Friday, September 19, 2014

Sierra Leone Ebola Updates: The People and the Lockdown

The Ebola Virus
The current Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa continues to grow in its severity. Yesterday the Director General of the World Health Organization Dr. Margaret Chan, in her address to an emergency session of the UN Security Council on Peace and Security in Africa said that in the hardest hit countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia, "an exponentially rising caseload threatens to push governments to the brink of failure." She stated that though the WHO had dealt with many big disease outbreaks in recent years, the current West African outbreak was in her own words, "the greatest peacetime challenge the United Nations and its agencies have ever faced." She declared the outbreak a humanitarian and economic crisis, and a threat to national security beyond the borders of the afflicted countries.
Early Symptoms Infographic

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its latest figures, updated yesterday  September 18th, 2014, puts the total 6 months West Africa Ebola case count at 5347 with 2630 total deaths. The highest case count is in Liberia at 2710, followed by Sierra Leone at 1673, Guinea at 942, Nigeria at 21 and Senegal at 1 case. The Ebola deaths in Liberia currently stand at 1459 and Sierra Leone at 562. Dr. Chan states that these official figures may in many instances underestimate the spread of the disease as some cases are probably not being reported.
Dr. Margaret Chan

The very high infection and fatality rates in Liberia could directly be the result of the reckless actions of some members of a skeptical public. Initially many Liberians were very defiant of Ebola health warnings and ignorant of the true nature of the disease. The country's health care system, weakened by years of war, the lack of trained personnel and health equipment, has been so overwhelmed by EVD that patients and dead bodies are left to rot on the streets of the capital.  The Liberian President Dr. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made a passionate appeal to the international community to help, and she has been rewarded with the decision by the American government to deploy a large military health contingent of 3000 to the region to help contain the outbreak. 
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

The WHO Director General Dr. Chan has lauded the American commitment stating that " This massive ramp-up of support from the United States is precisely the kind of transformational change we need to get a grip on the outbreak and begin to turn it around." The United States will provide military leadership and establish a regional command and control center in the Liberian capital Monrovia. The hope is for military engineers to construct Ebola Treatment Units around the country and open a training facility that will train approximately 500 health care workers per week in Ebola case management. The CDC will also commence free Ebola trainings for American based health care personnel who want to volunteer to join the fight against Ebola in West Africa. The trainings will be conducted in Atlanta, Georgia.
President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma

Just last week the Cuban government announced the deployment of 165 highly qualified medical personnel to Sierra Leone, starting in October. The Cuban team will consist of physicians, nurses, epidemiologists, infection control specialists and social mobilization officers. Not to be outdone the Chinese government on September 16th also announced the contribution of a mobile lab team to be dispatched to Sierra Leone. The team of 59 persons from the Chinese Center for Disease Control will be comprised of clinicians, epidemiologists, and nurses and will be based at the China-Sierra Leone Friendship Hospital.

Currently Russia, the World's second major superpower is missing in the Ebola action. They are probably busy with empire building in Easten Ukraine. Russians traditionally do not get involved in issues that do not affect them directly, unless it is seen as a direct threat to their national security. As of now, with the Ebola outbreak confined to Africa, they have adopted a don't ask don't tell policy.
Empty Streets of Freetown
This Morning (JB Jr.)

In Sierra Leone the government has ordered all the country's 5.9 million citizens to stay at home for 3 days starting from today September 19th 2014, through the weekend. The goal is to send teams of volunteers to each house to screen for Ebola and take those infected people who may be hiding to treatment facilities. Most infectious disease experts, including Doctors Without Borders who are currently leading Ebola management in the interior, have criticized the move, stating that it will cause patients to go into hiding and further the mistrust between the government and the people. But the country's authorities remain undeterred. 

Many Sierra Leoneans I spoke to about the decision also questioned the wisdom of telling Ebola patients to stay confined in the same house with people for three days. If the disease is spread through close contact, will this not just provide an opportunity for those infected to have three full days spreading it among their family members? Many also question what the impact on the economy will be.  There will be a halt in economic activity across the country for three days. Petty traders who depend on daily sales of their wares for survival have raised concerns about how they will survive for the three days without plying their trade. Government has responded to some of these fears by providing some food relief, but there are reports of bias and nepotism in distribution across the country. Yesterday thousands of people took to the streets of the capital to do their last minute shopping before the lockdown. Many are wondering whether all that mingling of people did not also exacerbate the spread of the virus. 

However, the government views the lockdown as a magic wand that will result in the identification of hidden cases and has not been responsive to the opinion of the experts. The government's current philosophy is seemingly that desperate times call for desperate measures. The President's wife in a public address to the people attributed the current outbreak to their sins. She is a trained health personnel.

In the country's interior the district and chiefdom authorities are also seriously preparing for the three day lockdown. Honorable Abu Jajua of Segbwema reported the distribution on Saturday of 500 bags of rice and cooking utensils to the people by the Chiefdom Ebola Task Force which includes health authorities, the MP, the Paramount Chief  Sheriff Coker Jajua and other key stakeholders. Honorable Jajua reported that effort has been made to deliver food to all quarantined houses in the constituency. The MP also ensured the distribution of rice to Njaluahun citizens living in Kenema.

