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History of Ebola in Liberia

28 April 2016 at 05:51 | 5326 views


History of Ebola in Liberia: A Case of Under-Development

By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II, Monrovia, Liberia.

On April 1, 2016, Ebola resurfaced in Liberia.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare had confirmed that a 30 year old lady had died of the virus while being taken to the Redemption Hospital in Monrovia. Many people were surprised by this event.

A day before, WHO had stated that Ebola was no longer an international health emergency in Liberia and about three months ago this year, the organization re-declared Liberia Ebola free for the third time. I have thought it wise to document and put into historical perspective the major events of Ebola in Liberia and to draw my conclusions on Ebola in Liberia.

I was in a gym in March 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia, when the radio announced that Ebola was in Liberia. Most people in Liberia did not know about Ebola nor had they heard of it in their lives. The general view was that Ebola did not exist in Liberia. This denial was shared not only by ordinary Liberians but also by some government officials.

By June, however, it became a reality that Ebola was in Liberia and had killed people. I was concerned and afraid; I had just come home from the US for a visit. Lofa County reported the first victims. The virus spread into other counties. Lofa registered the highest death rate followed by Montserrado, the largest county in Liberia.

The disease got serious attention in July with the infection of American doctors Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. The doctors contracted Ebola while working in Liberia and were immediately flown to the US. Also, the death of Liberian prominent physician Dr. Samuel Brisbane and of Liberian born US citizen Patrick Sawyer of the disease in July brought national seriousness to the virus.

Sawyer was infected in Liberia and died in Lagos, Nigeria. His contraction of the disease caused the death of seven other people in Nigeria. On July 30th, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced to the nation the reality of Ebola and gave $5 million as government’s initial donation to fight the virus.

Because of the crisis, the president also cancelled a scheduled trip to the US. On August 6th, she declared a state of emergency, closing schools, reducing the number of civil servants on duty, creating Ebola public awareness and establishing a special task force for Ebola.

Although the president received high public praises for the pronouncements, the death rate of the virus in Liberia continued to increase. For instance, up to August 2014, since the outbreak, over 1075 Ebola victims died: 380 in Guinea, 340 in Sierra Leone, 413 in Liberia and 8 in Nigeria.

The rate increased 356% in Liberia from 116 reported on July 24th, making Liberia the highest affected country in the sub- region. By September 17, the death rate rose to 1670 as the disease extended to additional counties, particularly Nimba. This spread was more worrisome and scary, for Nimba is the second largest populated county in the country.

Moreover, like other counties, it did not at that time have an Ebola testing and treatment center. Nine family members in a compound in Nimba died of the virus in the first few days of the disease. The remaining members were rushed to Monrovia for treatment, though the city had limited health services.

By December, 2014, Ebola extended to the rest of the fifteen counties and the death rate of the epidemic increased to over 3000. What happened to the first five million dollars and subsequent millions which came in to fight Ebola? What caused the large increase, which surpassed that of other countries in the sub-region?

Liberia was ill-prepared to address the crisis. She denied having the virus and failed to institute appropriate measures in a timely manner to combat Ebola. Those measures would have entailed contact tracing, isolation of affected persons and immediate closing of the Guinean-Liberian border.

Hence, despite subsequent serious efforts, it was too late. The government was overwhelmed and was unable to stop the spread and increase. Moreover, as this paper will later demonstrate, the country lacked needed healthcare services to handle the crisis.

"Ebola exposed the Liberian government’s weak institutions," said Liberian economist Samuel Jackson.

Public advocate Henry Costa and other observers added that Ebola met a weak system and made it weaker. The New Democrat, a news paper in Liberia, indicated that decades of corruption, deep-rooted mistrust of government and weak public services in Liberia hastened the spread of the Ebola virus. Further, as Dr. Vuyu Golakai, dean of the School of Medicine in Liberia also observed, the Ebola Task force as initially structured contained too many politicians and lacked a medical advisory arm.

During the Ebola epidemic, there were bodies of Ebola victims in the streets of Monrovia. Many times the bodies stayed in the streets for days. New Kru Town, considered Liberia’s largest slum and West Point, another slum in Monrovia, were the hottest spots for Ebola. Many of their residents contracted Ebola.

