Feb 26, 2021

Niger opposition leader Mahamane Ousmane has claimed that he narrowly won the country’s presidential election, as fresh violence erupted a day after official results gave victory to his rival by a wide margin.

“The compilation of result which we have in our possession through our representatives in the various polling stations give us victory with 50.3 percent of the vote,” Ousmane said on Wednesday, according to a video of a speech he made in the southeastern town of Zinder.

According to provisional results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), former interior minister Mohamed Bazoum picked up 55.75 percent of the vote in Sunday’s runoff and Ousmane 44.25 percent.

Police clashed with Ousmane supporters in the capital, Niamey, after CENI’s announcement on Tuesday, AFP news agency reported.

Sources in the city said at least one police station and shops owned by people perceived as being close to the government had been pillaged.

In Dosso, 100km (62 miles) south of Niamey, the offices of a pro-government party were damaged by fire, residents said.

Further violence erupted on Wednesday morning in Niamey’s central market area. Protesters threw stones and police responded with tear gas, and at least one petrol station was attacked, according to AFP.

In the afternoon, protesters confronted security forces in the southwestern town of Kollo, residents said.

Internet access was severely reduced on Wednesday in Niamey and Zinder.

Also on Wednesday, Moumouni Boureima, a former chief of staff of the armed forces, was arrested at his home, a security source said. He was accused of leading the disturbances after the election result was announced, the source told AFP.

Boureima is reportedly close to Hama Amadou, the man who had been expected to be the most formidable opposition candidate in the election. But Amadou was banned from running because of a conviction for baby trafficking – a charge he says was politically motivated – and threw his support behind Ousmane.

The elections have been presented as the first democratic transition in the history of the coup-prone state. President Mahamadou Issoufou is voluntarily stepping down after two five-year terms.

‘Fraud’

Bazoum, co-founder with Issoufou of the ruling PNDS party, picked up just over 39 percent of the vote in the first round on December 27. Ousmane won just under 17 percent.

In 1993, Ousmane became Niger’s first democratically elected president, only to be toppled in a coup three years later.

In his speech, Ousmane insisted “fraud” had been committed “pretty much everywhere in all of Niger’s regions”.

“You have expressed your clear willingness to break with poor government, you have expressed your desire for change, for an emerging Niger,” Ousmane said, addressing Nigeriens.

“This desire for change has been expressed by your voting massively in my favour,” he said.

Niger Info

In the constituency of Timia in the Agadez region, “a turnout of 103 percent was recorded, with a score of 99 percent in favour of the ruling party’s candidate,” he claimed.

“In these areas, our delegates were forced at gunpoint to sign certifications (of the vote) without any possibility of adding remarks,” he said.

CENI has not yet commented on the allegations of irregularities. An observer mission from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said the vote was held “under free, fair, credible and transparent conditions”.

It was marred, however, by two attacks that killed eight people in two regions where armed groups are active.

Seven of the victims were election workers in the western Tillaberi region, near the border with Mali, whose vehicle struck a landmine as they headed to the polls.

Bazoum, speaking at his party’s headquarters on Tuesday, said he would be “the president of all Nigeriens” and reached out to Ousmane.

“Knowing his wisdom, I would like to count on him,” Bazoum said.

“If the opposition has doubts [about the election], it should be able to have the evidence” to put to the Constitutional Court, which certifies the results, he said.

The leaders of Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad have congratulated Bazoum on his win.

The Francophonie organisation of French-speaking countries, meanwhile, condemned the post-election violence.

Niger is the world’s poorest nation according to the United Nations’ development rankings for 189 countries. It is also struggling with armed campaigns that have spilled over from Mali in the west and Nigeria in the southeast. Hundreds of lives have been lost and an estimated 460,000 people have fled their homes.

 

Source: Al Jazeera

Feb 25, 2021

Nigeria’s economy has bucked a global trend and has successfully exited recession in the fourth quarter of 2020.

According to data from the country’s National Bureau of Statistics, GDP increased by 0.11% in the period October-December, supported primarily by growth in agriculture and telecommunications, which expanded by 3.4% and 17.6% respectively.

While increased global oil prices contributed to the growth, the figures also demonstrate the increasing importance of the non-crude sector for Africa’s most populous nation and the diversification of the country’s economy. Analysts note that the figures may indicate a sustained period of faster growth, as the world watches on to see which countries achieve a V-shaped recovery following the pandemic.