As we await the result of the lockdown, the Segbwema Blog will continue to monitor the situation and provide propaganda free reports and assessments.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ebola and the People: Liberia and Sierra Leone

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
"Mama Ellen "
Liberia and Sierra Leone, the 2nd and 3rd country to officially be afflicted with the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, are also the two countries that have been hardest hit. While in Sierra Leone official incompetence was the primary factor for the rapid spread of the virus combined with public ignorance, in Liberia, the reverse is true. In Liberia, the people have been the main problem.
Monkey Hunter
"Ebola dar lie meh"

From the moment Ebola entered Liberia, the government of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has been totally engaged in exploring viable options for its eradication. Unlike neighboring Sierra Leone were reports of the outbreak were first met by denial and bogus statements from a hapless minister and initial silence on the part of the President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf quickly joined in the public education campaign and was quick to call upon international partners for assistance. Where the Sierra Leone health ministry initially tried to create the semblance of efficiency in the absence of none, the Liberian government quickly informed the international community that her country lacked the structural capacity, both in terms of manpower and infrastructure to cope with the crisis. There was soon a trickle of volunteer foreign healthcare personnel entering the country to lend their expertise to the fight.
Boiling Bush Meat

Unfortunately for "Mama Ellen" however (as she is locally called), the Liberian people have been the problem. Liberia is a country of strongly opinionated people, even when they are wrong. As the first country with modern government in West Africa and a country that was never truly colonized, the Americo-Liberians who ruled the country for a century before the Samuel Doe coup of 1980 never really paid a lot of attention to modernizing the country beyond their own areas. In many parts of Liberia, traditional ways of life and beliefs were the norm and even today the situation is largely true. The war also resulted in the rise of a group of hard headed youths who listened to nobody.
President Koroma
"At least De pipul dae listen"

When news got out that Ebola was spread by wild bats and bush meat, many Liberians thumbed up their noses at the suggestion. Liberians have a particular fondness for bush meat, monkey meat being a national delicacy. Telling the native Liberian to stay away from monkey meat is like telling an American to stay away from burger. On the social video sharing platform YouTube, there are hundred of videos of defiant young Liberians chewing bush meat, posted to tell everybody that they did not believe Ebola was caused by bush meat and they would not obey anybody telling them to refrain from indulging in the pleasure of its consumption. Some are even bragging about eating bush meat on the videos and telling those telling them not to do so to simply bug off. This combination of ignorance and arrogance  has been an important factor explaining why in spite of the appeals and moves by "Mama Ellen," Liberia has been hardest hit.

A remarkable incident that may have accelerated the rapid spread of the virus in the country's capital was the decision by some particularly foolhardy and reckless individuals to raid an Ebola clinic, releasing patients and stealing Ebola infected mattresses and blankets from the isolation unit. Though the patients were eventually rounded up and the areas where the culprits came from isolated, the damage was already done.  The spread of Ebola in Liberia is now beyond the capacity of the country's health officials and even the defense minister has publicly stated that the virus is now a threat to national security and survival. It was reported last week that the Liberian economy has slid into Ebola fueled recession.

Just a few days ago, an Ebola patient died and was buried in a suburb of the country. The people, fearful that government officials were trying to bring Ebola to their area, went and dug up the corpse that had been buried with al Ebola safety protocols and dumped the carcass unceremoniously on the highway, saying that they did not want Ebola in their area.

The allocation of hundreds of millions of US dollars by the Obama administration and the involvement of the US military in the fight against Ebola in West Africa will be particularly welcome in the affected countries, but most especially in Liberia. The US military is highly experienced in setting up highly specialized field hospitals that can be quickly dismantled as soon as a crisis is over. Liberians also have very close historical ties with America and probably the people will listen more attentively to their traditional patrons.

Sierra Leone also continues to suffer from problems of ignorance of the disease, though not on the same magnitude as in their next door neighbor. This past weekend, on the weekly All Sierra Leone Diaspora Ebola Campaign Forum hosted by Mustapha Wai, (an Ebola discussion forum involving notable Sierra Leoneans,  public figures and citizens listening to the latest statistics and hearing from Sierra Leone government officials, radio hosts in Ebola areas and Ebola patients), the newly appointed Operational Coordinator of the Emergency Ebola Committee Steven Gaojia, recounted the story of a notable Imam who had died in a village in Pujehun district.
The Imam was a highly revered figure and widely known when he was alive. As is the custom among the deeply religious people of these areas, it is believed that when the corpse of a religious person has been washed, the water used to wash him confers blessing and helps kids learn. So after washing the corpse, the villagers proceeded to rub the water as potions. Tragically, the Imam had unknowingly died from Ebola and as of Saturday 35 cases were positive in the village and the whole area was under quarantine.

Though there is not much to brag about in the midst of this tragedy, at least, when it comes to the response of the people Sierra Leone is doing a little better than Liberia.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dr. Olivet Buck Passes Away in Sierra Leone

Dr. Olivet Buck
The fourth and only female doctor to have been infected with the virus in Sierra Leone died this morning, according to reports from health authorities in the capital Freetown.

