Category Archives: Africa – International

West Africa – ebola hits food production

IRIN

Ebola hits West Africa food security

A woman waits for customers in a Freetown market in September 2014. Customer numbers have dropped and food prices risen since Ebola broke out in Sierra Leone earlier this year

KENEMA/FREETOWN/DAKAR, 20 October 2014 (IRIN) – West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, which has been disrupting agricultural and market activities, threatens to erode food security and negatively affect the livelihoods of millions of already vulnerable people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone unless more is done to meet their immediate food and nutritional needs, say aid agencies.

They say they are still calculating the number of food insecure households, but already the results of initial rapid assessments are worrying.

The World Food Programme (WFP) found that more than 80 percent of people surveyed via mobile phone in the eastern part of Sierra Leone say they have been eating less expensive food since the outbreak began. Three-quarters of respondents have begun to reduce the number of daily meals and portion sizes.

“I’m very concerned about having enough food every day,” said Sheku Conteh, a street trader in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. “The Ebola has caused a lot of strain right now. There’s no business and no jobs. and I’m having difficulty providing food for my family,” he said. “I have to starve myself much of each day just to save a bit from my sales to get food for my family.”

A rapid assessment survey last month in Sierra Leone by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that 47 percent of farmers have had their work “considerably disrupted” by the Ebola outbreak.

“Here, we have the largest cocoa farms,” said Sidikie Kabba, a farmer from eastern Sierra Leone. “Now it’s quarantined because of Ebola, so people aren’t travelling. Before, I was harvesting my produce – up to 50 bags – but now even 10 bags is difficult. So I’m losing money,” he said.

While Kabba stayed behind, many farmers stopped going to their fields during the most critical stage of the agricultural cycle – in July and August this year – when there was widespread misunderstanding of the disease.

In Sierra Leone’s Kailahun District in the east, at least 40 percent of farmers abandoned their land to move to non-affected areas according to the Minisrty of Agriculture. Many seasonal migrant workers, who normally help with harvesting have been either too afraid to work alongside others in the fields or unable to travel due to quarantine restrictions.

“You alone, you are not able to do large work,” said Yankouba Vandi, who grows coffee and cocoa in Sierra Leone’s Kenema District. “In the past, you can receive some manpower to help you to work, but for now, they will not allow that.”

Rice production down

In Liberia, rice production decreased by 10 percent in Lofa County this year because of fear among farmers, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In Barkedu and Foya counties, rice production fell by 15 percent.

The results of a four-week joint assessment on the impact of Ebola on food security, livestock and agriculture in Guinea, which is now under way by the Ministry of Agriculture, FAO and WFP, will not be available until mid-November, but Gueckedou’s Prefectural Directorate for Agriculture says that the total land area that was cultivated this year has “considerably declined” compared to past years.

Closed markets and disruptions in trade, transportation and people’s movements, have also led to food shortages in many communities across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, particularly those in border areas.

“Right now we are having a hard time getting regular supplies from farmers and other suppliers,” said Adama Conteh, who sells rice and vegetables in Freetown’s Bombay Terrace. Most of the areas we normally buy from are very hard to go to now because of this Ebola. Many of the farmers are afraid to go to their farms and harvest, or even come to Freetown with their products,” she said.

Along the border of Guinea and Senegal, at least 16 weekly markets have been shut down, according to WFP. In Liberia, many of the weekly markets also remain officially closed.

Food prices up, incomes down

In places where food is still available, some prices are going up.

In Liberia’s Lofa County, for example, the country’s former epicenter of the outbreak, food and commodity prices rose between 30 and 75 percent between April and September, according to FAO. Certain types of fish are now five times more expensive than before the outbreak began.

In Sierra Leone, the price of imported rice increased by upwards of 15 percent in some areas, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).

This is compounded by the fact that household incomes and savings are decreasing, as people are either unable, or too afraid, to work. And as more and more people contract the virus or die from it, families are also losing key sources of revenue.

“We believe this disruption in market chains and trade, which have increased the prices of certain commodities and decreased quality, is also affecting people’s incomes,” said Vincent Martin, head of FAO’s West Africa resilience hub. “So it’s not just a problem of food production, but with this impact on the incomes of vulnerable people, we will almost certainly see a deterioration of purchasing power in these households.”

Women hit by market disruptions

To help ease some of these impacts and reduce the risk of rising food insecurity, FAO says it plans to support 90,000 households across the most affected Ebola communities over the coming year.

