Ebola word cloud. (98658)

It came in with a bat, wreaked havoc throughout the West African nation of Sierra Leone, but finally, two years since the outbreak, Ebola is on its way to becoming a distant memory.

At a public event this past weekend, Anders Nordstrom, country director of the World Health Organization, confirmed that 42 days had passed without any new cases. This length of time satisfies the criteria that the virus is no longer being transmitted.

“WHO commends the government and people of Sierra Leone for the significant achievement of ending this Ebola outbreak,” he said.

Hundreds of people celebrated Saturday in the streets of the capital, Freetown, where President Ernest Bai Koroma addressed the crowd.

“I am here today as your head of state to tell you that collectively we have prevailed over this evil virus,” the president declared. “We persevered and we have overcome the challenge that wanted to destroy our very existence in the country.

“We had to change the way we grew up, caring for the sick, respecting our dead and the affection we show when greeting one another.”

To formally memorialize the 4,000 Ebola victims, the president declared Nov. 21 as a nationwide day of thanksgiving with a ceremony at the National Stadium.

Now, barely two months since the last Ebola case, it’s almost business as usual in this West African nation. News media are back to covering local politics and other pressing issues. Ret. Brig. Julius Maada Bio, once an opposition figure, is now the president’s third lieutenant and leading a campaign against discrimination toward Ebola survivors.

Stopping in Kailahun District where the outbreak started, Bio urged the community to accept the survivors and not stigmatize them. Some survivors, it was reported, were unable to buy food because market vendors refused to take money they had touched and motorbike taxis refused to carry them fearing bodily contact.

Sierra Leone may be Ebola-free, but caring for the country’s 4,051 survivors remains a big challenge. Many survivors report joint pain and vision problems, and experts also are worried about the risk of relapse. To address these needs, Doctors Without Borders opened a free clinic for Ebola survivors.

“The persistence of the Ebola virus in the eye is a big challenge,” said Dr. Matthew Vandy, an ophthalmologist. “Cataracts is major cause of blindness [in Sierra Leone], and the only treatment is surgery, so if somebody has a live [Ebola] virus and you operate on that person, you could be touching the virus.”

Vandy is pushing for a study in Sierra Leone on how long the virus can stay in a survivor’s eye.


The upcoming climate talks in Paris—opening Nov. 30—are already firing up climate activists who fear it will do little to avert climate disaster.

Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey questioned the confab’s lofty goals when it was empowering corporations at the same time. “It’s another walkover for polluters,” he said dismissively.

‘The outcome is already known,” said the one-time winner of the Right Livelihood Award and former head of Friends of the Earth, Nigeria. “Just a package of non-binding promises and non-commitments … With Air France as official sponsor, polluting activities will smell really good in Paris.’

He warned that the most-polluting countries would be pledging emissions cuts that would barely restrain temperature rises. “That means low-lying islands disappearing, coastal cities flooding, mass species extinction, extreme droughts and weather catastrophes,” he said.

This week, the British weather office reported that global surface temperatures are set to soar above pre-industrial levels for the first time, as greenhouse gases hit record levels just weeks before the Paris talks.

The World Bank went further. Climate change will put another 100 million people into poverty in 15 years if developed countries don’t reduce their carbon emissions, the Bank’s newly released study warned, triggering mass migrations and disease. Other studies see rising seas covering large land masses in New York and Shanghai.

Nigerian environmentalist Adesuwa Uwagie-Ero was perhaps the most skeptical about reaching the conference goals. “The U.N. Conference on Climate Exchange (or COP 21) is where “the powerful browbeat the weak and act in their narrow national interest.”

“Nations like the U.S., Canada, Japan and Australia openly throw monkey wrenches into the works and then kick the decision-making can further down the road,” said the Benin City-based biologist. “The rapid slide down this slope began in 2009,” she said, “and has worsened with every subsequent COP.”

President Barack Obama plans to be attending the upcoming Paris conference. He spoke of it last week while announcing that the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline was now cancelled. Any other decision, he said, would have cost the U.S. its leadership standing at the talks.

Meanwhile, grassroots organizations have chalked up several major victories, including the ending of plans by Shell Oil to drill in the sensitive Arctic region. This was hastened by a “blockadia” movement of social action groups who marched on a section of the XL pipeline, blocked the path of pipeline construction in Diboll, Texas, and occupied the Houston headquarters of TransCanada, the corporation contracted to build the Keystone XL pipeline.