Growth in domestic product was also supported by the country’s Economic Sustainability Plan, an ambitious set of policies announced by President Buhari’s administration in June 2020 to address the immediate challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Already, the focus on infrastructure and job creation in the agricultural and other labour-intensive sectors have borne fruit, and the Economic Sustainability Plan is soon to enter a new phase, with the installation of solar power in 5 million homes further boosting employment opportunities and access to power.

Femi Adesina, Special Advisor to President Buhari on Media, said “Infrastructure is where Buhari will leave his biggest footprints. Bridges. Rail. Airports. AKK gas pipeline. All to be delivered before the administration exits in 2023.”

In parallel, a new job creation initiative aimed at the country’s youth was launched in January, providing placements for over 700,000 unemployed young people.

Nigeria’s GDP numbers at the end of 2020 challenged the expectations of international organisations as well as global trends. Countries with larger stimulus packages, such as the USA and Japan, saw lower quarter on quarter growth than Nigeria over the period. In Europe, Spain and Germany also experienced unexpected increases of 0.4% and 0.1% respectively, while France’s GDP fell less than was forecast but remained negative.

This week also saw reports that corruption in Nigeria has fallen dramatically, with BudgIT, a civic advocacy organisation focused on budget and public finance issues, reporting the payment of public funds into personal accounts has declined by 94.75 percent.

While the trend in Nigeria is no doubt positive, risks of further waves of infection and a slow vaccine roll-out threaten the country’s sustained recovery, and are difficult to mitigate. Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NADFAC) recently approved the AztraZeneca vaccine for the country and has requested 10million doses from the World Health Organisation’s Covax programme. However, it is unclear when these vaccines will arrive and be rolled-out across Nigeria.

 

Credit: EU Reporter

Feb 24, 2021

The Central Bank of Sudan deployed a series of measures for the standardisation of the national currency rate in a bid to avert its rapid depreciation.

The Sudanese pound has now dropped to 400:1 against the US dollar.

"The Central Bank of Sudan issued ordinances and regulations for banks and organisations engaged in currency exchange operations, pursuing to implement a reformative approach by the government with regard to the unification of the exchange rate beginning from 21 February 2021", the authority said in a statement, obtained by Sputnik.
The reform entails establishing a single exchange rate across the country, thus, cracking down on the capital concealed within the shadow market, according to the communication.

The new regulations ultimately pursue "to normalise the relations with regional and international donors and friendly countries in order to secure subsidies and loans".

Sudan only recently got rehabilitated from a state sponsor of terrorism designation by the United States, which meant the removal of heavy economic sanctions from its banking sector. The tag, which Washington kept on Khartoum since 1993, was removed last December.

 

Sputnik

Feb 23, 2021

Niger's ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum took an early lead in the second round of the West African nation's presidential election, data released by the electoral commission showed on Monday.

Provisional results from 38 out of 266 constituencies showed that Bazoum was in a comfortable lead, winning a 54.1% share of votes counted so far against his main challenger and former president Mahamane Ousmane, according to Niger's electoral commission.

Nigeriens went to the polls on Sunday in the second round of the country's presidential election. The runoff between the two political heavyweights is expected tol pave the way for Niger'sfirst democratic transition of power since independence from France more than six decades ago.

Ousmane, who took nearly 17% of the vote in the first round, can count on the support of a coalition of 18 opposition parties as well as Hama Amadou, previously thought to be the most formidable candidate against Bazoum. But Amadou was banned from running because of a conviction for baby trafficking which he has slammed as politically motivated.

Several dead in vehicle blast

As voting came to an end, at least seven people were killed and three more were seriously injured when a vehicle belonging to the electoral commission hit a landmine.

The blast took place in the rural commune of Dargol in Tillabery region, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Niger's capital Niamey in the so-called tri-border region where Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso converge.

"This is a painful moment. It is a great shock for us, for us all," said Interior Minister Alkache Alhada.

Addine Agalass, an advisor to the governor of Tillabery, told The Associated Press by phone, "It's unclear if it was intended to target the electoral commission officials or if it was related to the election."

A new dawn for Niger

The vote was called after outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou announced he was voluntarily stepping down after two five-year terms.

"I'm proud to be the first democratically elected president in our history to be able to pass the baton to another democratically elected president," said Issoufou as he voted in Niamey.

Thousands of soldiers were deployed, to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. Election results are expected in several days.

The two candidates vying to replace Issoufou are political stalwarts in the West African nation, which is one of the poorest in the world.

