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Can the DRC stop the next Ebola outbreak?

Samantha Maloof

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Some unexpectedly good news came out of the long-beleaguered DRC on July 2nd, when the WHO declared an end to the Ebola outbreak that had started just 42 days before. The announcement prompted a global sigh of relief, as the outbreak was the country’s first since the catastrophic West African epidemic that raged in five countries between 2014 and 2016, killing more than 11,000 people.  

But it would take a special kind of innocence to assume that the Ebola virus has finally been tamed. In fact, any public health expert worth their salt would agree that the international community is years away from having a functioning emergency response system to deal with intra or inter-continental pandemics. Not to mention that the quickly deteriorating political situation in the DRC raises serious doubts about whether the country will have the capacity to contain the next outbreak.

All things considered, the DRC’s win over Ebola looks more like the exception than the rule. Indeed, the DRC contained last month’s outbreak largely because the virus struck in the remote region of Likati, 1,300 kilometers away from Kinshasa, and infected only a small sample of people. As such, local and national health authorities were able to enact an efficient and coordinated response: the second victim was immediately suspected of Ebola and the local health center rushed a sample to the national lab in Kinshasa. The workers there had the right expertise and connections and ran preliminary testing while also alerting international colleagues.

After the first case was confirmed, the government notified the World Health Organization, which activated their emergency response mechanisms. The successful escalation was also boosted by a new weapon in the WHO’s arsenal: a $41 million contingency fund that the health body set up following the lethargic response to the previous epidemic in West Africa. This fund helped the WHO and other groups rapidly rent helicopters for flying staff, generators, and other supplies into the affected zone.

Lastly, all of this happened in a country that has been battling Ebola for over 40 years and has seen off eight separate outbreaks so far. Which is why the international community should not rest on its laurels, but should instead take urgent action to bolster the readiness of other African countries susceptible to fall pray to the virus. Indeed, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are still years away from building the capacity to fend off the virus, despite the fact that these three countries accounted for over 90% of Ebola cases during the 2014 outbreak.

Then, the WHO’s foot dragging and political dysfunction in all three countries – two of which, Liberia and Sierra Leone, were still recovering from civil wars – led to the direct death of thousands. If it had not been for charities like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and private companies, which shouldered the bulk of the initial emergency response, the outcome would have been much worse. MSF led the frontline response and was the first to spot the initial cases in March 2014. Their volunteers were forced to handle the lion’s share of medical treatment, quarantine, and educational efforts as the WHO ignored their calls for help. Meanwhile, the Russian mining company Rusal built and equipped a microbiological research and medical treatment center for patients with infectious diseases in Guinea, as part of a public-private partnership to boost the fight against Ebola and to strengthen the local healthcare system. The project spearheaded by Rusal, among the biggest investors in the country, helped result in a new vaccine that is being delivered to Guinea and will undergo trials later this summer.

It just goes to show that while the private and non-governmental sector quickly mobilized resources, they are no panacea for the international coordination that global health bodies are supposed to offer.

Which brings us to a crucial point: stability is key in the proper management of epidemics. It would be a mistake to ignore the way political and economic agendas shape the way public health science is understood and implemented. If the international community really understood this feedback relation, it would take steps to stabilize the brewing civil war in the DRC.

Indeed, last December, with 16 years in power under his belt, President Joseph Kabila decided to settle in after finishing his constitutionally mandated last term, sparking deadly protests in the capital. Even after signing a subsequent agreement to step down and hold elections before the end of 2017, he has made no sign that he’s ready to do so. Instead, he’s been leading a smear campaign against the main opposition candidate for the presidency, Moise Katumbi, whom he regards as his biggest threat. The former governor of the Katanga province, Katumbi has garnered nationwide support in a country so large and divided that many have openly wondered if it’s even governable.

Unfortunately, Katumbi has been living in exile in Europe since May 2016 and faces the prospect of imprisonment if he returns home, where he has been convicted on a number of trumped-up charges. Meanwhile, as the deadline for the government to call elections approaches, violence between security forces and militia members has been rising. A surge in violence in Kasai province, which comes on top of grinding conflict in the volatile Kivu regions, has caused the deaths of at least 3,300 people and the displacement of more than 1.3 million.

