There isn’t enough clinical research being done in Africa. Less than 2.5% of all clinical trials in the world are done on the continent. This is why South Africa’s involvement in one of the COVID-19 vaccine trials is so important. The country’s effort is being led by Professor Shabir Madhi. The Conversation Africa’s health and medicine editor Ina Skosana spoke to him about the process, and what can be expected. This is an edited version of a podcast, which you can listen to here.


How does the trial work?

The study that we embarked on in South Africa is for a vaccine that was developed by the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford. It’s what is known as a non-replicating vector base COVID-19 vaccine.

The study came about when I reached out to the principal investigator at the University of Oxford whom I’ve known for over 20 years to find out if there was any interest on their part to include South Africa as part of the clinical development plan of the vaccine. The short answer was yes, provided we conducted the study on our own, including raising the funding to conduct the study.

The agreement with Oxford University preceded a subsequent agreement that they’ve entered into with AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company responsible for the further clinical development of the vaccine and future manufacturing. Pre-clinical studies of this vaccine candidate, including in non-human primates, have demonstrated initial evidence of the safety of this vaccine, as well as its ability to protect against COVID-19 disease.

Why South Africa?

The main reason is that the legacy of vaccines shows that they don’t necessarily work similarly across different populations. So if we want to be one of the early adopters, in terms of implementing vaccination against COVID-19 as part of our immunisation programme, we really need to generate data applicable to the local context.

 

A number of past vaccines have been shown to be highly efficacious in high income settings. But when they’ve gone on to be evaluated in low and middle income settings, they were found to be much less efficacious and, at times, not efficacious at all.

So if we want to make informed decisions at an early stage about whether these vaccines are going to be of benefit to people in South Africa, it’s critical that we undertake the clinical evaluation during the start of the entire programme, rather than at the latter stage. Waiting for results to come in from other studies would just lead to a lag in terms of the timing when vaccines would be introduced in South Africa as well as other low and middle income countries.

This has been the experience for many other life saving vaccines where it has taken between five and 20 years between their availability in high income countries and low middle income countries.

How are participants chosen for the trial?

Participation is completely voluntary.

Participants typically come to inquire about the study at clinics. We sit down with them and explain what the study is all about. What are the criteria for joining, what the expectations are of the volunteers because the study has quite intense expectations in terms of being able to come for regular visits. And they obviously need to be agreeable that when they do participate in the study, if they do develop signs and symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, that they would come forward to be investigated. This is critical for us to be able to determine whether this vaccine protects against COVID-19.

In addition, we would do some blood tests which ensures that they don’t have any sort of medical conditions that we would want to exclude.

If they’re found to be eligible, we randomly allocate them to one of two groups. Half will receive the vaccine, and the other half a control substance, which in our case, is a placebo. This is important for two reasons. The first is that it allows us to provide robust data in terms of the safety profile of the vaccine. And the control group enables us to determine whether the vaccine actually does have any impact in protecting against COVID-19.

Is there any reason people should be sceptical of the trial?

The short answer is no. The narratives that Africans are being used as guinea pigs is fundamentally incorrect. Rather a case of us wanting to generate robust scientific data to be able to make informed decisions about whether those vaccines actually do protect South Africans – and possibly Africans more generally – against developing COVID-19.

What are the next steps?

Right now we busy enrolling into the clinical trial. We’ve just reached the 200 mark out of the 2000 participants that we plan to enrol. We expect to have completed enrollment of all the volunteers over the next three to four weeks.

After that we will keep in touch with all of the participants at least every two weeks, including weekly SMS messages to determine whether or not experiencing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19. And if they are they will be asked to come in to be investigated to determine whether they are infected or not.

The endgame of the study is twofold. One is obviously to evaluate the safety of the vaccine, which is something that is ongoing almost on a daily basis.

The second part is that once we have about 42 individuals that have developed COVID-19 at least about a month after they’ve received the first dose of either the vaccine or the placebo we will then be able to do an analysis to determine whether the vaccine actually does protect against COVID-19. Specifically we will be testing if the vaccine efficacy is at least 60%; that is by being vaccinated your risk for developing COVID-19 will be reduced by at least 60% if not more.

 

We anticipate that we will probably be able to provide an answer as to whether this vaccine works and protects against COVID-19 by the end of November this year. In the worst case scenario it might take us a bit longer probably into the second quarter of next year.

What about managing expectations?

It’s very exciting to be involved in the sort of clinical development of the vaccine. But we need to be guarded in terms of our expectations as to what the result will be.

The fact that we’re embarking on a clinical trial doesn’t mean that we’re going to have a vaccine that’s going to protect against COVID-19.

