In May 2014 the first official case of Ebola was recorded in Sierra Leone. Over the course of two years, the country, alongside neighbouring Guinea and Liberia, was engulfed in a fight against a deadly epidemic of an unprecedented scale in the region.
In an effort to increase the urgency of responding to the crisis, Ebola was securitised. At international level this was through the declaration of the outbreak as a threat to international peace and security. The government of Sierra Leone invoked a state of emergency: freedom of movement was restricted, customary practices identified as risky were criminalised and the military was called in to assist in the policing of borders, the setting up of checkpoints and in manning quarantines. For many living in hard to reach rural areas, the intervention represented a unique encounter with a state that was normally experienced as absent.
Based on extensive ethnographic research in Northern Sierra Leone, this seminar considers the implications of the securitisation of Ebola for populations affected by the epidemic. It firstly deals with the question of how security strategies interacted, and at times conflicted, with community engagement efforts. Secondly it considers how affected populations engaged with and interpreted the response, focusing in particular on the role that they saw for punitive measures to control the outbreak. Finally, the paper explores the notion of “disaster development” to describe how experiences during the emergency shaped expectations in the aftermath of crisis and how individuals and communities attempted to reposition themselves to make new claims on those in power.
About the speaker
Dr Luisa Enria is a Lecturer in International Development at the University of Bath. Her research in Sierra Leone has focused on post-conflict reconstruction and the political dimensions of development and humanitarian intervention. During and after the Ebola outbreak she carried out research in Northern Sierra Leone on experiences of new encounters with biomedicine and emergency measures. Her current ESRC project entitled ‘States of Emergency: Citizenship in Crisis in Sierra Leone’ studies the implications of the Ebola response for young peoples’ relationship with the state.