Category Archives: Africa – International

Nigeria on red alert over ebola

26 July 2014

Nigeria says it has put all entries into the country on red alert after confirming the death of a Liberian man who was carrying the Ebola virus.

The man died after arriving at Lagos airport on Tuesday, in the first Ebola case in Africa’s most populous country.

Surveillance has been stepped up at all “airports, seaports and land borders”, says Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu.

Since February, more than 660 people have died of Ebola in West Africa – the world’s deadliest outbreak to date.

It began in southern Guinea and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Contact avoided’
The Liberian man collapsed on arrival in Lagos last Sunday. He was taken from the airport to hospital, where he was put in quarantine.

Officials have identified the 40-year-old man as an employee of the Liberian government.

Ebola, which is highly contagious, spreads via bodily fluids, including sweat
Mr Chukwu confirmed that the other passengers on board the flight had been traced and were being monitored.

The patient had “avoided contact with the general public” between the airport and the hospital, he said.

Health specialists have been deployed at all entry points into the country, he added.

The virus, which kills up to 90% of those infected, spreads through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.

Patients have a better chance of survival if they receive treatment early.

Ebola virus disease (EVD)

Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
Fatality rate can reach 90%
Incubation period is two to 21 days
There is no vaccine or cure
Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
Fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the virus

The red alert in Nigeria comes as Sierra Leone launches a hunt for a woman infected with Ebola, who was forcibly removed from hospital by her relatives.

The 32-year-old, who is the first registered Ebola case in the capital Freetown, was described by national radio as a “risk to all”.

West African states lack the resources to tackle the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola
The Ebola cases in Sierra Leone are centred in the country’s eastern districts of Kenema and Kailahun, just over the border from the Guekedou region of Guinea where the outbreak started.

Police said thousands of people joined a street protest in Kenema on Friday over the government’s handling of the outbreak.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the doctor leading Sierra Leone’s fight against Ebola was being treated for the virus.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization said that 219 people had died of Ebola in Sierra Leone.

WHO: West Africa Ebola outbreak figures as of 24 July

Guinea – 314 deaths, 415 cases
Liberia – 127 deaths, 224 cases
Sierra Leone – 219 deaths, 454 cases
WHO update




Kenya – US and Australia to pull out aid workers over security; tourism suffering


Inspector General of Police David Kiamiyo (L) and Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku during the recent crackdown on terror suspects.  The police operation against terrorism has now turned to businessmen who are believed to be funding the al-Shabaab. IG Kiamaiyo says police are now investigating some sympathisers, financial institutions and prominent financiers suspected to fund terror activities in the country. AFP PHOTO / TONY KARUMBA

Inspector General of Police David Kiamiyo (L) and Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku during the recent crackdown on terror suspects. American and Australian volunteers are withdrawing from Kenya due to deteriorating insecurity that has taken a toll on tourism. AFP PHOTO / TONY KARUMBA


American and Australian volunteers are withdrawing from Kenya due to deteriorating insecurity that has taken a toll on tourism.

A statement from the US State Department said the decision to pull out about 70 Peace Corps volunteers was made on June 30, “based on the overall security picture.”
Kenya has been attacked by the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabaab since its incursion in the strife-torn country in 2011.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the attacks that have targeted churches, public service vehicles and at the Westgate shopping mall in Westlands, Nairobi.
Insecurity has deteriorated at the Coast where more than 100 people have been killed in the last one month in Lamu, Tana River and Mombasa counties.

The decision by the Americans and Australians is likely to adversely affect education, health and environment projects run by the volunteers in rural communities across the country.
The Australian High Commission in Nairobi said that it was withdrawing its nationals from various volunteer programmes for “safety” reasons.

“Australia has made the difficult decision to withdraw the Australian Volunteers for International Development (Avid) Programme from Kenya by June 30, 2015.

“The assignments of the 39 volunteers will be phased out over the next 12 months,” said Leisa Gibson, the First Secretary for Development Cooperation.
The Australian volunteers working on aid projects in Nairobi and Mombasa are to leave Kenya by August 17.

Some staff may be deployed to safer regions while others will return to Australia or be redeployed to neighbouring countries.

Head of the International Programme at the Australian Red Cross Peter Walton wrote to volunteers saying: “It is with great regret … that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has made the difficult decision to withdraw the Australian Volunteers for International Development (Avid) programme from Kenya.

Raft of measures
The move by the two governments is the latest in a raft of measures taken by Western nations that are adversely affecting Kenya’s economy.

The US Government recently increased the number of security personnel at its embassy and stationed armed marines behind sandbag bunkers on the roof. The State Department also reduced the number of US personnel based in Kenya by moving a regional USAid office out of the country.

Earlier this year, several Western countries issued travel advisories warning their nationals against visiting certain parts of Kenya considered unsafe. This resulted in massive tourist cancellations.
The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has designated Kenya as a “high risk” sky for American civilian aircraft.

The insecurity, particularly at the Coast, has also seen several international conferences cancelled at the last minute.
In May, a conference organised by Inclusion International (II) and the Kenyan Association for the Intellectually Handicapped, which was to be held in Nairobi was called off following a spate of terrorist attacks that month.

