Vigilante 'border guards' keeping Ebola out of Senegal

Country among five West African countries that have reported the illness.

A dozen Guineans await deportation at a Senegalese frontier police post, stopped in their tracks by the foot soldiers of an informal battalion of villagers at the forefront of a fight to keep Ebola out.

These new vigilante “border guards” are becoming an increasingly common sight since a Guinean student brought the deadly epidemic raging across west Africa into Senegal just before the border closed on August 21.

He remains the only case in the country, in part, say these villagers, because of the vigilance they have shown.

“They were trying to cross the border. We arrested them with the help of the villagers. We are waiting for the order to send them back,” said a policeman in Dialadiang, one of the last towns before the frontier.

“Last week we sent back a Cameroonian and two Sierra Leoneans. Villagers arrested them for us to send them back,” the officer added at the town’s decrepit police post.

After Dialadiang, a last military post leads into Guinea, on a deserted road travelled by oxen, goats and plump sheep who take advantage of the thick carpet of grass on either side.

Alongside the potholed, iron-rich waterlogged track runs a dense forest which gives way to fields of peanuts, corn and cotton, dotted with thatched huts.

In the nearby village of Faroumba, under a light rain falling on vast green fields, vigilante groups keep guard.

“We stop Guineans every day to turn them back to the border. We do not want them to introduce the disease into our country,” said Seniba Camara, an official of the town of a few hundred people.

“All the surrounding villages are kept informed. Residents regularly call to say they have arrested Guineans to deport,” he added.

Palpable fear
In the village of Linkering, near the Niokolo-Badiar country park which straddles the border, teacher Ousmane Balde told AFP he has been monitoring the movements of Guineans in order to report them to the security forces.

“Night time is a problem. We cannot do anything then. We just hear the sound of motorcycles passing,” he said, sitting on the edge of the road among a group of young people who listen to him speak.

The Ebola virus, passed on through contact with infected bodily fluids, has killed more than 2,000 in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Nigeria became the fourth country caught up in the epidemic, reporting seven deaths before Senegal registered its first case.

In the capital Dakar, some 600 kilometres (370 miles) away, the fear of Ebola is palpable.

A mob tried to get into a Dakar hospital to attack the young Guinean Ebola patient last week but were repelled by security forces, according to Health Minister Awa Marie Coll Seck.

President Macky Sall called for calm on Wednesday, asking the Senegalese people to “avoid stigma, while showing solidarity with neighbouring countries”.

‘Bulwark communities’
Seniba Camara, the official in Faroumba, thinks of Guineans as “the family of the Senegalese”.

“But solidarity doesn’t mean getting their contagion,” he told AFP.

“The government of Senegal has closed the border with Guinea. Whoever illegally enters the country must be sent home,” Sambou Niabali, a fellow resident , told AFP.

Another of the villagers, Ousmane Balde, sees the communities nearest to Guinea as the bulwark, preventing Ebola’s spread.

“We want to protect our family in the interior of Senegal,” he said.

But not everyone agrees with shutting Senegal to its neighbours.

“We call for open borders with controls at specific points where people passing through can wash their hands and have their temperatures taken and blood sampled,” said Amadou Ba, a lorry driver in Diaobe, a town that hosts a weekly market once frequented by many west Africans, but now deserted.

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