London – VIJAY SHAH via ANDREW GRIFFIN and The Independent
Scientists are studying footage shot by the Chimbo Foundation and PanAf of strange behaviour by a group of African chimpanzees, which they may think indicate the chimps are performing rituals, which may indicate belief in a religion, according to Britain’s The Independent newspaper, and first reported last year (2016).
The footage shows chimps in a forest clearing in an unnamed part of West Africa, carrying stones and arranging them in little ‘cairns’. Mainly though, the chimps, including a mother carrying her baby, are seen hurling rocks against the bases of certain wide-bottomed trees, while screeching loudly. Other apes have been seen throwing smaller rocks into holes in the trees, creating deposits of material. It is surmised that this unusual behaviour, which has only so far been among this West African band of chimps, could be the beginnings of ritual behaviour. The participation of the mother and younger apes means the stone-throwing is highly unlikely to be mating behaviour, and the throwing does not also point to territorial marking.
Scientists studying the apes say their strange activities can give an insight into early human rituals and religious beliefs. Ancient humans constructed cairns and other rock formations as part of nature worship, one of the most famous and advanced examples being the UK’s Stonehenge monument. Chimps and other great apes have already shown the kind of intelligence associated with humans, for example in using sticks as tools to extract grubs and ants. Yet the stone-throwing in West Africa does not fulfill a functional purpose, such as finding food.
The researchers, whose institution was not mentioned in the Independent report, but described in the video above as being from Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Biology, wrote in their report abstracts on the chimp rituals: “This represents the first record of repeated observations of individual chimpanzees exhibiting stone tool use for a purpose other than extractive foraging at what appear to be targeted trees,”
“The ritualized (sic) behavioural display and collection of artefacts at particular locations observed in chimpanzee accumulative stone throwing may have implications for the inferences that can be drawn from archaeological stone assemblages and the origins of ritual sites”
Interestingly, the scientists also found in their research that people in West Africa who follow traditional religions also enact similar rituals involving the construction of cairns at sacred trees.
In a piece written around the findings, researcher Laura Kehoe described the experience of watching the chimp look around and then fling a rock at the tree trunk.
“Nothing like this had been seen before and it gave me goose bumps,” she wrote.
“Marking pathways and territories with signposts such as piles of rocks is an important step in human history,” wrote Kehoe. “Figuring out where chimps’ territories are in relation to rock throwing sites could give us insights into whether this is the case here.”
“This Could Be First-Ever Observed Ritual Practice Among Chimpanzees” – Hjalmar Kuehl and team/Scientific Reports/MPI-EVA/PanAf/Chimbo Foundation/GeoBeats News, YouTube (1 March 2016) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEQOThqq2pk
On the occasion of World Sickle Cell Awareness Day to be held this month and an event organised by the United Nations, a charity in Nigeria will pull out all the stops to get people understanding the condition, which often affects people of African origin and causes deformities in red blood cells.
According to online magazinegist.ng, the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation (SCAF) has organised a series of events on World Sickle Cell Awareness Day, which will happen on June 19th. SCAF will run a number of drives to encourage greater awareness, offer practical solutions for dealing with the condition and encourage more support for research into Sickle Cell. The events will take place in five states in Nigeria. These are Abuja, Lagos, Delta, Niger and Kaduna. The SCAF will also push forward social media campaigns to bring awareness all over Nigeria and the world.
Live events SCAF will plan include a set of conferences on sickle cell mapping and management of the disorder in tandem with the United States Embassy, press conferences to support the SCAF project, visits to hospitals, a nutrition forum in collaboration with the Zankli Hospital, free genotype testing and free medicines to be given out to people suffering from sickle cell disorder.
The SCAF’s social media campaign, dubbed #OneWord, encourages people to tweet or Facebook post their understanding of what sickle cell is and to encourage their friends to join in to help get more people discussing the condition, which affects 150,000 children in Nigeria per year. It is believed that 40 million Nigerians carry the gene that causes sickle cell, while not affected by it themselves, according to the Sickle Cell Foundation.
Sickle cell disorder, also known in the West as sickle cell disease is a genetically inherited condition and a form of anaemia where the red blood cells are deformed and curved, in the manner of a sickle. This causes the cells’ oxygen carrying capacity to be impaired. These blood cells do not last as long as healthy blood cells and can get stuck in blood vessels, raising the risk of stroke. The condition cannot be cured, but special drugs are available to manage the condition.
Sickle cell disease mainly affects people of African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Eastern Mediterranean and Asian origin.