Others organised by USAid as well as the International Aids Vaccine Initiative were cancelled. The two conferences were to take place in Mombasa. The World Bank also followed suit over similar concerns.
Two test rugby matches between Kenya and Portugal scheduled for June failed to take place because of the travel advisories.

Last month, the organisers of the Africa Hotel Investment Forum moved a planned meeting from Nairobi to Addis Ababa over what they called “limited space.” The meeting is scheduled for October.

The only major international conferences which have been held in the country despite the security concerns are the United Nations Environmental Assembly (Unea) and the International Conference on Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).

The Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) said tourist bookings dropped by 17,000 this year, compared to the same period in 2013.

Major markets

“The number of tourists has gone down drastically after the travel bans issued by some of the major markets such as the United Kingdom and the US,” KTB managing director Mureithi Ndegwa said Friday.

He said the government had put in place a major recovery programme to mitigate the dwindling fortunes.

They include a Sh700 million kitty to aid the recovery of the tourism sector. The government has also reduced park fees for domestic tourists by about Sh200 while air ticket processing has been exempted from the VAT.

The State has lifted the ban on the public service holding seminars and conferences in private hotels, he said.
The government has been faulted over a reactionary approach to the insecurity problem.

“The government must be proactive. We need an overhaul of the security apparatus.

“The team that we left in 2002 is still intact. We need fresh ideas and new energy,” said former Internal Security permanent secretary and current Kuresoi South MP Zakayo Cheruiyot.
Security expert George Musamali accused the government of paying lip service to the fight against insecurity.

“The government is assuring us every day that things are alright, but they are not. Things are getting out of hand.

“The question we should ask is whether other countries have shared intelligence with our agencies and what our security organs have done with it,” said Mr Musamali, a director at the Centre for Risk Management in Africa.

“We are running around in circles. But there are obvious signs we are not doing the right thing. It has been said by many people that you can’t win any war on crime without proper intelligence. Involving the public is critical.”

The chairman of Coast Tourist Association, Mr Mohammed Hersi, said the State needed to do a lot more.

Mr Hersi Friday told the Saturday Nation that the government interventions had partly helped in sustaining the industry, but it needed to double efforts.

“State intervention has led to a lot of domestic inquiries. More people are coming in to attend conferences especially during weekends.

“It is a bit slower during weekdays…under the circumstances, but this has helped us. This is what is mainly sustaining us,” he said.

Additional reporting by Kevin J Kelley nation

Nigeria – Jonathan says 2015 election will be peaceful and will surprise the world


President Goodluck Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan has assured that the 2015 general elections would be peaceful and transparent despite the violence currently ravaging some parts of the country.

Jonathan said the peaceful nature of the election would surprise the world.

The President spoke on Thursday evening when members of the Diplomatic Corps, some senators, ministers and former government officials joined him for the breaking of Ramadan fast at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

He said, “I know that one thing that is dear to your hearts is what the elections in this country will look like next year.

“But let me use this unique opportunity to reassure you and I am conveying this to my brothers, your heads of government, that our elections next year will be free and fair. It will be peaceful in nature that will even surprise the whole world.”

Jonathan said with ugly incidents globally, there was need for constant prayers for divine intervention.

The President, however, regretted that some members of the society had chosen the wrong path and were being used by evil forces to wreak havoc.

He said, “Let us take the opportunity of this season to ask Allah to forgive them and guide them back to the path of righteousness and holiness.

“I request Your Excellencies and all Muslims and Christians that, as you pray this period, especially during the Night of Majesty, we pray for peace and security to reign throughout the world.

“Let us also pray for Allah to guide our leaders and grant them good health and wisdom to work for the progress of their respective countries.”

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South Africa – Zuma’s daughter gets top telecom department job at 25

Mail and Guardian

Aged just 25, Thuthukile Zuma has been bumped up to chief of staff in the telecoms department.

President Jacob Zuma's daughter, Thuthukile Zuma, has landed a senior management post in the government despite her lack of experience. (Gallo)

President Jacob Zuma’s daughter Thuthukile may have made history as South Africa’s youngest head of a minister’s office.

From a lowly public liaison officer to the powerful position of chief of staff within two months at the age of 25, she now earns almost a million rand a year.

Her dramatic rise to the position, which she assumed in May after the appointment of her father’s new Cabinet, has raised concerns about political nepotism at the renamed department of telecommunications and postal services.

It appears the post was never advertised, although ministers have the prerogative to make these appointments without going through the normal processes. Several departments do advertise such posts to ensure they attract the best-qualified candidates.

Thuthukile is the youngest of the president’s four daughters with ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former Cabinet minister who is currently chairperson of the African Union Commission.

Thuthukile now occupies a similar position to Lakela Kaunda, President Zuma’s chief of staff, who is considered to be one of the most powerful senior managers in the government.

‘HR procedure’
Most chiefs of staff are appointed at chief director level – earning an all-inclusive package of R934 000 – but ministers can motivate for the incumbent to be appointed as deputy director general, the second highest position in the civil service, a government official confirmed to the Mail & Guardian.

