03 April 2023

Polio: Of the ‘original’ three wild polioviruses, two varieties have been eradicated, only one (type 1) remains in circulation, and only in two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan. But on top of that, there are vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPV) – mutated forms of the virus. They are rare, but low immunisation rates have seen them increase recently – see the three recent cases in Burundi and Congo-Kinshasa which led to the declaration of a national public health emergency. While the vaccine using inactivated polio viruses is safe, oral polio vaccine uses weakened or attenuated viruses – after excretion, these can infect other children and they become dangerous if they mutate before doing so. “Reaching vulnerable and under immunised children with the vaccine before it mutates is also key.” On top of that, a new oral vaccine has been developed which considerably reduces mutation. Using the new vaccine, the objective is to immunise every single child.

Ecology & Tigray: Impressive progress had been achieved in Tigray since 1991 in terms of land restoration (re-vegetation, reduced rainwater runoff, improvement in soil quality). “But the two-year war (…) has had a devastating impact on both people and the environment.” While humanitarian concerns have priority now, the environment also needs attention – if only to ensure that food can once more be produced in Tigray. “(T)o ensure Tigray’s recovery is green and sustainable”, the article’s authors recommend the removal of dangerous material followed by a thorough assessment of environmental damage. For all undertakings, local communities should be the focus (so as to improve livelihoods and build resilience) – as they have been in land restoration since 1991. “Farm households and farmlands should get priority” without forgetting natural forests and woodlands.

Botswana/Diamonds: The country “has been negotiating with De Beers for five years to improve the terms of what is widely regarded as one of Africa’s most successful public-private partnerships.“ Now president Masisi threatens to cancel the deal. Gaborone is trying to increase its revenues from marketing, selling and processing rough diamonds – at the beginning, all was sold to De Beers, then 10%, later 25% to Botswana’s state-owned Okavango Diamond Company. The deal conceding it (only) 25% runs out in June. Always afraid of ‘resource nationalism’, Investors not only in the diamond sector are worried. But Botswana has always been reasonable, so it is expected that a new deal will be reached and that there will be no “divorce” of the country’s 54-year-old “marriage” with De Beers.

Rwanda: Consolee Uwimana was yesterday Sunday elected vice-chairperson of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi). The veteran banker and businesswoman will be the first woman to occupy the post.
BBC Africa Live 03 April 2023. 5:09

South Sudan/Congo-Kinshasa: Over 40 of the promised 750 South Sudanese troops have arrived in the Congo to join the East African force fighting M23.
BBC Africa latest updates 02 April 2023. 16:39

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou: Ethiopia’s “piano queen” has just died aged 99. Born into a high-status family, partly educated abroad, she was a “free-spirited modern woman” already as a teenager. She turned into a nun aged 21. Her piano compositions – mainly of the 1960 and 1970s – have a very personal, distinct, timeless quality. In 1984, she left Ethiopia and spent the rest of her life in an Orthodox Church monastery in Jerusalem. Back home, “(h)er tunes are everywhere – some are played during periods of national mourning, while others provide background for audio books and radio shows.”

02 April 2023

Eastern Congo-Kinshasa: The country has the world’s highest internally displaced population, almost 6 million. So far, the response to the crisis is much too much focused on the military. Humanitarian and diplomatic initiatives need to be prioritised.

Congo Basin tropical rainforest/carbon sink: Deforestation, mostly because of illegal logging by multinationals, local criminals and armed groups, could, by 2050 lead to the disappearance of more than a quarter of Congo Basin forests which “absorbs 4% of the world’s CO2 emissions, and its peatlands alone store 30 billion metric tonnes of carbon – the equivalent of three years’ worth of global fossil fuel emissions.” Stopping or at least putting a break on this deforestation is thus very much in the interest of a world trying to rein in climate change. The article’s suggestions of how this could be done focus largely on the supply and very little on the demand side.