Several weeks ago, the US and EU imposed sanctions on eight government officials and a militia leader implicated in abuses. But they will need to go further, expanding sanctions and working with the DRC’s neighbors to press Kabila to hold credible elections. This wouldn’t just be in the interests of the Congolese people, but is a precondition of laying the foundations of a functioning global health system. The next outbreak is therefore not a question of “if” but “when” – and containing it will depend on preserving political stability in the country. Otherwise, the humanitarian disaster of 2014 will simply repeat itself.

Samantha is a freshly minted graduate in International Relations based in Cairo, currently working as a research assistant in a small think tank looking at development and inequality in Africa

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Africa

Nile water is indivisible

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On August 6, the international news agency Rossiya Segodnya held an online roundtable “Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan: how to share the waters of the Nile.” In July, Ethiopia said that it had started to fill the reservoir of the newly-built Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River. The dam – the biggest in Africa, is often referred to as the Hidase Dam. The reservoir will take between three years (Ethiopian forecast), and 10 years, to fill up (conservative forecast). The announcement by Addis Ababa has attracted a great deal of public interest in the project.

The problem is, however, that water for the Hidase Dam reservoir will be drawn from the Blue Nile, a tributary of the Nile, which runs across Ethiopia and accounts for a hefty 90 percent of the country’s water consumption. As for the Nile, this grand waterway largely determines the economic life of the 11 countries it flows through, above all of Egypt. If the entire Blue Nile spillway is diverted to fill the Hidase reservoir, this could result in a catastrophic shallowing of the Nile with extremely dire consequences for Egypt.

This situation, namely the transition of the project to the final stage of filling the reservoir with water from the Blue Nile, has already soured relations between Egypt and Ethiopia, the two largest states in Africa with a population of 100 and 110 million respectively, and has caused serious concern on the part of the international community. Russia and the United States have been using diplomacy to resolve this problem ever since the early 2000s, but so far to no avail.

The online roundtable discussion, hosted by Rossiya Segodnya brought together leading Russian experts to discuss the situation:

– Andrey Baklanov, assistant to the vice speaker of the Federation Council, deputy head of the Association of Russian Diplomats, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia;

– Vladimir Belyakov, senior researcher, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences;

– Stanislav Mezentsev, senior researcher at the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences;

During the discussion, they expressed their understanding of the problem and singled out its various aspects.

According to Andrey Baklanov, the issue of freshwater supply is acute in many parts of the world, including the basins of the Tigris and Euphrates, Ganges and Indus, and others. However, this problem is most pressing for the Middle East, North and East Africa. The Nile is almost the only source of fresh water supply for Egypt with around 95 percent of the country’s population living along the banks of this great river.

Cairo is deeply worried by the latest developments around the Hidase Dam since it is already clear that at the end of the day there will not be enough water in the Nile for everyone. The situation calls for a negotiated solution, but talks on this issue have been tough and so far unsuccessful. The proposal for the 11 countries of the region to agree quotas for the consumption of water from the Nile was impracticable from the start.  

Andrey Baklanov also mentioned the idea of setting up a consortium of the Nile Basin countries for water resources management, but apparently there is no ideal option – either with a collective approach to a solution, or with an individual one.

The expert believes that one possible way to solve the problem would be to look for alternative sources of water. With a stabilization of the situation in Libya and a restoration of its ties with Egypt, Cairo could count on that country’s underground reserves of freshwater, which are six times the amount of water in Lake Baikal.

As for Russia, it would like to see a resumption of the work by the multilateral group on the Nile.

Answering a question by the online meeting’s moderator, Vladimir Belyakov from the Institute of Oriental Studies noted that even though Ethiopia enjoys the most advantageous position in the Ethiopia-Egypt-Sudan troika, Egypt still has the abundant Aswan reservoir and if the Hidase reservoir takes 10 years to fill instead of three, as the Ethiopians expect, then Egypt will survive.

The expert emphasized that the speeded-up construction of Hidase by Ethiopia coincided with the escalation of political tensions inside Egypt, which started in 2011. He added that the slugging pace of the Nile talks reflects the weakening of Egypt’s position as a regional power in Africa.

Belyakov also mentioned the construction of the Energy Center outside Alexandria, which will operate a desalination plant for Mediterranean seawater as a possible solution for Egypt.