Know Your Genotype Campaign (KYG) Free genotype testing, Genetic Counselling and Awareness Date: Monday, June 13th 2016 Time: 10AM Venue: Garki Market, Abuja
Tweet Conference Join the conversation on twitter using the hash tag #SickleCellDay2016 and tweeting @SCAF_Nigeria
Date: Wednesday, June 15th & Thursday, June 16th 2016 Time: 12PM -6PM
Sickle Cell Awareness Forum Sickle Cell Nutrition and Management, packs of required drugs will be given to Sickle Cell Warriors free of charge. Key Note Speaker fro the day Dr. J.O. Lawson Date: Thursday, June 16th 2016 Time: 2-5 PM Venue: Zankli Medical Centre, Plot 1021, B5 Shehu Yaradua Way, Ministry of Works, Utako District, Abuja.
Hospital Visitation Visiting Sickle Cell Warriors and their care givers – Packs of required drugs will be given to Sickle Cell Warriors free of charge Date: Friday, June 17th 2016 Time: 10AM Venue: Asokoro General Hospital
Conference on Sickle Cell Disease In Partnership with the United States Embassy – Indigenous Mapping on Sickle Cell Disorder for Targeted Advocacy, Policy Making and Practical Action. Date: Monday, June 20th 2016 Time: 10AM – 1PM Venue: United States Embassy, Abuja
A continent of colour, vibrancy, determination and contrasts, Africa is often in the news for the wrong reasons, but there is far more to it than the media diet of armed revolutions, wars, poverty and famine. Africa is a place where art has always been close to the hearts of its people, from the cave paintings of the Algerian desert, the Egyptian hieroglyphics, or the masks of the Ashanti Empire or the kingdom of Benin.
Africa’s flags are no exception. Once carved up by colonial powers greedy for natural resources, many African countries seized their independence and freedom during the 20th century. The birth of so many independent nations gave rise to a plethora of flags with meanings of struggles of the past and hopes for the future. It is here where we find a common theme, the Pan African colours. Influenced by the flag of Ethiopia, at one time Africa’s only country not colonised by people from abroad, the colours of red, green and yellow (yellow sometimes replaced with black) were adopted by countries as far apart as Malawi and Ghana as Africans took their place among the stage of free nations. The first African state to adopt a red, gold and green flag upon independence was Ghana in 1957. The other set of Pan African colours was influenced by the UNIA led by accomplished statesman Marcus Garvey in around 1920.
It is this continent that has given us some of the world’s brightest, most expressive and meaning-rich flags. The author of this article also has a connection with Africa. His mother hails from the Indian Oceanisland of Mauritius, a nation with a flag of four colours.
Internet penetration is relatively low-key in Africa but nearly all African territories still have their own ccTLDs. One of the largest markets for mobile phones (with or without internet access) in the world is Somalia, and Google maintains servers in Kenya and Mauritius.
Please note: South Sudan, Western Sahara, the de facto republics in Somalia, one of the Congos and Ascension Island could not be found for this article. The Libyan flag is the old one of the Libyan Arab Jamhiriyyah of Pres. Muammar Gaddafi, now no longer in use.
Part Five sees us journeying across the Indian Ocean to visit the continent of Asia. From the virtual land of little waving flags, see you next weekend.
Apologies to everyone for the late showing of the article this Saturday. This is in fact the first posted from my new laptop, a Toshiba C50-B-189 Satellite, which I only picked up this morning from the Argos store in Broadway, Stratford. My previous laptop, also a Toshiba Satellite, finally ‘handed in its notice’ after four years’ loyal service to myself and the Half-Eaten Mind. Indeed I established the blog as well as its associated sites on that very laptop, a C660 model. But now that baby has flown the nest to the great laptop scrapheap.
In the second day of violence in the French-speaking West African nation, five people were killed yesterday as Niger was gripped by religious violence stirred up by the publication of the cartoons in France, which have seen widespread condemnation by Muslim communities across the globe. Charlie Hebdo,a well-known satirical publication that frequently mocks politicians and religions, was the victim of an atrocity last week in which seventeen people, including the editor, Stephane Charbonnier alias Charb, several members of his cartoonists team and three police officers were gunned down by two brothers, the Kouachis, said to have links to Islamic State in Syria. Four shoppers were also taken hostage by another militant at a kosher supermarket, also in Paris, and were killed along with the militant, identified as Amedy Coulibaly, when police raided the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Vincennes on the 9th of January.
The magazine defied the militants by publishing a ‘survivors’ edition’ featuring a cartoon depiction of the founder of Islam crying under the words “Tout est pardonné” (“All is forgiven“). This edition led to numerous protests across the world by Muslims offended by the depiction of their prophet. Islam forbids the depiction of living things, especially Muhammad, as it can be seen as encouraging the unpardonable sin of idolatry. The Charlie Hebdo killings were roundly condemned by leaders of France’s 5 million-strong Muslim minority, many who have become the victims of Islamophobic revenge attacks in the wake of the militant attack last week.