New Kru Town, with a population about 75,000, has The Redemption Hospital, which serves the town and the Brewerville area at large, while West Point, in downtown Monrovia, has none.

Redemption Hospital was built by the PRC, the People Redemption Council, a military junta, which overthrew the Tolbert regime in 1980 and ended the True Whig Party and settlers’ rule of the country.

Prior to that, there was no hospital in the area for the poor. Like other hospitals in Liberia during the Ebola crisis, Redemption lacked many services, but it was the only available public health center for Ebola patients in Bushrod Island in Monrovia. Eight of the 180 plus healthcare workers who died of Ebola in the country came from this hospital.

Initially there was no government ambulance for Ebola. Saah Joseph, a Liberian legislator, operated a private ambulance, which he used in volunteering to help transport Ebola victims in Monrovia. Bodies of Ebola victims who died at home were not removed immediately. Sometimes it took days to pick up the bodies. Hospitals or clinics were closed.

As stated earlier, over 180 healthcare workers died of the virus, and they had no meaningful death benefits for their families. Ebola left about 4500 orphans. They suffer the most, causing some girl orphans to go into prostitution, according to reports.

For instance, Front Page Africa newspaper reported on the life of Ruth Peterson. She lost her mother, father and three siblings. She and two younger siblings survived. She had to sleep with men for food and other necessities and sponsor her siblings to school.

The disease also became a stigma. Some victims were ashamed and afraid to get treatment, while some with other illnesses, did not get treatment. They were victimized by Ebola.

"Everybody was just afraid of the virus," said an observer.

I too experienced this fear during my visit to Liberia in the heat of the disease. In 2015, I took my sick sister to Redemption Hospital. She was weak and heavier; she could not move and walk. No one could help me to lift her up from the car to the hospital.

"Will someone help me," I cried out. " I will pay," I added. But there was no response to my call. I wrote in an article about that titled, "Who or What Killed My Sister in Liberia? in the Sierra Leonean newspaper the Patriotic Vanguard and other publications. People were afraid of touching patients because of Ebola.

The story of Augustine Jallah and of other victims further typified the situation: Jallah’s wife showed signs or symptoms of Ebola. He drove her to the hospitals and clinics, but they were all closed, they were not accepting patients. He brought her home; she died in his arms.

A pregnant woman needing immediate delivery was refused treatment for fear of Ebola. She and her unborn baby died upon returning home. A mother died of Ebola at home, her child, a little girl, was also affected by the virus. The mother’s body was removed but the child was left alone in the house. She died later.

Besides health problems, Ebola had a serious economic impact on Liberia. The nation’s economy was not performing well. There were indications of economic meltdown before Ebola. Economic conditions got harder especially for the poor, as government revenues decreased significantly due to the closing of concessions, borders, some market places and the suspension of some shipping lines and airlines coming to Liberia because of Ebola. Consequently, necessary imported goods became scarce and commodity prices and unemployment increased.

While the economy was of concern, Ebola was on everyone’s mind. In August 2014, the government imposed a 9PM-6AM curfew and quarantined some areas. But these actions, though necessary, created other problems. The curfew was used by armed robbers dressed in police uniform to break into homes.

A few weeks later the government changed the curfew to 11 PM-6AM, apparently in response to a complaint from the night club industry. The government was forced also to cut short the quarantine of West Point, because of public outcry in the wake of the fatal shooting of Shaki Kamara, a sixteen years old boy killed on August 20, 2014 by the Liberian Armed Forces. Shaki’s death was a painful and sorrowful one to watch on video: he was shot in the leg; he cried holding his foot while slowly dying, calling on his uncle not to let him die.

According to a revelation by Daylue Goah, a former employee of JFK Hospital in Monrovia, Shaki was taken to the hospital after the shooting, but he was refused treatment, he was lying on the lobby floor with blood, opening and closing his eyes helplessly.

The chief medical doctor and other medical personnel passed by him and allegedly locked themselves up in their offices, apparently fearing Ebola if they touched him. Shaki was taken to Redemption Hospital, but he had already died before arriving. The then US Ambassador to Liberia, Deborah Malac, expressed outrage at the shooting. Some Liberians called for President Sirleaf’s resignation.

