‘Land That We Love’: Responses By Sierra Leonean Diaspora Communities to the West African Ebola Outbreak

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Ryann MANNING, University of Toronto Rotman School of Management, Canada
The 2014-2015 outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone killed over eleven thousand people and spurred substantial economic and social disruption. Among the thousands of individuals and organizations who mobilized to respond to this disaster were many members of Sierra Leone’s global diaspora community. Despite occupying a liminal position from which they could have minimized their exposure to the Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora pursued a diverse array of actions intended to help stop the spread of Ebola, mitigate its consequences, and contribute to long-term recovery and rebuilding. In this paper, I use a range of real-time and retrospective data to examine how people of Sierra Leonean birth or ancestry who were living outside of Sierra Leone at the time of the Ebola outbreak made sense of the unfolding crisis, and how they formulated their role and obligation, if any, to their country of origin. Specifically, I combine data from interviews with diaspora activists; internal and external materials shared with me by diaspora organizations; online public conversations that took place among members of the diaspora during the Ebola outbreak; and autoethnographic data from my own experience observing and working on the response to Ebola. I explore how activists within the Sierra Leonean diaspora sought to activate or appeal to the identities and loyalties of people with ancestral ties to Sierra Leone, including by invoking collective memories and narratives of the country’s earlier civil war. I find that even the most engaged members of Sierra Leone’s diaspora community—those who led the diaspora’s response to Ebola—sometimes grappled with ambivalence toward their identity as Sierra Leoneans. This ambivalence was in some ways exacerbated by the Ebola crisis, but also played a role in the activists’ decision to get involved in the Ebola response.