“There is an HR procedure for an upgrade of posts, but ministers’ requests are rarely turned down,” the government official said. It is not clear which level Thuthukile is on.

A chief of staff position requires “extensive management experience, an understanding of ministerial services and parliamentary functions to take charge of the overall management of the ministry, knowledge of the Public Service Management Framework and Public Finance Management Act”, according to several job advertisements for the position that the M&G has seen. The chief director position requires at least five to 10 years’ experience at senior management level.

Shortly after completing her undergraduate degree in 2011, she worked – or “volunteered”, according to the ANC – at the ruling party’s headquarters. She subsequently joined the State Security Agency and spent less than a year there.

The University of the Witwaters­rand confirmed that Thuthukile graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in April 2011 and received an honours degree in anthropology in June 2012.

Political appointment
One public servant maintained that a chief of staff position is a political appointment and that ministers do not consider a candidate’s managerial experience, but several ministries have advertised such positions with strict senior managerial requirements.

Soon after the elections in May, Thuthukile followed Zuma loyalist Siyabonga Cwele from the State Security Agency to the new telecommunications ministry, where he was appointed minister.

Apparently, a formal complaint has been lodged about the appointment, according to M&G sources, but this could not be confirmed independently.

Ministerial spokesperson Siya Qoza told the M&G that there are no human resources complaints relating to Thuthukile’s appointment. “We have checked with the department’s human resource management unit and they have assured us that there is no record of a complaint about Ms Zuma’s appointment,” he said.

A chief of staff is responsible for the overall management of staff and the office’s budget in the ministry, making it a very powerful position. Although directors general are responsible for the overall budget, they – according to a government official – tend to delegate this function to chiefs of staff.

According to the estimates of national expenditure for the current financial year, the chief of staff will manage a R4.1-million budget in the telecommunications and postal services ministry. As head of the ministry, Thuthukile will play a critical function in the interface between the ministry and the department.

Point of contact
A recent vacancy advert for chief of staff in the ministry of evaluation and monitoring in the presidency – similar to the post Thuthukile now holds – indicates that a chief of staff would also act as a primary point of contact for the department’s director general on behalf of the minister.

A chief of staff can even be a proxy for the minister himself, as a ministerial representative, if delegated by the minister.

Depending on the size of the ministry, the number of employees under the chief of staff can vary between 10 and 20 people, including ministerial spokespersons and very experienced staffers.

Even though ministerial advisers report directly to the minister, in some ministries chiefs of staff call the shots and regulate the advisers’ access to the principal. Depending on their relationship with the minister, some chiefs of staff even write speeches and act as de facto chief advisers to the politicians.

Before she joined telecommunications, Thuthukile served as a public liaison officer at the State Security Agency “for just under a year”, according to State Security spokesperson Brian Dube.

Thuthukile then moved with Cwele to the new portfolio two months ago, where she was suddenly promoted to the powerful position that manages almost all the minister’s business.

Contract appointment
State Security referred all questions to Cwele as the person who had appointed Thuthukile in the new department. Spokesperson Qoza confirmed that Thuthukile has a contract appointment at the ministry, but he would not respond to questions about her relevant experience for the role, saying only that it is “consistent with the rules and regulations governing the appointment of people in government ministries”.

According to Qoza, this, together with her academic qualifications, secured her the job. “Ms Zuma has worked with the minister before,” Qoza said. “The minister only considered her capacity for the job and her qualifications.”

Thuthukile refused to discuss her experience and why she qualified for the job when the M&G contacted her.

“Please direct all questions to the relevant department’s spokesperson. I do not answer questions on behalf of the department,” she said, before abruptly putting the phone down. Thuthukile’s Twitter account carried retweets from the telecommunications department’s official account, but she deleted the account shortly after the M&G sent questions to Qoza, who reports to her. She also removed all the pictures from her Instagram feed, which largely captured her support for the ANC, particularly around the last elections.

Qoza defended Thuthukile, saying: “Just like all citizens, [she] enjoys the freedom to participate in any economic activity, including being employed in government or the private sector.”

Requisite experience
Thuthukile’s predecessor in the role was Siphokazi Shoba, who left the ministry when the term of Cwele’s predecessor, Yunus Carrim, came to an end, affecting her contract. Unlike Thuthukile, Shoba has the requisite management experience, as she was previously in a management role at the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs. She served as chief of staff at the communications ministry, as it was then known, from July 2013 until May this year.

The telecommunications department is responsible for overseeing the South African telecommunications and broadcasting industries. It is also tasked with “expediting information and communications technology policy review for the expansion of digital infrastructure”.

Last week Cwele requested Parliament to approve a R1.59-billion budget for the department.

Additional research by Pauli van Wyk.

Central African Republic rebel leader rejects deal

Central African Republic rebel chief rejects ceasefire

Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic have rejected a ceasefire deal and demanded the country be partitioned between Muslims and Christians.

In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Harding, Seleka military chief Joseph Zoundeiko said his forces would ignore the ceasefire agreed on Thursday.

He said the deal had been negotiated without proper input from the military wing of the former Seleka alliance.