Stanislav Mezentsev from the Institute for African Studies said that some countries might be ready to wage wars, at a new, more dangerous technological level, for resources, above all for water.

Speaking about Ethiopia, he emphasized that the country’s current economic situation is worse than in Egypt, including when it comes to freshwater available to the population, 23 percent of whom have little access to clean water. With the economy now expanding fast, water from the Hidase reservoir holds the key to its continued growth, which means that under no circumstances with Addis Ababa agree to wind down this project.

Therefore, Stanislav Mezentsev believes that it is now necessary to convince all three countries (Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan) to use the platform of international experts and the format of international negotiations for reaching a reasonable compromise.

He also agreed with his colleagues that because there will not be enough Nile water for everyone, it is imperative to look for alternative sources, in particular, desalination facilities and underground water resources in  Libya.

Answering the question raised earlier, Mezentsev ruled out a military solution by Egypt to the Hidase Dam issue, citing a number of reasons, above all the predicted negative reaction of regional players and the international community.

In conclusion, the participants noted that “the waters of the Nile are indivisible” and should be used collectively, based on the principles of good neighborliness.

From our partner International Affairs

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Paying Tribute to Mother Teresa of Somalia, Late Dr. Hawa Abdi

Ahmed Said

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image source: Vital Voices

I know this earthly life is temporary, but I felt great sorrow when I heard the passing of Dr. Hawa Abdi who died at age 73 in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.  Dr. Hawa Abdi helped the helpless, the ill, and the internally displaced women and children, and the weak in war-torn Somalia for decades. She studied medicine in Ukraine and In 1983, she opened a one-room clinic, on her family’s ancestral property, which over the years grew into a settlement which hosts tens of thousands of people, mainly women and children. The settlement in the Afgooye corridor, less than 15 miles from Mogadishu, includes a hospital, a school and a refugee camp.”

When Hawa Abdi was 11, her mother died due to childbirth complications, and because of the medical reason her mother lost her life, and owing to the fact that childbirth-related death was common (and still is) in sub-Saharan Africa for lack of maternity care, Hawa Abdi decided to become a doctor, especially a female gynecologist. And when the civil war broke out in Somalia in early 1990s, as many Somalis were getting displaced by the war, mainly in and around the capital, Mogadishu, more and more people, especially women and children, moved and took refuge in and around the compound of Dr. Hawa Abdi. She worked tirelessly to save lives and became a lifeline for tens of thousands of Somalis. She was not only helping the needy civilians, but the wounded of the countless warring sides in and around Mogadishu and elsewhere ended up over the years in her clinic and hospital to be treated impartially. Hawa Abdi was a selfless figure who helped her fellow countrymen and countrywomen without discriminating them based on their clan, the main malice that has been destroying Somalia for decades, the biggest factor that plunged the country into an endless civil strife.

At times, Hawa Abdi confronted the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al Shabab to save people in her camp, even when they threatened her. At certain times, some of the people in her camp fled for their lives, but she stayed in her camp no matter how dangerous it was to be fearless. That is how brave she was.

Hawa Abdi not only took risks herself, but she supported her daughters to become doctors so that they can help the needy people in their homeland, Somalia. When you look at the alternative, which is for them to live a peaceful life elsewhere, they prefer to stay in their country and help their people. This can teach the Somali people that these beautiful souls sacrificed so much by saving their fellow Somali citizens.

Hawa Abdi was a role model for millions of Somali girls and women. She braved great adversaries in life. She overcame countless challenges and showed all Somalis, even men, that one person can have a great positive impact on her country and people. She showed her African sisters and brothers, with resolve, mountains can be moved because we live in an inner-connected world where one person, one village, and one city can have a certain influence on the entire world. On the other hand, the world has become a global village, and I believe, compared to when Hawa Abdi started her venture decades ago, now we have more opportunities to do what Hawa Abdi did; the world is more connected than before, and information can be obtained faster and more efficiently. The power of the internet is amazing, and if one can have the access and ways to find and understand the right data, one can do wonderful things to change life for the better.

The news of Hawa Abdi’s death shook the Somali social media world. Many Somali social media users, including me, shared their sadness on the death of this giant woman. Rest in peace!