There were moves being made to evacuate her to an Ebola treatment center in Hamburg,  Germany,  but the request made by the country's authorities to the World Health Organization ( WHO ) to sponsor her evacuation had been turned down. The WHO had opted instead to help her get the most advanced level of care right in Sierra Leone and had not ruled out the use of experimental drugs.
President Koroma and Dr. Buck

Unfortunately,  the doctor did not survive the outbreak and joins three other doctors Dr. Khan,  Dr. Cole and Dr Rogers as the fourth physician victim of this terrible scourge.

We will continue to pray for her family and the country and hope that God guides the country's leaders to find a way out of this Ebola death trap.

We will keep on hoping that our leaders always keep the following statements from the Scriptures in mind; "What does it pay a man, to gain the world and lose his soul? 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Journal of an Anonymous Liberian MSF Worker=Culled from the Guardian

The author is an aid worker for Médecins Sans Frontières who wished to remain anonymous
I wake up each morning – if I have managed to sleep – wondering if this is really happening, or if it is a horror movie. In decades of humanitarian work I have never witnessed such relentless suffering of fellow human beings or felt so completely paralysed and utterly overwhelmed at our inability to provide anything but the most basic, and sometimes less than adequate, care.
I am supervising the suspect tent, which has room for 25 patients who are likely to have Ebola – 80-90% of those we test have the virus. We administer treatment for malaria, start patients on antibiotics, paracetamol, multivitamins, rehydration supplements, food, water and juice while they wait for their results. Sometimes people have arrived too late and die shortly after arriving.
In one afternoon last week I watched five seemingly fit, healthy, young men die. I gave the first a bottle of oral rehydration solution and came back with another for the second. In the half a minute or so in which I had been away the first man died, his bottle of water spilt across the floor. The four others followed in quick succession.
We sometimes have to hold back tears but try to offer patients all the comfort that we can – especially if they are in their last moments. I cannot spend as much time as I would like with each of them due to the intense heat of the personal protective equipment and the sheer number of patients.
My colleagues in logistics are doing a fantastic job of building new extensions and hopefully, in the next week, we will increase our capacity further still. In the meantime, we are only open to admit patients for a couple of hours each day before all our beds are full again. Once admitted, patients spend 10-14 days with us, and if their body beats the virus – and they have three days in which they do not show symptoms – we perform another test to see if they have fully recovered.  
Unfortunately, people die before they even reach our centre. It is a difficult and dangerous procedure to remove a body from a vehicle and the team often has to do this many times a day. We have been forced to order an incinerator from Europe because the local crematorium cannot cope with the number of bodies.
Each day this week patients have recovered – in the early stages there were no survivors whatsoever. Yesterday seven people went home, including a young man who had painted the inside of one of our tents red when he arrived because he was bleeding so profusely. Our team had thought he had no hope of survival. It is lovely to see the patients going home with their certificate of discharge, though most have lost family members or friends, and can face stigma upon their return.
I believe MSF is doing a fantastic job, but we are only able to care for a minority of the people in Monrovia who have Ebola. We also work in the north of the country, but every county is now reporting cases and we have absolutely no capacity to respond.
It is extremely sad to see the indifference of the international community with regards to this epidemic. It is great to see an added interest and investment in research for vaccines, but we urgently need experts who are physically present and more structures on the ground here in West Africa, where the situation continues to be catastrophic.
The author is an aid worker for Médecins Sans Frontières who wished to remain anonymous.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

WHO Turns Down Sierra Leone Government Request

Police Check
Reports from the Associated Press (AP) indicate that the World Health Organization (WHO) has turned down a request from the Sierra Leone Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma for funds to evacuate Dr. Olivet Buck, the fourth local doctor in the country to come down with the dreaded Ebola virus and the first female medical doctor to be infected. It can be noted that the first three Sierra Leone doctors infected with the virus who were all treated at home have all lost their lives. However, all the foreign doctors infected and evacuated to their home countries have survived. Reports indicate that Dr. Olivet had been cleared for treatment in Germany, one of the countries with the state of the art medical facilities required to contain a virus like Ebola.
Keep Them Coming

If the AP reports are true, this would be a significant embarrassment for President Ernest Koroma who has converted the country's State House into Ebola donation central, with daily streams of private individuals, heads of parastatals, foreign diplomats and affluent citizens all heading to the President's office with checks in hand and photographers at standby for the opportunity to be photographed handing an Ebola check into the all too eager hands of the country's President.
One Hand Washes the Other
For a country whose president and and ministers are eager to hop on planes to attend chapter political party meeting in countries as far away as the United Kingdom and USA, the inability of the government to evacuate a doctor because of lack of funds is a disgrace beyond comprehension. Even as we speak, the only reason that is preventing members of the Sierra Leone government from traversing the globe attending every small conference they are invited to and charging the government per diem for doing so is the lack of availability of flights. 
Ebola Pay Day

If it is true that one of the country's doctors would be denied treatment because the country had to beg for funds from WHO in order for her to travel, this would be a terrible indictment of the country's leadership and a sign of dependency gone berserk. This is begging gone too far. Among even the poor, this is poverty with distinction.