Days later, Sirleaf wrote President Obama for help. Her letter showed a president pleading for her country but in essence also appealing to save her presidency.

On September 16, 2014, President Obama promised to send American military engineers and medical personnel to build Ebola medical facilities and establish military coordination in the affected countries. Obama kept the promise. On October 9th, ninety US marines arrived in Liberia.

Six days later, USAID announced $142 million in a humanitarian grant to fight Ebola in West Africa. This was in addition to a White House announcement on October 6 of more than $350 million for the virus. Moreover, the World Bank promised to give Liberia a $50 million grant, the European Union (EU) and other international partners promised to provide financial and medical assistance. The total of international pledges to combat Ebola in the affected countries was more than $3.5 billion.

The diagnosing of Thomas Duncan of Ebola on September 29 in the US brought to the American public a domestic concern over the virus. Duncan was a Liberian who contracted the disease in Liberia. He left for America shortly and was hospitalized, diagnosed and died in Texas, USA.

Many Americans subsequently called for travelling restrictions to America of citizens of Ebola affected countries, but the White House and other Americans went against the request.

On the other hand, while hospitalized in the US, the Liberian government and some Liberian media, including the Costa Show, called for action against Duncan for embarrassing Liberia. Many felt that he travelled to America knowing of his contraction of the virus. Others said he did not know. He passed the Ebola screening test at Robertsfield international airport before departure. Nevertheless, with his death, all was forgiven, I know. His situation was also a sad one, because he and his family had hoped for a better life in the US!

In late July 2014, the government established the Incidence Management System (IMS) to assist the response to Ebola. Deputy Minister of Health and Social Welfare Tolbert Nyenswah headed IMS with James Dorbor Jallah as Deputy Manager. Nyenswah handled the medical aspect while Jallah managed the logistics and operational issues, which involved transportation and burial of Ebola victims. Some of the corpses were buried in mass graves, some were cremated. Many community people were unhappy about cremation. It is uncommon in Liberia. Later, the government purchased land for the decent burial of the dead.

There were public debates whether or not to cancel the special senatorial election in Liberia because of Ebola. Blamo Nelson, former senator from Grand Kru County, and other Liberians called for cancellation of the election. In a narrow vote, the Supreme Court ruled for the election to be held in December, 2014. A different ruling would have caused a serious constitutional crisis in the country.

To the surprise of many, President Sirleaf on December 4, 2014, issued Executive Order 65, which prohibited public gatherings and protection of the election results in Montserrado County until after 30 days of the election. The Executive Mansion said that the order was intended to stop the spread of Ebola. The order was immediately revoked by public outcry, including a verbal protest by the Montserrado Legislative Caucus and opposition party ANC US based chairman Wilfred Passawe.

Opponents viewed the order unconstitutional and discriminatory. Why was the prohibition only for Montserrado County?, a question many asked in Liberia. The president’s son Robert Sirleaf was a senatorial candidate for Montserrado County against CDC party leader George Weah and other candidates.

Opponents maintained that the order was benefit the president’s son but it turned out otherwise, for it would have enabled the opposition to immediately demonstrate in the streets after the results if they felt cheated. Robert Sirleaf, however, also criticized the order.

By February 2015, Ebola started to retreat in Liberia, though the death rate was still higher compared to the other countries. There were signs of improvement regarding the disease in the nation; there were fewer cases of Ebola. There were many survivors of the virus. Victims who received early treatment reportedly survived, including Decontee Davies.

Ebola survivors, while happy to be alive, face many problems in Liberia. They have no free medical care or services. Some have experienced blindness, ED (erectile dysfunction) and joint pain. The males were advised not to engage in sexual activities for months. Ebola survivors are stigmatized. Some have problems finding a place to live, but they receive cash tokens whenever they participate in studies or workshops.

In March, 2015, Representative Saah Joseph with his team went to Sierra Leone to assist the country in their fight against Ebola. The effort was a great humanitarian gesture.

Meanwhile, the Liberian government had improved and intensified its public awareness efforts; the Incidence Management System was responding effectively to the crisis; cars were required not to have more than three passengers in the back and not over two persons in the front; public and private places were ordered to have buckets of soap and chlorine water for hand washing; a civil society partner was said to have launched a community awareness program; religious groups had prayer services for the virus; and we were advised not to shake hands and not to touch Ebola corpses.