Through a combination of activities related to saving lives and protecting livelihoods, FAO plans to work with its partners to raise community awareness about Ebola, train health workers, build up local health systems to be better prepared for disease threats and improve response coordination efforts, while increasing agricultural production, boosting incomes through cash transfer schemes and supporting microfinance initiatives.

“We have to be aware of the situation and we have to react quickly so that we don’t have, in addition to this health problem, a major food security crisis,” Martin said.

In Liberia, where women have been particularly hard hit by market disruptions, as they account for an estimated 70 percent of cross-border trade, FAO plans to give an estimated 2,500 families from local women’s associations cash transfers in exchange for helping spread Ebola awareness messages in their communities.

They will also be given vegetable seeds to grow during the dry season, to help bring in some extra income.

WFP says it has already delivered more than 9.1 million tons of food to 534,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea since April. They plan to reach a total of nearly 1.4 million people by the end of February.

This might not, however, be enough.

Contingency plans needed

Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) current caseload projection of 200,000-250,000 Ebola cases by early 2015, FEWS NET says that between 2.7 and 4 million people could reach at least a Phase 3, or crisis level, of food insecurity by March.

“It’s difficult to say with any confidence what the numbers will be in six months,” said Chris Hillbruner, FEWS NET’s decision support adviser, and lead technical analyst on the Ebola-impact project. “But if we continue to see this exponential increase and if the CDC’s predicted caseload were to occur, the concern is that we will see significant food gaps among populations both directly and indirectly affected by Ebola.”

Hillbruner said that while the priority should still be to focus all efforts on the prevention, treatment and containment of the Ebola outbreak, the best way to prevent a large-scale food crisis is to have a contingency plan in place.

“We don’t want to be overly alarmist, but we want to make sure that we are preparing now,” he said. “You don’t want to wait for the numbers to start spiking and then start a larger response. Ebola is already having an impact on food security, so it’s important that this planning is going on now and that we are prepared, so that we won’t face a major problem with food security and nutrition in six months from now.”

jl/aj/cb

Botswana – closer contest than usual expected at elections

South African News Features/allAfrica

Close to a million Batswana will go to the polls on 24 October in parliamentary and local government elections that are expected to be closely contested.

With a day to go before the elections, which many say will present a stern test for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), the country’s three main political parties have intensified campaigns as they seek to win over voters.

The BDP led by President Seretse Ian Khama is confident that it will once again emerge victorious. The BDP has never lost an election since independence in 1966.

“Still the only party,” and “Still the biggest party in Botswana” are some of the catchy phrases being used by the BDP on its website.

Khama is also encouraged by the support his party has received in the last few years, hence his decision to stand for re-election.

“Fellow comrades and compatriots, once again I come before you to ask in kind humility for your mandate to lead this beloved nation for a second term,” Khama said in a foreword to the BDP manifesto.

“Your confidence in the Botswana Democratic Party has not wavered in the last five decades and for that we are all grateful to you.”

A number of opposition parties have formed an alliance under the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) led by Duma Boko.

The UDC is an alliance between Botswana Movement for Democratic Change, Botswana National Front and the Botswana People’s Party, which has been hailed as a national project and has the blessings of civil society groups and trade unions.

According to analysts, this is by far the most powerful coalition to take part in the country’s elections since independence.

Its election manifesto is premised on five pillars. These are the need to create an educated society, “a clean and effective government”, a robust economy, social inclusion and peace and security.

The third party contesting the parliamentary poll is the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) led by Dumelang Saleshando, which has campaigned for an improvement in the country’s economic performance.

It has sought to capitalise on the challenges faced by the Botswana government during the past five years, particularly shortages of water and power supply, failed state projects due to alleged corruption such as the Palapye Glass Project and rising unemployment among the youth.

The Palapye Glass Project, which was scheduled for completion in November 2012, is still to be completed following allegations that some top officials syphoned funds invested into the project by the government.

The BCP has also campaigned for improvements in the education sector, which “is in total disarray as demonstrated by the results of public schools in the past five years,” according to the party’s manifesto.

In the last elections held in 2009, seven parties and 15 independent candidates took part in the elections, which saw the BDP win 45 of the 57 elected seats.

Seven political parties and 15 independent candidates contested the elections five years ago.

The Botswana Parliament has 63 seats, of which 57 are filled through direct votes.