Almost a quarter of the 4.6 million population have fled their homes.

The peace agreement between mainly Muslim Seleka rebels and the largely Christian anti-Balaka militia was signed in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville.

Muslims have been forced to flee the capital city and most of the west of the country, in what rights groups described as ethnic cleansing.

Both sides have been accused of war crimes such as torture and unlawful killing.

‘Immediate partition’
But Maj-Gen Zoundeiko has now called for the entire country to be split in two, arguing that the Central African Republic as a nation state was finished.

Sectarian fighting has forced much of the Muslim population – and Seleka fighters – to flee to the north or to neighbouring countries

A recent study by the medical aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres showed “catastrophic levels of mortality” among some Muslim communities because of targeted violence
He called for an immediate partition between the Christian south and Muslim north.

But our correspondent says that political leaders from both sides insist that reconciliation remains possible and desirable despite months of violence.

Tens of thousands of Muslims have already fled from the south – and daily attacks continue in the countryside.

Maj-Gen Zoundeiko blamed “our Christian brothers” for making peace impossible. He declined to say exactly how the country should be divided.


US-Africa summit – the struggle to get leaders to step down

Mail and Guardian

Obama may struggle to persuade African leaders to step down timeously at leadership summit.

Still popular: Burkina Faso nationals cheer for their president, Blaise Compaoré (seen in the portrait). He has been in power since 1987. (AFP)

When United States President Barack Obama faces the large group of heads of state he invited for the first US-Africa Leadership Summit in Washington on August 6, he will almost certainly be aware that many of them came to power while he was still a university student.

Civil society organisations are urging him to use the opportunity afforded by the summit to remind the long-serving African leaders about the need to step down after their terms expire.

In no less than six African countries, most of them Francophone, there are plans afoot by heads of state to change their Constitutions to stay in power for longer than legally permitted.

The rumours and allegations on changing term limits have led to political strife and, in some cases, violent protests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burkina Faso, Benin, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.

“The bids by leaders to change their Constitutions to stay on are one of the main sources of instability in many countries in Africa today,” says DRC legal expert Jean-Pierre Fofé Djofia Malewa.

Speaking at a conference on international justice organised by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa in Senegal earlier this month, he said all eyes are on Obama to see whether he will mention the issue at the summit.

“The message should be [to] keep things simple [and] stick to the Constitution,” he said.

In the DRC, President Joseph Kabila has been in power for more than 13 years. His party is flighting the idea of either scrapping the constitutional term limits, as many of his peers have done, or changing the electoral system to a proportional one similar to that in South Africa.

The second option would allow Kabila to turn back the clock and run in the next two elections.

Ample time
Kabila could learn from his Angolan neighbour José Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power since 1979 and only changed the electoral system in 2010, ensuring that he has ample time for two constitutional mandates.

Could a word from Obama make Kabila change his mind?

Civil society activist Jeggan Grey-Johnson, from the regional office of the Open Society Foundation in Johannesburg, says Obama is being encouraged to use the summit as a platform to urge heads of state to recommit to prior engagements and instruments on good governance.

But he thinks the summit is mainly in reaction to the many previous Africa-China, Africa-Japan or Africa-Europe summits, in which politics did not play a big role.

“Obama has to tread carefully because speaking about governance could be seen as contentious,” says Grey-Johnson.

In May, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated on a visit to Kinshasa that the US is prepared to give the DRC $30-million in aid to hold elections “in accordance with the Constitution”, which was seen as a clear warning about sticking to the presidential term limits.

Swaying the other Francophone heads of state might be more difficult. In Burkina Faso, for example, plans by the ruling party to hold a referendum to change article 37 of the Constitution in order for long-time President Blaise Compaoré to serve another term has led to huge political strife.

In an interview with the weekly pan-African news magazine Jeune Afrique earlier this month, the man who took over from the popular Thomas Sankara as president in 1987 after Sankara was slain, refused to say whether he is going to push for a third term next year.

But he did say that after 27 years in power “you don’t think about yourself, but about the future of your country”.

Asked whether he is talking to his peers about constitutional term limits, notably to presidents Kabila, Thomas Boni Yayi of Benin, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, he admitted: “I would lie if I said no, but actually [we talk] very little.”

Of this group, Sassou-Nguesso is certainly the most experienced. Having ruled the Republic of the Congo between 1979 and 1992, he again came to power in 1997, won elections in 2002 and 2009 and still seems fit enough to try for a third term in 2016. The Constitution currently forbids this.

In Rwanda, Kagame has been in power since 2000 and was elected with overwhelming majorities in 2003 and 2011. The Constitution limits the head of state to two seven-year terms, but there have been persistent suggestions by his supporters that he should change the Constitution in order to stay on beyond 2017.

These rumours and frequent media articles are seen as an effort to gauge international opinion.

The same can be said about the rumours about a third-term bid in Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza is supposed to quit power next year. Political conflict, especially involving the youth wing of the ruling party, has raised concern among observers, including the United Nations and the African Union.


Africa – one step forwards, two steps back in overall development, UN says


Photo: Hien Macline/UN

Pupils in Cote d’Ivoire: Education is one of the crucial indicators used in compiling the Human Development Index.

