Ebola: The cost of West Africa’s corruption
In the Transparency International 2013 publication on perceived levels of public sector corruption, 17 of the 58 African countries are ranked in the lowest quarter. In some countries, corruption is systemic and there is not enough political will to end it. In addition to being the catalyst to brutal civil wars, and terrorism it has a negative impact on the socioeconomic development of millions of Africans who live in extreme poverty. West Africa’s Ebola crisis may be the highest cost of corruption the continent has experienced. Out of 117 countries in the included, the countries affected with Ebola rank as follows: Liberia 83, Sierra Leone 119, Nigeria 144, and Guinea 150. And its not just corruption, some of these countries are at the bottom of almost every development index.
Yet the Mano River countries and Nigeria are rich in natural resources and human capital. The economies are growing and for a moment it seemed that Africa is finally rising. Ebola exposes the weaknesses in the systems and how fragile these budding economies may be. Border controls between the Mano river countries are extremely difficult because proper boundaries and controls have never existed. These porous borders made it possible for rebel combatants to move easily from Liberia into Sierra Leone making the spill over of war inevitable. More than ten years after the war the borders remain porous, anecdotally Sierra Leone’s first Ebola case travelled from Guinea and entered the country quite easily.
But porous land borders are not the only problem, an Ebola patient cleared to travel from Liberia took the virus into Nigeria infected a number of people in the process and plunged Nigeria into yet another crises they were unprepared for. It is still not clear how Patrick Sawyer was cleared to travel despite showing symptoms of Ebola.
The result of endemic corruption is weak institutions and ineffective systems. In the case of Ebola, the consequences have been fatal. The countries were totally unprepared for the outbreak. Sierra Leone and Liberia have been ravaged by war but after over a decade of peace they are still heavily dependent on international aid and cannot cope with the outbreak. To compound a difficult situation, an alarming number of front line medical staff helping to contain the virus has become victims themselves. Appalling working conditions such as extremely long hours and poor pay, make mistakes inevitable. In Sierra Leone two senior doctors have died, sixty nurses have been infected of which thirty have died. The experience and knowledge lost cannot be replaced overnight and the existing infrastructure is poor. Sadly, Africa cannot solve this problem on its own and needs international assistance. In Sierra Leone, there is no isolation unit in Freetown and the Kenema Government Hospital is already at full capacity with sixty patients, three expat doctors and two nurses. The only solution is foreign medical teams that have the knowledge and resources to set up isolation centers effectively and safely and this is needed urgently.
Corruption in Africa needs to be addressed eventually. This outbreak is ultimately an African problem. About 148 billion US dollars is lost every year to corruption. That amount can build the infrastructure and set up the institutions it needs but for now the priority is eradicating the virus.WHO has declared an international emergency and all efforts global, regional, local are required. It requires commitment and collaboration for the emergency to be dealt with effectively and the African Diaspora has an important role. We should be part of the dialogue in mainstream media and take ownership of the narrative. We should add our voices to the call for much needed foreign medical teams and we can even be part of those teams. Our unique position can make the difference. It is time for the African diaspora to stand up for its continent.
Khadi Mansarayis an accountant with a passion for writing. She is the founder of Sondiata Global Media, publisher for the African Diaspora.