Just today, Mary Greeley, an American right wing pundit went on social media to express justifiable outrage that the Sierra Leone government was busy receiving millions of dollars in Ebola aid and could not even afford to evacuate one if its own medical personnel,  but had to rely on someone else to do that for them. "Where are the millions we are sending these people? She railed. Information reaching thins blog is that Ebola is payday for political fraudsters like United Democratic Movement's Mohamed Bangura and many others all receiving Ebola cash while radio personnel in the interior remain disengaged.

Just fours days ago the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation announced that they were committing about 50 million dollars to combat the Ebola plague in West Africa, 10 million of which was already available to help combat the virus. The Gates foundation does not have a very pleasant perception of Sierra Leone, as just some months ago it suspended operations in the country accusing health officials of massive corruption in the provision of funds for the vaccination of the country's children. There was much huff and puff by the government at the time and many officials were brought to trial. As is now so pattern the country's Anti Corruption Commission bungled the prosecution and most of the culprits were let off the hook.

According to the AP, the letter from the President's office to the WHO stated that he had approved the evacuation of Dr. Buck to a hospital in the German city of Hamburg and the hospital was on the ready to receive her. Turning down the request, the WHO said that they will work to ensure that Dr. Buck gets the best possible care right there in Sierra Leone. A spokesperson for WHO Tarik Jasarevic in an emailed statement replied that, "WHO is unable to organise evacuation of this doctor to (Germany) but is exploring all options on how to ensure best care. WHO will facilitate the best care possible in country for Dr Buck, including access to experimental drugs,” 

WHO recently had some issue with the country's health officials when they opted to treat Ebola patients with the nanosilver concoction that was now being fraudulently peddled to West African leaders as an efficacious treatment against a Ebola, the veracity of which claim WHO does not endorse.

As of now the citizens of Sierra Leone will continue to pray for the female doctor and hope that the care promised to her by the WHO will be forthcoming.
No Money for Evacuation? 

Good News in the Fight Against Ebola in Sierra Leone

Some good news in the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone at last. Yesterday at a news conference in Geneva, the WHO announced that the Cuban government of President Raul Castro has committed 165 medical personnel,  including 63 physicians to the fight against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  The other medical personnel to be dispatched will be infectious disease specialists,  intensive care specialists and social mobilization officers.

Cuban Minister of Public Health
Roberto Morales Ojeda 

According to Cuban Minister of Public Health Roberto Morales Ojeda who also happens to be the WHO's President of the World Health Assembly, the 165 medical personnel will be dispatched to Sierra Leone for an initial commitment of 6 months.
Responding to the great humanitarian gesture,  the World Health Organization Director General Dr. Margaret Chan expressed extreme gratitude to the Cuban Government and the health care personnel for their generosity. Cuba is renowned for the excellence of its health sector and turn out a high number of health personnel who are highly qualified and proficient in responding to medical crisis in underdeveloped countries.
Sierra Leone President
Ernest Bai Koroma

This deployment will be a welcome relief to Sierra Leone, as the country's Health resources have been put under considerable strain since the outbreak was first reported around the second quarter of the year. The team of 63 physicians will really be welcome as the lead doctors in the fight against the disease have been exposed to the virus. Three of them have already died and arrangements are been made by the government to send the fourth one, a female doctor, out of the country for treatment in Germany. The risk of caring for Ebola victims has put health care workers in the country under a great deal of pressure and stress. The Cuban personnel will be highly welcome.
3 Day Government

This month, there will be a three day lockdown of the entire country of Sierra Leone to allow a house to house Ebola sensitization and awareness campaign. Few exceptions will be made to the mobility of people and many are already stocking up on essential items in preparation.
UN Secretary General
Ban Ki Moon

The international response to the Ebola epidemic follows a direct appeal by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to nations around the world to rise up and help the afflicted countries,  most of whose health care facilities have simply been totally overwhelmed by the scale of the current crisis. In neighboring Liberia,  the country has totally run out of beds to handle Ebola cases and the US military has volunteered to donate some field hospitals to that country. So far Cuba's offers is the most substantial offer of manpower to date.
WHO Director General
Dr Margaret Chan

Of the five West African countries that have had reported cases,  Liberia has been hardest hit by the virus.  The people initially ridiculed the outbreak as a scam and rebelled against the warning of eating bush meat. Some foolhardy individuals even raided and stole items from an Ebola clinic in the capital, making away with blankets soaked in Ebola infected blood. This reckless behavior help propel the spread of the virus and just a few days ago the Defense Minister stated that the outbreak threatened the country's very existence.  There are already signs of the Liberian economy sliding into recession.
In Sierra Leone,  the removal of the bumbling Health Minister Miatta Kargbo who was becoming more of a distraction and had lost the confidence of both the international community and the citizens has focused the fight against Ebola in the country. The Ebola task force headed by the President seem to be exploring a lot of options and really committed to finding a quick response to this plague.  The arrival of the Cubans will greatly facilitate the work of the task force.
Cuban Doctors

As Sierra Leoneans,  we all hope and pray that this crisis will end soon and people go back to the mundane routines of survival in Sierra Leone
Sheku Sheriff