This last advice or preventive measure was a tough one, because culturally we Liberians are accustomed and used to shaking hands or doing the Liberian handshaking. Also, we traditionally or in some cultures wash the body of our dead love ones. Some traditions stipulate that the water of a washed dead body, when used by the living, would bring blessings, especially if the deceased was a great person. But we had to do what was recommended in order to live, though culturally difficult.

Traditionally, moreover, my most uncomfortable moment was when I attended service at my church in New Kru town, Monrovia. We speak in tongues when the spirit of Pentecost gets in us; we dance and sing in our Kru culture and language. However, I left service about five to ten minutes before the benediction to avoid shaking hands and hugging. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed went I did that, but I had to protect myself.

Furthermore, air travel to and from Liberia was limited. Delta had stopped flying to Liberia, and I could not travel back to the States due to illness. At the same time, I could not go out as I used to because of Ebola. I stayed home most of the time; reading, writing, praying and exercising regularly to keep in shape.

On May 9, 2015, WHO declared Liberia Ebola-free. That was good news. The Liberian people in particular were happy, many of us celebrated in the streets. The president and most government officials and the diplomatic corps, including the president of Togo celebrated the occasion at the Executive Pavilion in Monrovia.

The government lifted the curfew and reopened the borders. Unfortunately our joy was short lived. In June, 2015, the virus re-occurred. We resumed the preventive measures; the people were determined and resilient. On September 3rd, 2015, WHO re-declared the country free of Ebola. We were not as happy as we did in the first declaration, cognizant of what happened. Surely in November, Ebola resurfaced. Former Minister of Health and Social Welfare Dr. Walter Gweningale called the re-occurrence embarrassing.

When on January 15, 2016, WHO declared Liberia Ebola-free for the third time, many of us thought that was the end of Ebola; that we have just entered a new year and would no longer see the virus. Yet recently as stated before, Ebola resurfaced on April 1, 2016.

A 30 years old lady attracted the virus in Guinea, where the disease re-occurred. She returned to Liberia with her three children, one of them has been diagnosed of Ebola. Tolbert Nyenswah and his deputy Jallah said that we should not panic, things are under control. We now know what to do, said Jallah in an interview. IMS has conducted contact tracing, an approach which was not taken earlier in Liberia during the first outbreak.

What is Ebola, how does it operate and when did it start?

Ebola is a virus caused mostly by exchange of body fluids. It is found in bats, chimpanzees and bush animals. An affected person can pass the disease onto another person through a handshake, kissing, sexual intercourse and other body contacts. A person can also get Ebola by eating bush meat or bat bitten fruits such as plums or mangoes.

Doctor Golakia of the School of Medicine in Liberia excellently explained how Ebola operates: he stated that Ebola enters the body and goes into a period of incubation, involving development, reproduction and multiplication of itself into thousands of cells, forming an army of deadly bacteria, which attacks the white blood cells and other vital organs. It feeds on the body fluids, causing dehydration. Within 2 to 21 days, the victim can become weak, showing symptoms such as a high fever, vomiting, bleeding, and pain of the muscles and reddening of the eyes. The victim may die within days. Ebola is like a homeless stranger who enters your house and takes up a room. You feed him, he grows a family and in no time they attack, conquer and depose you from your house, nothing you can do.

There is presently no known cure for Ebola. 90 to 95% of the victims die. Dr. Thomas Friedan, Director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), says the virus can be active even when the victim dies. In this state, it tries to quickly to get out of the dead body and to enter into the body of anyone who touches it. Ebola does not like a warm or hot environment, it prefers cold or wet weather.

Ebola first occurred in Africa in 1976 in Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo). The disease got its name from the Ebola River in the then Zaire. The virus also appeared in Sudan, Uganda and Gabon, killing about 500 victims in the three nations. It was said that Ebola lasted two to three months respectively in these countries. Although it occurred in Cote D’Ivoire, its effect was little and it did not gain international attention. It is also stated that Ebola appears every 10 to 15 years in Africa.