Cape Town — While a number of African countries have recently made some progress in improving the quality of life of their people, nearly as many are backsliding, according to the latest United Nations statistics. And across the board, Africa continues to lag far behind the rest of the world in its levels of human development.

These are the broad conclusions that can be drawn from the snapshot provided by comparing country rankings for 2013 to those for the previous year, as published in the 2014 Human Development Index. The index, a project of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), measures quality of life by examining achievements in income, health and education.

The index shows that 11 African countries improved their rankings in 2013 over 2012, while the rankings of eight declined. Nevertheless, only five African countries appear in the “high human development” category, while 35 of the 43 countries whose development is categorised as “low” are African.

Although Zimbabwe is ranked “low” – at 156th place among 187 countries – its improvement between 2013 and 2012 was the most dramatic in the world. Its ranking rose by four places. The UNDP said in a press release that this was a result of “a significant increase in life expectancy – 1.8 years from 2012 to 2013, almost quadruple the average global increase.”

On the other hand, Libya’s human development is classified in the “high” category but its ranking plunged the most – by five places to 55th place. This was a consequence of conflict contributing to a drop in income, the UNDP said.

Apart from Zimbabwe, better rankings were also achieved by Zambia, which rose two places, to 141, and by nine other countries, whose positions rose one place: the Democratic Republic of Congo (to 186), Lesotho (to 162), Morocco (129), Mozambique (178), Nigeria (152), Sierra Leone (183), South Africa (118), Tanzania (159) and Togo (166). However, the index nevertheless scores the DR Congo, Mozambique and Sierra Leone as among the world’s 10 least developed countries.

Other African nations besides Libya whose rankings slipped were Equatorial Guinea, by three places to 144th place, Senegal, also by three places (to 163), Cape Verde (two places, to 123), Egypt (two places, to 110) and Mauritania (two places, to 161). Each of the following countries dropped one place: Botswana (to 109), Chad (184), Comores (159), Gabon (112), Guinea (179), Niger (187), Sao Tome and Principe (142) and Seychelles (71).

However, Africa fares better if its rate of progress is assessed over the 13 years since 2000. Although sub-Saharan Africa has the highest levels of inequality in the world, it notched up the second highest rate of overall progress in the index between 2000 and 2013, the UNDP said in a press release.

“Rwanda and Ethiopia achieved the fastest growth, followed by Angola, Burundi, Mali, Mozambique, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia,” the agency said.

Taking a global perspective, the UNDP this year placed considerable emphasis on reducing people’s vulnerability to factors outside their control, and on building up resilience to avert the threats they face.

“High achievements on critical aspects of human development, such as health and nutrition, can quickly be undermined by a natural disaster or economic slump,” the report said. “Theft and assault can leave people physically and psychologically impoverished. Corruption and unresponsive state institutions can leave those in need of assistance without recourse.”

It suggested that “real progress” in improving human development depended not only on improving people’s education, health, safety and standards of living, but also “on how secure these achievements are and whether conditions are sufficient for sustained human development. An account of progress in human development is incomplete without exploring and assessing vulnerability.”

Providing an African take on the issue, the director of the agency’s Regional Bureau for Africa, Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, added that “withstanding crises and protecting the most vulnerable, who are the most affected, are key to ensuring development progress is sustainable and inclusive.”

No African country is in the “very high” development category, and only the north African and island nations of Libya, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Tunisia and Algeria fall in the “high” category.

The 10 countries in the world with the lowest development levels are, from the bottom, Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Chad, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Guinea and Mozambique.



Ebola out of control in West Africa


Photo: Jide Odukoya /Flickr

Lagos, Nigeria

The doctor leading the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone has himself caught the disease. The epidemic has claimed the lives of more than 600 people in West Africa since the beginning of the year.

Sierra Leone’s Health Minister, Miatta Kargbo has hailed Dr Cheik Humar Khan, who contracted Ebola disease while caring for patients, as a national hero. He paid tribute to the sacrifices the physician had made during the current outbreak. Humar Kahn is now being treated at a center run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders. The charity said Sierra Leone has now become an epicenter of the epidemic. It has recorded 454 of the 1,093 Ebola cases registered so far in West Africa.

The epidemic is turning into a disaster for West Africa. In this latest outbreak, the virus was first discovered in this part of the continent at the end 2013. It was first spotted in Guinea and has in the meantime also been found in Sierra Leone and Liberia as well. “The epidemic is out of control,” said Bart Janssens, director of operations for the medical charity Doctors Without Borders. “With the large number of suspected cases, there is a real danger that the epidemic could spread to other areas as well”

In Liberia, the Ebola virus has recently spread to four additional districts, raising the total number of affected regions to seven out of the country’s 15, said Torbert Nyenswah from the ministry of health in the capital Monrovia.

At least 105 people have died of Ebola in Liberia since March and the death toll for the whole of West Africa in mid-July stood at 603. It continues to climb.