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Spilling Oil and Mosaic Racial Prejudices

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My heart is heavy with prayers on behalf of Mauritius  where I am blessed to be residing and working, as an oil spill catastrophe compounds the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in this idyllically beautiful though in so many ways fragile land.  Thanks with ultimate love to those in many places around the world who have texted and emailed your concerns to me  about Mauritius. Your prayers and positive thoughts are well needed and greatly appreciated. 

This tear jerking natural disaster gives us a reflection today exacerbated with  the horrible Beirut blast earlier this week and the deteriorating oil tanker in the Red Sea unattended as proxy war rages in Yemen  ; and  the profit motive  loosening of environmental protections in America,Brazil , and elsewhere in the established and emerging West. And it is impossible for us , none of us, to escape from the web of disastrous environmental   circumstances  engulfing all of us whether we believe in global warming or not-the coming further  biodiversity consequences of global warming adding rock salt to the wounds of and going beyond the present COVID 19 pandemic and its emerging mutations. 

Whether we live in the declining North and West or in  the emerging South and East in the world,  or on mainlands or on islands, the climatical catastrophes are  now causing us  all to be jolted rudely out of our beds of complacency.We  are being forced to  open our eyes without the  time to indulge in the luxurious privilege of rubbing them to get the  sleep out of our  dropping post-dreamland eyelids. 

What more will it take for we human beings to realize and act constructively about the sobering fact that physical environments and the non-human lives within  them  and what we human beings do to them have real consequences at all times.We can never afford to waste one minute ignoring anything or being careless when it comes to our environments and to non-human living animals and plants. No matter where we are or stand in any society especially one which claims to be  a democracy ,we can never afford be sleep at the wheel.We must always be alert and be proactive and preventive rather than passive and indifferent since that which is a tranquil paradise environment or a scenic port or luscious green forests or beautiful spacious plains and even impoverished and wealthy rural and urban living spaces can  in the blink of an eye go up in explosive environmental and life taking smoke or toxic spill. 

It is one thing when such environmental and life taking destructions occur beyond our human control such as an earthquake or cyclone or hurricane or volcanic eruption so long as preparations by governments and communities are made so when some mass destructive catastrophe does occur everyone no matter their wealth or poverty and cultural background are all taken care of the same quality of life way.It is the most tragic mass catastrophe which occurs when it is due to governments and communities having the ability to develop natural disaster preparation capacity though don’t bother to do so or ignore the warnings of citizens and noncitizens since  for demographic reasons they do not have the respect of the powerful to be listened to and heard for urgent action.Thus when the  natural disaster comes  those in government, private sector, and civil society power are caught flatfooted and the entire society comes to suffer in one way or another. We all become victims of our own negligence within not outside our control.

In the midst of  and in the aftermath of any natural disaster be it beyond or within human control there invariably is raised in these global social media days the human rights concern  of  the uneven ways the mass catastrophe affects the quality of life of impacted populations.  This is especially the case for the quality of life of mass natural disaster effects on  historically excluded and marginalized populations. In Mauritius it is the issue of African Kreoles; that is, those Mauritians with African descent  heritage who acknowledge their heritage though realizing  there are many Mauritians of Indian, English, and French descent with African heritage though not acknowledged let alone in more cases than a few, even known.

Yesterday evening one event I attended in the nearby Town of Rose Hill, not cancelled due to the impending oil spill disaster, was the first ever public conversation in Mauritius about racial prejudice in this  otherwise island paradise. Though there was the predicted attempt by some speakers to dilute the issue by speaking about other kinds of  non-racial social prejudices ,the focus  appropriately always came back to systemic and structural  anti-Afro- Kreol prejudice in this land  most apparent in the public and in the corporate private sectors and in interracial  dating, marriage, and family formations  in relation to Afro-Kreols . Paradoxically people here in Mauritius are so closely knitted and friendly though can be   so deeply historically divided in their racial prejudices ( Though treated kindly as a brother in most private and public places I have been in Mauritius, I have not been totally  immuned from anti-Black racism  before  or/and after I have opened my American sounding mouth.For instance , consider the Indian doctor seeing me for the first time asking me if the “Professor ” before my name was my actual title or a nickname– well we know Black people,  especially older or younger men ,no matter their nationality are not well educated and love nicknames like Prof and Doc, right?🤭😊).

