Another Side-Effect of Ebola: Headaches For An Ohio University Professor

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Let’s be Clear, E.W. Scripps Journalism Professor Yusuf Kalyango isn’t infected with Ebola, but the disease is increasingly on his mind these days.

Kalyango, who was awarded a $485,000 grant to assist young and emerging African leaders, learned last week that one of the countries he’s been assigned, Cote D'ivoire, is neighboring ground-zero of the Ebola outbreak.

Kalyango said he’s not worried about most of his assigned countries in Eastern and Southern Africa as that work will be conducted far away from Ebola-infected areas.

“But I'm worried about Côte d'ivoire because anything can happen at any time,” he said.

Kalyango’s work as the Principal Investigator for the U.S. State Department grant will gather young professionals in a program called the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).  The effort is designed to stimulate business and community growth in four regions on the continent.

One of Kalyango’s first tasks is to assemble a team to conduct workshops in the assigned areas.  He’s hoping to recruit two of his team members from Ohio University on every one of his four trips to Africa.

“I may get someone from the Voinovich School of Government and Public Affairs and I may also get somebody from the College of Business Center for Entrepreneurship and from our college at the Scripps College of Communication,” he said.

Recruiting the members of his team could be a task it itself.

“As an administrator of a grant like this I'm faced with a challenge how do I now convince these resource experts that it's ok for them to go to Africa?” he said.

Then there are the young professionals

In Côte d'ivoire he hopes to bring 40 mid-career-professionals together to train for two weeks in what he calls “Connect Camps.”  But even if Côte d'ivoire is not an Ebola-infected country when the workshops begin there is the possibility some of participants may travel from infected countries.

Another challenge.

“We may actually have a blockade where we don't have any of these professionals come from these countries,” he said.

Alternatively he said he might be able to wait until the end of the 2015 to complete the portion of the work in West Africa when Ebola has run its course.  But he adds the problem may be worse by then.

“If that's the case I will consult with the department officials who administer this grant and think of another destination where we can do this,” he said.

“The good thing is that there are 54 countries in Africa.  The region of West Africa that is infected with the outbreak is only a tenth of the continent so there are other places where we can conduct these connect camps.”

The Ebola outbreak has spawned other administrative challenges for Kalyango.

“When I was putting together this grant I budgeted for insurance for us to be affordable so now I have to buy Insurance for resource experts and I don't know whether it's going to be triple or quadruple the amount that I had budgeted,” he said.

Beyond the challenges Kalyango sees the Ebola outbreak as an opportunity for Africa.

“Yes I think this is a double-edged sword because for one it provides me an opportunity to show that Africa needs support.  To go at least to talk to future leaders on how they can govern themselves and how they can make the best use of their resources to help communities and make life better not only for themselves but also for their communities,” he said.

To that end he plans to conduct sessions on crisis management to teach these young African leaders about community outreach and mobilization.
“So Ebola may be the case that we will use in some of these role plays to show how you can manage a major crisis,” he said.

While the headaches of this major health crisis make headlines every day Kalyango seems undaunted, perhaps because he has a great deal of experience with Africa as a journalist, an educator and an author of a book on media and democratization in Africa.

“I think we are going to do extra work to make this happen and it’s probably going to cost a little bit of money but with a half-million dollar grant for a year there is way you can make these things work out,” he said.