In1976, in what was then Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), an Ebola epidemic claimed 208 lives. This was when the Ebola virus was first discovered and given its name. Since then Central Africa has experienced smaller outbreaks of the deadly disease. But this current outbreak, which has crossed three national borders, is posing quite a different, more serious challenge to health workers.

Monkey and rat meat off the menu

The governments of the three countries have been trying to prevent the disease from spreading any further. In Guinea, authorities have banned the sale and consumption of wild animals. Monkeys, bats, antelope and rats are a delicacy there, but they are also potential carriers of the virus. People have been travelling to the affected areas from other parts of the country in order to buy the meat of wild animals. Such behavior could encourage the spread of the disease.

Ebola – deadly disease strikes again

Stephan Becker, director of the institute of virology at the University of Marburg, Germany, believes that burial rituals could also be responsible for the spread of the disease. In many African countries, the deceased are normally washed and embraced before they are buried. In this manner, the mourners could easily catch the disease, because the virus is transmitted via contact with blood and other body fluids.

Distrust among the population

Becker’s staff have been helping to fight Ebola in West Africa for some months now. As part of their work for the European Mobile Laboratory Project, the German scientists visit villages and carry out tests on the sick and on the recently deceased. The purpose is to prevent new infections and so help curb the epidemic. If someone is infected then he or she should preferably not be treated at home, but at a quarantine facility. An infected corpse has to be buried cautiously, without being touched.

“When carrying out our work, we are aware the population doesn’t trust us,” said Becker. “People living in villages do not believe in viral diseases, but in evil spirits or curses. They think Western medicine is powerless against such things.”

Many people also believe that visiting a person in quarantine is equivalent to signing their own death warrant. 60 percent of people infected with Ebola do not survive. “But at least 40 percent of sufferers can be saved” said Becker. “People can be helped more effectively in intensive care than at home,” he explained. Health workers are not only fighting the Ebola virus, but local skepticism as well.

Becker would like to see more Ebola awareness campaigns. He would also like to employ more local staff who would work alongside foreign professionals like himself when testing for Ebola and drawing attention to the risk of infection. He believes an end to the epidemic is not yet in sight. “I assume that the situation will persist for months,” he told DW.

Doctors Without Borders has sent 300 Ebola specialists to West Africa. Ebola is among the most infectious diseases in the world. There is no vaccine or specific cure for the disease. allAfrica

Chatham House attacks “scaremongering” over GM crops in Africa


GM Scaremongering in Africa is Disarming the Fight Against Poverty

21 July 2014

Rob Bailey

Acting Research Director, Energy, Environment and Resources

Biotechnology offers an opportunity to boost the security of staple crops in sub-Saharan Africa. We ignore this at our peril.
Image by Getty/Stringer.Image by Getty/Stringer.

Transforming agriculture is central to sub-Saharan Africa’s development prospects. Three-quarters of people in extreme poverty – existing on less than $1.25 a day – live in rural areas, and crop yields across the region are often a fraction of those in developed countries.

Increasing productivity could help close that gap and increase farm incomes and food availability, in turn reducing hunger and poverty. But the transformation must go beyond raising farm productivity – it must also build resilience to climate change, which, in the absence of significant investment and adaptation, threatens to devastate African crop yields.

Biotechnology offers an important opportunity to improve crops. In particular, genetic modification (GM) enables plant breeders to increase the potential of crops and reduce the timescales involved. It is especially useful in the case of African staples that have narrow gene pools or are slow-growing or difficult to cross.

Governments, donors and philanthropic foundations have invested considerable resources in the development of GM varieties of staples such as sorghum, cassava, matoke and cowpea in an attempt to bolster nutrient content and resistance to pests, disease and drought. These crops are crucial to the food security and livelihoods of millions of sub-Saharan Africans, but are shunned by private-sector researchers, mainly because of the small market opportunity they offer.

This investment has yet to translate to anything more than successful field trials: no GM trait developed for African farmers has been cleared for release by a government. There are many reasons why this is so, but chief among them is the polarized debate about GM crops.

As my fellow authors and I note in a Chatham House research paper, opponents have waged effective campaigns against GM technology based on misinformation and scaremongering. Consider Uganda, where the banana crop is under attack from pests and diseases, spurring the government to develop genetically modified, resistant varieties. Anti-GM campaigners have linked the technology to obesity, cancer and infertility and used images of deformed cattle to heighten consumer fears about health risks.

Unsurprisingly, public support for GM is low and politicians see only downsides in promoting the technology. Consequently, a proposed biosafety law to regulate and control the release of GM varieties has been suspended, and Uganda’s modified bananas remain at the field trial stage.

This is not to say that there are no risks associated with the introduction of GM varieties, or that regulation is not needed. The release of any new variety, GM or otherwise, entails risk that must be assessed and managed accordingly.

But what typically determines whether a GM crop is approved for release in Africa is not a balanced, independent assessment of risks and benefits, but a political judgment shaped by distrust and suspicion of the technology.

Politicians are reluctant to progress biosafety legislation or take decisions towards the release of GM varieties. Even when a functioning biosafety regime exists, regulatory decisions may be unpredictable and subject to political interference.