The multiple re-occurrences of Ebola in a short time in Liberia are unprecedented and therefore troubling and worrisome. Yet the government said we should not worry. There is little attention given to preventive measures. There is no restriction for the number of passengers in public transportation. The hospitals and clinics are still inadequately equipped, JFK Hospital, the number one referral hospital, is considered ineffective and its managers are allegedly corrupt, and the Jackson Doe Hospital, another major hospital in the country, is said to be on the verge of collapsing.

Further, the nation is facing financial hardship and budget shortfalls. The government does not have adequate funds to pay health workers and has asked the World Bank for help. Why? In the following paragraphs, I will try to answer the question.

The Case of Under-development

The under-development of Africa by Europe through colonialism was an external factor over which the colonized countries had no control. The colonial powers took over and directed the economy, developing their external countries.

Many African countries after independence have moved forward, controlling their economies and advancing economically. Liberia, on the other hand, presents a special case. The country, Africa’s oldest republic with numerous natural resources, remains under-developed. The nation however never experienced Western colonialism and has been in control of its economy since independence.

Liberia was created by the American Colonization Society, a philanthropic group, which in the early 1800s, sponsored and transported American former Black slaves to Africa. Unlike the colonial establishment, the Society was not an economic entity and did not export raw materials out of Liberia. Its functions were basically humanitarian. The ex-slaves took over the country upon declaring independence in 1847 and excluded the natives of the land as part of the new nation.

Earlier leaders and subsequent elites saw the country as their private farm, focusing on themselves, a replica of the American Southern plantation. They became masters over the indigenous Africans. Additionally, they concentrated development in the urban coastal areas where they resided and neglected the hinterland inhabited by the majority population.

A consequence of this neglect together with mismanagement was the state of Growth without Development, as observed by Robert Clower et al, a team of US economists in 1966. With relative increased population and improved output of its enclave economy, there were however inadequate socio-economic services to accommodate growth.

Interestingly, the leaders gave no attention to agriculture, though they came from an agricultural background and the land is fertile for agriculture. This condition continued for decades. Liberia is 168 years old and it is over 100 years older than Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria. These West African countries are far developed than Liberia. The country depends on foreign aid and international investments and is among the five poorest nations in the world.

Before the Ebola outbreak, there were no public ambulances in the country. Also prior and now, government officials and the elite traveled abroad for personal health services, giving little attention to the healthcare sector, particularly in the rural areas, where the majority of the population have no access to basic health service.

There are two major public hospitals in Liberia. They were built by foreign governments. The country has one doctor per 100,000 people and has about one healthcare worker for every 3,400 people, according to published reports.

Projects of lesser priority have more money allocated to them than the fund earmarked for health services (12%) in the current national budget. The absence of adequate healthcare puts at risk the lives of the people, mostly the poor. Many have died because of inadequate health services. Furthermore, 13% of the current budget is allocated to education while 40% is to pay government salaries.

As stated previously, Ebola took advantage of this health neglect and killed over 4000 people in the country. Liberia had the highest Ebola death rate in the sub-region. Ebola killed more people monthly than the country’s fourteen year civil war. The government lacked the capacity and was overwhelmed.

Under-development breeds poverty. When people lack basic access to economic, educational and healthcare services, their standard of life would decline or deteriorate. About 64% of Liberians lives below the poverty line. The average Liberian, or 84%, lives on less than US$1.25 a day while some government officials and others make US$15,000-$30,000 a month, meaning they live on US $500-$1000 a day, a classic demonstration of what economists call the Lorenz Curve, a sharp inequality of income.

Unemployment continues to be 85%, despite the fact that about US$17 billion of international investments and donations have been brought into the country under the present administration.

Moreover, 63% or more of the people have no access to clean and safe drinking water. Over 80% of the country is without electricity and about 98% of the population has no electricity.

Education in the country, according to the president, is a mess with poor quality and low results. The rural population generally lacks access to education. The demand to meet the high salaries of government officials, useless expenditures, together with continued faulty economic projections and estimates have contributed to budget shortfalls for the past four years.

The 2015-16 budget is about US$623 million. Because of the current economic reality, observers predict that the next budget would be reduced to about US$400 million, indicating a tougher economic time ahead with further decrease of present social services.

