Friday, July 31, 2015

Ebola vaccine in Guinea shows promise

Some big news in the NY Times and elsewhere: according to a report published today in the British medical journal The Lancet: "An experimental Ebola vaccine being tested in the West African nation of Guinea during the outbreak of the viral disease has shown promising initial results...."

Of 7,651 individuals in the study group, 3,500 whom received the vaccination. The timing of the vaccination was randomly assigned, some immediately after being exposed directly or indirectly to the virus and some vaccinated after 21 days (the incubation period of the virus). After 10 days, none of those who received the vaccination came down with the disease, compared to 16 among those who did not receive the vaccination. This indicates that the vaccination is between 75% and 100% efficacious.

The "ring vaccination" approach is the same approach that was used to eradicate smallpox. The Ebola victim is "patient zero" and the people who came into contact with the patient, and the people who came into contact with those people, are the ring. According to the WHO, ring vaccination has two objectives: "(i) to test whether the vaccine protects people who have been in contact with an Ebola patient and (ii) to ensure that by vaccinating people in the “ring” a buffer zone — or protective ring — is created around “patient zero” to prevent the spread of infection."

Ebola hasn't been in the news much lately - here is a brief update on the Ebola situation in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Islamic Extremists in Africa - the Big Picture

The Economist has an interesting article on violent jihadists in Africa, with this nice map (I try to always include an adjective when using the term jihad because according to Islamic scholars, the word jihad itself does not necessarily imply violence).

As the map shows, most deaths inflicted by Islamist terrorists in Africa are from Boko Haram attacks in northeast Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. But Boko Haram isn't the only such group in Africa. Al-Shabab is a Somalia-based group that has "pledged obedience" to Al-Queda and has spread into Kenya. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also has a presence and has launched attacks in Egypt and Libya. Al Queda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is, obviously, part of Al Queda and was launched in Algeria, spread to Mali where it took over half the country until the French dropped some bombs, after which it expanded into Tunisia and Morocco. Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) is a splinter group of AQIM, also based in Algeria and active in neighboring countries such as Mali. 

So obviously the ECOWAS countries, especially Mali, Niger, and Nigeria have more than their fair share of jihadist terrorist attacks. 


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Looking back at my earlier blog posts - not too terrible

When I started this blog I tried to cover all of Africa and didn't keep up very well. On January 18, following Tunisia's president stepping down in response to protests, I wrote that "some rulers in the area, like Mubarak and Qaddafi, might want to worry." Both of them ended up stepping down in response to protests or civil war, Mubarak a few weeks later, Qaddafi several months later.

In March 2011, I wrote that " I'm fairly optimistic that the military will eventually allow for democratic elections, but they will continue to be a power behind the scenes, perhaps as they traditionally have been in Turkey. They might even arrange to have their role in the political system formalized in a new more democratic constitution." The parliamentary elections were held later that year and presidential elections in 2012. The military took power in a coup in 2013, and in the new constitutions, the military's power is formalized:

"The 2014 Egyptian constitution gives SCAF the right to choose the defense minister for the next two presidential terms – a total of eight years. This was widely seen as a kind of icing on the cake in regard to the 2013 constitution, which already stipulated that the minister of defense would not be civilian but had to be chosen from among the ranks of military officers."

I'm sure I made some bad predictions too but I'll just enjoy the picked cherries for now.

ECOWAS Countries Presidential Election Calendar

ECOWAS countries have a lot of presidential elections coming up in the next year or so! I was about to write posts about a few of them but first let's look at the big picture. 

I'll fill in more details on some of those in the next few days...

Friday, July 24, 2015

Big resort in Cape Verde planned, thanks to Portugese colonial history and Cape Verdean good governance

According to yesterday, 

"Macau Legend Development Limited today announced that MLD Cabo Verde Resorts, S.A. and MLD Cabo Verde Entretenimento, S.A., both wholly-owned subsidiaries of the Company, have entered into several agreements with, among others, the Government of the Republic of Cape Verde to develop a 152,700 square-meters integrated resort and gaming facility complex."

So China is not just investing in oil drilling and mining, they're also investing in hotels and casinos and convention centers and all the other stuff that will be in this big resort.

China is investing all over Africa, but the connection between Cape Verde and Macau in particular is they were both colonized by the Portugese. Cape Verde was a Portugese colony until 1975. Macau was kind of Portugal's version of Britain's Hong Kong, and, like Hong Kong, is now a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China.