There are four seats reserved for the majority party in Parliament, while the President and Attorney General are ex-officio members.

Information from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) shows that the BDP has fielded candidates in all 57 parliamentary constituencies, followed by the BCP with 54 candidates and the UDC with 52.

There are a total of 29 independent candidates contesting the parliamentary elections.

A total of 824,073 voters have registered to vote against an estimated population of 1.4 million eligible voters.

Of these, 389,870 (almost 50 percent) are youth, meaning that young people will have a major say in who will emerge as the eventual winner.

Botswana uses a single constituency electoral system of First Past the Post for the election of Members of Parliament.

Elected MPs then act as an electoral college to choose the President.

The run-up to the elections was marred by the death of an opposition leader when Gomolemo Motswaledi of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) died in a car accident in August in what the opposition claimed was suspicious circumstances.

However, the police have ruled out foul play, saying the “investigations reveal that Motswaledi’s death was the result of a road accident un-induced by any foul play.”

The elections will be monitored by observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union.

SADC has deployed an 86-member observer mission, split into 24 teams covering all the 10 districts of Botswana.

The observers were drawn from Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The SADC Election Observer Mission (SEOM), together with other regional and international observer missions, will monitor the electoral process in three phases, namely, the pre-election, the election and the post-elections.

SEOM is expected to produce a report on the conduct of the polls. This is in line with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which encourage Member States to promote common political values and systems.

Former Malawian president Joyce Banda is leading a 35-member AU observer mission comprising officials from the Pan-African Parliament, African ambassadors to the AU, election management bodies and civil society organisations from various African countries.

Chinese peacekeeping trops due in South Sudan in 2015

Reuters

(Reuters) – Some 700 Chinese peacekeepers are expected to join a United Nations mission in South Sudan at the start of next year, the head of the U.N. operation said on Wednesday, though she appealed for Beijing to deploy the battalion “sooner rather than later.”

China announced last month that it would send the troops to help protect civilians amid renewed violence. U.N. officials say this would be the first time China has contributed an infantry battalion to a U.N. peacekeeping mission. Last year China sent a smaller “protection unit” to join the U.N. mission in Mali.

Ellen Margrethe Loj, U.N. special envoy to South Sudan and head of the world body’s peacekeeping mission, said there were currently 10,488 troops on the ground. The operation has a mandated strength of 12,500 peacekeepers.

“The Chinese battalion is not there yet, but we have a Chinese engineering company and we have a Chinese level 2 hospital,” she told a small group of reporters at the United Nations in New York.

“The latest I heard is that it would not be until the beginning of the year but we are trying to appeal to all the troop contributing countries, including China, but also Ethiopia and Rwanda and others, to deliver the troops and the equipment they have promised sooner rather than later,” she said.

Fighting erupted in December in South Sudan, which declared independence from Sudan in 2011, after months of political tension between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy and political rival, Riek Machar. The conflict has reopened deep tensions among ethnic groups, pitting Kiir’s Dinka against Machar’s Nuer.

Loj, who took up her role six weeks ago, briefed the United Nations Security Council earlier on Wednesday and said she was “shocked by the complete disregard for human life.”

The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people, caused over 1 million to flee and driven the country of 11 million closer to famine. By year-end, a third of the people could face the threat of starvation, the United Nations said.

Peace talks brokered by African regional bloc IGAD have yet to reach a deal. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power has warned Kiir and Machar that if a peace deal cannot be reached during current talks then long-threatened sanctions were likely to be imposed by the U.N. Security Council.

Nigeria – 45 more girls kidnapped near Madagali

Leadership

45 Girls Abducted In Madagali Fresh Attack

| 1 Comment

Boko Haram insurgents have launched an offensive in Waga Mongoro village sandwiched between Gwoza town of Borno State and Madagali town
of Adamawa state where they abducted about 45 girls, local sources in the area disclosed.  Leadership

South Africa’s finance minister warns of new age of economic pain

Mail and Guardian

South Africa has reached an economic crossroads and the finance minister has outlined a three-point plan that is going to affect everyone.

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene. (David Harrison, M&G)

There’s a fierce economic wind blowing and Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene has trimmed the sails of the South African ship.

Addressing Parliament in his first medium-term budget policy speech, Nene spelled out a decisive plan for fiscal change.

Because of increasing current account debt, rising inflation and stagnating economic growth, “fiscal consolidation can no longer be postponed”, he said in the medium-term budget policy document.