Mohamed Bazoum, Issoufou's right-hand, is widely seen as the favorite after winning 39.3% of the vote in the first round. He has vowed to continue Issoufou's policies, with a focus on security and revamping the economy. He has the backing of the candidates who came third and fourth in the first round.

Mahamane Ousmane, was Niger's first democratically elected president in 1993 until he was toppled in a coup three years later. He won 17% of the votes in the first round and has the endorsement of about a dozen smaller parties and candidates. He has vowed to implement change and tackle corruption.

Ousmane also expressed concerns about electoral fraud and stressed that Nigeriens are "no longer willing to tolerate rigged elections."

"The suffrage of the citizens must be respected," Ousmane told reporters after he voted in the city of Zinder. "If citizens ever find out that these elections have been rigged again, I fear that the situation will be difficult to manage," he added.

Relative 'calm' in southeast Niger

Magagi Ganda Aissa, a Niamey-based civil society member, said she was "not aware" of any incidents of voting fraud in Niger's largest city, "There have been reports that armed people have arrived and seized ballot boxes in the interior of the country," she added.

According to DW correspondent Marah Mahamadou, election day Diffa in the southeast, along the border with Nigeria , was calm.

"We must admit that the vote went very calmly. At the beginning, there was a little fear, but nothing was reported. People everywhere went out to vote," she said.

What challenges do they face?

The Sahel nation has a population of 24 million and struggles with poverty, recurring drought, floods and two festering insurgencies. Militants linked to al-Qaida and the "Islamic State" (IS) armed group have carried out a series of attacks near Niger's western border with Mali and Burkina Faso, while Boko Haram has killed hundreds of people along the southeastern border with Nigeria.

One of Niger's few exports, uranium, has been hit by a drop in price in recent years, and the coronavirus pandemic has weighed on Niger's economy.

Political analyst Elhadj Idi Abou, based in Niamey, said the result could go either way and that turnout was expected to be high.

"For me, there is no favorite because this ballot is the most open and the outcome does not depend on alliances but on the citizens. Both candidates have the same chances," he told the Reuters news agency.

Niger is the poorest nation in the world, according to the United Nations' development rankings for 189 natons. In the country with a population of roughly 23 million and the highest birth rate in the world, 7.4 million are eligible to vote.

 

(AP, AFP, Reuters)

Feb 23, 2021

Seif Bamporiki, coordinator of Rwanda National Congress, a Rwandan opposition group in exile, was shot dead in Nyanga, Cape Town on Sunday, said South African police.

Western Cape police said on Monday that an investigation into the shooting is still underway. “The circumstances surrounding a murder are being investigated by Gugulethu police following an incident in Europa squatter camp where an adult male was shot and killed,” Police Colonel Andre Traut said.

“The deceased was pulled from his vehicle and shot, while the 50-year-old male who accompanied him managed to escape unharmed,” he said.

The Rwanda National Congress was established in the United States on Dec. 12, 2010. It was not clear if the killing was politically motivated.

 

XINHUA

In countries with weak governance institutions, natural resource wealth tends to be a curse instead of a blessing. Where citizens are relatively powerless to hold ruling elites to account, resource wealth undermines development prospects.

On the contrary, where citizens are able to exert constraints on executive power, resource wealth can generate development that benefits ordinary citizens.

Development scholar Richard Auty first coined the term ‘resource curse’ in the early 1990s. He used the phrase to describe the puzzling phenomenon of resource wealthy countries failing to industrialise. Manifestations of the ‘curse’ now range from widespread corruption to civil war to deepening authoritarian rule.

Literature on the resource curse has done an adequate job of describing the general nature of the relationship between resource dependence and underdevelopment. It now needs to focus on understanding specific manifestations.

In my latest book, I detail what these are in relation to oil in Nigeria and Angola, sub-Saharan Africa’s two largest oil producers.

My book shows that the resource curse manifests differently in different contexts.

Why does this matter?

If governance interventions are to be useful, it’s important to understand the context. Otherwise, policy interventions won’t gain traction. If political dynamics play a determinative role in long-run economic outcomes, we must understand them better.

Two countries, two stories

In 2018, Angola’s fuel exports constituted 92.4% of the country’s total exports. Oil rents – the difference between the price of oil and the average cost of producing – accounted for 25.6% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2019 the country ranked 148th out of 189 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index.