Anyway, the investment is a tribute to Cape Verde's political stability and general good governance. For example, former president Pedro Pires won the Mo Ibrahim Prize in 2011.

Boko Haram attacks again

More suicide bombings Wednesday, this time in Gombe in northern Nigeria.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Boko Haram Attacks

ISIS gets a lot more press coverage than Boko Haram does, but Boko Haram was on the attack yesterday and today.

Remember how yesterday Buhari's new appointments for Nigeria's top military posts was in the news? Suspected Boko Haram fighters burned down the family home of the new Chief of Army Staff (who was not at home at the time), along with other houses in the village.

Over 100,000 Nigerians have fled from their homes in the north-east part of the country to Niger due to Boko Haram attacks since mid-2013. The presence of an estimated 150,000 refugees, who were forced to leave without their belongings and livestock in Diffa, in Niger, combined with the security challenges of the Boko Haram attacks has been a burden on the economy. Many refugees have also fled to Cameroon, including 100 per day to the Minawao refugee camp, and over 12,000 to the Far North Region of Cameroon. Boko Haram is also launching attacks in Cameroon, including a twin suicide attack in the border town of Fotokol last week, and another two suicide bomb attacks in the capital of Far North Region, Maroua, today.

The fight against Boko Haram may be heading in the right direction now, however. The governor of Diffa, in Niger, says that Niger's security forces felt cooperation had improved with Nigeria since Buhari won the presidency in Nigeria in March. The governor believes that the suicide missions are acts of desperation. Yesterday, Buhari announced that the World Bank had pledged to spend $2.1 billion rebuilding the northeast part of the country that had been devastated by Boko Haram attacks, and the WHO would spend $300 million to combat malaria and the Bill and Melinda Gates would contribute toward anti-polio work.  Research by Paul Collier indicates that spending on health and education can provide an immediate boost to the economy of a newly peaceful nation. Hopefully Buhari will be successful in his fight against Boko Haram so Nigerians can reap the full benefit of these rebuilding efforts.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

President Buhari visits the White House and makes plans to root out Boko Haram and official corruption

Nigeria's President Buhari, who defeated Goodluck Jonathan in March (the first time the PDP lost a presidential election since multiparty elections were re-introduced in 1999), was in Washington yesterday to gather support for his related campaigns against Boko Haram and official corruption.

Yesterday Buhari met with Obama in the White House to discuss his plans to defeat the terrorist group Boko Haram and also to root out corruption. Obama expressed approval for Buhari's plans and offered support in the form of intelligence and other cooperation. Since Buhari's election, the US has committed $5 million to support a multinational task force to fight Boko Haram. According to Reuters, "U.S. cooperation with Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, had virtually ground to a halt over issues including his refusal to investigate corruption and human rights abuses by the Nigerian military."

Yesterday Buhari also wrote an editorial in the Washington Post in which he described some of his efforts to improve the fight against Boko Haram (such as replacing the heads of Nigeria's army, navy, and air force and shifting the military headquarters north to the front line of the battle), and his efforts to fight corruption. He will wait until September to appoint his cabinet ministers, so that new rules of conduct and good governance can be put in place first. He has requested assistance from the U.S. to recover $150 billion embezzled by officials in previous years.

Buhari has a reputation of fighting corruption, which is one of the reasons he defeated Jonathan, under whom corruption was endemic in Nigeria. Buhari was president of Nigeria for 20 months in the 1980s, between the coup in which he took power and the coup in which he lost power. During those months, some 500 politicians, officials, and businessmen were jailed as part of his anti-corruption campaign. In addition, in order to uncover stashed money, he introduced new currency to force holders of old notes to bring their money into the banking system.

Other policies under Buhari's previous tenure as president was restriction of press freedoms, and restrictions on imports to address Nigeria's trade imbalance, resulting in higher cost of living. These policies contributed to discontent and the coup that removed him from power.

His reputation for fighting corruption contributed to his popularity in the recent election. As a democratically elected president, rather than a president who seized power in a coup, he will need to use new tactics that will hopefully enable an improvement in governance as well as political stability.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Bad news for another former African dictator, this time from Chad

Starting today, Hissène Habré is on trial in Senegal for crimes against humanity during his rule in Chad from 1982-1990.