Majority of the Ebola victims were poor people. Poor Liberians use crowded public transportation for daily use, which put them at risk of Ebola, since the virus thrives on body fluids. Well-off or better off Liberians travel by private transportation with fewer passengers. Poor Liberians live in houses with large household size compared to affluent Liberians. When Ebola affects a family member in a poor household, usually other members got affected as shown in this article especially with the family in Nimba.

Most ghettoes in Monrovia have no public health services. Some suburban communities outside of Monrovia, including the Waterside Estate Community in Virginia, Montserrado County, have no school and clinic for the inhabitants.

Above all, corruption affects the general fabric of the society. Here again, the president called corruption a vampire, because it sucks the blood, public money, out from the people.

Funds intended for development are stolen by some government officials, and they go scot-free, a culture of impunity!

Liberia is rated as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Attorney Lamii Kpargoi, an advocate, recently pointed out on the Costa Show that people engaged in corruption do not see its negative impact on the entire society, because corruption benefits them. Poor and concerned people need to see corruption as a prime enemy and need to fight it.

The Incidence Management System (IMS) was also charged with the purchase and distribution of items or materials for the fight against Ebola. Assuming all donations, including pledges, were paid, I estimate that Liberia should have received a little over $1 billion including goods and materials to combat the epidemic.

In April, 2015, the General Auditing Commission (GAC) made its report on the National Ebola Trust Fund for the period August 1 to October 31, 2014. GAC reported financial irregularities and material control deficiency in IMS and the Implementing Partners’ management of the Ebola fund.

The audit indicated that payments were made without sufficient documentation, without contracts or the contracts did not adhere to the Public Procurement & Concession (PPC) Act and the Public Financial Management Act.

In general, IMS and the implementing Partners received US$15,169,635 and L$342,883,302 and disbursed US$10,757,320 and L$231,196,838.

Prominent examples were the payment of US$38,228 for a 165 KVA generator from a local dealer, and a US$30,050 payment to BTP Advisers, a UK public relations firm. Regarding the generator, the report said there was no competitive bidding as required and there was insufficient documentation for the public relations work.

IMS says the generator was needed for Ebola testing activities, that the need was an emergency and following the established requirements would have taken a longer time, which could have caused more deaths or spread of the virus. IMS also pointed out that the purchase saved the government US $780, because the seller gave about 2% discount off the original price.

Regarding the UK firm, IMS argued that the company provided PR work, improving Liberia’s image abroad concerning Ebola and crafting communication for international donations for Ebola. Moreover, the president personally arranged with the firm and there was no name for signature on the invoice.

IMS reacted harshly to the audit report, calling it unprofessional and erroneous. It demanded strongly that the Auditor General, Yusador Gaye, retract the accusation or else face serious consequences, including court action "against you and your commission for deliberate libel; various public fora radio & TV talk shows & news paper publications) to clear our names; and report your unprofessional reporting to the National Legislature of Liberia in order to bring to the notice and attention of the legislators that you are supremely unsuitable and incompetent for the position you occupy."

The auditor general, apparently concerned about her career and job, informed IMS that her subordinates wrote the report and that she has reservations over its findings. In response to her excuse, IMS asked her that as the boss of GAC," if you disagreed with its findings, why did you sign the report?."

The report also stated that several officials of government ministries and agencies used Ebola money without supporting documents. Despite the auditor general’s excuse and IMS threats, GAC auditors overall stood by the report.

Seemingly, the president, realizing escalation of the issue would damage the international image of her government regarding the Ebola money, said publicly on April 13, 2015 that there were procedural errors in administrating the Ebola fund. With that said, the matter was put to rest.

There were other instances where the Ebola fund was allegedly misused. For example, a public report indicated that the Red Cross organization in Liberia has misappropriated Ebola money, and that some of the agency’s officials have been forced to resign for the act. In general, most people accused of corruption in Liberia are not persecuted. Only one government official so far has been jailed for corruption in this current administration.

Need For Leadership
A country will continue to be under-developed if she lacks a leadership committed to the citizens and the general welfare of the nation. In other words, having natural resources is not development but a blessing of God. Managing and utilizing the resources appropriately brings development. Liberia has misappropriated and mismanaged her given resources.

For instance, the country has shown signs of possessing oil. The National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCOL), a government entity, was established in 2000 to manage oil exploration and production. NOCOL was put under the leadership of the president’s son upon her election.