Nigeria’s oil exports in 2018 were 94.1% of total exports, oil rents amounted to 9% of GDP. In 2019 it ranked 161st on the human development index . As is clear from the graph above, sub-Saharan Africa’s major oil producers are clustered around the lower end of the human development spectrum and are mostly autocratic.

Both Nigeria and Angola have been characterised by one form or another of autocratic rule for most of their post-independence histories. Autocracy invariably undermines a country’s development prospects.

Angola was plunged into a civil war shortly after independence in November 1975. It then suffered an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1977.

In Nigeria, the balance of power at independence in 1960 was just as precarious as Angola’s. Nigeria suffered two military coups in 1966, and a civil war from 1967-1970.

But why does oil fuel the consolidation of autocratic rule in one context, but not necessarily in another?

It all comes down to how the leader of the ruling coalition extracts and distributes the oil rents. In my book, I employ a game theory model developed by Princeton political scientist Milan Svolik to explain these divergent political outcomes.

Angola

Jose Eduardo dos Santos came to power in 1979 as served as president until 2017, grabbing power early and repeatedly. Svolik’s model predicts that rulers who can do this at the same time as limiting the probability of a coup being against them manage to entrench their rule.

Within six years, dos Santos had consolidated power. He eliminated internal threats by subverting power sharing institutions and purging key individuals. For instance, in 1984 the central committee of the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) – created a ‘defence and security council’, chaired by dos Santos. As I note in the book, it became an inner cabinet, “effectively eclipsing the Political Bureau as the country’s top decision-making body”.

A year later, dos Santos dropped Lúcio Lara, the party’s stalwart intellectual, from the Political Bureau, thus removing the last potential threat to his rule. Simultaneously, he used the extensive oil rents at his disposal – and the cover of civil war – to either co-opt or eliminate opposition.

He did so by ensuring that the state oil firm, Sonangol, was proficiently run. It soon became Angola’s shadow state through its vast web of subsidiaries. After the civil war - 1975 to 2002 - Sonangol became the driver of (limited) development, but also the key distributor of patronage to cement dos Santos’s power. He not only bled it to enrich his family dynasty; he also used it to appease his inner circle.

Dos Santos ended up ruling for 38 years. But, his key strategic mistake was placing his children in plum Sonangol positions ahead of loyalists.

In 2017, João Lourenço, a former Defence Minister, became the new Angolan president. Dos Santos was to remain head of the MPLA until 2022. But, he was ousted through what was essentially a bloodless coup in 2018, engineered by his former loyalists like Manuel Vicente, the long-standing former head of Sonangol.

The Politburo appointed Lourenço president of the MPLA. He has since purged the dos Santos children from plum positions. Angola is still heavily dominated by the ruling MPLA, though. Prospects for a more competitive political settlement appear limited.

The case of Nigeria

Within six years of independence from Britain on 1 October 1960, the military launched a coup. This initiated a long period of military rule. Seven coups occurred between 1966 and 1993. Military rule was largely uninterrupted from 1966 to 1999.

But neither the coups nor the civil war were driven by oil.

Oil wealth only became a major factor in Nigeria’s political economy in the early 1970s, when the price rocketed as a result of the global supply crisis. Windfall oil wealth exacerbated the preexisting fragility. The state run oil firm, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, was inefficient compared to Sonangol. Nonetheless, it served as the country’s cash cow, milked to extend patronage.

But, unlike in Angola, no aspirant Nigerian autocrat was able to monopolise personal control over the national oil company. As I detail in the book, oil exacerbated fragility in Nigeria. While Angola’s dos Santos maintained a stable bargain among elites, Nigeria’s balance of power remained precarious.

In 1975, another military coup toppled Yakubu Gowon who had ruled Nigeria through the civil war. Murtala Muhammed came to power but was assassinated in a coup attempt six months later, which brought Olusegun Obasanjo to power in 1976. Obasanjo guided a transition to civilian rule in 1979 but this only lasted four years.

A 1983 coup brought current President Muhammadu Buhari to power and another ousted him two years later. Ibrahim Babangida then ruled until 1993. After a brief attempt at civilian rule, Sani Abacha came to power through yet another coup that same year. He died in office in 1998. His successor, Abdulsalami Abubakar, returned the country to civilian rule a year later.

Former military ruler Obasanjo – who had been imprisoned by Abacha – won the 1999 elections but attempted to grab a third term as president in 2006. Despite alleged oil-funded bribery to lobby party members to support his cause, they held fast to the constitution’s term limits.

