Fighting Ebola with integrity in Sierra Leone

joy Mar 12, 2015

Guest blog from Hamid Gbawuru Marah in Sierra Leone

In July 2014, during the initial months of the Ebola outbreak in my country, Sierra Leone, I completed a policy lab training on Leadership and Management with Integrity conducted by Integrity Action at the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. I had my eyes, mind and heart set on one goal – to come back home and put into practice what I had learned. When I was selected for the annual end of course video, my final message was simple, “I want working with integrity to become the new norm in Sierra Leone”.

Together with a few patriotic sons and daughters of my district, Koinadugu, and our collective passion and dedication to give back to our people and help cater for their welfare, we started something new. A new norm! A proactive-integrity based approach that builds trust and demonstrates trustworthiness; a collective, participatory and collaborative system that sought to close the feedback loop on unethical community funds management and leadership, and ensure transparency and accountability.

We started off as Koinadugans United against Ebola (KAE) with the initial aim to help forestall, contain and eradicate Ebola in our district and the country using an integrity-based community Ebola response approach with the following features:

v  Hundreds of indigenes from the district participating in open forums via 7-WhatsApp groups, a Facebook page and periodic meetings in different locations;

v  An open platform for resource mobilisation, inclusive utilisation, reporting and effective feedback;

v  Engagement of the district radio station for awareness raising and capacity building campaigns;

v  Need based and community led delivery of interventions; etc.

A new norm of integrity-based community solutions through working in open forums with transparent, accountable public monitoring and feedback mechanisms was created.

One of the challenges to containing the Ebola outbreak has remained corruption and lack of transparency in the response programmes, which significantly affected the effectiveness of the response as well as the ability to raise much needed funds amid huge mistrust. Last week, the anti-corruption commission in Sierra Leone has invited for questioning a very long list of individuals from top government operatives, officers to grassroots organisations and community leaders over millions of unaccounted-for Ebola funds.

The movement which we started however provided a trustworthy alternative through an inclusive and open platform where all members could connect through WhatsApp and Facebook pages and open meetings; all donations and funds received are made public with a full documentation trail, all activities are decided upon collectively and validated at the community level, window shopping is conducted for every procurement activity by a team of volunteers open to every community member, as well as the actual procurement with full receipts at a maximum of the lowest available price recorded during the window shopping.

This approach served to fix the mistrust and lack of transparency problem and eventually attracted much needed funds from indigenes of the community at home and abroad to effectively implement various Ebola containment and response projects.

Given the registered success, the movement has been incorporated as a nonprofit organisation under the name “Sustainable Empowerment for the People of Koinadugu (STEP-K)” and would be used as a platform to overcome the numerous socioeconomic challenges in the least developed district in the country.