Reporting from the Niger capital Niamey, Reuters journalists say the country has been rocked by two days of violence, and that the death toll has already reached ten. Gangs of youths were reported to have set fire to shops, businesses and places of worship belonging to Niger’s Christian community after a meeting of local Muslim community leaders was allegedly banned by the authorities. Police attempted to battle the rampage and contain the youths by using tear gas. The youths retaliated by throwing stones, before attacking a police station and torching two squad cars in the vicinity.
One of the protesters, named by Reuters as Amadou Abdoul Ouahab, was quoted as saying “They offended our Prophet Mohammad, that’s what we didn’t like,”
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou announced that the five killed on Saturday (17 January 2014) were all civilians. Four were burned to death inside blazing churches and bars selling alcoholic drinks. The Niger president said that an inquiry into the killings would take place and organisers of the riots would be apprehended and punished. “Those who pillage religious sites and profane them, those who persecute and kill their Christian compatriots or foreigners who live on our soil, have understood nothing of Islam,” he said in a televised address.
President Issoufou, himself a Muslim, however disagreed with the publication of the Charlie Hebdo survivors’ issue saying that he shared the disgust and outrage of Muslims at the caricatures of their beloved prophet and that freedom of expression should be accountable of the need to respect religious beliefs. Charlie Hebdo has long attracted flak for lampooning Jews, Catholics and Muslims, but since the killings of its staff last week, the small Paris-based magazine has become a popular bastion of journalistic freedom of expression, including the controversial right to offend. Hundreds of thousands have identified themselves with the trending slogan “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie“) in solidarity with the slain journalists and protecting freedom of speech.
Issoufou was one of the participants last week of a march held in Paris against the atrocity, alongside many world politicians from opposing sides. Yesterday though, he said his participation in that march was to demonstrate his opposition to terrorism and not in support of the magazine itself.
After the riots, calm returned to the streets of Niamey by yesterday afternoon, but another planned march by the city’s Muslim community is feared to possibly re-ignite tensions. The civic authorities put a block on the march going ahead, but organisers have said they will defy the ruling and proceed anyway, possibly risking confrontation with local police and members of the Christian community.
Demonstrations were also reported in regional towns across Niger, including Maradi, 600 km (375 miles) east of Niamey, where two churches were burned. Another church and a residence of the foreign minister were burned in the eastern town of Goure.
The foreign minister of France, which once ruled Niger as an overseas colony, Laurent Fabius, roundly condemned the weekend violence in the country, stating “France expresses its solidarity with the authorities in Niger,” France currently maintains a battery of troops and defences in co-operation with Niger to battle against Islamist insurgencies in the neighbouring state of Mali as part of a regional counter-terrorism operation.
Four preachers of Islam who organised the meeting were arrested on Saturday as tensions began to flare, according to local police. The French government has warned its citizens living as expatriates in Niamey to exercise caution and avoid unnecessary travel.
Residents in Niger’s second largest city of Zinder said that a burned corpse was discovered in the remains of a Catholic church torched by rioters there, bringing the death toll to five from Friday’s clashes. Locals also claimed that wholesale attacks against Zinder’s Christians were instigated, with religious books, churches and minority-owned shops ransacked and set on fire. A French cultural centre was also set alight, and a police officer is among the dead, the rest are civilians, according to sources from the police.
In contrast with Niger, demonstrators in other Francophone west African nations, including Mali, Senegal and Mauritania, and in Algeria in North Africa, made peaceful protests against the Charlie Hebdo controversy after leaving their mosques after they finished Juma’a (Friday) prayers, Reuters reports.
Niger’s 17 million people are almost all Muslims, though its government remains secular. About 94% profess Islam, mostly of the Sunni branch. There are also communities professing Nigerien animism and Christianity.
A court in the Egyptian capital Cairo has dismissed all charges pending against the country’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, the New York Times reports. Despite observers expecting Mubarak to be sentenced for a lengthy amount of time in prison, there is now the possibility that he may be released since his detention after the 2011 revolution which began the ‘Arab Spring‘, which spread onwards to Tunisia and Syria. That revolution, which saw thousands of protesters converge on Cairo’sTahrir Square, in the centre of the city, saw widespread human rights violations by the Mubarak government and local police and the ousting of the president after several decades in power , followed by the establishment of an interim military government.
In previous hearings, specialist human rights lawyers at the court demanded that ex-president Mubarak face stiff penalties and long-term imprisonment for violations against the Egyptian people carried out over his three-decade long tenure. However, today’s (Saturday 29 November 2014) court session saw remaining charges against Mubarak cleared from the record, to tumultuous cheers from supporters observing his trial from a public dock.