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sierra Leone's Tough Year

Sierra Leone Ebola (BBC)
2014 will go down as one of the toughest years in peacetime post independent Sierra Leone, and we still have months about 4 months to go before the year is over.
President Koroma
A Tough Year

In the small tropical country of approximately 6 million people, a combination of natural disasters, official ineptitude, and lack of preparedness has resulted in a punishing year that will be remembered for many more to come.
Flooding in Suburb of

A seemingly random Ebola outbreak which started in Guinea and penetrated Sierra Leone probably around April encountered a health care system ill equipped to cope with a crisis of such magnitude. The result has been heartrending and the incidence is on the verge of becoming the most fatal International viral outbreak over the last four decades.
Flooding Kenema

The nature of the Ebola virus confounds even the most advanced health care systems in the world. The Sierra Leone health care system, weakened by years of war, poor funding, lack of supplies,  inadequate training, systematic mismanagement and absurd levels of corruption, has  proved no match for the highly virulent disease.
Sierra Leoneans in USA
Discussing Ebola

Not only was the Sierra Leone health infrastructure unprepared to handle a crisis of such magnitude, the presence of a totally unqualified minister with no health credentials, who ordered infected patients to be transported from isolated remote regions to urban areas and could not even have a team in place to check the expiration dates on Ebola test kits, helped the virus spread like hunger in the stomach of the homeless.
Ebola Victim Dr Modupeh Cole

The outbreak was met by denials, ignorance, poor decision making and in some instances pure recklessness even on the part of those who ought to know better. Trained medical personnel not only underestimated the nature of the Ebola plague, they may have knowingly contributed to its rapid dissemination all in a bid to enrich themselves. A lab technician in Kenema where the first domestic testing center was located stands accused of taking money to falsify positive Ebola test results in what can only be described as a dangerous display of greed, stupidity and recklessness. Cases of nurses with no experience with Ebola secretly caring for patients and exposing their families,  acquaintances and themselves to the painful death Ebola hands down is common in the areas where the virus first surfaced.

Even the country's President, who is notable for his slow reactions to crisis, has now been pressurized by both extraneous factors and the constant complaints of the people to act. In the next few days he has ordered a 3 day complete lockdown of the entire country in a bid to move from house to house,  educating people about the virus. Apparently, not everybody has access to a radio.

This lockdown, a desperate move to stem the outbreak, has been criticized by health and economic experts around the world. The Presidential Ebola Task force has brushed these criticisms aside. These are desperate times and the President and the Ebola task force which he heads seem ready to try anything that comes to mind, regardless of how outlandish it may sound. At the very least, most of the people now believe that Ebola is real, is no gimmick and it kills. This may help people comply with the lockdown.

 The efficacy of locking down a whole country for three days in a society with very little electricity, pipe-borne water and a population mired in chronic poverty may have to be measured in the future, but for now the authorities are determined to go ahead with the lock down. Whatever economic and sanitary outcomes may result from this lock down will have to be determined in the near future.

When the outbreak occurred it took weeks for President Koroma to even address the issue on national radio. Unfortunately for Sierra Leoneans, the Ebola outbreak has now put president's much touted Agenda for Prosperity in danger of being nothing more than a pipe dream. For a man who loves travelling abroad frequently, he is now being forced to spend time in the country dealing with the realities on the ground as flights to the country have slowed down to a trickle.

Unfortunately as has always been the case with Ebola infactions, it is the poor health care workers in the country who are bearing the brunt of this particular outbreak. In a country with fewer than 3 doctors per 20000 people (and that is a generous estimate), the death in rapid succession of three highly qualified doctors; Dr. Khan, Dr. Cole and Dr. Rogers and the death of so many nurses represent a loss of crucial medical manpower that will impact health care in the country for many years to come. Reports from the country indicate that a female doctor has also just tested negative and there are petitions online to have her flown out for treatment.

As if the Ebola crisis is not enough, the country has over the past few weeks been inundated by some of the severest flooding that has been witnessed in decades. Freetown the capital of Sierra Leone is strategically located at the base of the rolling peninsula mountain ranges, with Mount Aureol towering over central Freetown. The vegetation on the mountain ranges have long acted as solid barriers to water runoff during the lengthy rainy season in the coastal areas. For decades, this has controlled soil erosion and prevented flooding. With the exponential growth of the Freetown population and an increased demand for building land, the ministry of lands has without any strategic protection plan allowed people to excavate these mountain ranges to build houses at such a pace that this natural cover no longer exists. The result this year is flooding of biblical proportions, drowning major areas of the capital under tons of water, restricting mobility and jeopardizing rapid Ebola response.

To add to the hillside erosion, new roads are been constructed with a focus on beautification and bragging rights rather than on effective drainage in a low lying city that is bounded by the mountain ranges on one side and the Atlantic ocean on the other. This poor urban planning has made the country vulnerable to even the smallest degree of rainfall. Freetown historically used to have days of rainfall with no incidence of flooding in the capital. As global warming becomes a problem and weather patterns become more unpredictable, Freetown may become a sitting target for a major weather related crisis if steps are not taken to address urban planning. For now the people will just have to appeal to the mercy of nature. This September areas of Freetown such as Congo Cross, Kru Bay, Dundas Street and many coastal areas have been hit with massive flooding. The authorities have lacked the capacity to meaningfully respond, just waiting for fate to mercifully intervene.

