Traditional leaders and the 2014–2015 ebola epidemic

Windt, Peter van der; Voors, Maarten


We assess the role of traditional authorities during an acute health crisis, the 2014–15 Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. We exploit plausible exogenous variation in the political competition for local chieftaincy positions and find evidence that traditional leaders helped shape the course of the epidemic. Locations with more “powerful” chiefs experienced substantially fewer recorded Ebola cases. We argue that this result is consistent with a view of traditional authorities as “stationary bandits,” in which leaders are locally embedded and thus benefited directly from controlling the spread of the disease. Subsequently, control measures were most effectively implemented by more powerful chiefs.