The former leader, now aged 86, had arrived at the court in a stretcher from a nearby military hospital where he has been detained since suffering a spell of ill health after the revolution. As the presiding chief judge, Mahmoud Kamel al-Rashidi, read out the verdict to the court, Mubarak listened with a stony-faced expression, according to the New York Times. He then smiled briefly, before his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, hugged and kissed him in celebration. The two sons were also facing charges, but were acquitted at the same time by Judge al-Rashidi. Alaa and Gamal Mubarak were both being held for corruption charges relating to embezzlement of public funds along with their father.
Judge al-Rashidi refused to elaborate on his reason for acquitting the three Mubaraks, and instead advised observers to read a 240-page summary which he had prepared from the 1,340-page explanatory report written on the case on Egypt’s one-time autocratic strongman.
The charges al-Rashidi dismissed are among some of the most serious levelled against Hosni Mubarak. One concerned the former president’s involvement in the killing of hundreds of protesters who brought Cairo to a standstill during the protests that brought Mubarak down. The New York Times reported that the protesters had been peaceful and were not armed. Another charge concerned a corruption case where Mubarak and his sons were accused of selling natural gas to neighbouring Israel at below-market prices. Other allegations also dismissed were that Mubarak and sons awarded themselves with holiday homes and monetary kickbacks illegitimately.
In May this year, Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to three years in prison in a separate corruption case, involving lavish and government-funded improvements to his and his sons’ personal homes, which had not been approved by the treasury. However, as the former president has already served this time in detention-based custody, he may in fact be freed if the court determines that he has indeed served the requisite time in jail.
After passing the acquittal of the remaining charges, Judge al-Rashidi said his final verdict on the long drawn-out Mubarak case, which has equally gripped and divided the Egyptian nation was “…nothing to do with politics“, the New York Times wrote. Many citizens who have been following the case say it is a sign that the country has moved beyond the times since the agitations of three years ago. The country’s current president, military general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who in 2013 led an army takeover of Egypt, removing the Muslim Brotherhood government under another former and controversial leader, Mohammed Morsi, has already cemented himself as Egypt’s toughest leader and has ingratiated himself with several of Mubarak’s former advisors and minsterial kingpins. However there is no suggestion from the New York Times report that el-Sisi had anything to do with the dismissal of his predecessor today.
The tide has increasingly turned against the leaders of the 2011 revolution in recent months. Egypt’s state-run media outlets along with pro-government newspapers have denounced the revolutionaries as a dangerous “fifth column” that is out to destabilise Egypt, while the Islamists under Morsi’s cabinet have also been denounced and had punitive measures enacted against them. Earlier this year, thousands of supporters allied with Muslim Brotherhood were originally sentenced to death by the military government, although some may have had their sentences commuted or executions stayed.
Legal experts studying Mubarak’s trial have questioned the legitimacy of the court proceedings, citing that they were flawed from the start. They claim that the trial had been rushed into the courthouse without any legal checks due to public pressure to punish Hosni Mubarak for his crimes along with feelings of revenge among both ordinary Egyptians and the new politicians holding the reins.
The murder charges where police were directed to gun down protesters encamped in Tahrir Square would have been difficult to prove conclusively, the legal experts reported, as the Egyptian military is notoriously complex, with many layers of structure and chains of command. The country’s police are also given much leeway in self-defence, which means proving their guilt will be problematic given that inspectors could cite that their officers were under threat from protesters. Legal analysis of the corruption charges on the abuse of public money by the Mubarak family determined that they too were built on shaky ground as they had been hastily thrown together. No thorough review was made of the numerous other corruption allegations levelled against Mubarak in his 30 year reign.
Mubarak had in fact earlier been found guilty of the exact same charges he was acquitted from today, and the judge presiding over that earlier trial had sentenced the ex-president to life in prison. An appellate court threw out that verdict after the judge from the earlier trial admitted that there was a ‘lack of evidence’ to firmly establish Mubarak’s conviction. Several corruptions charges against junior members of Mubarak’s inner circle were also terminated by the previous judge, due to ‘technical grounds’.
The New York Times report does not disclose the ex-president’s and his son’s current whereabouts or what legal steps the Egyptian court system may take next. No comment has been reported yet from opponents of Mubarak or of the reaction of the Egyptian media following the dismissal.
The Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Tassarajen Pillay-Chedumbrum announced that MauritianISPs(internet service providers) such as OrangeMauritius/Mauritius Telecom and Bharat Telecom, will possibly be able to connect a local exchange point into their service networks to bring about faster speeds and download times for their Mauritian customers. A current point exists, but the newer version will be a faster and more developed service being offered to all the country’s internet providers on a mutual shared basis.
A information technology complex in Ebene’s CyberCity.