Flooding has not also spared the interior as illegal logging, involving people high up in the government has depleted much of the natural forest cover that used to protect the country from torrential rainfall. The loss of natural soil cover has exposed the soil in many areas allowing erosion in areas that used to be relatively free from the phenomenon. Towns like Pujehun and Kenema have been hit with floods, resulting in the destruction of millions of dollars worth of property and displacing many people in a country already plagued by disease and poverty.

2014 will go down as a tough year for Sierra Leoneans,  a resilient people,  toughened by years of bombardment with natural and man made troubles. But as it always happens the people will pull through.  As Sierra Leoneans are fond of saying,  "kaka long tay e go cut." But before it does. .......

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Institutional Corruption in Sierra Leone

Former Chief of State and Artful Forger
Dr. Richard Konteh
"Not bribery but culture"
The focus of most corruption watchers in Africa is almost always on politicians. In our country Sierra Leone, the most widely trumpeted cases on electronic, print and social media are almost always those involving prominent politicians or political appointees. Most of the prominent cases of corruption in Sierra Leone over the past year involved government ministers, mayors of the country's cities or urban settlements, revenue commissioners and so on.

What these sensational prime time media reports unwittingly convey is the idea of a honest society in which mostly the political class is corrupt; nothing could be further from the truth. In Sierra Leone, corruption permeates every institution, public and private. From the illiterate market woman who grounds rotten cola nuts and mixes it pepper to sell as cayenne pepper in the streets, to the roast beef seller killing stray dogs and selling it as roast beef, to the nurse who pilfers medications meant for patients, corruption in Sierra Leone is all is all encompassing and is the foundation of the panoply of issues facing the beautiful country.

At the educational level, a simple survey of students in Sierra Leone given scholarships to study abroad will reveal a system in which students with the best results in the country may not even be considered, regardless of whether these students come from families buried up to their necks in poverty. As long as you don't have political connection in Sierra Leone, you could be as intelligent as Einstein and still have no access to educational assistance. The award of foreign scholarships in Sierra Leone is so rotten that the names of those awarded are hardly ever made public. The award of scholarships at the country's local colleges follows the same pattern.
Police Inspector General Francis Munu

At the level of the judiciary, the a Sierra Leone legal system is a nightmare for the poor. Poor have no right under the legal system. People without money or influence could be arrested and locked up for months without due process and nobody cares. Sierra Leone's legal system is so corrupt that a a rich plaintiff will actually tell a poor defendant that "I will see that you are locked up for two years," and it happens. The political class will call a judge presiding over a case and dictate to them how a case should be decided and the judge will willingly comply. Poor people are only needed around election periods for the might of their numbers.

 A very public example of the decadent nature of Sierra Leone's judiciary happened in 2012 when the member of parliament of my constituency Kailahun Constituency 7, Robin Farlay who was an opposition MP at the time was apprehended and accused of voter registration malpractice. He was locked up like a common criminal and held without bail. As he was about to be prosecuted, he decided to defect to the ruling party. As soon as he made the announcement that he was defecting to the ruling party, the case against him was suddenly dropped, he was automatically given the ruling APC party symbol to contest as a their candidate and is today the deputy national campaign coordinator for the party. He was even on a short-list of Ministers to replace the Eastern Resident Minister who died some months ago. There are hundred of such instances in Sierra Leone, where power and money are all that are required to bend the law to your will in the country.
Chief Justice Umu Hawa Tejan-Jalloh

If the Sierra Leone judiciary is a nightmare, the police is a 10 hour-long horror movie. If ever there was a single institution that was the poster child for institutional corruption in a Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone police will earn that award with distinction. I have seen with my own eyes people go to the police with a case and be told to go buy a pen and paper just for their statements to be taken. 

Kailahun District Chairman
Alex Bhonapha
Just this week the Chairman of Kailuhun District a Council, a lawyer by the name of Alex Bhonapha had his premises invaded by trigger happy police officers shooting wildly into the air. Kailahun district is the epicenter of the current Ebola outbreak and the movement of people in the distract has been severely limited due to a state sanctioned quarantine and the police are in charge of monitoring compliance. The Chairman received reports that some police officers were taking bribes to allow the movement of people, which caused the chairman to complain to the a Local Unit Commander (LUC). The response was for police to invade his compound threatening his life and that of his family.

 In 2009, Sierra Leone scored 2.2 on a 10 point country corruption scale with 10 being the least corrupt and 0 being most corrupt. This corruption figure was then heavily disputed by the lead government spokesperson at the time Dr. Richard Konteh. Who at that time stated that people simply did not understand African culture. Dr. Konteh is now removed from office and facing prosecution for forging the President's signature on official documents in direct violation of government imposed export restrictions and pocketing huge sums of money from bribery in the process. Currently the President is under immense pressure from prominent members of the disgraced Chief of Staff's tribe to drop the charges against him.

Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer measures public opinion on corruption in countries around the world by seeking information on corruption from representative samples in the countries. In 2013 the global sample was 114,000 people in 107 countries. The in Sierra Leone  sample size in 2013 was 1028 and face to face interviews were conducted. Ambiguous responses were discarded and the data analyzed by both the Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin Germany and verified by an independent statistical analysts for validity. 

In Sierra Leone  in 2013, 89% of the respondents reported that they had been asked for a bribe during the time period under consideration. Sierra Leone which led the bribery scale last improved to 3rd  place, with Malawi and Burundi now leading with 95% and 90% respectively, thank God for small mercies! Comparatively, only 2% of respondents in Japan reported that they were asked to pay a bribe within the same time period.

On the perception of corruption in the Sierra Leone in 2013, 26% of the respondents said that it has increased a lot, 39% say that corruption is a serious problem while 4% said that it is not a serious problem. 57% of respondents said that the government is run by few individuals acting in their own best interests while 12% either slightly disagree or said not at all. The bright spot is that 51% say the government is taking effective steps to fight corruption, while 49% either deny or are unsure.
Most Corrupt Institution in Sierra Leone

Looking at corruption by institution in Sierra Leone 79% of Sierra Leoneans believe that the police are corrupt followed closely by 74% who say the judiciary is corrupt. The educational system is the third most corrupt with 64% of Sierra Leoneans thinking it is corrupt. The most highly regarded national institution was the military with only 33% of the respondents thinking that the military was corrupt. The military was tied with NGOs. The least corrupt in the country according to perception were churches and mosques with 18%. 

The immense corruption of the country's police and judiciary  is remarkable for the fact that 90% of respondents reported paying bribes to the police and 82% to the judiciary. 

When the judiciary and the police of a country are the most corrupt law and order become selective and justice become a privilege accorded to the few. Ministers in Sierra Leone and those close to him can pick up the phone and call the police and tell them to go arrest anybody and they will do so without question, compliant like a sheep, fearful of losing their jobs. A prominent politician and lawyer who challenged the President's wife over his own piece of land was arrested and locked up for several days on the bogus claim that he had made threats against national security. It was only when his family went to the President and begged him that he was released. No charges were ever filed. 

The only good news about the corruption in Sierra Leone is that occasionally some big fish would be caught in the corruption net in in the country. Unfortunately the Anti-Corruption Commission usually bungles the cases and is now the best example of the worst Ant-Corruption agency in West Africa. 

The mistake the President who set up the commission President Ahmed Kabba made, was that he failed to realize that those succeeding him would not have the same sense of morality and zeal to fight corruption that he had. Today the ACC is a lame duck presided over by a close ally of the powers that be. Until the  ACC becomes independent of political influence and it finds a way to regulate or highlight corruption in the police and judiciary on the country, Sierra Leone has no relief for the common man over the foreseeable future. 

As of now, there is no hope for the hopeless, no mercy for the merciless. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Congratulations to Sierra Leone Grammar School

I am pleased to announce that my esteemed alma mater, the Sierra Leone Grammar School led the country in this year's West African Senior School exams. The Sierra Leone Grammar School, once known as the CMS Grammar School is the oldest secondary school in Sub-Saharan Africa with an unsullied history of excellence. It was the premier educational institution during the colonial era.

For over a century, the Sierra Leone Grammar School has provided the country and the international community with excellent professionals in all spheres of life, managing to do so while keeping a low profile and being notorious only for the consistent nature of its academic excellence and the international reputation of its graduates.
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Even as the educational sector in Sierra Leone has experienced considerable decline due to civil conflicts, declining economic output and incomes, a disregard of the importance of education in development and massive brain drain caused by many excellent Sierra Leoneans going abroad to seek better socioeconomic opportunities, Grammar School has over the years neither faltered nor stumbled, but continues to be a trailblazer in the academic arena in West Africa.

Having grown up on Cockle Bay road in Murray town, my first school secondary school of choice in primary school was Sierra Leone Grammar school for my selective entrance examinations. However my Guardian was adamant that I had to go to the Bo School to be "disciplined."
Historic Sierra Leone Grammar School

 I grudgingly left Freetown for Bo School to start secondary education on a Sierra Leone government Scholarship. Sending me to Bo Scool was a decision I will always be grateful for, as Bo School is simply a diamond of a school. In Bo School I was taught social responsibility, community engagement and the principle that the pain of your society will always be your pain. I have been in leadership positions everywhere I have worked in my adult life and have always comported myself with distinction. These are traits I owe to Bo school. I did three memorable years in Bo School and then went back to my hometown Segbwema and completed "O" Levels at the Wesley Secondary School school.
School Alumni

After my "O" levels my childhood dream of attending Grammar School became a reality when I was accepted there to do my "A" Levels. There were many naysayers when I applied, saying that Grammar School was for Krios. However, I persevered. The sixth form in Grammar School those days was very difficult to be accepted into, as it was very small and naturally the Grammar School boys got the first preference. However I was lucky to be accepted on academic merit, and graduated from there after two years with "A" Levels. 
Modern School Classrooms
Murray Town

I will always be grateful to the principal at the time, an excellent human being, Mr. Akiwanda J. Lasite, who is easily one of the most upright human beings I have come across in all my years on earth. The two years education I received in Grammar school was in retrospect the most difficult educational period in my life, bar none. Barring any unfortunate eventuality, any student who completed sixth form at Gramnar school then was bound to graduate from University. In those day, Grammar School made sure that its Upper Sixth class was more difficult than the first year of any university. As most of my friends can attest, my first year at Fourah Bay College was primarily spent sitting under Wisdom Tree discussing current events.
School in Session

This year according to reports, Sierra Leone Grammar School led the country in International senior school exams followed by Prince of Wales, Annie Walsh and Albert Academy respectively. Annie Walsh is the female counterpart of Sierra Leone Grammar School, another historic institution that the current government is planning to move from its current location in order to open a street market.