Only about 10% of vaccines that go into clinical trials are eventually licensed for use. Right now there’ are approximately 200 vaccines that are being developed for COVID-19. It would be a huge accomplishment if, over the next 12 to 18 months, we are successful showing that even one out of every 20 (5%) of the vaccines that go into human studies are safe and provide some protection against COVID-19.

So even though there’s a huge amount of work taking place around vaccines, at least for the next 12 months the only tools that we’ve got available to us to try to protect people is adherence to physical distancing, the wearing of face masks in public spaces, avoiding mass gatherings, and making sure that you’re in adequately ventilated settings when in public spaces.

 

Anyone living in South Africa who is interested in participating in the study can e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.The Conversation

Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology and Director of the MRC Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit, University of the Witwatersrand

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

Jul 09, 2020

Coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world, behind only petroleum, and has become a mainstay of the modern diet. Believed to have originated in Ethiopia, coffee was used in the Middle East in the 16th century to aid concentration.

But did you know it also sparked a social revolution in Britain in the 17th century? Here are eight facts about the history of coffee…

Coffee has had many uses through history, from spiritual intoxicant to erotic stimulant. Diarist Samuel Pepys often wrote of the coffee houses of 17th-century London, and the drink also inspired a ‘women’s petition’ which described coffee as “bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water”. Here, Paul Chrystal, author of Coffee: A Drink For the Devil, shares eight facts about the discovery of coffee and explores Britain’s love affair with the ‘sinful’ beverage…
 
1.

Coffee may have been discovered by ‘excited goats’

Legend has it that Kaldi, a lonely goat herder in ninth-century Ethiopia, discovered the energising and invigorating effects of coffee when he saw his goats getting excited after eating some berries from a tree. Kaldi told the abbot of the local monastery about this and the abbot came up with the idea of drying and boiling the berries to make a beverage. He threw the berries into the fire, whence the unmistakable aroma of what we now know as coffee drifted through the night air. The now roasted beans were raked from the embers, ground up and dissolved in hot water: so was made the world’s first cup of coffee.

 

The abbot and his monks found that the beverage kept them awake for hours at a time – just the thing for men devoted to long hours of prayer. Word spread, and so did the hot drink, even as far afield as the Arabian peninsula.

A Yemenite Sufi mystic named Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili also has a claim to the discovery of coffee: he is said to have spotted berry-eating birds flying over his village unusually energetically. On tasting some jettisoned berries he too found himself unusually alert.

 
2.

It was brewed by a saint from Mocha

An alternative story has us believe that coffee was first discovered by a sheik named Omar, disciple to the Sufi mystic cited above. While in exile from Mocha (Arabia Felix in present-day Yemen), Omar, who was famous for his ability to cure the sick through prayer, lived in a desert cave near Ousab. Somewhat hungry, Omar one day chewed some berries only to find them bitter. He roasted them but this only made them hard; finally he tried boiling them, resulting in a fragrant brown liquid which, in an instant, gave him unnatural and exceptional energy and allowed him to stay awake for days on end. His ‘miracle discovery’ was held in such great awe that he was allowed to return home to Mocha and elevated to the sainthood while coffee percolated throughout the Arab world.

By the 16th century, coffee was the beverage of choice in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey, its reputation as the ‘wine of Araby’ boosted no end by the thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy city of Mecca each year from all over the Muslim world. Yemeni merchants took coffee home from Ethiopia and began to grow it for themselves. It was prized by Sufis in Yemen who used the drink to aid concentration and as a spiritual intoxicant. They also used it to keep themselves alert during their nighttime devotions.

From the Middle East the popularity of coffee soon spread through the Balkans, Italy and to the rest of Europe, east to Indonesia and then west to the Americas, largely through the Dutch.

Cafés on a branch of the Barrada River (the ancient Pharpar), Damascus, Syria, 1841. From ‘Syria, The Holy Land and Asia Minor’, volume I, by John Carne, published by Fisher, Son & Co., London, 1841. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
 Cafés on a branch of the Barrada River (the ancient Pharpar), Damascus, Syria, 1841. From ‘Syria, The Holy Land and Asia Minor’, volume I, by John Carne, published by Fisher, Son & Co., London, 1841. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
 
3

Coffee forged a social revolution

Coffee was so powerful a force that it forged a social revolution. Coffee was drunk in the home as a domestic beverage but, more significantly, it was also drunk in the ubiquitous public coffee houses – qahveh khaneh – which sprang up in villages, towns and cities across the Middle East and east Africa.

