This week emergency room and Ebola nurse Jugbeh Kekula was crowned the winner of “Integrity Idol,” Liberia's new reality TV show. Other contestants included a lawyer and a caretaker, in a bid to find the most honest civil servant in Liberia – a country where, according to Transparency International, corruption is entrenched. Ebola Deeply spoke with Accountability Lab's Lawrence Yealue.
Ebola Deeply: Why did you decide to launch “Integrity Idol” in the wake of Ebola in Liberia? What was the idea behind it?
Lawrence Yealue: We launched “Integrity Idol” because in Liberia the discussion around corruption is too negative – it doesn’t give any sense that things can change. So we wanted to shift the conversation and build a movement around integrity, naming and faming the honest government officials – and there are many of them all over Liberia – rather than naming and shaming those who are not serving the public good. This creates a positive narrative that everyone can buy into.
Ebola Deeply: Until recently, the concept of integrity was not something that many Liberians talked about. Do you think the show is changing that?
Lawrence Yealue: We hope so! Lots of conversations have been taking place all over Liberia as a result of “Integrity Idol.” We've been getting lots of feedback anecdotally about conversations that have been happening on the subject of integrity. We hope that over time, the conversation around integrity will be the default conversation rather than discussions only about corruption.
Ebola Deeply: How popular has the show been? How many people voted?
Lawrence Yealue: The episodes were broadcast for a week on two national TV stations, two national radio stations and many more community radio stations. We've also carried out mobile screenings in many communities and given DVDs of the episodes to video clubs who have been showing them, too. We have had hundreds of thousands of viewers and more than 5,000 votes online and through a free SMS shortcode. Equally, we have also made sure that people with power have seen the episodes – from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf downward – so they know this is the beginning of a movement!
Ebola Deeply: What have been the challenges of launching “Integrity Idol” here in Liberia?
Liberia is a challenging place in many ways. Corruption is deep-set and decisions are often made based on relationships rather than information, policy or law. Logistically it can be a tough country to navigate, with long power cuts, bad traffic (in Monrovia) and roads (elsewhere) and lack of access to the Internet. It is also relatively expensive to live, work and operate in, and we are a small civil society organization that is operating on a shoestring budget.
But we worked hard to address the challenges. “Integrity Idol” itself is an effort to overcome the problem of corruption and the lack of accountability; we manage logistics by collaborating where we can with amazing partners who help us out without cost, including the U.N. Mission to Liberia (UNMIL), the technology startup iLab Liberia, the Business Startup Center and the City of Paynesville, which hosted the winning ceremony.
Ebola Deeply: Nurse Jugbeh Kekula was crowned the winner, and she received a chicken as her prize. Tell us about the winner.
Lawrence Yealue: After all the votes were counted online and by SMS, Jugbeh Kekula was the first ever Integrity Idol Liberia! She won 51 percent of the vote. Jugbeh is a nurse who works in the emergency room at the Liberia Government Hospital in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, and who also volunteers in her own time to provide birth control and family planning information.
On winning she said, “I feel very good to win ‘Integrity Idol 2015.’ I feel honored and it will help me do my job even better than before. We should all practice honesty, we should be faithful, we should be sincere, we should do everything to the best of our ability. We should do the right thing. You may not always be appreciated, but as time goes by you will be rewarded, as I have been today.”