Kenya: “The illicit sandalwood trade from East Africa is a multi-billion-dollar industry that seeks to meet the increasing global demand for sandalwood oil used to manufacture perfumes and cosmetics.” Last September, a police officer was found with 13.5 tonnes of sandalwood, worth about half a million USD. He and two of his colleagues were arrested and prosecuted. Also, true to Kenyan law, the confiscated sandalwood was destroyed in a public burning on 28th of February – “a dramatic and highly-visible statement of the government’s intent to address sandalwood trafficking as an environmental crime.” To address illegal sandalwood trafficking, amongst other measures, a working group was formed with a broad range of “key government and civil society stakeholders”.

Chagos archipelago: After decades of not budging in the least, “London seems to have had a change of heart” with the British Foreign secretary on 3rd of November 2022 announcing that negotiations with Mauritius had started “on the exercise of sovereignty”. The negotiations remain secret. Implicating the Chagossians – who were forcefully deported before handing Diego Garcia over to the US for a military base – would be logical. But Mauritius may not agree to this, as its interests are different from those of the Chagossians. Meanwhile, London seems to want to implicate not only Washington but also New Delhi (Chagos is nearer to India than to Africa and Mauritius seems to have secretly ceded its Agalega islands 1000 km to the north of Mauritius to India), with London intent on making sure that renouncing the sovereignty over Chagos will not set a precedent for Falkland and Gibraltar.

Nigeria: The article’s author considers Boko Haram the most serious problem the country’s new president will have to face, with banditry, the farmer-herder crisis, communal clashes and separatist agitation in the south not far behind. The suggestions for action are far-reaching: “the Nigerian security sector must be transformed from its current largely predatory nature to one that is civilian-centric and focused on building trusting relations with civilians”. And the approach needs to be less military.

Somalia: A unified front of local players, federal member states, religious leaders and external actors have allowed the government to seriously weaken al-Shabaab. But al-Shabaab was weakened once before – in 2011 – and it came back. Even now, it is continuing its terror attacks (causing high numbers of deaths) and still controls parts of Somalia. Al-Shabaab needs to be prevented from regrouping there and retaking recently lost territory. Maintaining society-wide coalitions in reconquered territory and forming new ones in areas still controlled by al-Shabaab will be essential to keep such attempts at bay. To provide stability in reconquered terrain, the article recommends “quick-impact plans that create visible government presence and launch the process of reconstructing state legitimacy. Mobilising resources for humanitarian needs in these liberated areas is also essential.” The battle has not yet been won.

South Africa: 27,066 were murdered in 2022 in the country, 520 per week. If you put the number of murders in relation to population size, only Jamaica (52,98 per 100,000) topped South Africa’s 44,66, with Venezuela’s 42,93 and St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ 40,26 a bit lower. In the article’s author’s opinion, there is a way out: “Murder can be reduced. By focusing on the places, people and behaviours most regularly associated with lethal violence, the police and their partners can turn this around.”

Guinea: A new constitution, the electoral management body and the voters’ roll are three main issues that the transition will be measured against. If the transition authorities deliver what they promised in their action plan and implementation timetable, then they could “deliver reform and stability” that would render future coups superfluous. The article seems optimistic while focussing almost entirely on the implementation of the standard democratic model.

Energy: The article is advertising small modular nuclear reactors – their technology has much advanced of late – as a means of reducing the energy deficit on the continent. After Egypt, Ghana is about to turn to nuclear energy. And Kenya and Uganda might soon follow. However: “Apart from general concerns about radiation, proliferation and disposal of toxic wastes, nuclear opponents contest the argument that SMRs are a cheaper option.” In the end, the cost per KWh may well be much too high unless there are government subsidies…

Tropical storms like Freddy: With climate change heating up the oceans, “heat energy from the water’s surface fuels stronger and more frequent tropical storms that make landfall over more expansive territories.” Indian Ocean tropical storms’ will become more frequent and their intensity is expected to rise, with Southern Africa hardest hit.

Chad: Is the junta’s commitment to reconciliation and peace genuine? The brutal repression of protests in October 2022 seems to indicate the contrary. In 2023, defence and security expenditure is set to increase by over 20%. The country seems entirely military-focused. Is Chad heading back to a situation like in the 1990s? “Despite a solid national conference and roadmap for a peaceful and open political future, the country slid back to a high-handed regime, with many rebellions and a massive investment of its oil revenues in the military. As a result, social and infrastructural projects remained on hold.”