These coffee houses soon became all the rage and were the place to go to socialise. Coffee drinking and conversation were complemented by all manner of entertainment: musical performances, dancing, games of chess and, most crucially, gossiping, arguing and discussing the breaking news of the day (or night). These coffee houses soon became known as ‘schools of the wise’, the place you went to if you wanted to know what was going on in your world. The link between coffee and intellectual life had been established.

 

4.

It was believed that coffee is ‘sinful’

Coffee, like alcohol, has a long history of prohibition, attracting fear and suspicion and religious disquiet and hypocrisy. Had the zealots (of all religions) got their way then there would not be very many coffee houses open today.

Coffee drinking was banned by jurists and scholars meeting in Mecca in 1511. The opposition was led by the Meccan governor Khair Beg, who was afraid that coffee would foster opposition to his rule by bringing men together and allowing them to discuss his failings. Thus was born coffee’s association with sedition and revolution. It was decreed sinful (haraam), but the controversy over whether it was intoxicating or not raged on over the next 13 years until the ban was finally rescinded in 1524 by an order of the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Selim I, with Grand Mufti Mehmet Ebussuud el-İmadi issuing a fatwa allowing coffee to be drunk again. Beg was executed for his troubles by command of the Sultan himself, who further proclaimed coffee to be sacred. In Cairo there was a similar ban in 1532; coffee houses and coffee warehouses there were ransacked.

 

5.

Coffee was known as ‘the devil’s cup’

It did not take long for coffee to travel the short distance to the European mainland where it was landed first in Venice on the back of the lucrative trade the city enjoyed with its Mediterranean neighbours. Initially, however, coffee met with the suspicion and religious prejudice it had suffered in the Middle East and Turkey.

The word on the street, filtering back from intrepid European travellers to the mysterious and mystical lands of the east, was of an equally mysterious, exotic and intoxicating liquor. To Catholics it was the ‘bitter invention of Satan’, carrying the whiff of Islam, and it seemed suspiciously like a substitute for wine as used in the Eucharist; in any event, it was outlawed.

Such was the consternation that Pope Clement VIII had to intervene: he sampled coffee for himself and decreed that it was indeed a Christian as well as a Muslim drink. On tasting it he wittily declared: “This devil’s drink is so delicious… we should cheat the devil by baptising it!” From then on, coffee has been dubbed the devil’s drink, or the devil’s cup.

 

6.

Coffee came to England in the mid-17th century

According to Samuel Pepys, England’s first coffee house was established in Oxford in 1650 at The Angel in the parish of St Peter in the east, by a Jewish gentleman named Jacob, in the building now known as The Grand Cafe. London’s first coffee house opened in 1652 in St Michael’s Alley, near St Michael at Cornhill’s churchyard. It was run by Pasqua Rosée, a Greek man who in 1672 also set up a coffee stall in Paris. Pepys visited the London coffee house on 10 December 1660: “He [Col. Slingsby] and I in the evening to the Coffee House in Cornhill, the first time that ever I was there, and I found much pleasure in it, through the diversity of company and discourse.”

 

7.

Coffee houses became ‘the first internet’

For Pepys – and for many other literate men – the coffee house was his newspaper, his internet. In his diaries he refers to the latest news of the conflict with the Dutch, “the comet seen in several places” (15 December 1664) and the “threat of the plague growing upon us… and of remedies against it” (24 May 1665). In his entry for 3 November 1663 Pepys refers to diverse discussions on the Roman Empire, the difference between being awake and dreaming, and a discourse on insects.

By 1675 there were more than 3,000 coffee houses in England alone. Some even had bed and breakfast for overnight guests. Many seemed to follow the Turkish coffee house business model, if their exotic names are anything to go by: there were up to 57 different Turk’s Head coffee houses; The Jerusalem Coffee-house; various types of the Blackamoor or Ye Blackmore’s Head; The Oriental Cigar Divan; The Saracen’s Head (of Dickens fame); The Africa and Senegal Coffee-house; The Sultaness; The Sultan’s Head; Solyman’s Coffee House and Morat Ye Great.

 

8.

Coffee was claimed to be a 17th-century ‘Viagra’

Unless they were prostitutes, women were excluded from coffee houses and they let their resentment be known: in An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex in 1696, an indignant Mary Astell wrote: “A coffee house habitué is someone who lodges at home, but he lives at the coffee-house. He converses more with newspapers, gazettes and votes, than with his shop-books, and his constant application to the publick takes him off all care for his private home. He is always settling the nation, yet cou’d never manage his own family.”

Astell was merely chiming with all the other wives left at home with their chores and cups of tea; in 1674 there had been the vitriolic The Women’s Petition Against Coffee, in which wives argued that their husbands were forever absent from the home and family, neglecting their domestic duties – “turning Turk”, and all for “a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water”.