The exchange point will be a piece of switchboard-based IT infrastructurethat connects the networks of different operators in a technologically mutual effort to rapidly increasebroadbandspeeds on the island. The point will also be a cost-saving exercise that will benefit ISPs, as they will be able to exchange traffic to relieve their networks, thereby slashing the average amount of expenses incurred for each provider. It will also lessen the country’s dependence on costly international satellite and fibre-optic networks. The point will give equal priority to all Mauritius-based ISPs with a lack of traffic hegemony or filtering rules to hinder that objective.
The current exchange point technology is a ‘layer-two Internet exchange’ operating over Ethernet, which means that participants exchange traffic via an Ethernet switch without any settlements, according to the government ministry in charge of the original internet exchange point. It has not yet been publicly announced what the new point’s exact hardware and operational specifics will be.
In order to begin building up an internet exchange point (IXP) especially for Mauritius, the ministry will organise a workshop in partnership with theAfrican Union Commission. This was announced yesterday (Monday 25 August) by ministry representatives at the Cyber Tower in Ebène, the heart of Mauritius’ steadily growingIT industry. The workshop hopes to train up a new generation of Mauritian IT technicians with the requisite skills to lay the foundation of the improved island-wide IXP.
“If we can have a localInternet exchange point, this will allow us to minimise the cost. We will not have to pay international fees. In addition, theInternetwill be faster,“said Pillay-Chedumbrum.
The exchange point, known officially as MIXP, has already had a web presence established as the groundwork starts up. The MIXP website describes the service as “the professional, neutral Internet exchange that leads the way in global peering services enabling the savings of precious International bandwidth in Mauritius“. A previous incarnation has been in existence since June 2006, but with fewer capabilities.
Telecommunications have had a long history in Mauritius. The first telephone line was installed in 1883, only seven years after the original device was said to have been invented by ScotAlexander Graham Bell. ICT services also took off early on the island, with the establishment of a governmental National Computer Board (NCB) in 1988 to advise the island’s parliament on the formulation of national policies for the development of the IT sector and promotion of technology culture in Mauritius. The following year, the Central Informatics Bureau (CIB) was organised to encourage increased computerisation of civil service records. Since then, Mauritius has become an important centre for IT-related activities in the Indian Ocean and the African continent, with numerous national and international ICT firms setting up shop in theCyberCitypark in the town of Ebène, which is south of the Mauritian capitalPort Louis.
The new MIXP forms part of the Mauritian government’s ambition to continually raise the standard of corporate and public ICT services on the island. Ministers are aiming to make the ICT sector the ‘fifth pillar’ of the Mauritian economy, after tourism, agriculture and finance, and envisioned transforming Mauritius into a ‘cyber island’.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the Ebola virus crisis in West Africa could be dangerously underestimated as families hide members afflicted by the highly fatal contagion for fear of quarantine and persecution, according to a report by America‘s Fox News. The warning also claims the existence of ‘shadow zones’ where medics have no presence, means that many people are carrying or perishing from the virus without medical agencies realising, making an effective response to the outbreak more challenging.
Since the middle of this year, more than a thousand people have died in the West African states of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, with possibly several thousand more infected or likely to be exposed to Ebola. The virus, first discovered in the 1970s, causes excessive sweating, fever and internal bleeding and kills between fifty and seventy per cent of the infected. It was believed to have originally spread to humans via the consumption of ‘bushmeat’ from apes which had themselves carried a different version of the virus. Ebola can easily be spread by coming into contact with an infected person’s body fluids, including sweat and blood and is extremely contagious. There is no known definite cure, although an experimental drug, ZMapp, which has not yet passed official human trials, has proved promising when it was used to treat infected Western medical staff in Sierra Leone. A state of emergency has already been declared in Liberia, with crematoriums struggling to cope with the influx of victims and relatives of Ebola carriers being forcibly quarantined in their homes. A curfew has recently been put in place in two lesser-economically developed areas of the Liberian capital, Monrovia.
The agency, a part of the United Nations, reports that many families, distressed by the likelihood of quarantine and the stigma the disease carries, are hiding infected loved ones from the attention of local medics and hospitals. The WHO also is concerned over the presence of ‘shadow zones’, in remote areas, which medics are unable to enter to treat patients and to report infection rates, the agency reported yesterday (Friday 22 November). The report also gave reasons why the Ebola outbreak has been underestimated, after the WHO was criticised recently for reportedly failing to respond quickly enough to contain the killer virus, which is increasingly spiralling out of control as poorly-funded and equipped hospitals in the region struggle to treat rising numbers of victims.
Experts operating separately from the WHO have also claimed that the outbreak figures are underestimated as suspicious locals in West Africa have reportedly chased away medics who attempted to treat their infected relatives and where also many Ebola sufferers are refusing treatment altogether. It is believed that more than 1,300 people have already died in the epidemic and experts have stated that there is very little chance the rampage of Ebola will be brought to a standstill by the end of this year.