The importance of that moment cannot be overstated. It has resulted in a more open and competitive political settlement in Nigeria. Maintaining constitutional term limits can stop autocratic entrenchment in its tracks. Unfortunately, this has not guaranteed stability in Nigeria. Post-2015 fragility has deepened considerably.

Where to from here?

As my book shows, oil rents grease the wheels of political dynamics very differently in Angola and Nigeria.

Existing explanations for different manifestations range from ethnic fragmentation, inherited colonial structures, the role of foreign actors and how lootable the oil is.

More attention now needs to be paid to how aspirant autocrats use natural resource rents to accumulate power for themselves. This can lead to policy practitioners developing an early warning system that may help citizens to nip power-grabs in the bud.

This may serve, in conjunction with other policy interventions, to ultimately reverse the curse.The Conversation

 

Ross Harvey, Senior Research Associate, Institute for the Future of Knowledge, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Feb 21, 2021

Voters in Niger will head to the polls today, Sunday to choose the country’s next president, in a runoff vote that pits outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou’s chosen successor against the country’s first democratically elected president.

Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate for the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, had secured 39.3 percent of votes in the first round of voting on December 27, well ahead of his closest rival, Mahamane Ousmane, at 16.9 percent.

Hailing from Niger’s tiny ethnic Arab minority community, 61-year-old Bazoum held key ministries in Issoufou’s cabinet and is widely seen as the favourite against Ousmane. The 71-year-old in 1993 won the West African country’s first multiparty elections but was overthrown three years later in a coup and has since failed to regain the presidency.

Issoufou’s decision not to run for a third term – in line with the country’s constitution – has been greeted by Niger’s international partners as a sign of democratic openness. The years preceding the poll, however, have been marked by growing insecurity along Niger’s borders, major corruption scandals and repressive measures against civil society members.

Focus on security crisis
The vote will complete Niger’s three-month-long electoral cycle that kicked off in early December with local elections and is also expected to usher in the country’s first peaceful transition of power between freely elected leaders.

Supported by large multi-party coalitions, both candidates launched their campaigning in the border region of Tillaberi, a hotspot of the worsening conflict plaguing the western portion of the Sahel for much of the past decade – and in recent years, increasingly hitting Niger as well.

Attacks by armed groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda and counterterrorism operations supported by Western forces have turned the area near Niger’s border with Mali and Burkina Faso into a regular battleground, forcing more than 90,000 people to leave their homes in the past three years, according to the United Nations.

At least 621 people were killed in the region in the first 11 months of 2020, an increase of more than 40 percent compared with the previous year, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

“How can we herd our cattle, go fishing, bring our kids to school, trade goods, see a doctor, if there’s no security?” Ousmane asked at the end of his coalition’s rally in Tillaberi on February 6, while also decrying what he deemed as the ineffective presence of Western armies.

Two days later, at another rally in front of a different crowd, Bazoum replied by promising he will do “everything in my power, to restore security” in Tillaberi, referencing the expected arrival of more than 1,000 Chadian troops to assist a regional military force fighting the armed groups and the deployment of hundreds of newly recruited and trained agents from the Garde Nationale, an internal security force.

As a former minister of interior, from 2016 to 2020, “Bazoum knows very well the country’s security apparatus, and this played a role in his designation as a natural heir to Mahmadou Issoufou,” explained Andrew Lebovich, a research fellow at the Washington-based European Council on Foreign Relations.

But although “Niger has avoided the security breakdown of some of its neighbours, namely Mali and Burkina Faso”, he added, “such persistent insecurity represents a risk for stability in the medium term”.

Like many other observers, Lebovich also pointed to the “consistent allegations over the embezzlement of public funds in military spending in the past years”.

According to an internal audit of the Ministry of Defence, partially leaked to journalists in February 2020, at least $137m has been lost between 2014 and 2019 as part of an enormous corruption scheme, involving high-ranking state agents and powerful middlemen who overpriced military contracts.

None of the people presumably involved has faced any legal consequence, and critics argue that Bazoum’s re-election would prolong such a climate of impunity.

Infrastructure, economic growth promises
Over the past five years, Niger has been turned into something of a global military hub, hosting army bases with troops from France, the United States, Italy, Belgium, Germany and recently establishing defence agreements with Russia and Turkey.

For many Nigeriens, however, insecurity is not necessarily the most pressing matter – poverty, and basic needs, are.