Most of the speakers tried to link their concerns about historical  and contemporary anti-Afro-Kreol racial prejudice to the  globalizing  U.S.George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protest movements supplemented with American peace songs.Just as much there could have been needed attention given to how the oil spill disaster is a tragic reminder of the historic Afro-Kreol fishing industry and how much it has been excluded from  especially  corporate domestic and global trading markets and  trends towards importing fish from other countries than from their own largely Black fishermen.

But it was a good start especially with so many young people present..the future of this nation with such potential to become incredibly great. Have to start somewhere in discussing publicly such a  delicate paradoxical blemish in a society with aspirations to be a big league nation in a world where any form of racial prejudice will ultimately impede the dreams of lofty national ambitions.

 In moving forward from last night’s first public try to have a conversation about anti-Afro-Kreol racial prejudice and as the gallant efforts to contain the drifting oil continue, there is the chronic need of a more comprehensive national restorative justice initiative involving government and local community leaders developing platforms to have difficult  transparent  conversations to address the deep  societal ugliness captured in what  an Afro-Kreol sage told me soon after my arrival: as one Mauritius poet said: Mauritiuians grow two things: pineapples and prejudices.

Though Mauritiuians are indeed nice and kind  in public and in their numerous festivals and religious celebrations, what is expressed way too often  behind closed doors and in private and public unspoken or spoken preferences in who gets what when it comes to power and privilege and to decent quality of life ( including recruitment invitations to faith communities) are totally different stories. The mosaic  spillings of racial prejudices in Mauritius hidden  and usually  when mentioned explained away under the guises of words like communalism and religion  or through mere pretending that such degradation while happening don’t happen,  is a slow cancer eating away at the soul of this  truly lovely nation which needs to be brought to the surface and made to cease.That is ,if the nation wants to become in substance, not just in global measures of development, a big League global democracy. The mosaic of racial prejudices against Afro-Kreols, African and Asian immigrants,Chinese,  Francos, British,Indians, Christians, Muslims,   and Hindus in Mauritius has  created and sustained   very much taken for granted divisions of marginality and exclusion in public and private spheres of Mauritius life which wastes human resources, and create social and emotional distance anxieties and fears and contributes tremendously to brain drain of the highly talented though with devalued demographics migrating elsewhere . Unless this mosaic of deeply rooted racial prejudices is thoroughly publicly addressed, acknowledged, and properly processed and resolved through authentic restorative justice public policy designs and effectively monitored in implemented in the midst of the bare wires of racial inequality being exposed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and now oil spill crisis tainting tourist attracting beaches  with obvious racialized winners and losers who always win and lose here wasting human and material resources in so many ways in the process, what will Mauritius be say next year let alone say 10 years from now as a highly vulnerable island state with such high profile ambitions of being a big league African democracy in the world?

And of course from a global perspective, Mauritius ,in reflecting about this big intricate question, is a case study for the rest of the world as  most of us around the globe  are in the midst of environmental disasters with such dire consequences for most of us residing in such unequal societies.If it is not racial prejudice, it is prejudices premised on age, caste, culture, ethnicity, gender , language, nationality, religion ,socioeconomic status  or stateless status, which construct the false dehumanizing walls which keep us apart and degrade our views of others and of ourselves about human  capacities to contribute to the well being of the  societies we develop, sustain, and change. And then when natural disaster hits elites  in private and public sectors are either prepared to address the needs of the most privileged while  at best emergency crumbs are tossed to the least among us( e.g. the pathetic COVID 19 pandemic economic aid distributions with the predictable racial disparities, in the States though virtually all over the world).Or through ignoring what the usually ignored forewarn about possible future natural disaster  due to the color of their skin or ancestry or some other source of demographic degradation,   such as per chance  being Afro-Kreol fishing men and women expressing concern about the  tilting grounded ship …and now we see.

Every competent  voice in every society is needed and it endangers society when needed competent voices are categorically ignored and otherwise devalued. Otherwise we can venture into waters with oil slick streaks  and do so totally un- necessarily with long lasting if not permanent catastrophic consequences for all of us especially for the most vulnerable and underprivileged but for all of us.

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