(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
 

Coffee, she said, “made men as unfruitful as the deserts whence that unhappy berry is said to be brought, so much so that the offspring of our mighty ancestors would dwindle into a succession of apes and pigmies”. She was referring here to erectile dysfunction brought on by the “noxious puddle”.

These claims were further outlined in the 1663 The Maiden’s Complaint Against Coffee pamphlet. Men’s Answer to the Women’s Petition Against Coffee was the retort – it protested that it was “base adulterate wine” and “muddy ale” that made men impotent. Coffee, on the other hand, was the Viagra of the day, making “the erection more vigorous, the ejaculation more full, add[ing] a spiritualascendency to the sperm”. Pfizer could never have found a better opinion leader.

 

Paul Chrystal is the author of Coffee: A Drink for the Devil, published by Amberley Publishing, 2016.

 

This article was first published by History Extra in October 2016

Jul 08, 2020

This is a flashback. Just about a year ago, the tough speaking Ugandan President, Yuweri Museveni blamed the World Bank and the West as a whole for driving Africa into Chinese arms by their refusal to fund railways projects across Africa.

Hosting some Chinese officials then, President Museveni lashed at the World Bank for refusing to lend Uganda money to build a railway network,noting that the World Bank told off Uganda when it sought for funds, that countries that “build railways use own money.”

He said that such a statement from an economist purports to support Africa’s transformation through private-sector led growth shows that some actors are not serious. Museveni, who was in China for a four-day visit, told a meeting in Beijing that Uganda Railways tried to get money to fund railway construction from the World Bank but in vain.

“One of our engineers recently told me that the Uganda Railways tried in vain to get support from the World Bank until one official told them that countries that build railways do so with “their own money,” Museveni said. 

“How will the private-sector grow if it is bedevilled with expensive transport costs, expensive electricity costs or no electricity at all, expensive cost of money, etc.? It is against that negativity, that China’s solidarity should be measured.”

“As we gather here, therefore, we cannot forget to salute the Communist parties of China, the USSR, Cuba and the other socialist countries that constituted the third factor in our emancipation,” he said. 

Reality a Year After

A year after , Uganda appears to have fallen out with Beijing on railway financing. China was unwilling to commit such fund after the faltering experience of Kenya.

Kampala has eventually resorted to a mixture of private public sector funding of her railway revival. It has slowed down the SGR agenda and in turn opted for rehabilitation of the old guage lines.

Interestingly, the Ugandan government has engaged a western led consortium in the rehabilitation efforts. Just two or so weeks ago, the national government of the Republic of Uganda approved US$ 376M for the 215km Malaba – Kampala meter-gauge railway refurbishment project.

An additional investment of over US$ 12M has also been approved to purchase eight locomotives for the line and more than US$ 2.5M for routine repairs across the network.

This was revealed by Charles Kateeba, the managing director of Uganda Railways Corporation (URC) in a letter addressed to the parliamentary committee on matters of national economy.

According to Mr. Kateeba, the Malaba – Kampala meter-gauge railway refurbishment would not only bring to life cheaper means of transport but also help reduce the number of trucks on the roads which would consequently lead to the reduction of wear and tear effect on the East African country highway roads.

Furthermore, the government hopes that the Malaba – Kampala meter-gauge railway refurbishment will reduce cross-border road traffic and help to limit the transmission of any future pandemics such as COVID-19.

The ambitious Uganda Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project

The above-mentioned investment is part of the ambitious Uganda Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project which aims to improve freight connections particularly between the capital city of Uganda and the country’s eastern border with Kenya.

The project includes the redevelopment and reconstruction of the East African country’s dilapidated 1,266km, 1000mm-gauge network to standard gauge and extension of the network to approximately 1,724km.

All this will be done in four sections: Malaba – Kampala, Kampala – Mpondwe, Tororo – Gulu, and Bihanga – Mirama Hills.

The construction of the Tororo – Gulu section has already been contracted to Vinci Group subsidiaries namely Sogea Satom and the ETF.

The two companies will replace the entire section 375km meter-gauge railway with a standard gauge railway.

They will also be responsible for the production and installation of 200,000m3 of ballast and the replacement and repair of sleepers, rails, and fastenings.

 

Credit: Rail-Bus

Last year, Australians reported more than A$634 million lost to fraud, a significant jump from $489.7 million the year before.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has released its latest annual Targeting Scams report.

But despite increased awareness, scam alerts and targeted education campaigns, more Australians are being targeted than ever before.

With all the technological tools we have, why does fraud continue to be so pervasive? And how can the damage be reduced?