“The heartland of the country, the rural zones, have been completely neglected during the regime of Issoufou, and this is where 80 percent of Nigeriens live, often in a state of misery – a deep injustice which is the real prelude to insecurity,” said Moussa Tchangari, the secretary-general of civil society group Alternative Espaces Citoyens.

Niger’s record gross domestic product (GDP) growth, hitting about six percent in recent years, “benefitted only a very small part of the population, an urban middle class which is the target of Bazoum’s campaign”, he said.

Such growth has been largely driven by big infrastructure projects such as a new international airport in the capital, Niamey, shining five-star hotels, bridges on the Niger River, conference centres and hospitals.

Largely funded through foreign direct investment by Turkey, China and India, these facilities embody the new role of Niger’s international partners, one that might overshadow the traditional position of former colonial ruler, France, and of other European countries, that recently looked at Niger as an ally to reduce north-bound migration.

While the “Coalition Bazoum” election programme has promised to keep investing in similar infrastructure projects, including highways, regional routes and oil extraction plants, Ousmane’s “Seven E” manifesto focused more on access to water, education and support to farmers, in an attempt to mobilise rural voters.

Seven and a half million people, out of a population of 23 million, are eligible to vote on Sunday, with results expected in the coming days.

Voting projections seem to be in favour of Bazoum, who has the backing of 95 political parties in the second round. Ousmane, on the other hand, will count on the support of 17 political groups.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc has deployed an observation mission, while a local grassroots pro-democracy movement called Tournons la Page [translation: Let’s turn the Page] plans to mobilise some 500 observers around the country and a phone line to report potential incidents of fraud.

Maikoul Zodi, the group’s secretary, said the first round of voting was marked “by hate speech, vote-buying and irregularities, including the malfunctioning of many poll stations in areas targeted by jihadists”.

From 2018 onwards, Zodi and fellow activists spent months in jail following their mobilisation against what he calls “unpopular measures” taken by the government, from new taxes to impunity in cases of alleged corruption.

“In the past years, we’ve seen insecurity, corruption and a growing repression of dissent,” said Zodi. “Let’s leave all this behind.”

 

SOURCE : AL JAZEERA

News of a new outbreak of Ebola in Guinea is indeed distressing. The last in West Africa occurred between 2014 and 2015 and affected Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It was the world’s deadliest Ebola outbreak, which began in Guinea and in which more than 11,300 people died. Among these were over 500 health workers.

But countries in the West African region are in a very different position seven years on.

Liberia and Sierra Leone have already mobilised and activated their national response and preparedness plans. A clear indication that the political will is there.

Countries in the region also have the experience of the past, as well as new tools to tackle Ebola. They have an experienced workforce, laboratory systems are more developed and regional organisations, such as the Mano River Union – a regional economic and security body – and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are more proactive.

For example, one of the outcomes of a 2018 planning meeting in Freetown, Sierre Leone, was to prepare for cross-border transmission. A whatsapp platform was developed that provided for real time tracking of outbreaks. It is now operational and is being used to transmit updates from Guinea to the surveillance and response teams from member countries.

However, as Pierre Formenty, the head of the World Health Organisation’s viral and haemorrhagic fever team, once pointed out to me: the worst mistake anyone can make about Ebola is to underestimate Ebola, or to think they know all about Ebola.

I’m an infectious disease expert and have led national response teams in previous Ebola outbreaks. A fundamental lesson I’ve learned is that the success of a control strategy is not based on the obvious information you have, but the subtle unanswered questions. I learnt this the hard way.

One particular incident has stayed with me. In early August, 2014, I met with Liberia’s WHO Representative who asked me how West Point was doing. West Point is Liberia’s largest slum and is located in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. I said, with great confidence, that it was very quiet and had no ongoing Ebola transmissions. However, at that very time, there were active Ebola transmissions in the area and secret burials were happening in the early morning hours. The cases in West Point exploded.

It’s crucial to keep digging, and keep questioning. I’ve compiled a series of questions which are key to preparedness strategies, and which all countries in the region should address.

Key questions

There are some key biological questions that those leading surveillance and contact tracing need to answer.

1) The first is: how long was the first case sick before they died?

Answering this question is crucial so that neighbouring countries can trace possible times a sick person – or contact from the current cluster – may have come into their country. Many of the cases spread through the region in this way during the 2014 to 2015 outbreak. Many people crossed over to escape an outbreak or seek help.

Ebola does not kill within a day. The virus has an incubation period of between two and 21 days. People get progressively sicker as the virus multiplies in their bodies. Some studies from the previous outbreak in Guinea indicted an average of eight days from the onset of symptoms to death.