The underreporting of infections is reported to be especially acute in the countries of Liberia and neighbouring Sierra Leone. The WHO has said it will tackle this issue by working closely with the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the United States governmental agency, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to produce what they hoped would be ”more realistic estimates”.
MSF’s head has implored the WHO to do more to help victims and communities harmed by the lethal virus. In an interview with the Reuters news agency, the MSF’s head said that the fight against Ebola was being hampered by a lack of co-ordinated international leadership and the provision of emergency management skills abroad and on the ground in West Africa.
The stigma surrounding Ebola and other dangerous diseases such as HIV/AIDS, in traditional West African communities also poses a challenge to fighting the epidemic and calibrating the figures for patient numbers that the WHO needs to formulate an action plan. The outbreak, which has also being reported further afield in Nigeria, is said to be the worst in terms of fatalities since the virus’ discovery in central Africa four decades ago.
“As Ebola has no cure, some believe infected loved ones will be more comfortable dying at home,” the WHO statement said.
“Others deny that a patient has Ebola and believe that care in an isolation ward – viewed as an incubator of the disease – will lead to infection and certain death. Most fear the stigma and social rejection that come to patients and families when a diagnosis of Ebola is confirmed.“
Fearful of the widespread stigma surrounding infectious diseases like Ebola, and distrusting of local medical facilities, put off by rumours of hospitals euthanising Ebola patients, many families have taken to burying corpses of loved ones secretly without the official authorities finding out. In addition, there exists an uncalculated number of ‘shadow zones’ with little penetration by international health NGOs or local medical workers. Most of these shadow zones exist around rural villages and remote settlements where medical care locally may be non-existent, and a visit to the nearest general hospital or Ebola treatment unit may take hours or even days. There have been rumours that many people in such villages have been infected and killed by Ebola, but their cases cannot be investigated due to community opposition or a lack of available transport services.
In other cases, where treatment has been made available, clinics are struggling to cope with the numbers of infected and possible carriers of the disease coming through their doors. This suggests there is an invisible caseload of patients that is not on the radar of the official surveillance systems, as they cannot get access to a doctor for proper infection diagnosis.
The WHO has announced that it will draw up a ‘strategy plan’ to tackle West African Ebola in the coming months as it collects more data on infection rates in the three countries that have borne the brunt of the epidemic. The drafting and realisation of the plan is expected to take between six and nine months which means that it will still be several months before there is a cohesive mission to fight back against Ebola and stop its onslaught. The disease is still relatively poorly understood and should the virus appear outside of Africa, may mean it could spread rapidly as doctors with no experience of treating Ebola victims are poorly placed to recognise symptoms and access suitable quarantine centres and drugs.
A map outlining previous Ebola viral outbreaks in the African continent.
“WHO is working on an Ebola road map document; it’s really an operational document [on] how to fight Ebola,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said at a news briefing. “It details the strategy for WHO and health partners for six to nine months to come.“
When asked whether the timeline of the strategy plan will mean Ebola in West Africa being curtailed before the beginning of 2015, Chaib responded: “Frankly, no one knows when this outbreak of Ebola will end.“
The virus will only be considered truly confined if no new cases are reported within the time frame of two ‘incubation periods’ which works out as forty-two consecutive days. However, as the virus seems to be picking up new cases with every passing week, this seems a long way off under current conditions.
“So with the evolving situation, with more cases reported, including in the three hot places – Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia – the situation is not yet over,” Chaib added.
“So this is a planning document for six to nine months that we will certainly revisit when we have new developments.“
Further preliminary details of the WHO action plan are expected to be announced by the beginning of next week, Chaib told the news briefing.
The panic of Ebola has already spread out far beyond the disease itself. Border officials in the United Kingdom have been warned to be alert to signs of infection in people arriving into the country from affected nations. A Nigerian man in Spain was placed under quarantine at a local hospital in the Costa del Sol after allegedly reporting a feverish high temperature but was later given the all-clear. South Africa has been stated in international media that it has banned anyone from the three states originally affected by the outbreak from entering its territory. One worrying recent development occurred in Senegal, regarded as West Africa’s ‘humanitarian hub’. Government officials there blocked a United Nations plane carrying aid from landing in the country to offload goods intended for Ebola sufferers, while the country’s airports agency has terminated all flights originating in or destined for Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The blockade has been put in place as Senegal seeks to prevent Ebola from reaching its people. Aid agencies have cautioned against the Senegalese embargo, saying that it could harm aid efforts and the emergency response against Ebola.