NOCOL received millions of US dollars from interested international companies for oil blocks. NOCOL became a leading employer, handsomely paying its officials and staff thousands of dollars and giving thousands to members of the legislature for approval of the sale of oil blocks. The company had about 200 employees and an annual salary payroll of US$7 million, according to VOA. Thus with 200 workers, whose average yearly salary was US$35,000.

In actuality, however, some NOCOL officials were earning about US$30,000 a month. Today, NOCOL has no money and it’s bankrupt. While some observers blamed its down fall mainly on declining oil prices on the world market, the Bush Chicken magazine attributed the bankruptcy to dubious oil contracts, allegations of mismanagement, corruption, the Ebola crisis and poor leadership.

What is leadership and what are its characteristics? Experts on this subject have defined leadership to mean the ability to inspire, direct, empower, compromise, unite, care, and to make the right choices, to commit to justice and rights and to have vision or be a visionary.

Dov Frohman and Robert Howard indicate that leadership is an art and cannot be taught. Thomas Carlyle said that leaders are born and not made. Leadership is a gift.

Others see leadership as the ability to win people over. Being eloquent, good at public speaking, debating, or speaking out on every issue and displaying theatrics in speaking is not leadership, but being able to talk to people to persuade and convince them to take your side is leadership. In fact, good leaders usually resolve issues behind closed doors. We only hear about the results and not the drum beating or the noise making if any.

The fallacy of eloquence is of great interest as it reminds me of the famous Douglas VS. Lincoln debates in the 1850s of US history. I like the story because it also proves what Carlyle said about leaders being born.

Stephen Douglas was a democrat who was well educated; he was a great speaker or debater. On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln was a republican and lacked formal education. He came from a humble background. He was also not a very good speaker, but was good with his wits in storytelling and cracking jokes. Both men were from the State of Illinois. They met in a public debate for a senatorial seat.

Douglas was at his best and won the debate easily and the seat. But later they met in the US presidential election of 1860. Before the election, many Americans dismissed Lincoln, because he was not educated, was not a good speaker and had failed at many endeavors. Though Douglas won the debates, Lincoln won the election primarily because of split in the Democratic Party. He became one of America’s best presidents and famous leaders.

The foundation of good leadership is honesty and integrity. When a leader is honest, he or she will tell the truth about things, will not pretend, will not deceive and will not mislead. Integrity will make the leader not to engage in and not to encourage corrupt activities, acts which are unjust, unfair, selfish and nepotistic.

Politically, the key factor or reason a person should want to lead is caring for the condition of the country and people, the desire to make a difference, the desire to change and to improve conditions. If this factor is missing, there will be no change even if the country is rich in natural resources and the person is well educated, has money and years of experience.

It will be as we say in Liberia, same wine in new bottle. A leader should be able to forgive and to have compassion. To err is human, to forgive is divine. When we forgive, we empower ourselves and unite with the person whom we have forgiven.

To me, some of the world’s good leaders would include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Bill Gates.

George Washington was a good leader because he cared, was honest, fought for his country’s independence and guided his nation to greatness. Abraham Lincoln was a good leader because he cared about the division of his country and wanted to unite it, hated slavery and fought for freedom and unity. He was honest. He demonstrated to us not to give up in life.

Nelson Mandela was a good leader because he cared, sacrificed for his people, forgave, and united his country. He taught us to forgive no matter how long we suffered under the hands of our enemy.

Martin Luther King was a good leader because he cared and stood for peace, unity and civil and human rights.

Mahatma Gandhi was a leader because he cared and fought oppression with non-violence. He inspired us to fight gainst injustice with non-violence and to be humble.

Bill Gates is a good leader because he created a major enterprise, empowers others and cares by his many humanitarian and philanthropic deeds globally.

In short, leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal greed, said an unnamed African leader. Liberia has had poor leadership since independence. The majority of its leaders lacked many of the leadership qualities discussed above. They became leaders with the intention to satisfy personal greed and to better their social class.

This situation has contributed to the country’s under-development, including poor and inadequate healthcare. In order for the country to develop and improve, there is a need for a leadership which cares and wants to change conditions for the good of all.