Looking at Sierra Leone’s Ebola Epidemic Through an Agrarian Lens
When the residents of the small town of Fort Kent in rural Maine expressed their concerns about Sierra Leone's Ebola epidemic arriving "on their doorstep" (Freyer, 2014), they may have not known that they were right to realize that Sierra Leone is actually far closer to the United States than may be immediately obvious. The West African country, which is about the size of the state of Maine, is home to a population of six million, among whom many are descended from the 1,200 freed enslaved people who were brought back from the U.S. in 1791. The freed slaves had been returned to the same spot of the African coast from which millions of slaves had been shipped to the U.S. to work in the rice and sugar cane plantations.
The history of Sierra Leone is one of dispossession, enslavement, exploitation, and thievery at the hand of local, colonial, and imperial powers. These hardships have contributed to the enrichment of many, including Hollywood magnates and actors who dug into the country's 1991–2002 civil war, fueled by the illegal sale of the country's diamonds, for inspiration. The award-winning 2006 movie Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, grossed over US$170 million, of which the people of Sierra Leone never saw a single cent.
For this is Sierra Leone's predicament: its people do not benefit from its riches. For instance, while natural resources abound, especially fertile lands, diamonds, and tropical forests, the country is plagued by land grabs, blood diamonds, and conflict timber (McCoy, 2014). Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a Human Development Index ranking in 2013 of 183 out of 187 (United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2014).
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