone knows that a change of leadership in Africa is one of the most complicated processes anywhere in the world. African democracy is never independent of outside intervention, and the African sense of leadership change often creates more confusion than peace. I am therefore advocating that every effort should be made to support the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf leadership to overcome the Ebola virus and save our nation. I am advocating that the government works to win the people’s confidence. But that will begin when the current leadership purges itself of those who lack the understanding that leaders are servants, and not lords. If you have visited Liberia in the last decade or even earlier, you will have noticed that most of the leadership believed that they were not servants of the people, but lords. I hope they realize now after not only the civil war, but as a result of the current Ebola crisis, that their belief in themselves as “lords” is only an illusion. In addition to a change in the leadership’s attitude to leading, I recommend that they reeducate themselves to understand who we are as Liberians and as Africans. Maybe by understanding their place in the world, they will value their own people as human beings, and thereby save the nation.
For those calling for a change of leadership, I am sorry. Any call for a change of leadership at this crucial tragic time is from a completely misguided vision of where Liberia should be going. What Liberia needs right now is not a change of leaders just to usher in a similar set of leadership; what we need now are visionary leaders who can work with everyone for our future and to overcome this Ebola tragedy. What we need also is a complete rewashing of the Liberian psyche so we understand the connection between someone with vision and the determination to develop our country, to lift our people out of the dirt they’re in, and to rebuild Liberia to genuine stability. We need selfless, capable, caring and visionary leaders, people who see beyond themselves, big brain people, those who are not afraid of educated and wise people, but embrace both the educated and the uneducated alike because it takes all to rebuild a nation. We need people with big, big hearts, not in the Liberian “big heart” colloquial sense, but people who care not just for their own, but for the larger society and the larger world. We need men and women who know that they are indeed Liberians, not some expatriates with the mind to run away when things get bad. We need folks with eyes to see the future and with big hands to get in the dirt to do the work and usher in a new and better future.
We also need a Liberia with a citizenry that is never satisfied with nothing as with this generation of Liberians. We need a Liberia that has high expectations of its leaders, and makes them accountable to them. We need folks who are not satisfied with small peanuts and crumbs from the President’s table, folks, who know that crumbs are not enough, that crumbs are for slaves, and slavery has nothing to do with freedom, peace or democracy. We need Liberians who can learn to love themselves, learn to love their heritage as Liberians, as Africans, not some imported people, but as people with a great culture. We need leaders who can bring back our lost music and our dances and cultural centers that have been traded to investors, those who can bring us back to what we ought to be. We are not foreigners trying to be Africans. We are Africans and, until we can help our people appreciate what they are, it will be difficult to heal the wounds from the civil war and this Ebola crisis. We need a true visionary group of people to see that the future is better than the present or the past, and that we can get there.
So, stop toying with the idea of changing the truck driver until you get a driver that has the ability to drive over the potholes the old driver and his/her old truck has dug us into. We need someone whose eyes are radiant with a vision to lift Liberia, and it is not impossible to find that person and that group of Liberians right among ourselves. It is not impossible, but to find them we, the ordinary voices crying out from afar and near, those of us rejected and those of us included, must come together with the clearest vision ever if we are to fight this deadly virus and rebuild a better Liberia.
About Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, Writing for Peace Adviser
Patricia Jabbeh Wesley is a survivor of the Liberian civil war, immigrating to the United States in 1991. She is the author of four books of poetry: Where the Road Turns, (Autumn House Press, 2010), The River is Rising (Autumn House Press, 2007), Becoming Ebony, (SIU Press, 2003) and Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa (New Issues Press, 1998). In 2013, she published her first children’s book, In Monrovia, the River Visits the Sea (One Moore Book Publishers, 2013). Her fifth book of poetry, “Biography, When the Wanderers Come Home,” is forthcoming in the spring of 2015.
She has won several awards and grants, including the 2011 President Barack Obama Award for her writings from Blair County NAACP, the 2010 Liberian Award for her poetry, a Penn State University AESEDA Collaborative Grant for her research on Liberian Women’s Trauma stories, a 2002 Crab Orchard Award for her second book of poems, Becoming Ebony, an Irving S. Gilmore Emerging Artist Grant from the Kalamazoo Foundation, a World Bank Fellowship, among others. Patricia has a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and English from Western Michigan University, a Master of Science degree in Eng. Education from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, and a BA in English from the University of Liberia, Monrovia, Liberia. Learn more about Patricia’s work here.
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