On Monday, the 14th of this month, a hillside in Regent, a mountain town on the outskirts of Freetown, Sierra Leone, collapsed and triggered a mudslide that has gone on to claim the lives of over 500 people and left thousands of people homeless. Sierra Leone is still struggling to recover from the effects of the Ebola epidemic from two years ago. This is sure to put in a spanner in the works of one of West Africa’s poorest nations.
The Sunday before Monday’s mudslides in Sierra Leone, terrorist attacked a restaurant in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. At least 18 people were killed. The attack was believed to have been orchestrated by AQIM – al Qaida in the Maghreb – and raises concerns about the increase in terrorism in the West African region.
On Saturday, torrential rains led to a landslide that has caused the death of at least 200 people in the Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Congo is in the middle of a humanitarian crisis with over 7 million of its people on the verge of starvation.Also on Saturday, 2 people were killed and dozens injured in Togo when security agencies opened fire at protestors who were demonstrating against the decades-long rule of the Gnassingbe family. They also called for the return of a limit to presidential terms which was introduced in 1992.
Too much doom and gloom for a Monday morning? Well, that’s the plan. Three of the aforementioned disasters occurred in neighbouring West African countries – in fact, Ghana shares borders with Burkina Faso and Togo – but there’s been very little commentary on it here in Ghana. In fact, it took the Ghanaian government five days to issue a statement on the disaster at Sierra Leone for example. This column isn’t here to lambast the government for this delay though. Not today. There is a set of people who deserve far more blame for their silence on the issues that have plagued our neighbouring countries – the general public.
This writer has been severely disappointed by the lack of commentary on these issues in the public. We watch the news, bemoan the bad luck of these people and then sweep it under the carpet. There have been very few discussions by the media and even fewer articles by writers about these unfortunate events. It would not surprise me if a large section of the public doesn’t even know about these events. It is almost as if we live in a bubble and that we believe if we don’t talk about these issues or make a fuss about them, then nothing can penetrate this bubble of ours.Obviously, we can’t share more tears than the bereaved, but we can express our feelings at the loss, show our displeasure at the attacks and offer our support to our brothers and sisters in these countries. Writers especially need to take the lead in this. Every single time a disaster happens in Africa, there’s usually a post on social media which compares the world’s response to the event, to similar ones in the Western world. To these people, my response is always, “How do you expect the world to respond, when you don’t respond yourself?” Why should the world #PrayForSierraLeone when you’re too busy complaining about the world not saying it, and forget to say it too? Why should the world respond when it takes 5 days(!) for our governments to respond to our disasters? How can the world respond when we are not even telling our own stories, writing about these things, analyzing its effects, helping our neighbours? Why should the world care when we don’t even care ourselves?
It is up to all of us to do something, to ensure that we take more interest in what happens in our mother continent. The #BringBackOurGirls movement is an example of a course that generated international following because of our determination to ensure the stories of those girls were told. This is also a special plea to writers. It is our job to tell our stories – everything, whether good or bad. So please don’t just stay quiet and watch things happen around you. Pick up that pen – or that laptop – and tell these stories. Mama Africa needs you to.
WRITER: Ferdinand Senam Hassan