Ebola: Speaking the unspeakable?

Professor Cecil Blake is a regular commentator on a listserv focused on Sierra Leonean issues. The forum was born out of the desire to connect subscribers from all over the world, who take an interest in issues that affect Sierra Leone in order to allow them to exchange ideas and discuss topical issues freely. Dr. Blake served as Minister of Information in the Tejan Kabbah administration. Below is his latest comment on the Ebola contagion. 



Not too long ago I made a contribution to the Ebola debate with the subject heading: "Ebola: An addendum." In that posting, I introduced a sensitive topic--traditional funeral rites (burials) and implications for the spread of the disease.

In my last couple of postings I made reference to the Minister of Health and suggested that she should be reassigned a cabinet portfolio. That suggestion is a modification of the concerns I had expressed earlier about keeping the same team in tact that is responsible for the dangerous situation in which Sierra Leone finds itself.

The rationale for modifying my position is grounded in a delicate aspect of any country --NATIONAL SECURITY. My subject line is deliberate because it is not a common practice to make public comments on the a key element in the security apparatus of a country. Specifically, I refer to the major intelligence unit of the national security apparatus of Sierra Leone, the Office of National Security (ONS).

As the major intelligence arm of the national security apparatus, it monitors critical  factors that threaten national security. Ebola IS a threat to national security and should have attracted the attention of the ONS. That said, I would venture to assert that the ONS acted as it should have, when  Ebola hit Guinea. Given the strategic location of Kailahun, geopolitically, I believe ONS would have penetrated the forests in particular, and aggregated information about cross border activities that posed a threat to the nation. The basis for my belief is predicated on what I know about the ONS during the Kabba administration that ended in 2002. Mr. Kabba worked hard on strengthening the ONS particularly in training in intelligence.

There is a problem that can be traced back to the Kabba administration, and I do not know if the present administration also has that problem -- occasional casual responses to critical intelligence reports on national security by ONS. ONS has well-trained intelligence gathering personnel. It would be interesting to find out the role of ONS in preparing the government to react in a timely manner to the Ebola threat at the earliest stages of the crisis in Guinea.

In short, given the fact that a disease such as Ebola is a threat to national security, the Ministry of Health should not be held entirely culpable for the disastrous situation in which the country finds itself.

Thus, why "Speaking the unspeakable?", we need to ask hard questions about what the ONS did and reported, and how the president and his National Security Council and cabinet acted on the intelligence reports from the ONS. What obtains presently demonstrates that either the ONS failed to do its work, or the president did not take the intelligence reports as seriously as he should have, to avert the predicament we find ourselves in today.

Given its role and function, I do not expect details from the ONS at this time, but I believe firmly that Sierra Leoneans should recognize and raise questions about the ONS with regard to its pre-emptive efforts on Ebola, and how the president responded to the intelligence presented to him. Inaction, or not paying attention to the ONS intelligence reports as the government should have, may explain the inadequacies and ineptness evident in the manner in which the government has handled this crisis.

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