A Nigeriannewspaper has reported that the government of the West African nation has hired an American lobby firm to ‘launder’ its image after it was internationally criticised for not doing enough to locate over 200 schoolchildren abducted by a militant group, Boko Haram, from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok. The girls were taken by the militants into dense jungle near the Nigerian border with Cameroon in April and have still not being found.
Online newspaper Premium Times, in a report filed via African news aggregate AllAfrica.com, claimed that the government of Preisdent Goodluck Jonathan has taken on the services of a U.S. public relations outfit. The lobby firm will be paid 195 million naira (GBP £702,721; USD $1,195,926) to tender its services, which the Nigerian politicians will help improve their shattered reputation on the world stage. The firm, identified in the report simply as ‘Levick’, plans to help change “international and local media narrative” surrounding the quest to free the missing children, which the Premium Times report described as “inept handling”. The newspaper also condemned the hiring of Levick by Nigeria as an attempt to whitewash the government’s handling of the abduction. The girls were made to change their religion by their captors from Boko Haram, a group which is waging war on the federal government in Abuja in order to impose religious law,and the instigator of the crime has threatened to marry them off to his fighters as well as sell them abroad.
Militants from the highly dangerous Boko Haram, which translates as “Western education is sinful” in northern Nigeria’s Hausa language, forced the girls into waiting trucks seventy days ago just as they were about to sit their final secondary school examinations. Around fifty-three managed to escape the militants and fled on foot to safety. Most of the girls had been staying in the dormitories of the Government Secondary School in Chibok when they were taken prisoner.
A couple of weeks later, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video in which he addressed Nigerian politicians. The video, bilingually narrated in Arabic and Hausa, depicted Shekau speaking to camera and threatening to sell the Chibok children into slavery. He also made an offer to release the girls in return for Boko Haram fighters currently incarcerated in the country’s jails. Another video showed the girls dressed in Islamic clothing. By then they had allegedly been split into two groups to evade discovery, and no word on their condition has been lately announced.
Nigeria’s government has come under severe criticism both locally and internationally for its lethargic handling of the Chibok crisis. Foreign governments, notably Britain and the United States, have sent planes and advisors to help locate the missing girls but with little success. This prompted the ruling party, The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to lay the blame on the opposition for making matters worse by them setting up a campaign in the media aimed at discrediting the PDP. To add to the government’s woes, the United States allegedly released a statement this past Wednesday urging Nigerians to hold their leaders accountable for the abject failure in liberating the abducted schoolgirls two months on from the incident. Boko Haram meanwhile has continued to carry out terrorist atrocities in Nigeria including a fatal bombing of a bus station in the capital Abuja a few weeks ago that killed more than 70 commuters.
According to American political paper The Hill, which publishes matters at the heart of the US Capitol, the Levick firm will also be “assisting the government’s efforts to mobilize [sic] international support in fighting Boko Haram as part of the greater war on terror” as well as effecting “real change” in Nigeria. A Levick company vice-president, Phil Elwood, told The Hill “A communications strategy alone is not enough to solve the complex and multifaceted problems facing some of the more controversial nations”. Fellow Levick employee Lanny Davis, the company’s executive vice-president, added “For me, after talking to him, the priority for President Jonathan beyond any [doubt] is finding and bringing home the girls,…”There’s got to be a way to amplify what he’s saying and doing to find these girls because over here in America, we’re not hearing much about his effort,” Davis added.
Levick will also be working with the human rights lawyer Jared Genser, who has worked on cases alongside notable human rights activists such as South African archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu,as well as Myanmari pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Genser will help the PR firm publicise “President Goodluck Jonathan Administration’s past, present and future priority to foster transparency, democracy and the rule of law throughout Nigeria”.
Genser told The Hill that he took the job following Mr Jonathan’s commitment to tackle Boko Haram.
“In terms of advancing human rights, however, the real work has to be done working with governments that are well meaning but lack the capacity — or as much capacity as they might like — and want to do the right thing,” he said.
“At the end of the day, the [Nigerian] president has said clearly to us that he wants results,” he said.
“I would not sit here and pretend that we are singlehandedly going to rescue the girls, that’s not our role,” Genser added. “What we can do is, we can provide advice and support about how to do so in accordance with international human rights norms and standards,” he further added.
The public relations contract between the Jonathan administration and Levick will also incorporate ‘extra costs’ for advertisements, video productions and website designs via an unnamed state-owned multimedia agency. In addition, Levick will receive an extra 3,487,500 naira ($22,500) if one of its staff needs to make a business trip to Nigeria.
The hiring of the PR firm to handle the scandal came to light after a respected public relations industry site, http://www.holmesreport.com first mentioned the Nigerian government’s search for a suitable agency to handle their tarnished image with local and world media. When approached, political representatives denied that any PR services were being enlisted while the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria, (PRCAN) criticised the government describing its search for a foreign PR firm as a “needless strategic gaffe”, according to the Premium Times. “The purported search is premised on a wrong foundation of white washing Nigeria before foreign media and audiences. However, the real challenge before the Federal Government of Nigeria lies elsewhere and that is at the home front with its citizens, representing the primary stakeholders,” the PRCAN said in a statement issued at the time.
