Posts filed under ‘Africa’
Light up the Night.
U.S. Marines fire at fixed targets from Light Armored Vehicles (LAV-25s) during training in D’Arta Plage, Djibouti in East Africa. Note that despite the bright light thrown off by tracer bullets, you can still see the stars in the sky if you click on the photo to enlarge it.
They were participating in a combined arms engagement range during sustainment training. The 11th MEU is deployed as a reserve and crisis response force throughout U.S. Central Command and the 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
We created today’s Friday Foto in the wee hours after midnight, but apparently we neglected to click the all important PUBLISH button after editing this post.
We apologize for the error — and the delay in discovering it until a few minutes ago.
CORRECTION: Corrects last paragraph to indicate critics accused Compaore of meddling in Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone — not Liberia.
After 27 years in power, Blaise Compaore is out as president of Burkina Faso. But its not clear who is in charge now of the poor, land-locked West African state.
Compaore left office — or was ousted. depending on whom you listen to — over the weekend when mass protests, vandalism and looting broke out in the capital, Ouagadougou, and by thousands who opposed his plans to rewrite the country’s constitution so he could run for another term as president.
The BBC is reporting that “ensions are mounting” after the Army chief Honore Traore has seized power. Traore said he had taken over, but it is not clear if he had the backing of all the military.
AROUND AFRICA: Burkina Faso Unrest; Ebola Update; Zambia President Dies; Another Boko Haram Attack, Nigeria President Seeking Re-Election; [UPDATE]
UPDATES with Rioting, state of emergency in Burkino Faso, Nigerian President to Seek Re-election.
Burkina Faso Capital in Flames.
The president of the West African nation of Burkina Faso has declared a state of emergency, after tens of thousands of people took the streets, setting the parliament building ablaze. Violence in the capital, Ouagadugou, has left at least one person dead, according to Al Jazeera.
Army General Honore Traore, the joint chief of staff, said that the government and parliament were dissolved on Thursday (October 30). Some of the protesters, who are opposed to constitutional amendments that would allow President Blaise Compaore to stay in power for another term, ransacked state television and tried to storm other state buildings, Al Jazeera noted.
“A state of emergency is declared across the national territory. The chief of the armed forces is in charge of implementing this decision which enters into effect today,” said a statement from the president read by a presenter on Radio Omega FM. The president also said he would open talks with the opposition.
“I dissolve the government from today so as to create conditions for change,” the statement said. “I’m calling on the leaders of the political opposition to put an end to the protests. I’m pledging from today to open talks with all the actors to end the crisis.”
The BBC is reporting that President Compaore is defying opposition calls that he step down. The president says he will stay in power for a year under a transitional government, following a day of violent protests demanding his resignation. Demonstrators angered by his bid to extend his 27-year rule torched Parliament and other government buildings.
General Traore did not spell out who would lead the interim administration. He also declared the imposition of an overnight curfew. In a message broadcast by a local TV station after the general’s statement, Compaore said he welcomed the military’s “patriotic action”. He said he would hand over power to a democratically elected government after the transitional administration had completed its term. He also said he was withdrawing a controversial legislation that would enable him to seek another term in office. He has held the presidency for 27 years.
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The World Health Organization (WHO) says here has been a decline in the spread of Ebola in Liberia, the country hardest hit by the deadly virus.
The WHO’s Bruce Aylward said it the U.N. agency is finally confident health officials are gaining the upper hand against the outbreak, the BBC reported.
However, Aylward warned against any suggestion that the crisis was over. Liberia’s Red Cross said its teams collected 117 bodies last week, down from a high of 315 in September, according to the WHO. Treatment centers also have empty beds available for patients. “It appears that the trend is real in Liberia and there may indeed be a slowing,” said Aylward.
According to the latest WHO situation report, the death toll from the West African outbreak stands at 4,922. The WHO says a total of 13,703 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola virdus disease (EVD) have been reported in six countries: Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Spain, and the United States as of October 28. Meanwhile, the outbreak of EVD in Senegal was declared over on October 17 and in Nigeria two days later (October 19, 2014).