He outlined a threefold proposal for change, which is likely to touch almost every South African:

  • The government will lower its consumption expenditure by R25-billion over the next two years;
  • The overall government spending ceiling will be lowered; and
  • Tax revenue will be increased by at least R27-billion over the next two years.

Despite slowed economic growth, this means tax increases are imminent.

The minister spelled out the details of the economic crossroads facing the country. During the recession, the government had adopted a counter-cyclical approach to stimulate spending but this was no longer possible. And the economy was expected to grow by only 1.4% this year, a stark revision from the originally anticipated 2.7%.

The main budget deficit remains at 5% of gross domestic product (GDP), with the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio the highest among its emerging market peers. Although the government has not exceeded its expenditure ceiling for the past three years, South Africa’s total debt stock is projected to increase to R2.4-trillion by 2017.

The country finds itself at a crossroads where the previous policy approaches will no longer yield the desired results: “Over the last five years, expansionary policies cushioned South Africa from the effect of the global crisis,” he said in the document. But “public debt is now approaching the limits of sustainability. Debt-service payments consume a growing share of the national budget, narrowing the space to expand public services and investment.”

“Sustaining deficits while the economy is unresponsive can worsen the current account deficit, push up inflation and interest rates, and reduce the competitiveness of the currency. Over time, these conditions undermine growth and employment.”

In the medium-term budget policy statement in 2012, the then finance minister Pravin Gordhan said that, if the economic and fiscal outlook deteriorated, the government would need to rethink its expenditure and revenue plans. Two years later, “that turning point has been reached”, Nene said.

Reining in government expenses
Nene announced several ways in which “budgets for nonessential goods and services will be frozen” for the next two years.

Planned expenditure on travel and subsistence would be cut by R555-million across all national departments.

Advertising and communications budgets would be docked by R240-million, spending on consultants would be reduced by R370-million and catering costs would come down by R150-million.

Speaking at a press conference just before the speech, the minister said these cuts would not hinder service levels to the public. “When we cut goods and services, that will not necessarily harm service delivery,” he said.

The government would withdraw funding for vacant posts. “We are saying, if they haven’t been filled in the past few years, why do you want to keep them still vacant and funded?” Nene said.

The public wage bill, currently R439-billion, is also likely to be contained. With government officials collectively demanding a 15% wage increase when multiyear wage agreements lapse next year, the government has said that anything higher than inflation plus 1% would be unsustainable and ultimately lead to the need to cut jobs or other cost-containment methods.

Nene said the treasury and public sector workers were coming from “different opening bids”. Government employees, when making wage demands, would need to appreciate that their employer was operating in a very constrained fiscal environment.

Tax increases down the line
South Africans can look forward to some form of tax increase in the coming months.

Policy and administrative reforms are expected to raise R12-billion in 2015-2016, R15-billion in the following financial year and R17-billion in the year after that.

But Nene would not be drawn on for details. “The only time we announce tax changes is during the [annual] budget speech [in February],” he said.

According to Izak Odendaal, an investment analyst at Old Mutual Wealth, this could be done in three ways.

Firstly, value added tax (VAT) exemptions could be eliminated. “Currently, a range of fresh food items are VAT free, benefiting rich and poor alike,” he said. These could be scrapped.

Secondly, remaining loopholes could be closed and tax avoidance schemes could be targeted, Odendaal said. In particular, the “off-shoring” of some companies’ tax liabilities could be scrutinised.

Thirdly, another form of wealth tax could be introduced – something that could have been implied in the budget document, which stated that “the proposals [to tax changes] will enhance the progressive character of the fiscal system”.

Charming the ratings agencies
The combined effects of tightening up spending and increasing tax would mean “a few years of pain” for South Africans, Nene said.

“It’s a call to action to all of us to take the pain,” he said. It was “not very bad, not very heavy pain”, but was unavoidable to narrow the budget deficit, stabilise debt and begin to rebuild fiscal space.

The moves are also likely to appease international credit rating agencies, which have recently viewed the South African outlook with concern.

With Standard & Poor downgrading the country’s sovereign rating to one level above junk status and Moody’s August decision to lower the ratings of South African banks, the country can little afford another credit rating reduction.

And Nene’s speech reflects his cognisance of this.

“Ratings agencies will rate us on what we are doing to keep our country afloat,” he said. “It’s important that ratings agencies find us managing our economy.”