The expenses shed by the Nigerian treasury could backfire on Jonathan’s party as it is almost certain to provoke additonal criticism of money being wasted at a time when the Nigerian army’s finances are being stretched to the limit in fighting Boko Haram. In addition, there is a more deeply entrenched issue with the government in that many Nigerians still live in poverty, despite lucrative oil and finance industries making their country one of the most buoyant new ‘lions’ to emerge in recent decades from the sub-Saharan region.
Yesterday, Thursday the 5th of December 2013, Nelson Mandela, former South African president, anti-apartheid campaigner, noble statesman and a role model for humanity, passed from this world in his sleep in Johannesburg. He was 95. He had been receiving intensive medical care at home for a lung infection after spending three months in hospital.
Born in what was then the Eastern Cape province in July 1918, Mandela rose from humble beginnings to become leader of the African National Congress, which fought against the oppressive apartheid regime and its racist laws. His activities against the South African regime of the time saw him jailed for 27 years on the notorious Robben Island prison off the coast of Cape Town. Yet by the beginning of the 1990s, the governmental separation and discrimination of South Africa’s many peoples was on its last breath. The racist machinery that saw white, black and brown South Africans forced to use separate benches, parks, shop entrances and even beaches; and told them where to live, who to work for and who to marry, was being dismantled.
Nelson Mandela would soon leave Robben Island and enter a new, free, fair South Africa for all. An influential, yet humble man, Madiba, as he was affectionately known, would transform from political prisoner to president of what soon to become known as the ‘Rainbow Nation‘.
As prisoner and as politician, Mandela was always thrust into the world’s eye, yet remained humble and down-to-earth. Even witnessing and being caught up in the worst excesses of the apartheid government, Mandela never preached hatred. A wise giant among legends, always joyous and smiling, Madiba preached reconciliation and forgave even those who oppressed him.
While today’s celebrities become famous for being in the news for the wrong reasons or even for not doing much at all, it was people like Mandela who are truly deserving in consideration as ideal role models for our younger generations. His life, struggle, and his quotes are beyond doubt true inspiration for humanity. Unlike other politicians who were more interested in massaging their reputations and inflating their bank balances, Mandela, even as President, always prioritised others first. He fought for their freedoms, and for their right to a happy life free from discrimination. He was not just a son of South Africa, or even of Africans, but a son of humanity. An inspiration to the oppressed everywhere and a rare gem among world leaders.
As a child growing up in the 1990’s far away in London, UK, I was a million miles from the struggles of South Africans to live a free and equal existence, but even then in those twilight years while watching the Six O’Clock News, I appreciated the impact that Mandela had. I still remembering seeing broadcast footage of Madiba leaving the prison and taking his first steps into the fresh air of freedom, and of people in the streets dancing to the dawn of a new nation. I was in awe of his distinctive sense of fashion style, which his brightly coloured African shirts always catching my youthful eye. His smile, sincere and reassuring, which never flagged despite his busy schedules. He treated everyone the same, whether meeting schoolchildren in poor townships like Soweto, or meeting US presidents or British royalty. Some time later I saw the televised proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an attempt by South Africans from past times and present to heal the pain and reveal the reality of when the nation was split by race.
Even after multi-party and multiracial elections in 1994, Mandela did not simply think “job done” and rest on his laurels. He campaigned tirelessly for AIDS awareness, human rights and was involved in peace initiatives in war-torn African nations such as Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Right until his last day in this life, Nelson Mandela was a tireless African statesman and a considerate and revolutionary international humanitarian.
Our dear Madiba, you taught us many things. To see each other as humans with common goals and aspirations rather than looking at skin colour or background. You taught us that even from the most lowly and difficult of starts, anyone could rise to the peak of glory. You taught us inner strength from your 27 years detained by the apartheid regime in South Africa, a spell in jail that would break most people, but you left the confines of life imprisonment to selflessly usher in a new South Africa, and a new world. You have given so much hope to the disadvantaged across the world, met with presidents, royalty and celebrities yet always remained humble and smiling.
As a fellow African who grew up seeing your struggle and watched you become the first black South African president, I truly salute you and thank you for your legacy.
In honour of Mandela, the Half-Eaten Mind is presenting a series of images and quotes of one of our world’s greatest icons. Our collection is how we can say, that while we express great sadness at his passing, that we should never forget to remember his legacy and the gift of freedom he helped in giving to South Africa, and the inspiration he gifted to people across the world.