ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY DR. ERNEST BAI KOROMA PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE ON BEHALF OF THE MRU NATIONS AT THE AFRICAN UNION EBOLA RECOVERY CONFERENCE MALABO EQUATORIAL GUINEA
On behalf of the Heads of State of the Mano River Union, I would like to convey our deep appreciation to the African Union for organizing this landmark Conference.
Our people, on saying thanks to those who visit them during a funeral say we would have hoped that the event that occasioned this visit had not happened, but that the event occurred and you are here to help us get through it shows you care a lot. No body thought that the Ebola virus disease would strike Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but that the AU came to our aid in moments of great suffering, sickness and death is a testament to the relevance of our common union. And that you are now organizing this conference to find ways of supporting our countries recover from the tragedy is worthy of our deepest appreciation.
We welcome this opportunity to share our hopes for socioeconomic recovery in the Mano River Union (MRU) nation states. Ebola brought about overwhelming challenges in almost every aspect of life in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Our health systems almost collapsed; in 2014, our economies contracted and projected growth declined from 4.5% to 1.3% in Guinea; 11.3% to 6% in Sierra Leone and 5.9 % to 0.4% in Liberia; farms were neglected; markets abandoned; trade and travel contracted; fiscal balances weakened; revenue decreased; and expenditure shut up to combat the disease.
The combat against the disease has been very difficult. We pushed aside long standing African traditions; mobilized support from around the world, including over 800 health workers sent by the African Union with support from the private sector in the continent; we launched the biggest and fastest social mobilization efforts ever seen in the history of our countries; our communities rose up to the challenge; and thousands of health workers asserted their commitment to saving lives, and many did this even at the cost of their lives
Today, with their resilience, and your support, victory against the disease is almost in sight; the virus has been pinned down to a few neighborhoods in our countries. But the enormous health, fiscal, education, and livelihood challenges brought about by the virus are still upon us. We are here because we strongly believe our African brothers and sisters are very determined to support us meet these challenges.
Ebola is a stubborn enemy that usually stages comebacks, as the recent isolated cases have shown in Liberia. We must therefore put in place the strategy on how to tackle emergency situations and design long-term solution to the healthcare crisis that our countries face today.
As we move from emergency situation to stabilization, all three countries are implementing a robust social and economic recovery program in response to the consequences of the disease and ensure greater resilience. Building this resilience involves rebuilding our health sectors, caring for the survivor, and supporting the orphans and the widows brought unto that very vulnerable position by the virus. It involves getting kids back to schools that remain safe, and shoring up the private sector as a means of rebuilding livelihoods and putting the countries back on the trajectory of growth and promise that were very visible before the virus struck.
In furtherance of these goals, the 3rd Extraordinary Summit of the Mano River Union held in Conakry on the 28th of June 2015 adopted the Sub-regional Post Ebola Socio-Economic Recovery Program, the priorities and costs of the sub-regional Ebola-Recovery Program, as well as the Institutional and Financing Framework to ensure effective implementation.
The sub-regional plan is clustered into two levels:
Level One is estimated at US$1.76 billion, focusing on (i) health, water, sanitation and hygiene; (ii) governance, peace and security; (iii) agriculture, fisheries and food security; (iv) gender, youth and social protection; (v) program management and monitoring, and vi) private sector development. Level Two is estimated at US$2.24 billion focusing on (i) sub-regional roads; (ii) energy access; and (iii) information and communication technology.
Based on lessons learned during the outbreak, we believe the African Union would be pivotal in providing health and other related personnel to get our health centers to the necessary personnel strength in the short run and support training of nationals to occupy those positions in the long run. Africans have the necessary contextual and cultural knowledge to effectively push our transition from a few cases to zero, to stay at zero and support the rebuilding of health and other socio-economic infrastructure within the timeframes envisioned in our sub-regional Mano River Ebola Recovery Plans and the individual national recovery plans.
We would like the AU to champion the rebranding of our countries, the Mano River sub region, West Africa and the entire continent as brimming with profitable investment and other opportunities for recovery and growth. Without this rebranding the fortunes of our countries would be constrained by travel, investment and other restrictions that could hamper our recovery and resilience to prevent future outbreak.
Africa is a continent on the rise; we should utilize the enormous diplomatic, cultural and socio-economic resources to mobilize the resources to tell the story that the Mano River basin and the entire continent are not synonymous with Ebola, no more than nations afflicted with other zoonotic diseases like SARs, HNI and Marburg are synonymous with those infections. It is high time we became earnest in telling the better narrative of our sub-regions, regions and the continent as a land of immense opportunities, and that we are deploying our experiences to ensure recovery and growth. But this has to begin with awareness being entrenched within African governments and nations alike. Without this awareness amongst ourselves, we cannot position ourselves to shake off negative branding of the continent.
We also ask that you support adherence to the principles of the New Deal and the Mutual Accountability Framework; and our call for direct budget support to the affected countries and for the cancellation of the sub-region’s debt of $3.16 billion.
We are also calling on the AU to support the mobilization of resources for the establishment of a Special Delivery Unit within the MRU Secretariat, backed by a project preparation facility for the preparation of bankable projects for effective implementation of the program.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, support for recovery in the Mano River Basin is support for an integral part of the African Union. In essence, in supporting the affected countries, the African Union is supporting its own resilience, its own recovery and its own growth. The Ebola virus did not infect states; it infected people, real people with families across borders who are looking up to their brothers and sisters in the African Union to support their recovery from this scourge. Your response to this call is one of the greatest tests of the African Union’s commitment to being a union of people. We are here because we believe our continental union will be equal to its commitments.
I thank you for your attention.