Sudan – Bashir selected by Shura as NPC candidate for presidency again

Sudan Tribune

October 21, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party’s (NCP) Shura Council has selected president, Omer Hassan al-Bashir, as party candidate for the 2015 election.

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Sudan’s President Omer Hassan al-Bashir looks on during an interview with state television in Khartoum late February 3, 2012 (Reuters)

The incumbent president won 265 votes out of 495 which represent 73% of the total percentage. His official nomination will be approved at the NCP General Convention.

The NCP Leadership Council on Monday besides Bashir selected four other leading members and referred them to the Shura Council to pick one of them as the party’s nominee for 2015 presidential election.

The 70-year old president previously said he would not seek a new mandate saying the country needs “fresh bold”. The appointment of a military, Bakri Hassan Saleh, as first vice-president was also perceived as a step towards his departure.

During the past weeks, Bashir received different delegations from the NCP dignitaries requesting him to accept their nomination for the presidential race.

The other four nominees chosen by the Leadership Council and submitted to the Shura Council included the first vice-president Bakri Hassan Saleh, former presidential aide Nafie Ali Nafie, former first vice-president Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and presidential assistant Ibrahim Ghandour.

Meanwhile, the former presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday that he does not seek to run for the presidency despite being selected among the NCP’s five possible candidates.

“The party members will not select me [as presidential candidate] and I do not want it and it is better for them not to select me”, he said.

The NCP leading figure, Amin Hassan Omer, said in press statements that Bashir and his deputy Salih are not serving army officers, pointing they had retired and became members of the NCP.

The head of the NCP organisational sector, Hamid Siddiq, for his part, scoffed at reports that Bashir will easily won the upcoming election because he wouldn’t run against strong competitors, saying what is wrong if Bashir wins by consensus.

He downplayed voices saying that Sudan needs a president who could break the barrier of the the international isolation and build strong relation with the United States, saying the NCP needs someone who is close to Allah [God] not the US.

Siddiq pointed the NCP leaders were unwilling to accept party nomination for presidency, saying that 7 members withdrew their nomination and the technical committee conducted the nomination process twice for lack of a quorum.

NCP MISTAKES

Bashir, who addressed the Shura Council meeting on Tuesday, acknowledged that the NCP committed several mistakes and violations, announcing intention to form a committee to look into these violations in order to overcome the flaws.

He directed the NCP members to implement the recommendations of the Shura conferences, pointing to the political mobility his party made ahead of the General Convention.

The NCP chairman said his address in the opening session of the General Convention on Thursday will tackle NCP achievements during the past five years, pointing he will also deal with the failures.

(ST)

Manufacturing of ebola-Guinea therepeutic treatement

Reuters

(Reuters) – Canadian drugmaker Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp has begun limited manufacturing of a therapeutic targeting the Ebola-Guinea virus.

The pharmaceutical company said on Tuesday that the new drug, part of its TKM-Ebola program, would be available by early December but did not specify how many doses it was making.

Tekmira was not available for comment on the therapeutic, including whether it was manufacturing a drug or vaccine.

Tekmira’s investigational new drug application to U.S. regulators for TKM-Ebola remains on partial clinical hold, with the issue expected to be resolved in the quarter.

U.S.-listed shares of the company rose as much as 6 percent in trading after the company gave an update on its Ebola program.

Tekmira has completed the design of a modified RNAi (ribonucleic acid interference) drug that targets the Ebola-Guinea variant, the virus responsible for the worst outbreak on record that has hit hardest Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

TKM-Ebola, an RNAi therapeutic, works by preventing the virus from replicating.

The European Medicines Agency said on Monday it was ready to offer Ebola treatments and vaccines the benefits of “orphan” drug status – including extended market exclusivity – in a bid to encourage their development.

Initial clinical trials of Ebola vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline and NewLink Genetics are already under way, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc gave its experimental Ebola treatment ZMapp to American medical workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who recovered after contracting Ebola in Liberia, and to at least one Spanish priest, who died.

Mapp said it had begun manufacturing the drug using traditional methods, which would allow the company to produce more of the drug so that human testing can be carried out.

Three Ebola cases have been diagnosed in the United States: Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who died on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, and two nurses who treated him.

In September, U.S. and Canadian regulators authorized the use of Tekmira’s TKM-Ebola in patients who have confirmed or suspected infections from the deadly virus.  Reuters