Latest key findings

According to the ACCC’s report, “business email compromise” fraud rose to dominance in 2019.

At $132 million, it became the highest category of financial loss reported – the first time this has happened. This usually involves using phishing and hacking to infiltrate company systems and email accounts.

Offenders can intercept payment invoices, or create their own, and funnel victims’ funds into their own accounts. Businesses and individuals make their payments as usual, but unknowingly pay the offender.

Investment and romance schemes also continue to defraud victims. Reports of investment fraud totalled $126 million, up from $80 million in 2018. And romance fraud losses totalled $83 million, up from $60.5 million in 2018.

Overall, men reported higher financial losses ($77.5 million) than women ($63.6 million).

Years of statistics

Reflecting on a decade of the ACCC’s Targeting Scams reports, we can see how fraud has changed with the times.

Since the first report in 2009 (which recorded $69.9 million in losses) Australians have collectively reported more than $2.5 billion in losses.

The number of reports has increased significantly. While this likely reflects a higher percentage of the population being targeted, it also represents more authorities receiving complaints and contributing statistics.

For instance, 2019 marked the first year the big four Australian banks (Westpac, NAB, Commonwealth Bank and ANZ) contributed their data.

The ‘prince of Nigeria’ needs your help

Today’s offenders have very different approaches to those of ten years ago. There were once many more stories of Nigerian princes (although these still exist).

These days, victims are most often contacted by telephone, although email, text message and social media communications are also common.

Payment methods have advanced, too, with bitcoin and cryptocurrencies becoming popular ways for offenders to receive money.

According to the ACCC’s 2019 report, men were more likely to report losses to investment fraud, while women were the major target for romance fraud. Shutterstock

Why is fraud still so successful?

While technology has long helped scammers, it has also helped improve cyber security options such as antivirus software, and email filters to block spam. So why do we still have fraud?

Essentially, fraud takes a human approach. Criminals seek to capitalise on victims’ weaknesses in a calculated manner. For example, this year Australians looking to buy pets during lockdown lost almost $300,000 to puppy scams.

Offenders have also shifted their focus to counteract fraud prevention messages to the public from police and other agencies. One prime example is the Little Black Book of Scams released by the ACCC in 2008.

It provides comprehensive details of many common fraud schemes and has influenced fraud-prevention messaging across both the United Kingdom and Canada.

To counter prevention messaging, offenders now recruit Australians to launder their funds. Known as “money mules”, they are often victims themselves, asked to receive and transfer money on behalf of offenders.

From a victim’s perspective, there are fewer red flags when asked to send money to a Big Four bank account in Melbourne, compared to sending money to Lagos.

Similarly, since there has been a strong push against sending money to people you don’t know, offenders have embraced the use of romance fraud (which targeted more women than men in 2019).

 

Offenders develop relationships and build trust to eventually cheat victims. And as last year’s report notes, they are now initiating relationships through channels other than dating apps, such as Instagram and even the online game Words with Friends.

With a focus on building relationships with victims, fraud requests are no longer as outrageous as they once were (although this Nigerian astronaut scam was an exception).

As cybersecurity features such as email spam filters advance, attackers are finding new, innovative ways to deceive victims. Shutterstock

Manipulation and monopolising on emotions

As we gain a better understanding of how offenders operate, we’re starting to learn how effectively victims can be persuaded.

Fraud relies on the use of social engineering techniques such as authority and urgency to gain compliance. Offenders often take on the identity of someone with power and status to persuade victims to send money. They also stress the urgency of the request, to stop victims from thinking too much.

Psychological abuse techniques are also used to isolate and monopolise on victims. In this way, offenders try to remove victims from their support networks and place an air of secrecy around their interactions. And this limits a victims ability to seek support when needed.

There has been a greater recognition of the problem across government and industry. Despite this, there’s still often a sense of shame and embarrassment at being deceived, and victims have difficulty reporting.

 

Defences for the future

The latest Targeting Scams report shows us offenders are still looking to gain a financial advantage, and will do whatever it takes. While you can’t guarantee safety, there are some simple steps that can help reduce the likelihood of fraud:

  • recognise your own vulnerability to fraud. Everyone is a potential target.

  • talk about fraud-related experiences with family and friends in a non-judgemental way. Offenders want victims to stay silent.

  • in an uncertain situation, don’t feel pressured to xfrespond, as offenders rely on people making quick decisions. Hang up the phone, delete the email, or simply step back.