Having a timeline is crucial to understand who they might have passed the virus on to.

2) The second important question is: What was the source of infection? How did they get infected?

This helps surveillance teams identify whether the person was the index – or first case – and can identify their contacts. If this isn’t known it means the source of the infection is out there, and there could be multiple cases around.

Once the first case is infected, we know it spreads from human to human through direct contacts, fluids, dead bodies and contaminated materials from an infected person.

3) The final and most serious question is: what strain of Ebola is being dealt with?

Vaccines are available for the Ebola Zaire strain, but not for others. Reports I’ve received indicate that the current outbreak in Guinea is due to the Zaire strain.

There are also critical epidemiological questions that needs to be answered quickly too:

1) How many contacts – meaning people they came into contact with – has the first recognised case generated so far?

It is crucial to find 100% of the contacts. Missing just one can lead to an outbreak. This will require tracking movements, interviewing families, friends and places they might have sought treatment. This is where the complex detective work of contact tracing kicks in.

In the case of this recent outbreak in Guinea, infected persons had attended the burial of a nurse. Knowing this is vital because it allows the team to begin to map the potential spread of the disease.

In this case, the fact that it’s a funeral and that she was a nurse, indicates that this is a super-spreader event.

Funerals are often attended by relatives who might have travelled long distances to get there, and possibly even from other countries. Action can be taken on this basis – neighbouring countries are put on alert. In 2016 border checks worked. We were able to catch cases that had escaped from Guinea to seek refuge with relatives in Liberia.

The fact that she was a nurse points to a bigger, undetected outbreak.

2) What is the alert case’s demography? This includes age, ethnicity, occupation and economic activities.

All these are pertinent in understanding who the person might have come in contact with.

For instance, in 2014, an infected case from Guinea, crossed over to Sierra Leone to seek care from a traditional healer among her ethnic group. This set the stage for the biggest outbreak in Sierra Leone which then spilled over into Liberia.

3) What were the person’s movements and how many places did the person visit when they became ill?

This includes hospitals, clinics and traditional healers. A transmission map must be built which examines all the possible movements and transmissions. If the index case moved using public transport, vehicle logs and movements for other passengers are needed.

In Liberia, we worked with transport unions, visited hospitals and pored over patient records. We worked with commercial motorbike riders to piece these complex transmission maps to determine the the total number of contacts, locations and status. The reason this is critical is that in the control of Ebola it is an “all or nothing principle”. You must reach 100% contacts and follow them up and ensure that none escape or get sick and die in the community. Otherwise, there’s a new transmission chain.

Until each of these very complex questions are answered, neighbouring countries should operate under the assumption that cases are in their countries. There is a already an alert of a suspected case in Liberia that came from Guinea.

Next steps

The governments of these countries must sustain the high levels of alertness and preparedness they have initiated. Everything must be done to ensure Ebola doesn’t enter densely populated areas.

Surveillance must be carried out – especially in border towns. Symptoms surveillance teams must look out for include fever, headache, joint pain and redness of eyes. Surveillance activities should also screen for ethnic groups to which sick people belong. It’s better to pick up all potential cases, rather than risk missing one.

There should also be visits to all hospitals and clinics in bordering towns. Patient records must be checked.

Any medication and vaccines that can treat the disease must be on the ready to be deployed rapidly.

And finally, Ebola starts and ends in the community. It’s crucial to activate, educate and empower communities to say something and report something when they see something.The Conversation

 

Mosoka Fallah, Part-time lecturer at the Global Health & Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and Lecturer at the School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences, University of Liberia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Feb 18, 2021

Social media platforms have played a huge role in communication during the pandemic, with billions of people using them to get information, entertain and socialize amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

As the world’s largest social networking platform, Facebook has witnessed a significant increase in the number of users and revenue amid the coronavirus outbreak.

According to data presented by Buy Shares, the number of Facebook’s monthly active users hit more than 2.8 billion in 2020, while revenues jumped by 20% year-over-year to $85.9bn.

More Users than YouTube and TikTok Combined

Founded in 2004, Facebook soon became the leading social networking service based on global reach and total active users.

In the first quarter of 2010, the popular social media platform had 431 million users, revealed the company data. In the next two years, the number of Facebook active users surpassed one billion, making it the first social network ever to do so.

Statistics show the number of monthly users continued growing in the following years and hit more than 2 billion in the second quarter of 2017.

