Its all about the money
Ebola is evil and of course money is the root of it, and its enduring impact. The lack of investment in the public health infrastructure following its decimation during the civil war, both in Sierra Leone and Liberia, undoubtedly contributed to the spread of the epidemic through poor urban communities with little access to clean water. The World Bank estimates the international community spent $1.6 billion on the emergency Ebola response. A fraction of this invested after the civil war would have gone a long way to preventing the outbreak and saving a huge amount of money. Prevention is better, and cheaper than the cure, but it’s the headline-grabbing treatment that tends to persuade the public and politicians.
Sierra Leone is 183rd in the UN Development Index, and Liberia a lofty 175th, out of 187 countries. The main industries of tourism and mining scarpered at the first sign of Ebola. The tourists are reportedly starting to trickle back, but I didn't see many sombreros and Hawaiian shirts at the airport - all the white people had ‘aid worker’ written (often literally) all over them. The mines are also starting to open, but the price of iron has plummeted apparently and many remain closed.
It is a fertile country with great mineral wealth and Bounty-advert beaches, so the potential is there, and if there was a hedge fund trade on the UN Development Index it would be good bet to place money on economic improvement.
Moyamba itself looks as though little has changed since the Victorians were here. Outside of the town it looks as though little has changed since biblical times. There are few jobs and subsistence farming is the mainstay of survival. The daily chores of carrying water from the well, washing and fetching firewood are done with sense of community and bonding.
On the plus side levels of inequality are low - everyone is poor. And no one around here is overweight - a simple diet and the physical activity of daily routines keeps everyone fit. And people seem pretty happy. I am struck by the contrast most when I travel back from a rural African town to the UK. One day I can be at the centre of TB/HIV/Ebola epidemics, but I will stand in the main street and marvel at the laughter and love that fills the dusty air. A few hours later I will be travelling through London with the grim-faced commuters. Actually, it’s not all about the money.
There has been an Ebola dividend in Moyamba. Large amounts of money have flowed into the town to build the ETC and then create precious jobs - hundreds of them. People have been happy to take on high risk jobs that come with a danger supplement. But now they are all being made redundant and the future is dim. Perversely most of the ETC would rather the epidemic continues so that they are able to maintain an income.
I am back in Freetown, luxuriating in a room at the Seaside View - my own room, running water and electricity. Food that is not peanut-chicken-rice. I sleep more hours in my first night than the entire previous week.
The hotel lives up to its name by providing a view of the sea. It is one of a row of similar tours hotels lining the rocky Atlantic shore. All of them completely deserted. I look out over an abandoned hotel extension: a throw-back to more optimistic times. Chinese factory ships trawl up and down the sea lanes offshore - making fish while the sun shines. Making a lot of fish while the sun shines, and with no local coast guard to enforce territorial waters.
I join the mad dogs in the heat and explore my neighbours. A giant international conference centre stands forlorn and empty. Idris the security guard of a nearby hotel invites me in to admire the marble and mezzanine. I feel I am a sole survivor in a post-apocalyptic world.
On the plus side, schools have opened after a year of closure. Every school has its own isolation unit in the playground - built with simple traditional materials. I am mobbed by children when I inspect its water and sanitation facilities.