Now, more than ever, we must recognise the prevalence of fraud and the ways it impacts individuals and organisations across society. If we can learn from the past decade, maybe we can improve our defences for the next decade. The Conversation

 

Cassandra Cross, Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Law, Cybersecurity Cooperative Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology

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

Worrying news has recently come to light: hundreds of elephants have been found dead in Botswana, and as yet, there is no clear cause of death. But as an expert in elephants and their conservation, I believe we can at least rule out a few possible answers.

Here’s what we do know: the first deaths were reported in March, but significant numbers were only recorded from May onwards. To date, it’s thought that the death toll stands at nearly 400 elephants of both sexes and all ages. Most of the deaths have occurred near the village of Seronga on the northern fringes of the Okavango Delta, a vast swampy inland region that hosts huge wildlife populations. Many of the carcasses have been found near to water.

Of those discovered so far, some lay on their knees and faces (rather than on their side), suggesting sudden death, although there are also reports of elephants looking disoriented and even walking in circles. The tusks of the dead elephants are still in place and, as yet, no other species have died under similar circumstances.

Botswana’s elephant politics

Botswana has long been a stronghold for Africa’s remaining 400,000 elephants, boasting a third of the continent’s population. While elephant numbers have widely declined in recent decades, largely due to poaching, Botswana’s population has grown.

However, this growth has been outpaced by the ever-increasing human population. With more elephants and more people, competition for space has escalated and increasingly, elephants and people find themselves at odds. Some communities see elephants as pests, as they feed on and trample crops, cause damage to infrastructure and threaten the lives of people and livestock. In return, people retaliate by killing and injuring offending elephants.

With large rural communities struggling to coexist with elephants, the issue has become highly politicised. In 2019, in a controversial move, president Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted a ban on the hunting of elephants in Botswana, reasoning that hunting could both reduce their numbers and generate income for struggling rural communities. This, against a backdrop of rising poaching, suggests that times are changing for Botswana’s elephants.

The elephants lived on the fringes of the Okavango Delta, a unique ‘desert wetland’. evenfh / shutterstock

Speculation

This has sparked speculation about the recent deaths. However, given what we know, we can address some of the rumours.

Firstly, it seems unlikely that poachers are to blame, since the tusks of the dead elephants have not been removed. It’s estimated that illegal black-market ivory trade is responsible for the deaths of 20,000 elephants annually.

The elephants could have been killed by frustrated local people, typically by shooting or spearing. In this case however, the sheer number of dead elephants and the lack of reports of gunshot or spearing wounds, does not support this hypothesis.

Poisoning could be used instead, either by poachers or in retaliation by locals. A few years ago hundreds of elephants in Zimbabwe died after drinking from watering holes laced with cyanide, and the proximity of many of the recent deaths to water has given the idea some foundation.

However, in the event of poisoning, we would expect to see other species dying as well, either because they drank from the same poisoned water source or because they fed on the poisoned carcass of the elephant, and this has not been reported.

A natural cause of death?

If the evidence currently available doesn’t support foul play, that leads us to consider natural causes.

Drought can cause significant deaths. In 2009, a drought killed around 400 elephants in Amboseli, Kenya, a quarter of the local population. But drought tends to kill the very young and old, while the deaths recently reported in Botswana show elephants of all ages are affected. Moreover, rainfall in recent months has been near normal, ruling out the influence of drought.

Mount Kilimanjaro looms over Amboseli National Park. Graeme Shannon / shutterstock

Perhaps because wildlife disease has gained much attention in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the remaining possibility that has been widely suggested is disease. While COVID-19 itself is unlikely, elephants, like humans, are affected by a range of diseases.

For instance, over 100 were suspected to have died from an anthrax outbreak in Botswana in 2019. Those elephants that seemed disoriented and to be walking in circles might suggest a disease causing a neurological condition.

Still, the information currently available is inconclusive. The Botswana government has released a statement explaining that investigations are ongoing and that laboratories had been identified to process samples taken from the carcasses of dead elephants.

To avoid further speculation and prevent the deaths of more elephants in their last remaining stronghold, it’s vital that investigations are expedited so that the cause of death can be determined and suitable action taken.The Conversation

 

Vicky Boult, Postdoctoral Researcher in Conservation Biology, University of Reading

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

Jul 06, 2020

Willie Breedt, the alleged bitcoin and cryptocurrency scammer, has been declared bankrupt.

News24 earlier reported around 2 000 investors in Breedt's defunct company, VaultAge Solutions (VS), stand to lose around R227 million after promises by Breedt to pay out their investments and growth were not honoured.

On Friday, one of the biggest investors, who entrusted R7.5 million to Breedt, Simon Dix from Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, successfully applied for a sequestration order against Breedt.

The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria granted the order to Dix.