The company’s quarterly earnings report revealed that Facebook gained 369 million users between 2017 and 2019, with the total number of active users rising to almost 2.5 billion that year.

Facebook Leading Countries

However, as millions of people started spending more time indoors and online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of users jumped by nearly 300 million YoY and hit 2.8 billion in 2020, the highest annual increase in years.

The number of daily active users also surged amid the lockdown, rising from 1.65 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019 to 1.85 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020. At that time, the company stated that around 3.3 billion people were using at least one of its core products each month, including WhatsApp, Instagram, or Messenger.

Analyzed by countries, India represents the leading Facebook market globally, with 320 million users as of January. The United States, Indonesia, Brazil, and Mexico follow, with 190 million, 140 million, 130 million, and 93 million, respectively.

Compared to other popular social media platforms, Facebook has more users than YouTube and TikTok combined. Statistics show the two social networks had 2.3 billion and 689 million users as of January, respectively.

Facebook Revenue Doubled in Three Years

The constantly growing Facebook user base has led to a surge in the company’s revenue over the years.

Statistics show Facebook’s revenue doubled in three years and jumped from $40.6bn in 2017 to $86bn in 2020. Last year, the social network accumulated a net income of $29.15bn, ranking first among social media companies.

The company’s earnings report also showed quarterly revenue surged by 33% year-over-year and hit $28bn between September and December 2020, the most significant increase so far. Most of that value, or $27.1bn, was made through advertising. Other revenue streams generated $885 million in revenue.

Statistics also show the majority of Facebook’s ad revenue in 2020, or around 94%, was generated via mobile devices.

Feb 17, 2021

Kenya is expected to widen the tax bracket, freeze employment and put more civil servants on contracts as part of the conditions by IMF for its $2.4 billion (Sh261 billion) loan.

On Monday, the visiting staff of the international lender approved the 38-month program under the Extended Funds Facility (EFF) and Extended Credit Facility (ECF) arrangement for Kenya to help in the post Covid-19 economic recovery initiative.

In a statement after the meeting, the IMF's delegation praised Kenya for reversing some of the earlier extraordinary tax measures introduced at the outset of the Covid-19.

''Kenya aims at reducing debt vulnerabilities through a multi-year fiscal consolidation effort, centred on raising tax revenues and tight control of spending, which would safeguard resources to protect vulnerable groups,'' IMF's statement read in part.

Kenya went back to the initial tax packages early this year after easing them to cushion households against the social-economic vagaries of Covid-19.

It reinstated Value Added Tax to 16 per cent after dropping it to 14 per cent. Pay as You Earn Tax for those earning above Sh24,000 went back to 30 per cent as well as corporate tax which had been lowered to 25 per cent.

Despite these measures, IMF wants Kenya to further widen its the tax streams going forward.

A private sector player who attended the IMF engagement forums held December 9 to 17, 2020, and from February 4 to 15, 2021 told the Star that the lender wants Kenya to review upwards its tax packages to boost revenue collection.

''The loan is pegged on tough tax conditions that will raise the cost of living for households. It is like the government is trading its citizens' lives for loans,'' he said, pleading to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter.

This is not the first time IMF is pushing Kenya to heighten the tax regime for loans.

In 2015, the lender pushed Kenya to introduce value-added tax (VAT) on petroleum products among other conditions in order to access a Sh63 billion credit line.

It also compelled Kenya to reintroduced capital gains tax after a three-decade break. The tax charged at the rate of five per cent of the difference between the selling price and the acquisition price less any transactional costs.

The National Treasury is yet to comment on the loan details, a day after IMF cleared it.

IMF also wants Kenya to drastically freeze employment and if possible place more servants on contracts to lower the high wage bill.

Contracts will reduce the burden of pension which has been a big financial burden for the National Treasury.

The government has already introduced a contributory pension scheme for civil servants and teachers a shift from the fully state funded pension scheme.

Besides, Kenya has been told to tighten the fight against corruption and address weaknesses in some state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in an effort to strengthen transparency and accountability.

Kenya has also agreed to strengthen the monetary policy framework and support financial stability.

The new loan if approved by the IMF board will escalate the soaring public debt which stood at Sh7.28 trillion by the end of December, equivalent to 65.6 per cent of gross domestic product in nominal terms, according to government data.

This, despite the country struggling to repay, forcing the exchequer to negotiate debt relief avenues by creditors.

 

Credit: The Star

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