EVD transmission remains persistent and widespread in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the WHO report said, adding: “All administrative districts in Liberia and Sierra Leone have now reported at least one confirmed or probable case of EVD since the outbreak began.” Cases of EVD transmission remain lowest in Guinea, but case numbers are still very high in absolute terms. Transmission remains intense in the capital cities of the three most affected countries. Cases and deaths continue to be under-reported in the outbreak.”
More on Ebola Later
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Boko Haram Attack
Updates with President Goodluck Jonathan saying he will seek re-election.
The Voice of America website is reporting that Boko Haram militants have taken over a city in northeast Nigeria — another violation of a cease-fire declared by the government earlier this month.
Local residents tell VOA’s Hausa language service that militants stormed the city of Mubi on Thursday (October 30), pillaging the local emir’s palace and freeing jailed militants from a prison.
A Mubi resident reported seeing black turban-wearing Boko Haram fighters patrolling the city on motorbikes. The witness also said Nigerian soldiers have either fled or abandoned their positions in the city. The Nigerian air force is reported to have launched air strikes in Mubi to counter the Boko Haram advance, VOA reported.
Despite widespread discontent with how his government is handling the Boko Haram crisis, President Goodluck Jonathan announced he would seek re-election in February’s elections, the BBC reports.
The announcement comes as Jonathan faces mounting criticism over his handling of the Boko Haram insurgency and the group’s abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls, the BBC noted. The government announced a ceasefire agreement with Boko Haram earlier this month that was supposed to lead to the release of the schoolgirls.
The Nigerian government says it has been talking to Boko Haram in neighboring Chad with both parties agreeing on a ceasefire. But with attacks in northeast Nigeria continuing and no word on when — or if — the girls will be released, critics have raised questions about the validity of the truce.
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Sata Dead, Scott Acting President.
The president of Zambia, Michael Sata, has died and his successor — at least temporarily — is the Zambian-born son of a Scottish doctor and sub-Saharan Africa’s first white head of state in 20 years.
Sata, 77, who was elected president of the South Central African nation in 2011, died Tuesday (October 28) in a London hospital where he was being treated for an undisclosed illness, according to the BBC.
Zambia’s vice president, Guy Scott, 70, will serve as acting president until elections are held in January. He is a former agriculture minister who also worked in Zambia’s finance ministry.
“Elections for the office of president will take place in 90 days. In the interim, I am the acting president,” Scott said in a broadcast address that also announced the start of a period of mourning for the late president, the Associated Press reported.
Scott, whose parents were both Scottish, has said he has no presidential ambitions. Zambia’s constitution also bars him from running for president because his parents were not Zambians by birth or descent, the AP said.
Sata — nicknamed “King Cobra” for his blunt talk and sharp tongue — was Zambia’s fifth president and the second to die in office. He promised to tackle corruption and create jobs and prosperity for the former British colony (Northern Rhodesia) of 15 million people. But his declining health was mirrored by Zambia’s declining economy, and he left behind an impoverished country with one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, according to the BBC’s obituary.
Ebola Death Toll
The death toll in the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has risen to 4,493, according to the latest situation report by the World Health Organization.
The WHO said there have been 8,997 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of what the U.N. agency calls Ebola virus disease (EVD) in seven affected countries: countries (Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, and the United States of America) up to the end of October 12.
Today (October 17) the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak in Senegal over. The U.N. agency commended the country’s authorities for their “diligence to end the transmission of the virus.” The WHO said it has been 42 days since any new cases had developed in Senegal.
However, the WHO said the situation in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone “is deteriorating, with widespread and persistent transmission of EVD.” The situation report said an increase in new cases in Guinea is being driven by a spike in confirmed and suspected cases in the capital, Conakry, and the nearby district of Coyah.
“In Liberia, problems with data gathering make it hard to draw any firm conclusions from recent data.” The the report stated, adding that it suspects “almost certainly significant under-reporting of cases from the capital, Monrovia.” While there does appear to be a genuine fall in the number of cases in Liberia’s Lofa district, the WHO said a concerted effort will be needed to confirm that drop and whether it means EVD has been eliminated in that area.
In Sierra Leone, intense transmission is still occurring in the capital, Freetown, and the surrounding districts.
