There is an ancient dictum that says “It is said that it is better late than never.”
This is what the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is now doing, just to be a part of the number helping hands in the Ebola crisis.
The regional body, since the outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) that has claimed the lives of thousands in its member states since March this year, has just named a Coordinator that will help in curbing the spread of the virus.
The ECOWAS Ebola Coordinator, according to the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo, is Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe. The Coordinator is being named at a time when the virus is gradually declining in Liberia though Guinea and Sierra Leone may be beneficiaries of this “belated gesture or intervention.”
The Commission boss made the disclosure when he and the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General and Head of the UN Office of ECOWAS, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, met with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at her Foreign Ministry office during a one-day solidarity visit to Liberia on Tuesday.
The two expressed solidarity to the Government and people of Liberia, on behalf of the sub-regional organization, as the country combats the further spread of the deadly Ebola virus disease, something that should have been done from the onset, but several West African States were rather busy isolating their regional brothers and sisters with some banning flights and vessels from these countries from entering the countries.
AU and ECOWAS have been heavily criticized for not playing what is being referred to as, a leadership role, since the outbreak of the epidemic. Member states rather thought it wise to ostracize the three worst affected countries. The governments of affected nations, especially Liberia, through the Head of State and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augustine K. Ngafuan, continuously complained of the lack of solidarity from African, specifically, West African brothers.
The only initial move by ECOWAS was the visit of the Chairman of ECOWAS and President of Ghana, Dr. John Mahama, to Liberia to show support and solidarity as well as the financial, logistical, on behalf of his country, and moral support to Liberia.
However the ECOWAS Commission president informed President Sirleaf that the Authority of Heads of States and Government of ECOWAS had named Togo President, Faure Gnassingbé, as the Regional Coordinator for the ECOWAS Ebola Response in West Africa.
The Chairman also disclosed that a donation of US$1 million had been made available by ECOWAS to each of three worst affected countries. He also noted that there is in place an US$86M trust fund, which has been realized.
President Ouédraogo further noted that 131 healthcare workers have been recruited and are expected to undergo training in Accra, Ghana beginning next Monday for deployment in the three worst affected countries. He said the Commission will continue to advocate for the free movement of people, goods and services across ECOWAS countries, urging all countries of the sub-region to fully cooperate.
“ECOWAS will do its best to help address the current Ebola crisis. ECOWAS stands ready to collaborate with your government, the UN System and all partners for an effective and efficient response to the Ebola outbreak,” he said. He frowned on what he termed as stigmatization of affected countries by counterparts.
Dr. Ibn Chambas expressed joy at visiting Liberia when the country needs all of the attention and support. “There will be actions and the United Nations will work closely with ECOWAS on its intervention in Liberia,” Dr. Chambas said.
He welcomed the regional collaboration initiated by ECOWAS and noted that the Ebola crisis is a regional and global threat.
President Sirleaf, as usual, thanked Mr. Ouédraogo and Dr. Chambas for the solidarity visit and reflected on how ECOWAS has always been there for and with Liberia.
“ECOWAS’ messages sent to the UN System were helpful in generating the overall global response to the crisis. You have done well in standing by us and our people are grateful,” the Liberian President told the two officials.
President Sirleaf pointed out that Liberia is a clear example of how a disease can destroy and devastate a country, but also shows how a collective response from collective actions can yield results.
“We are using this crisis to address the challenges in the healthcare system and prevent a reoccurrence of such damaging impact of a disease on the country,” she stressed.
The Liberian leader told her guests that the country’s national target is zero-new-cases by Christmas. She expressed the hope that with all hands on deck and good practices and attitude, the target can be achieved.
President Sirleaf also briefed the delegation about the upcoming mid-term senatorial elections and urged ECOWAS to send observers to monitor the process.