As a result, GM crops are stuck on a treadmill of continual field trials. Governments are in effect attempting to balance the demands of pro- and anti-GM lobbies: proponents have a pipeline of technologies; opponents are appeased by the failure of any to gain approval.

This balancing act may be politically expedient, but it represents poor value for money for the public bodies and foundations funding research and does nothing for the farmers and consumers who could potentially benefit from GM crops.

This article was originally published by the Guardian

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Africa ‘missing out on biotech green revolution’

Farmer digs a whole in a cassava field (Getty Images) Biotechnology could help improve African agriculture’s resilience to future climate changes

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Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural sector needs to harvest the fruits of biotechnology in order to establish sustainable development, says a report.

A key challenge is to attract funding for biotechnology projects on staple crops, such as cassava, it added.

These crops were often ignored by commercial funders because they had a limited market, the authors suggested.

Africa missed out on the previous green revolution that boosted food output in many Asian and Latin American nations.

The report, On Trial: GM Crops in Africa, published by think tank Chatham House, said: “Increasing agricultural productivity and adapting farming to climate change are central to Africa’s development prospects.”

It added that there were opportunities to boost yields and increase resilience by improving existing crop varieties, and that “in some cases, biotechnology, and in particular genetic modification (GM), offers advantages over conventional plant-breeding approaches”, such as drought, pest and disease resistance.

However, the continent was in danger of missing out on capitalising on innovations offered by the 21st Century green revolution, just as it had done in the previous century.

“If you look at what happened in Latin America and Asia in the second half of the 20th Century with the Green Revolution, there was a range of technologies, new high-yielding hybrid varieties of wheat, rice and maize, new irrigation platforms, etc,” explained co-author Rob Bailey, research director for energy, environment and resources at Chatham House.

‘Growth spurt’

He added that this acted as a “growth spurt for development” because it delivered a big increase in yields and agricultural productivity allowing food prices to fall, increased food security and a diversification in economic activity in other sectors.

Vegetable stall, India (Image: BBC) Crops that do not have a global market do not attract the same level of private sector R&D investment

“Now, we are in a situation where Africa needs this growth spark in its agricultural sector, because it is primarily where most of the poorest people are, and it makes up a significant share of African GDP,” Mr Bailey said.

“But they are also in a race against time because climate change is gathering pace because the forecasts suggests that this is going to have a very profound impact on farm productivity.”

He explained that the need to increase resilience to forecasts of a changing climate was likely to increase the importance and need for innovation and R&D offered by biotechnology projects.

“The key challenge that African agriculture faces is that a lot of food security and livelihoods are dependent on these so-called orphan crops, such as cassava and sorghum, which do not have large commercial markets in the way that maize or wheat do. Therefore they are not attractive to large private sector researchers,” he told BBC News.

“So the first thing that Africa has to do is attract and mobilise public sector money to fund research into these sorts of technologies.”

Mr Bailey explained that biotechnology offered a range of advantages over traditional breeding methods: “A lot of the staple crops that are grown in Africa have quite narrow gene pools. There are not huge seed banks, with lots of different varieties of cassava or sorghum, that can be tapped into. It is not like maize or wheat.

“Biotechnology can be useful there because it provides plant-breeders with the opportunity to introduce genes or traits from outside of the species’ genomes.

“If you can identify a trait for pest resistance in another species and cannot find a trait like that within the cassava genome, then a conventional plant breeder is a bit [stuck].

“If you are using transgenics then you have the opportunity to bring that trait in from another species.”

Growing support

But he added that this was easier said than done because many sub-Saharan governments had limited resources and scientific capacity, and there was a danger of simply adopting models developed for Western food crops.

Mr Bailey said: “The problem with these sorts of models is that they do not properly engage the farmers.

“They have to be careful to make sure they are working with farmers from the outset so then they can understand what are the farmers’ needs, how they can be addressed and included in the technological process so they are more likely to use and adopt it when it is ready.

“A key message from the report is that you need to start with the farmers, understand their context and their market environments. This is the platform you use to judge whether or not you can develop a technology-based solution.

“If you come in and try to parachute something in from elsewhere because it has worked in Europe or North America then the risk of that technology failing or not being used are much higher.”  BBC

French military to secure Algerian plane crash site in Mali


Photo: VOA

An Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people has vanished while en route from Burkina Faso to Algeria. A French government official and the plane’s Spanish owner says contact was lost with the aircraft over northern Mali.

France has sent a military unit to secure the wreckage of an Air Algerie plane that crashed in Mali on its way from Burkina Faso to Algeria with 116 people on board.

President Francois Hollande’s office said in a statement Friday the plane, which was carrying 51 French nationals, was clearly identified even though it has “disintegrated”.

There have been no reports of survivors.

Burkina Faso army General Gilbert Diendere confirmed the plane was located about 30 kilometers north of the Burkina Faso border, in the Malian region of Gossi.

“At this location the (rescue) mission found debris from the plane that unfortunately included the remains of human bodies,” Diendere said.

“We have not been able to evaluate properly because night began to fall and rescuers confirmed to us that they have seen the totally burnt and scattered wreckage of the plane. Unfortunately, our team saw nobody (alive). The team saw no survivors there,” he said.