Back in the United States, President Obama has appointed Ron Klain, “a seasoned Democratic crisis-response operative and White House veteran,” to manage the U.S. government’s response to the deadly virus as public anxiety grows over its possible spread, the New York Times reported. The new Ebola czar is a former chief of staff for Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden, is known for his ability to handle high-stakes and fast-moving political challenges, according to the Times.
Hundreds of U.S. military personnel are already in Liberia assisting in the construction of Ebola treatment centers and training local personnel. They include Marines helicopter crews, Navy SeaBees and lab technicians, Air Force cargo handlers and Army engineers.
The Pentagon says between 3,000 and 4,000 military personnel may be sent to Liberia to help with logistical, construction and administrative tasks. Obama has authorized the Pentagon to call up reservists, if necessary. Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby says no U.S. military personnel will be involved in treatment of Ebola patients during the mission, which is called Operation United Assistance.
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Nigeria: Kidnapped Girls
Nigeria’s military says it has agreed to a ceasefire with the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram and that the militants will release hundreds of schoolgirls it kidnapped earlier this year.
Nigeria’s chief of defense staff, Alex Badeh, announced the truce but Boko Haram has yet to make a public statement, according to the BBC.
Boko Haram, which seeks to create an Islamic state governed by a severe interpretation of Sharia law, requiring beheadings, whippings and limb amputations for crimes launched an insurgency against the Nigerian government in 2009. Thousands have been killed in the struggle, including some 2,000 civilians reportedly killed this year, the BBC said.
The group, whose name translates roughly into “Western education is fraudulent” and by implication, forbidden, has bombed police stations, churches and bus terminals and attacked high schools and colleges, killing students and teachers. It sparked worldwide outrage in April when it raided a high school in predominantly Muslim northeast Nigeria and carried off hundreds of teenage girls.
Many in the country have been critical of the government’s slow response to the kidnappings and the counterinsurgency in general. They remain skeptical about the ceasefire announcement.
Clement Nwankwo, the executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in Abuja, says the negotiations in Saudi Arabia and Chad between the government and Boko Haram will only increase the stature of the group.
“It has acquired its own status that puts it on its own pedestal. But the reality is there [are] a lot of people in northeastern Nigeria who have an incentive to join Boko Haram because of the failures, corruption and the inability of the government to exercise transparency and good governance,” Nwankwo tells the Voice of America.
He’s also worried that Abuja’s willingness to negotiate with Boko Haram may reflect the government’s “desperation” bring the abduction crisis to a close.
Enemies, Foreign and Domestic — and Biologic.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says the violent extremist group known as ISIL (or ISIS), poses a “potential threat” to the United States but he is also worried about homegrown lone wolf attackers driven to violence by radical Islamist propaganda.
Following an address Thursday (October 9) on border security and immigration at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Johnson called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — “a dangerous terrorist organization” that has killed U.S. citizens and threatened to attack the West.
The al Qaeda splinter group has seized territory in Syria and Iraq, executed prisoners, kidnapped women and terrorized Kurdish, Yazidi and Christian minorities in the areas it controls. The group is also known as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and IS, for Islamic State.
Noting ISIL’s “very slick” social media and propaganda skills, Johnson added: “They represent a very significant potential threat for which we have to be vigilant.” But he refuted reports that that ISIL/ISIS fighters has been apprehended trying to cross illegally into Texas from Mexico. Johnson said four people were apprehended on the border who said they were members of the Kurdish Workers Party, which is fighting ISIL in Syria (and ironically, considered a terrorist group by the United Sates for its autonomy-seeking attacks in Turkey). Nevertheless, the four were arrested, detained and will be deported, Johnson said.
In a question and answer session at the Washington think tank, Johnson said he worries about Westerners who travel to the Middle East to fight in Syria’s civil war, and return to the United States or countries accorded U.S. visa waiver privileges with a radical jihadist ideology and weapons training. But Johnson said he is also concerned about domestic-based lone terrorist acts “inspired by the social media” of radical groups. “In many respects, that’s the terrorist threat I worry most about because it’s the hardest to detect and it could happen on very little notice,” Johnson said.
To counter violent extremist propaganda the Department of Homeland Security has launched community outreach programs, seeking help from leaders in U.S. communities with large Muslim populations.
Despite a surge in women travelling with children and unaccompanied minors, Johnson says the number of foreigners trying to enter the United States illegally is down since 2000 and the number of them being apprehended by the Border Patrol is up, but DHS isn’t easing up on border security efforts.