There’s a buzz around a new documentary that gives a close-up and personal look at Dr. Denis Mukwege and his work in Panzi Hospital, uplifting women who have been raped and abused in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thousands of women were saved from lives of pain, humiliation and rejection by this dedicated gynecologist. While he sewed up their insides that had been torn to shreds by soldiers, he persuaded them to take another chance at life and many did. So why is the DRC government banning the film?

“There is a clear intent to harm and sully the image of our army and no country in the world could tolerate it,” Lambert Mende, the DRC’s media minister, told the AFP news agency in Kinshasa. “That is why we have banned the showing of the film here.”

“The Man Who Mends Women” follows the activity of Mukwege in the Panzi Hospital he founded in 1999. He runs the facility in the city of Bukavu while operating on several rape victims each day.

The DRC has been described as the “rape capital of the world” by a U.N. representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict. In 2011, a report claimed that some 48 women were raped every hour in the country.

Mukwege, 59, was awarded the Sakharov prize, considered one of Europe’s most prestigious human rights prizes, for helping thousands of rape victims. It is reported that since 1999, Mukwege saved the lives of more than 40,000 women, many of whom suffered brutal sexual assault by soldiers and militias. Mukwege and the hospital he set up offers not just life-saving surgery but hope, and recognition of their suffering.

At the Sakharov reception, Mukwege, who has received death threats, declared: “In every raped woman, I see my wife. In every raped mother, I see my mother and in every raped child, my own children. We have spent too much time and energy fixing the consequences of violence. It is time to take care of the causes.”

Since the end of a five-year war in eastern Congo between 1998 and 2003, the region has remained volatile and riddled with armed groups competing for control over natural mineral resources.

Directed by Thierry Michel, a Belgian, the film will be screened in Washington, D.C., and New York City Nov. 27 at the opening night of the 23rd African Diaspora International Film Festival.

“I am not making accusations in my film,” protested Michel. “There is no commentary, just the testimony of victims and witnesses. I present the facts.

“Our aim was to provoke the debate and try to end the spiral of violence in the Congo. The courts in the DRC have already convicted some men, including army officers, so it is not as if this is a surprise or a secret or something that has not already been accepted as a fact. It is disappointing for everyone. Many of these women have never told their stories. They need to tell their stories and be heard because then they can feel they exist.”

For ticket information about “The Man Who Mends Women,” visit www. nyadiff.org.


No one disputes the enormous gifts that Africans bring to the global table. But Scrabble?

In fact, a Nigerian college graduate is just the latest African winner of the brainiac’s board game apparently loved around the world. Wellington Jigher joins Elisee Poka from Ivory Coast, who won the French-language Scrabble World Championship in 200,8 and Schelick Ilagou Rekawe from Gabon, who this year reached the final stage of that competition.

This week, Wellington bested the competition at the World English-language Scrabble Players’ Association Championship, playing 129 competitors in 32 rounds of matches in four days. He beat Lewis MacKay from England 4-0 in a best of seven final played in Perth, Australia.

Writing on his Facebook page, Jigher, 32, said he felt the whole continent behind him as he played. Still, it was baffling, he confessed, that he managed to win given that he had not been sleeping well.

“Thanks all, for the prayers and the support,” he wrote on FB. “Just like our Oga, Sammy Okosagah, alluded to earlier on, it was a battle between one man and a whole continent. It was like I was borrowing the ‘pickability’ of all the glorious pickers in the house.

“I’ll be releasing a more appropriate statement later,” he wrote. “I really must endeavor to rest now. I’ve not slept well in about a week. The fact that I was able to perform in spite of the sleeplessness still baffles me. It only goes to prove that God was deeply involved in this matter. To him alone be all the glory!”

They had arrived in Australia the day prior to the contest, which left little chance to get over the 20-hour flight or the seven-hour time difference.

Among Jigher’s winning word combinations were “dacoit,” “Aah” and “ungifted.” He also came up with “fahlores,” “avouched” and “mentored” for high scores.

Sulaiman Gora, president of the Nigeria Scrabble Federation, described the dapper Wellington, who seemed to have a limitless assortment of hats, as a quiet person whose “greatest strength is humility.”

Gora, who also heads the Pan-African Scrabble Federation, said that the “whole country and the whole of Africa is celebrating this success.”

The champion will be coming home with a $10,000 prize but now has to find a job. Zulu.jpg

(Autodidact 17 photos)