The people of Liberia and the West African region face an existential threat. The threat has implications beyond the sub-region and the African continent. The Ebola crisis constitutes a threat to international peace and security. It is far past time for the world community to step up its engagement from a “public health emergency of international concern” to a Chapter Seven Mandate to “Deliver as One.”
The evidence of the threat is abundant since the Ebola outbreak began making headlines worldwide a few months ago – the unfolding drama in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea with the decimation of large population segments, destruction of cherished human values, human insecurity on an unprecedented scale, including the absence of medical attention to non-Ebola ailments. Add to this the potential that if unchecked in time the virus could mutate, become transmissible and present a clearer and more present danger. Already some have begun to speak of a shift from linear growth to exponential, citing possibilities of 20,000 to 100,000 casualties in the months immediately ahead.
Led by the international scientific community, notably Medecins Sans Frontieres, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, among others, the nature of the disease has been focused and treatment requirements made clear. Even more, a host of private and governmental personnel is in the fields battling the disease and its devastating consequences for the affected populations now bearing the brunt.
If one can speak of a measure of progress registered in the fight by national, regional and global actors, it is equally clear that the opportunities of this challenge loom large. The small battles won (cases of recovery and the continuing efforts being deployed) have yet to add up, to make a significant dent in this devastating war. There are encouraging headlines such as “Obama Commits ‘Military Assets’ for Ebola Health Care Surge,” “Italy Aids Ebola Fight – Sends Mobile Lab Team, Food, Drugs,” “EU announces 140 million Euros Ebola Response Package.” All of this in addition to reported plane loads of supplies arriving from China, from the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.
A few weeks ago the UN Secretary General named Dr. David Navarro, a British Physician as his Special Envoy to West Africa with a mandate to stop the spread of the disease. No doubt serious work is underway to which we are not privy. What seems clear, however, is that the impact of that work has yet to be felt on the ground if one judges from the alarming reports pouring in daily from the fields, including a warning from the WHO that thousands of new cases will come to light in the coming weeks.
While Liberians and West Africans appreciate the “international public health emergency” measure that Dr. Navarro’s mandate is addressing, developments in the fields, among the populations in the affected West African countries require a ratcheting up of effort to Chapter 7 Mandate with a UN Security Council Resolution declaring the Ebola situation a threat to international peace and security and calling forth the requisite measures to containing the threat.
Here is what this would mean:
1. That the national and regional efforts would benefit from a more robust global effort underpinned by political commitment at the highest level, including the possible re-activation of the civil war-era International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL) to lead and monitor implementation of the Security Council Resolution;
2. Robust command and control infrastructure replete with an epidemic response force comparable to UNMIL at the height of its operations in the country, as opposed to its current drawdown posture;
3. The “Deliver as One” doctrine would enable decision-making and implementation mechanism that would gather all of the pieces of the international effort and direct them to the goal of reversing the current trend of spread of the disease;
4. Envisage a division of labor where appropriate assets could be brought to bear in particular circumstance. For example, given the historic role of the US in Liberia, it would play certain central roles, as would Britain in the case of Sierra Leone.
5. Such highly coordinated actions by governments and governmental organizations could lead to change in behavior of the international private sector such as the airlines industry, the shipping industry, even expert workers engaged in foreign direct investment activities in the affected countries.
The thrust of what I am suggesting is that the global community would –in a more supportive role, backstopping governments and regional organizations – be delivering as one.
We appeal to African leaders of conscience, African leaders of earned credibility to step forward and make this happen. I have in mind non-government leaders taking the lead in exciting action on part of global leaders through the instrumentality of the United Nations. These include, but are not limited to, former Nigerian Presidents Abdulsalam Alhaji Abubakar and Olusegun Obasanjo, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, former Mozambique President Jacquim Chissano, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, Nelson Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and our own Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee.
What this means is nothing short of a coordinated effort at national, regional and global levels driven by the need to “deliver as one.” This is not “outsourcing” of national responsibility. This is the nation and the region availing themselves of critical international collaborative crisis leadership. For after all, when the crisis subsides, it will be national governments and their peoples who will remain to pick up the pieces as they learn lessons from this horrific experience. And the world community would have contributed to saving the lives of many West Africans while averting the prospect of the Ebola virus mutating, becoming transmissible, and therefore posing even greater threats to international peace and security.
By D. Elwood Dunn, Retired Liberian Academic
Center For Policy Studies (Liberia)
A draft of this piece was originally published in The Liberian Observer
Cartoon Credit: Chase Walker