In 2014, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone experienced the worst and the largest Ebola outbreak in modern history. The outbreak has claimed over 11,000 lives (WHO, 2014). Even more, it has destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of people. It has undermined most of the gains made in the last decade in poverty reduction. This means that more and more people are at risk of hunger and disease. The crisis has resulted in negative income growth in the three countries. Most projects have been shutdown and unemployment is on the increase. This is really scary…
The outbreak is a clear indicator that the gap between the rich and poor is deepening. As WHO Director-General, Dr. Chan points out, “the outbreak spotlights the dangers of the world’s growing social and economic inequalities. The rich get the best care. The poor are left to die” (WHO, 2014). Dr. Chan further contended that when a deadly and dreaded virus hits the destitute and spirals out of control, the whole world is put at risk. Our 21st century societies are interconnected, interdependent and electronically wired together as never before (WHO, 2014). This means that any outbreak small or large may have the potential to put the whole world at risk. This became clear when the virus hit Nigeria and other powerful western nations. Thankfully, this triggered a massive international response. As a result, millions of lives were saved. This shows the power of “global solidarity”. Global solidarity binds the rich to the poor as one human family. Thanks to Allah, the outbreak is almost defeated.
Liberia is Ebola-free, and both Guinea and Sierra Leone are on the right pathways to becoming Ebola-free. But what next? The BIG question is, how can we get things back on track?
The Hard Fact: There will be no “Marshall Plan” for Ebola-affected countries. If any, it is reasonable to argue that due to the current slowdown in the global economy, and the huge refugee crisis in Europe the likelihood of a Marshall Plan for Ebola-affected countries is very slim. Given this, West Africans themselves will have to think creatively about how to get things back on track. To be honest, there are many ways out. So, before I proceed, I must acknowledge the excellent and massive community engagement at the grassroots levels in the fight against the EBOLA virus. Interestingly, we can transform that spirit of community engagement into a campaign to promote sanitation and waste management in order to prevent another outbreak.
Again, what next? It is time we think beyond the Ebola outbreak. The outbreak has created a stigma that has the potential to undermine the recovery process. In addition, it could further isolate the region socially and economically, if nothing is done.
It is time we tap into our rich tourism sector. Liberia has so many beautiful and natural places that tourists would love and so do Guinea and Sierra Leone. For example, the beautiful beaches in Grand Cape Mount and the amazing waterfalls in Bong County, and the list goes on. But sadly, the industry has been poorly managed and marketed in the region. So, I am writing to propose the Mano River Solidarity Tourism Campaign. The campaign will promote tourism and volunteer engagement in the region. In order to give the campaign a momentum and attract global attention, our leaders will have to get back on the phones and call prominent world figures and celebrities. For example, if President Sirleaf calls Global Rock Star and Activist Bono and Oprah Winfrey to help give the campaign momentum, no doubt they will definitely respond to her call. This is not about President Sirleaf. It is about Liberia and the region. In fact, I must admit she played an outstanding motherly role in defeating the virus. Because she cried and cried for HELP: My people are dying! My people are dying! My people are dying! Interestingly, this caught the attention of everyone everywhere, including President Obama. But getting things back on track is the biggest challenge for the governments and peoples of the three worst affected countries.
Even more interestingly, Senator George Weah can use his fame and President Alpha Condé can also do the same. The campaign will break the stigma of the deadly Ebola outbreak in the region – Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone. Solidarity tourism will help boost the local economies. For example, I am sure, hundreds of university students in developed countries will be motivated to volunteer in places like Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone. In fact, the growing middle-class in most African countries is another market to target. I am certain, if well planned and managed it will attract thousands of tourists and ultimately boost investors’ confidence.
Thinking creatively is the best way out… There will be no Marshall Plan for Ebola-affected countries.