During the brutal rule of Habre, who has been referred to as Africa's Pinochet, some 1,200 (according to Human Rights Watch) to 40,000 (according to a Chadian commission) Chadians were killed and 12,000 tortured (according to Human Rights Watch) by a network of secret police known as the DDS (Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité).

After being overthrown in a coup led by Idriss Déby – Chad’s current president – in 1990, Habre fled to Senegal, where President Abdoulaye Wade (2000-2012) protected him indictment by a Senegalese judge in 2000 from extradition requests in 2005 from Belgium, which has a Law of Universal Extradition for cases of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. 

Belgium filed a case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague in 2009, and in 2012 the ICJ ruled in Belgium's favor and directed Senegal to extradite Habre or try him in Senegal. Meanwhile, Senegal elected Macky Sall president in 2012. 

Macky Sall's government responded quickly to the ICJ decision. Habre was arrested in July 2013. Senegal negotiated with the African Union (AU) and then passed appropriate legislation to create an Extraordinary African Chambers to conduct the trial. 

Chad itself never sought Habre's extradition, but he was sentenced to death in absentia in 2008 for his alleged role in a rebellion in the east of Chad that year. If he is found guilty in Senegal, he faces up to a life sentence.

The trial is a historic event for the continent: it is the first time one African country has prosecuted the former leader of another country for alleged human rights crimes.

(Clarification: Chad is not in ECOWAS, but Senegal, where the election will be held, is.)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Compaore on trial for treason?

Remember how, after Mubarak stepped down from the Egyptian presidency following the Arab Spring protests, there was talk of putting him on trial for treason?  I don't think the treason trial ever happened, but he was tried for corruption, embezzlement, and ordering the killing of protestors - those were the trials where he was wheeled in on a gurney. He was sentenced to prison but most of them eventually got overturned and Mubarak's overthrown successor, President Morsi, was put on trial of treason.

Anyway, I bring this up because yesterday, Burkina Faso's parliament adopted a resolution, with approval by 60 of 63 MPs present, to put deposed president Blaise Compaore on trial for high treason. Like Mubarak, Compaore had been in power since the 1980s and stepped down in response to public demonstrations. Compaore is apparently hiding out in Cote d'Ivoire. Hopefully Burkina Faso's emerging democracy will work out better than was the case in Egypt.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A new start, and What is ECOWAS?

When I first set this blog up, I was going to cover every country in Africa. It didn't happen. So I'm going to scale back and just cover the countries in ECOWAS, which are mostly the countries I've spent time in. 

What is ECOWAS, you ask? It is the Economic Community of West African States. I thought about just covering the UEMOA countries (West African Economic and Monetary Union) but that is just francophone countries and I love Ghana so I decided on ECOWAS. 

The countries in ECOWAS are Benin (where I served in the Peace Corps), Burkina Faso (where I attended FESPACO!), Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire (where I biked my first century), Gambia, Ghana (home of Milly's Backyard!), Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali (home of Sekou Oumarou!), Niger (challenging for vegetarians!), Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo (the only place I ever attended a beauty pageant).

Here they are in a map, courtesy of Wikipedia:

The green countries are the members of UEMOA. They share a common currency, the CFA Franc, which used to be pegged to the French Franc but since that doesn't exist anymore it is now pegged to the Euro. You can read about the CFA Franc if you want to in this Wikipedia post or if you want to read something more academic you can read this article by David Stasavage. Here is a picture of a 10,000 CFA Franc note:

Pretty, right? 

The red countries are members of the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ), which Wikipedia describes as "a group of six countries within ECOWAS that plan to introduce a common currency, the Eco, by the year 2015." Oh wait, it is 2015! Looks like the Eco hasn't been launched on schedule. Maybe with everything happening with the Euro they decided it's not such a great idea after all. Here is an academic article by William Miles that argues that the benefits (increased trade, etc.) of a common currency among these six countries would probably NOT outweigh the problems (macroeconomic instability, etc.).  

Indeed, the Eco has been abandoned, as reported recently, after several delays: "The Zone witnessed series of postponements of the launch date for the currency including, January 2003, July 1, 2005, December 1, 2009, and January 1, 2015." Instead, the plan now is to have a common currency for the whole ECOWAS region by 2020. We'll see how that goes. 

You can read about ECOWAS in the Wikipedia post, or the official ECOWAS website.

I think that's enough for now. Later, or maybe tomorrow, I'll start journalling some country-level events.