He announced several initiatives across the department — including the creation of three new task forces — to direct the resources of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Coast Guard in three areas: the ports and maritime approaches in the Southeast, land borders in the Southwest and California and a standing joint investigative task force to support the other two.
Asked about the Ebola virus crisis in West Africa and its appearance in the United States and Spain, Johnson said DHS officers will be taking the temperatures – with non-contact thermometers of all arriving airlines passengers coming from the three African countries hardest-hit by Ebola: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Additionally, he said there would be more active screening of the estimated 150 people a day who come to the United States by air from those countries. The temperature screening will start this weekend at Newark, JFK, Dulles, Los Angeles and Atlanta airports.
Ebola Death Toll Rises.
The death toll from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has risen to nearly 3,900, including Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with the deadly disease on U.S. soil.
Duncan, 42, who caught the deadly virus in his native Liberia, died Wednesday (October 8), 10 days after he was admitted to a Texas hospital. His death and reports that Texas hospital workers fumbled his diagnosis has sparked controversy and raised questions about how safe the United States is from foreign epidemics in the era of jet travel and globalization.
According to the World Health Organization , the total number of confirmed, probable, and suspected cases in the epidemic of Ebola virus disease (EVD) reported up to the end of October 5, is 8,033 with 3879 deaths.
Countries affected are Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and the United States. A confirmed case of EVD has been reported in Spain, but because the case was confirmed this week — information on that case will be included in the next Ebola Response Roadmap update, the United Nations health agency said.
“The situation in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone continues to deteriorate, with widespread and persistent transmission of Ebola,” the WHO said, adding that reports of a fall in the number of new cases in Liberia over the past three weeks “is unlikely to be genuine.” The WHO report said that report “reflects a deterioration in the ability of overwhelmed responders to record accurate epidemiological data.”
“There is no evidence that the EVD epidemic in West Africa is being brought under control, though there is evidence of a decline in incidence in the districts of Lofa in Liberia, and Kailahun and Kenema in Sierra Leone,” the WHO said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military is preparing to send as many as 4,000 troops to Ebola-ravaged Liberia to build new Ebola treatment units and manage the logistics of medical supplies, food, fuel and other commodities starting to pour into Liberia from donor nations and organizations.
The head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) told a Pentagon press briefing Tuesday (October 7) that the U.S. military mission to Liberia may take up to a year, according to Military Times.
Pentagon officials emphasize that troops will not provide medical care or have direct contact with Ebola patients. The military mission is to support civilian health care efforts through construction of new facilities, providing logistics support and training locals in prevention methods, Military Times reported.
Army General David Rodriguez, the AFRICOM commander said a headquarters for the joint force command, United Assistance in Monrovia, Liberia, has been created to provide regional coordination of U.S. military support to the U.S. and international relief efforts. Two additional mobile medical labs were put into operation last week, to increase the capacity for rapidly diagnosing Ebola. And the command is establishing a training facility for Liberian health care support workers, enabling them to safely provide direct medical care to patients, Rodriguez said.
“As we deploy America’s sons and daughters to support this comprehensive effort, we will do everything in our power to address and mitigate the potential risk to our service members, civilian employees, contractors, and their families,” he general told reporters, according to a Defense Department transcript. “Preventing the spread of Ebola is the core task of this effort. This is a key requirement in everything that we do in this operation, and this applies both to our support efforts and the protection of our own people,” Rodriguez added.
In other developments, a special Marine expeditionary unit based in Spain is deploying to Liberia, joining other U.S. troops in support of efforts to contain the spread of Ebola. Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Admiral John Kirby said Wednesday (October 8) that 100 personnel from the Special Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa are deploying from Moron, Spain, to Dakar, Senegal. They will then move to Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.
Navy construction engineers have been in Liberia since late September, clearing the ground for the first Ebola hospital. A team of 15 Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133 traveled to Monrovia September 23, to provide engineering support including: conducting site surveys for projects such as hospitals, supply storage and training facilities for healthcare workers fighting the Ebola outbreak, according to AFRICOM’s Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
AROUND AFRICA: U.S. Ebola Response, Nigeria College Attacked, U.N. Peacekeepers Killed in Mali UPDATE
UPDATES Ebola Roundup with aid pledge from Canada, Sierra Leone shutting down for three days and report of health workers and journalists found dead in Guinea.
