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Ebola Outbreak Creates Political Controversy in Liberia

  • James Butty

In this photo taken on March 29, 2014, medical personnel at the emergency entrance of a hospital receive suspected Ebola virus patients in Conakry, Guinea.

In this photo taken on March 29, 2014, medical personnel at the emergency entrance of a hospital receive suspected Ebola virus patients in Conakry, Guinea.

With more than 150 cases and nearly 100 deaths reported from the Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, some health officials believe the disease is becoming an epidemic in West Africa. In Liberia, it appears Ebola has become a political issue as well.

On Saturday, businessman and would-be presidential candidate Benoni Urey accused President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of abandoning the nation for an overseas adventure in the midst of the Ebola outbreak.

Urey called on the president to cut short her current European trip and return home to lead the efforts to combat the spread of the often-fatal disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) declares that the West African outbreak is being contained and is not an epidemic.

Management of Liberia's health crisis

WHO reports that Liberia's health ministry has confirmed 5 deaths linked to the Ebola virus and another 16 cases under investigation. Ninety-five deaths have been attributed to the Ebola in three districts in Guinea - where the virus was first reported - and in the capital, Conakry.

Sirleaf said in statement that she is being briefed every day by the minister of health. While out of the country, the president attended the two-day 4th annual Euro-African Summit in Brussels along with 80 other national leaders and met with Pope Francis in Rome on Saturday.

Presidential spokesman Jerolinmek Piah reportedly called Urey a political nobody and a man who does not understand the intricacies of the presidency. He reportedly said Urey should leave politics and concentrate on his farming and cell phone scratch card businesses.

But Urey said he stands by his call for Sirleaf to cut short her overseas trip to deal with the Ebola crisis.

“You know, the Ebola situation in Liberia is no small situation. In fact, there are four cases of it reported about two miles from where I live. And, it’s only right for me as a human being to be alarmed about. And we all believe that in such an emergency that the president should have forfeited all other obligations and concentrated on the lives of Liberians. And, we hope that she will see reason to cut her trip short and come back to Liberia,” Urey said.

Urey said Sirleaf has made too many overseas trips and could have sent the foreign minister or the vice president to represent her on her current trip.

Urey plans to run for president of Liberia

Urey said he plans to contest the 2017 presidential election. He denied he was being political by criticizing Sirleaf.

“I am going to run for the presidency of Liberia and, come 2017, at the end of 2017, I believe you will hear that I am the next president of Liberia. You’ve known me for almost 20 years, and I have not gone out to say anything negative about the government. But, when the lives of Liberians are threatened, I will speak,” Urey said.

He called on government officials and other opposition politicians who care about Liberia to speak out and, if they don’t, they will be judged by history.

Urey took exception to Piah’s reported comments aimed at him.

Political critic defends his business interests

“The fact of the matter is that we do have a crisis in Liberia. Whether I’m a farmer today, or I sell scratch cards, it’s irrelevant. A major factor here is that I am a Liberian and there’s pride in the dignity in labor,” Urey said.

Urey says he owns a large percentage of the biggest global system for communication provider in Liberia. His farming and cell phone businesses provide jobs for many Liberians, he said.

“If this little boy Piah can get up and insult me by virtue of what I have done for my country and what I’ve done for him, how many [of] his relatives are employed through the sale of scratch cards," the businessman said. "And, if being a farmer is a disgrace, then it’s right for him to say that (former U.S.) President (Jimmy) Carter, who was a peanut farmer in America, rose to the seat of the presidency.”

Urey said he felt insulted by Piah’s comments and called on Sirleaf to take action against her press secretary, or he will take legal action.

“What is most disappointing in this whole issue is for the president to allow a ‘little boy’ like Piah to come and insult somebody like me. But, we expect that the president will do something about it. If she doesn’t, we have to take legal action,” Urey said.

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