A few months ago I caught a cold, the normal flu. But this came with a splitting headache that made it impossible for me to do virtually anything. So I spent the next few days in bed. The interesting thing was that I caught this particular flu strain from my young toddler daughter, who had also caught it from one of her siblings. As flu goes, within about a week, my entire family had wet noses and was sniffling and sneezing all over the house.
In the throes of my pain and discomfort, I started to thank God for giving us the flu and not something more serious. I reflected on the Ebola virus that had ravaged through countries close to mine and devastated homes and families in one fell swipe. I gave thanks to God for the flu and reflected on how Ebola had come close to my home and literally ‘passed over’ us.
At the beginning of the Ebola crisis in Liberia, my elder brother was the Deputy Commanding Officer of a 900 man United Nations Force in Liberia. They were based on the border area between Liberia and Sierra Leone (Bong, Lofa and Nimba Counties). Incidentally, this was the area through which Ebola spread from Sierra Leone to Liberia. He had been assigned there in December the previous year for a six month tour of duty which was to have ended in August 2014.
Getting to the end of his tour of duty, then Ebola struck! We were all waiting for him to return in time for the birth of his daughter, scheduled two weeks after his arrival in September. Then Ebola struck Liberia! Big Brother’s contingent of 900 soldiers return to Ghana was delayed week after week as the United Nations and the Heads of State of Ghana and Liberia battled with whether to permit Big Brother’s contingent to return to Ghana and be replaced by a fresh contingent or keep them there in Liberia for another six months or more, after all, they were already exposed to the risk!! The challenge for Big Bro as Deputy Commander of the force was how to keep 900 strong and virile Ghanaian soldiers confined to the barracks for weeks on end with absolutely no contact with the local Liberians who might be carriers of the deadly strain.
Back home in Ghana, we, his family were in serious prayers, first for his and his entire contingent to come home safely, because, knowing the historical relationship between Ghanaian soldiers and Liberian women, it was near impossible that none of the soldiers would defy the orders to remain in camp and steal out into town to bid farewell to a cherished lady friend, and by doing that, inadvertently bring the Ebola virus into the UN camp. We fasted, we prayed and waited upon the Lord as their return was delayed day in and day out. Secondly, we prayed that he will come back home in time to share in the birth of his daughter.
After several weeks of uncertainty and diplomatic back and forth, the green light was given for the entire contingent to return to Ghana. All the soldiers and their property returned to Ghana safe and Ebola free!! Less than one week after his arrival, we witnessed the birth of a bouncy baby girl who weighed 4.0kg.
One of my sisters also lived with her family of four and worked in Conakry, the capital of Guinea. Guinea was the epicentre of Ebola and the start point. In June 2014, my sister and her young son left her husband in Conakry to visit relatives in Europe. She was six months pregnant at the time she left. Due to the uncertainty of the health systems in Conakry she delayed her return until the birth of her daughter, hoping that the Ebola Crisis will be over by the time her baby was old enough to travel. Six months later in December, 2014, the crisis was still raging and had spread from Guinea to Liberia, Sierra Leone with isolated cases in Mali and Nigeria. She was faced with a dilemma. Continue to stay in Europe, leaving her job and her husband in Conakry for as long as possible or return to Guinea with her toddler son and new born baby and take the risk of Ebola. After weighing the odds, she chose to return to Guinea where she had a life, family and a good job.
First, it was difficult to get any flights that would connect her to Conakry as most airlines had cancelled their flights to all of West Africa, not only Guinea. When she finally got an airline which had a stop in Conakry, she recounts that airline staff were shocked that she would choose to take her young children back into the uncertainty and stories of death that the Western media had spun around the Ebola Crisis!
Prevail she did, and thankfully, the virus passed over her, her family members and their friends in Conakry, her fellow colleagues at work, the pupils in her son’s school and even her household staff.
Other stories about family members and Ebola in Mali as well as an aborted peace keeping mission to Liberia in early 2015 for another family member shows how connected we all became to this continental crisis and how through it all, we became stronger and more united.
In the Old Testament book of Numbers, Moses and the Israelites go to battle against the Midianites with twelve thousand men, a thousand from each tribe. The Israelites won the battle. The most striking thing about this story is in the verse 49 where the army commanders came to Moses and reported that they have counted the men under their command and ‘not one is missing!!’. Twelve thousand men go to war against the Midianites and not one single soldier dies. Our God is indeed still in the miracle making business.
While I tell stories of gratitude, I also painfully recognise that a lot of families suffered as result of Ebola and many lost loved ones. We also remember the healthcare professionals who took their oath seriously in the care of Ebola patients and paid the highest price. These include Dr. Willoughby of Sierra Leone, Dr. Micheal Kargbo and Dr. Stella Adadevor of Nigeria. We remember your sacrifice and bless your families and their generations for your works. As Wole Soyinka will say, ‘may their shadows never shrink’. I also recognise that there are many untold stories of bravery, survival, compassion and hope that will stand the test of time and be told within families and communities. These stories must continue to be told. We must never forget so that we never repeat the mistakes of the past.
The Africa Union’s Agenda 2063 speaks of a vision of a peaceful, prosperous and integrated Africa and the seven aspirations are drafted to reflect Africa’s desire for shared prosperity and well-being, for unity and integration, for a continent of free citizens and expanded horizons, where the full potential of women and youth, boys and girls are realized, and with freedom from fear, disease and want. Ebola gave us a reason as a continent to put Agenda 2063 into practice in a way that connected all levels of Africans- the pan African institutions, individual nations and at the lowest levels, continental citizens and families such as mine.
Ebola became a by-word for West Africa. In the rhetoric of rallying support to help stop Ebola was the tacit international quarantine that all West Africans suffered. Flights stopped flying to ‘West Africa’. Anyone from ‘West Africa’ on a flight had to be monitored. Indeed, even my Ghanaian friends in the diaspora cancelled their visits back home because there were travel bans to ‘West Africa’. West Africa therefore had to look inwards and support ourselves. I salute the Ghanaian government for making Accra for hosting the UN emergency Ebola Response Centre.