Voice of America (Washington, DC)

8 April 2014

Liberia: Ebola Outbreak Creates Political Controversy in Liberia

Photo: allAfrica.com
Local affiliates of international organizations are expanding to address health needs (file photo)

With more than 150 cases and nearly 100 deaths reported from the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, health officials say 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.

Sirleaf said in statement that she is being briefed every day by the Minister of Health.

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 cards 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 took exception to Piah's reported comments aimed at him.

"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, who says he owns a large percentage of the biggest GSM service provider in Liberia, says his farming and cell phone businesses provide jobs for many Liberians.

"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. And, if being a farmer is a disgrace, then it's right for him to say that (former US) 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.

Urey, who said he plans to contest the 2017 presidential election, 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.

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