Authorities say the flight encountered strong storms after taking off from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.

There were few clear indications of what might have happened to the airliner, but Burkina Faso’s transport minister said the crew asked to adjust their route at 0138 GMT because of a storm in the area.

It is not yet known if weather played a role in the plane’s disappearance. The flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers should have taken four hours.

Earlier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters the aircraft “probably crashed,” as French fighter jets based in West Africa were taking part in the search.

French President Francois Hollande canceled a planned visit to overseas territories and said all military means on the ground would be used to locate the aircraft.

Earlier Thursday, Kara Terki, a spokesman for Air Algeria, confirmed there had been no sign of the plane since around 0330 GMT, about one hour before it was scheduled to land in Algiers Thursday morning.

The MD-83 aircraft, constructed in 1996, was chartered by Air Algerie from Spanish airline Swiftair. SwiftAir said in a statement it was continuing to work with Air Algerie and local authorities to locate the missing plane.

Last seen over northern Mali

Security officials in Mali told VOA that the plane was last seen on radar over northern Mali, between Gao and Tissalit, near the border with Burkina Faso.

Gao was one of the towns in northern Mali seized by al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants in 2012. The Malian government regained control after a French-led military intervention last year, but militants continue to attack French and government troops.

Algerian officials have set up a crisis team at the Algiers airport, while Swiftair said emergency equipment and personnel have been deployed to find out what happened to the plane.

According to Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Transportation, there were 110 passengers and six crew members on board, including 50 French citizens and 24 Burkinabe.

They said most of the passengers were in transit to destinations in Europe.

The plane was chartered by Air Algerie from Spanish airline Swiftair.

VOA’s Jennifer Lazuta contributed to this report. Some information for this report provided by Reuters. allAfrica


The wreckage of a plane that disappeared with 116 people on board on a flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers has been found in Mali, officials say.

French troops based in the region are on their way to secure the site, about 50km (30 miles) from the border with Burkina Faso, French officials said.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane early on Thursday after pilots reported severe storms.

The passengers on the Air Algerie flight included 51 French citizens.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-83 – Flight AH 5017 – had been chartered from Spanish airline Swiftair.

French President Francois Hollande expressed solidarity with the friends and families of those on board.

“A French military unit has been sent to (the area) to secure the site and gather evidence,” his office said in a statement (in French).

The statement went on to say that the plane had “disintegrated”, without giving further details.

France’s Interior Minister said it appeared likely the plane had crashed due to bad weather.

‘Burnt and scattered’

The crash site was identified on Thursday by the Burkina Faso army near the village of Boulikessi, officials said.

Gilbert Diendere, a Burkina Faso army general, said Mali had agreed to their cross-border search which was launched after a resident in Gossi described seeing a plane go down to the south-west of the town.

“Sadly, the team saw no-one on site. It saw no survivors,” he told reporters.

Weather map

“They found human remains and the wreckage of the plane totally burnt and scattered,” he added.

Malian state radio said shepherds had been the first to spot the wreckage and had informed the authorities, the BBC’s Alex Duval Smith reports from the Malian capital, Bamako.


French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told French radio network RTL that “the aircraft was destroyed at the moment it crashed”, meaning that it did not appear likely that the plane was attacked mid-flight.

“We think the aircraft crashed for reasons linked to the weather conditions, although no theory can be excluded at this point,” he said.

Earlier, French fighter jets and UN helicopters had been hunting for the wreck in the more remote desert region of northern Mali between Gao and Tessalit.

Algerian Minister of Transport Amar Ghoul (left) chairs an Algerian crisis unit meeting at the Houari-Boumediene International Airport in Algiers, Algeria, 24 July 2014 Algerian officials held a crisis meeting on the crashed plane

Contact with Flight AH 5017 was lost about 50 minutes after take-off from Ouagadougou early on Thursday morning, Air Algerie said.

The pilot had contacted Niger’s control tower in Niamey at around 01:30 GMT to change course because of a sandstorm, officials say.

Burkina Faso authorities said the passenger list comprised 27 people from Burkina Faso, 51 French, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, two from Luxembourg, five Canadians, four Germans, one Cameroonian, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Swiss, one Nigerian and one Malian.

The six crew members are Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots’ union.

French ties

Flight AH 5017 flies the Ouagadougou-Algiers route four times a week, AFP reported.

BBC West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy says it a route often used by French travellers.

France sent troops to Mali in January 2013 after al-Qaeda-linked militants threatened to overrun the capital, Bamako.

It ended its military deployment in Mali in July, but agreed to keep troops in the region as part of a new military operation based in Chad, focused on targeting Islamist extremists in the Sahel region.

France has strong ties to many west African countries. Mali, Algeria and Chad were all former French colonies.


McDonnell Douglas MD-83

Chris Yates, aviation analyst, said the aircraft was “relatively elderly”

  • Twin rear-engine, short-medium range airliner
  • More powerful version of the MD-80 type, based on earlier DC-9
  • Range: 4,637km (2,881 miles)
  • Capacity: 172 passengers
  • First flew: 1984

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