The death toll from the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has gone over 2,600, according to the World Health Organization.
At least 2,630 people have died and at least 5,357 people have been infected, the WHO said Thursday (September 18), according to Reuters.
In an update on the epidemic, which is raging through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – and has spread to Senegal and Nigeria, the U.N. health agency said there were no signs of the outbreak slowing, said Reuters.
Several Western governments – criticized for not doing enough — have stepped up their assistance in fighting the fast-moving virus, for which there is no known cure.
President Barack Obama says the United States will send 3,000 military personnel to West Africa where they will erect new treatment and isolation facilities, train health care workers and increase communications and transportation support, according to The Associated Press.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the 3,000 troops would not provide direct care to Ebola patients, the AP reported. A substantial number will be stationed at an intermediate base in Senegal, Earnest said, with others at locations in Liberia where they will provide logistical, training, engineering and other support.
Obama said the Ebola outbreak is now an epidemic “of the likes that we have not seen before. It is spiraling out of control … The reality is that this epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better,” Obama said during a visit to the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) where he consulted with health officials about the U.S. response to Ebola. “Right now, the world has the responsibility to act – to step up, and to do more. The United States of America intends to do more,” Obama added.
France says it will set up a military hospital in West Africa as part of its contribution to the fight against Ebola. President Francois Hollande said Thursday (September 18) that the facility will be set up “in the forests of Guinea, in the heart of the outbreak,” according to Reuters.
Earlier this week, Canada said it will donate $2.5 million worth of the specialized medical gear used to protect health-care workers who are treating Ebola patients, The Canadian Press reported.
In a bid to reduce its Ebola infection rate, Sierra Leone will “close down” the country for three days beginning Friday (September 19), according to information minister Alpha Kanu.
Current figures show there are 1,400 cases of the Ebola disease in Sierra Leone, according to Kanu, the Voice of America reported. Sierra Leone is one of three hard-hit Western African nations being overwhelmed by the rapidly spreading deadly virus.
Meanwhile, the BBC reports officials in Guinea searching for a team of health workers and journalists who went missing while trying to raise awareness of Ebola have found several bodies.
A spokesman for Guinea’s government said the bodies included those of three journalists in the team. The group was reported missing after being attacked Tuesday (September 16) in a village near the southern city of Nzerekore.
On Thursday night, a Guinea government spokesman, Albert Damantang Camara, said eight bodies had been found, including those of three journalists.
He said they had been recovered from the septic tank of a primary school in the village, adding that the victims had been “killed in cold blood by the villagers”.
The reason for the killings is unclear, but correspondents say many people in the region distrust health officials and have refused to co-operate with authorities, fearing that a diagnosis means certain death, the BBC said. Last month, riots erupted on rumors that medics who were disinfecting a market were contaminating people.
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Nigeria College Attack
Gunmen have attacked a teacher training college in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, and officials say at least 15 people have been killed, the BBC reports. Another 34 people were injured in the Wednesday (September 17) attack.
The gunmen exchanged fire with police outside the college before running inside. While it is not clear who was responsible for the attack, the BBC said, suspicion will fall on the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which has been waging an insurgency in Nigeria since 2009. The group which wants to set up a separate Islamic state in Africa’s most populous country has already killed 2,000 people this year and kidnapped hundreds of high school-age schoolgirls.
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The United Nations mission in Mali says five of its peacekeepers from Chad were killed and another three wounded when their vehicle was hit by an explosive device in the north of the country on Thursday (September 18).
The attack brings the number of U.N. peacekeepers killed in the country this month to 10, according to Reuters. The U.N. mission, known as MINUSMA, said the blast happened between the desert towns of Aguelhok and Tessalit, in the Kidal region of the Wester African nation.
MINUSMA was deployed last year to help stabilize Mali following a three-pronged crisis which began with a Tuareg separatist uprising, followed by a military coup in the southern capital and a nine-month occupation in the north by al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants.
The militants were chased out by a French-led intervention, but pockets of insurgents remain in Mali’s vast desert north from where they have launched attacks on the U.N. peacekeepers.