In January, Breedt moved from Krugersdorp in Gauteng to the luxury Marina Martinique Estate in Aston Bay near Jeffreys Bay.

Two weeks ago, he hurriedly went into hiding after some irate investors, allegedly led by a colonel in the South African National Defence Force, called in the services of a group of "debt collectors" to find Breedt and recover their money from him.

He opened a case of intimidation with police in Jeffreys Bay just before disappearing.

While awaiting the verdict of the sequestration application by Dix, investigators managed to track Breedt down at a guest house in the Silver Lakes Estate in Pretoria.

Identity

It was also established that Breedt did not book into the guesthouse under his own name but that of a friend, possibly to try and hide his identity.

Shortly after the order was granted to Dix, the sheriff of the court, assisted by the police, the Hawks and a team of specialist cryptocurrency forensic investigators, raided a house in Silver Lakes where Breedt had allegedly been hiding since mid-June.

They served the court order on him while he was with a medical doctor friend who also resides in Silver Lakes.

During the raid, numerous electronic devices, among others a laptop and nano stick, were confiscated.

The nano stick is a secure storage device which might contain information of where the bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies Breedt traded might be.

Cryptocurrency is usually kept in a crypto wallet, to which only the owner has access.

The group of investors were earlier also granted a court order to freeze two South African bank accounts belonging to Breedt and VS.

Despite rumours that Breedt was arrested on Friday, News24 confirmed that this was not true.

In the meantime, the South African Reserve Bank has appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers to launch an investigation into VS and all agents who were involved in selling cryptocurrency on behalf of the company.

 

Jul 06, 2020

Vodacom M-Pesa has announced the expansion of its International Money Transfer service portfolio. Vodacom customers will now have the option and ability to easily transfer and receive funds from individuals across more than 200 countries worldwide.

This was said recently at an international day of family remittances event held in Dar es Salaam where stakeholders met to deliberate on the future of International Remittance post COVID 19.

Speaking during a panel discussion on the same, Assistant Manager, Oversight and Policy at Directorate of National Payment Systems from Bank of Tanzania (BOT) Albert Cezari said the national bank has increased limits on digital transactions and reviewed balances of mobile wallets in a bid to provide relief and ensure continuity of services as part of measures taken amidst COVID-19.

On his part, Vodacom Tanzania PLC Managing Director Mr. Hisham Hendi, said that international remittances make possible people and small businesses to stay connected irrespective of geography.

According to World Bank Figures, Tanzania recent remittances stood at $430 million, an increase of $25 million from 2019. The sum represents 0.8 percent of the country’s GDP.

Jul 06, 2020

Private hospitals in Zimbabwe are charging massive amounts of money - in foreign currency - for Covid-19 treatment.

With government hospitals ill-equipped, and with doctors and nurses on strike, the only hope available for those needing treatment is private care - something beyond the reach of many.

“Kindly be advised that all Covid patients are required to pay USD (American dollars) deposits, $60 (R1,080) for casualty, $3,000 (R54,000) for General Ward and $5,000 (R90,000) for ICU (Intensive Care) hospitalisation,” Obedience Ncube, credit controller for the Catholic run Mata Dei Hospital in Bulawayo, said in a statement.

A government worker earns the equivalent of US$30 (R540), which is about half the fee for a basic Covid-19 test at a private hospital.

Nurses this week said “no USD salaries, no work” as they vowed to stay away.

“The salaries we are currently earning are meagre. They amount to slave wages ... to those who have been subsidising our employer by going to work, mostly because you have an alternative source of income, we call upon you to reconsider this and withdraw your labour as well,” the Zimbabwe Nurses' Association (Zina) said.

The situation has been made worse with the skeleton staff at public health-care facilities testing positive for Covid-19, thereby being sent home for quarantine. Sixty-eight nurses (student and managers) tested positive in one day at the United Bulawayo Hospitals and they have since been sent home. They were tested after one patient died of the disease.

The government this month began hiring newly graduated nurses but some of them don’t want to report to work.

“I was assigned to a Covid-19 centre. I won’t go because my contract stipulates that I have three months to report for duty. This is like being deployed to the war front after training and above all there’s no money,” said a male nurse.

In Harare, The Avenues Clinic said it has put in place “elective admissions” whereby “emergency cases should have at least an RTD (resistance temperature detector) done”.

The hospital also said all admissions should provide proof of a Covid-19 negative test.

To date, Zimbabwe has recorded 605 confirmed cases, 166 recoveries and seven deaths out of 68,400 tests.

 

SundayTimes

Jul 05, 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered amendments that would allow him to remain in power until 2036 to be put into the Russian Constitution after voters approved the changes during a week-long plebiscite.