Sierra Leone Grammar School was established on 25th March 1845 by the Church Missionary Society at Regent Squire, hence the name "Regentonia". It is the first formal secondary school in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Samsung Launches Galaxy Note 4 and Edge

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

Well I don't just blog about current events and politics, I am also a huge technophile. So let's get into it. Today,  mobile phone technology.

I love both Android and iOS. I used to love my iPhones,  but now you won't catch me dead using one. However on September 9th, with the launch of the iPhone 6 that may well change as Apple launches what is rumored to be a phone with a 5" or bigger screen.  The only iOS device I still have is my tablet.  I still think the Apple ipad is the best tablet by far and even though there are hundreds of tablets using Android and Windows operating systems,  no tablet in my opinion comes close to the user experience of iOS on the iPad.
Sony Xperia Z3
When it comes to smartphones however, its a completely different story. Don't get me wrong,  the iPhone is pretty impressive in terms of specs and user experience and is particularly good for people who just want to use their phones to make call, use basic apps and take pictures. Android however allows more customization and an overall better user experience than iOS and the regular updates makes the guys at Google create what people want.

Someone asked me what in my opinion was the difference main between an Android phone and an iPhone. In my opinion,  the main difference is that Android phones are made based on what people really want and iPhones represent what Apple thinks people want. That to me is a big difference.
It is only because the iPhone is being clobbered by rivals in major smartphone markets that Apple has now decided to launch a big screen iPhone. Otherwise,  they have stuck with a 4" screen for all the past years, even when a lot of people are now using their phones as major viewing devices. Sometimes when I see people straining their eyes on a 4" iPhone screen, I truly feel sorry for them.

The second great advantage Android over iOS is that it is an open system, allowing many manufacturers to build phones around the operating system (OS). So while we are waiting for Apple to finally announce a big screen iPhone on September 9th, just today Wednesday September 3rd,  two Android phones have been launched that will give the iPhone 6 a real run for the money.

Today at separate events Samsung and Sony released flagship Android devices that will put a major dent in the iPhone's plan to once again be the industry leader.

Sony released the Sony Xperia Z3, a beautiful flagship 5.2" phone with a 20.7 megapixel camera, a 2.5 Quad-core processor and a 3100mAh battery that boasts up to 48 hours of life in Stamina mode. It can be dropped in 1.5 meters of water for 30 minutes with no problem and is also dust proof. The lens on the camera is taken from Sony DSLR lines and the pictures are just beautiful and better than a lot of compact cameras today.  This phone is released just six months after the impressive Sony Xperia Z2.  It can also stream PS4 videos.

Samsung Galaxy Edge and Note 4
Of course I'm a Samsung fan. I still have the old Samsung Galaxy S4. The Galaxy S5 in my opinion was just the S4 refined for Samsung to make money. The changes were only minimally incremental. Most fans of the Galaxy S line like myself who were waiting for the Galaxy S5 were really disappointed when it came out earlier this year. The specs were totally disappointing.  The Galaxy S5 is a great phone for people who were upgrading from the S3, but it was simply not worth an upgrade from the S4, unless you had a few dollars to burn.

Today however,  Samsung released two new phones, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the Galaxy Note Edge that are a true upgrade of the beloved Samsung Galaxy Note 3 released just last year.
Apple really has its work cut out, as the Galaxy Note 4 is now the phone to beat. The phones were announced today in Berlin along with other Samsung devices such as the  Samsung Gear S a powered smart watch and health mate and the brand new Samsung Gear VR,  which allows you to use your Galaxy Note 4 as a virtual reality viewing device.

Samsung Gear VR

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 now has a metal frame with the faux leather at the back. It has a beautiful 5.7"Quad HD resolution Super Amoled display with 3 GB RAM and a 16MP camera. The Galaxy Note Edge has a rounded edge which allows you to view the screen in a totally new way.
iPhone 5s

To see the danger that these new devices pose to Apple, the company's shares fell today by 3% upon the announcement of the new Samsung devices. Apples share are now trading at $99.75 a loss of $20 billion dollars of market value. If the Apple iPhone 6 is not truly revolutionary,  it will be in trouble as it is being bombarded on all sides by premium Android devices from Samsung,  Sony,  HTC, Motorola,  Nokia and Huawei.

We will just have to wait and see what Apple has in stock for September 9th and I hope it is truly a huge leap forward,  otherwise they are in big trouble. When Steve Jobs was alive, Apple's shares used to be around $500.00.
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