UK DYSFUNCTION SLOWS EBOLA CLEANUP, SIERRA LEONEANS SAY
An investigative news report has confirmed suspicions among some Sierra Leoneans that the U.K. is failing to get a handle on an effective response to Ebola, while new infections are rising at the rate of almost 100 new cases a day.
“Why are the British here?” fumed one newspaper in a headline, “To end Ebola or party?” The story continued, “While their American counterparts are working hard to end Ebola in Liberia, our so-called colonial masters are busy living the life of Riley.”
British officials strenuously deny the charge, saying their aid workers are working from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and are not even allowed a beer.
The investigation by a New York Times reporter found new clinics with no patients, 60 out of 80 beds unused at the brand-new Kerry Town Ebola clinic run by Save the Children, ambulances with no patients in them and treatment centers with survivors held over in the clinics to take part in a huge goodbye photo op.
One recent Ebola survivor complained to a reporter, “I just wanted to get home and see my wife, but I had to wait eight extra days.”
Meanwhile, three doctors died of Ebola over a three-day period, shocking health officials. Dr. Aiah Solomon Konoyeima died Saturday, becoming the 10th Sierra Leonean physician to die of the virus and the third to die since Friday.
While growth projections for Sierra Leone by the World Bank have been plummeting, World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim declined to pledge that the country’s burdensome foreign debt would be cut or reduced.
Speaking to journalists in Freetown, he said, “It’s not something that I can simply wave my hand and do that.”
According to the Index Mundi website, the West African nation’s external debt amounts to $1.331 billion as of Dec. 31, 2013, with approximately $230 million owed to private creditors, arising from non-payment on debts during the war that ended in 2002.
AFRICAN SOCCER STARS LAUNCH EBOLA
This month will see the launch of a new media initiative by renowned African soccer stars. “Africa United” will leverage “athletes, entertainers, corporates, government, media and sports organizations to distribute critical health messages to Ebola-affected regions in West Africa.”
The campaign was launched Dec. 3, with the premiere of the “I’m No Hero” public service announcement at the Official Draw of the Africa Cup of Nations in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
Kei Kamara, a player with the Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer, said, “It’s impossible to sit by and watch the destruction Ebola is causing to Sierra Leone and other West African countries. It is devastating to see the fear and stigmatization of survivors in West Africa and even in the West … People think soccer stars are heroes, but I’m no hero. Health care workers on the front lines of fighting Ebola in West Africa are the real heroes.”
ENERGY COMPANIES SET SIGHTS ON WAR-TORN SOMALIA FOR NEXT BIG DIG
It may not be clear who is running Somalia these days, but energy companies appear to know who to call as they conduct onshore and offshore seismic surveys that could make the Horn of Africa an oil giant within six years.
Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Chevron are all activating plans to drill in Somalia, according to area news reports. London-based Soma Oil and Gas, backed by Russian billionaire Alexander Djaparidze, is encouraged by the results of exploration. Details could be published as soon as the year’s end.
“The government has recognized they need to stimulate exploration,” said Bob Sheppard, chief executive of Soma Oil and Gas. “They need to stimulate the creation of a hydrocarbon regime because they are in a prospective area.”
The initiative, however, appears to defy a continent-wide environmental movement to “keep the oil in the soil” to reduce carbon emissions and control global warming. Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey came up with the phrase, which reads in its entirety: “Leave the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole and the tar sands in the land.”
In addition to environmental opposition, security remains an obstacle for foreign investors. Somalia says with the help of troops from the African Union, it is making progress against Islamist insurgents al-Shabab. Still, attacks continue in the region, occurring in the capital, Mogadishu, the south-central town of Baidoa and northeastern Kenya, near the Somali border, in the past week alone.
Last week’s terrorist attacks in Baidoa left numerous casualties, including several local politicians and journalists, and alarmed the top United Nations official in Somalia, Nicholas Kay, who called for political unity after the ouster of Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed.
“The use of such indiscriminate tactics against the Somali people demonstrates a shocking disregard for the most basic principles of humanity,” Kay said. “Those responsible need to be brought to justice swiftly.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists has described Somalia as one of the top 10 countries where crimes against journalists go unpunished. In addition, media workers risk not only death on a daily basis but also arbitrary arrests.
Also shadowing the potential oil rush is a territorial dispute with Kenya over the offshore border between the two nations. Kenya has also issued exploration licenses to drill in the region, as have the autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland.
Somalia has filed a formal claim for a bigger chunk of the continental shelf and urged the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea to ignore applications made by Kenya, Tanzania and Yemen.
MALAWI LEADERS BACK OFF BIG RAISES AMID WIDENING LABOR UNREST
A misguided effort to quietly hike the paychecks of Malawi President Peter Mutharika and his VP roundly backfired, forcing them to cancel the generous gift to themselves “until a more appropriate time.”
“The head of state and his deputy have suspended their new salaries,” a government spokesman told the Nyasa Times in a phone interview. Instead, he said, they will prioritize the improvement of living standards of civil servants and Malawians in general.
The new pay package was seen as in bad taste at a time when the country is facing economic turmoil and belt tightening after foreign aid flight. In fact, almost every public service sector is facing labor unrest. In addition to higher pay, the two top leaders would have received free gas coupons and a rent allowance.
Meanwhile, from courtroom staff on strike for the past five months to primary school teachers boycotting classes to obtain salaries not paid for the past six months, labor militancy appears to be on the rise. Last week, support staff at the University of Malawi launched a sit-in to demand a 45 percent salary hike.
The Anti-Corruption Bureau is also seeing a job action over wages, while the bureau chief says the office has been underfunded for investigations into the “Cashgate” scandal that brought down former President Joyce Banda.
“We’re not asking for anything out of this world,” one worker observed. “Our employers have failed to enforce the contract.”