According to a copy of the decree released by the Russian government on Friday, the amendments will come into force on Saturday.

"The amendments come into force. They come into force, without overstating it, at the people's will," Putin said after he signed a decree to have the constitution revised.

"We made this important decisions together, as a country," the Russian president said during a video-conference with legislators who worked on drafting the amendments.

The changes allow Putin to run for two more six-year terms after his current one expires in 2024, but also outlaw same-sex marriages, mention the "belief in God as a core value" and emphasise the primacy of Russian law over international norms.

Putin proposed amending the constitution in January and insisted on putting the language on his eligibility for office and the other topics up to a nationwide vote that was not legally required after the changes were approved by Russia's parliament and rubber-stamped by the country's Constitutional Court.

Irregularities reported

The citizens' vote was initially scheduled for April 22 but postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The balloting concluded on Wednesday amid widespread reports of pressure on voters and other irregularities.

Kremlin critics denounced the results of the plebiscite - with 78 percent "yes" votes and a nearly 68 percent turnout - as falsified and undermining the legitimacy of the amendments.

Central Election Commission Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova rejected the accusations on Friday, saying the results of the vote are "authentic" and their legitimacy is "indisputable".

"The vote was carried out with the utmost transparency," she said.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of Parliament, said on Friday legislators would start working on bills implementing the amendments immediately, without taking their traditional summer break.

 

Source: Aljazeera

Jul 05, 2020

The Nigerian Government has revealed plans to end the monopoly enjoyed by cable television service providers, especially Digital Satellite Television, owned by MultiChoice, a South Africa-based company.

The plan is said to include ending exclusive rights to sporting events.

Only DStv currently broadcasts major football competitions in Nigeria, especially the English Premier League.

The government said it had amended Nigeria’s broadcasting code to prevent DStv and others from monopolising their channels and contents.

The House has been probing DStv for allegedly cheating its Nigerian subscribers by restricting them to prepaid plans and increasing its subscription rates on June 1, 2020, despite the economic impact of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown on the people.

At the continuation of the investigative hearings organised by an ad hoc committee of the House on the matter in Abuja on Tuesday, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had dismissed claims by DStv that pay-per-view was not proper for the Nigerian market.

Mohammed noted that StarTimes, the cable arm of the Nigerian Television Authority, was already operating for some years.

In an audio recording obtained by our correspondent, Mohammed could be heard responding to questions from the lawmakers.

The minister said, “On the issue of increase in price for subscribers, with the onset of COVID-19, one of the first things we did in the ministry with the NBC (National Broadcasting Commission) was to provide succour to broadcasters.

“We suspended payment for the initial two months to all broadcasters so that they would be able to absorb the impact of COVID-19. Therefore, it will be unfair for those for whom we have suspended payment to also at the same time increase their own fees. And I’m sure that the DG of NBC will take up this matter.”

On the issue of monopoly, Mohammed stated that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had in 2019 set up a board of enquiry to look into the activities of broadcasting stations, to ascertain the potency of the broadcasting code and broadcasting act to curtail and regulate the industry against excesses.

He added, “We took that opportunity also to make right recommendations to Mr President, including the breaking of the monopoly of the various giant operators. It is to the credit of Mr President that he did approve those recommendations.”

Mohammed noted that some recommendations would require that the National Assembly amend the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Act.

The minister said, “You will notice, in recent weeks, a lot of attacks on the ministry as a result of these amendments. These amendments have actually struck at the heart of monopoly. These amendments are, for once, giving back to Nigerians their own industry.”

Earlier, Chairman of the committee, Mr Unyime Idem, asked Mohammed and the acting Director General of the NBC, Armstrong Idachaba, to order DStv to suspend its recent rates’ increment.

Mohammed immediately ordered the Idachaba to issue the notice.

Idem had stated that the minister and all stakeholders present should ensure and commence full implementation of its directives.

The House committee’s order included “a marching order to the service providers, particularly Multichoice’s DStv, to reverse the recent June 1, 2020 price hike and revert to the old price as this is not the best of times to increase the prices of services, no matter the reasons for such increase, taking into consideration the ravaging effect of COVID-19 on the economy of Nigerians.”

It added, “Come up with a robust strategy to break the monopoly and open up the industry for larger participation. PAYG regime for the digital TV broadcasting in Nigeria, with particular reference to DStv, GOtv, StarTimes and Kwese TV.

“Deregulation of content right by DTH (direct-to home), DTT (digital terrestrial television) and IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) operators. Encouraging local content participation through content sharing.”

 

Source: PUNCH NIGERIA.

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