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Autocratic Control

At the height of the crisis, there were fears for stability. Governments tightened their grips.55 The Liberian government’s attempt to quarantine a sprawling slum, West Point, in Monrovia was one well-publicized example. The citizens already suspected the government was creating a dumping ground for Ebola victims in the neighbourhood. When the quarantine went into effect, “The reaction was swift and violent. Angry young men hurled rocks and stormed barbedwire barricades, trying to break out. Soldiers repelled the surging crowd with live rounds, driving back hundreds of young men.”56 International human rights law requires that public emergency measures meet standards of “legality, evidence- based necessity, and proportionality”. According to Human Rights Watch, “Quarantines imposed during this epidemic have frequently not met these standards.”57 The tendency toward autocratic control, over time, changed to community engagement.

Community Engagement

To their credit, governments shifted from autocratic control to community engagement as the frontline strategy for eradicating EVD. Liberia’s President Sirleaf spoke frankly about the change in approach.

We didn’t know what we were dealing with. It was an unknown enemy ... We didn’t know what to do. We were all frightened. I was personally frightened.

We went into a security approach. We put the army there. We put the security people there. We closed the borders. The public’s reactionangry, confused, mistrustful—quickly led to a different approach. That something different was to engage our communities.58

Sierra Leoneans brought communities together to control EVD. According to the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform,

Sierra Leone’s communities are the true heroes of the Ebola response. Over the course of 18 months, a huge proportion of the population has made and maintained significant changes to cultural practice and norms. Norms that have been in place for hundreds of years, such as burial practice and traditional healing. The staggering scale of this behaviour change, a result of the patience, commitment, innovation and temerity ofcommunities, has placed community- led social mobilisation at the centre ofdiscussions on lessons from the outbreak59

Oxfam reported, “Community engagement is now widely recognised as a critical component of responding to Ebola, it is medically essential, not just a ‘nice to have.’”60 In Guinea, community resistance to EVD response initiatives was widespread.61 Nevertheless, the Guinean Government and aid organizations intensified their efforts to focus more on interpersonal communication and enlist community leaders, traditional healers, teachers, and other respected community figures in overcoming community resistance.6263

At the beginning of the crisis, the national leadership response reflected skepticism, inaction and autocratic control, which counterproductively fed the latent public distrust of the government. Nevertheless, governments shifted their leadership behaviours toward sub-Saharan Africa’s natural humane orientation64 through community engagement. Turning to the frontline perspective, the spirit of connection—Africans working to solve Africa’s problems—is readily observable.

 
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