The World Health Organization reported late last month that the ongoing yellow fever outbreak in Africa is serious but that it does not warrant being declared an international health emergency.
Since it was first identified in Angola in December 2015, yellow fever has spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and is believed to have sickened more than 6,300 people and killed about 400, despite millions of doses of vaccine having been sent repeatedly to Angola. In August, some 7.7 million people were vaccinated in a major campaign that was launched in the “high risk” DRC capital Kinshasa, along with 1.5 million in other parts of the country. In Angola, 2.4 million people have been vaccinated, making 11.6 million in all.
The campaigns have depleted the global stockpile of 6 million yellow fever vaccine doses twice this year already, which according to the WHO is unprecedented. The vaccine shortage has now become so acute that officials have begun diluting the vaccine by 80 percent in a bid to stretch the supply. The four major manufacturers who supply the global stockpile have worked around the clock in order to replenish the stockpile.
Last month, the UN health agency convened an emergency committee of experts to consider the outbreak’s status, stating afterwards that the increase of the mosquito-spread haemorrhagic fever appears to have slowed. The WHO further reported that since 12 July there have been no new infections reported in what is an “extremely positive” trend. The upcoming rainy season has raised fears of further spread of the worst outbreak in decades. It also noted that intense population movements across the border to neighbouring Republic of Congo pose a risk of further spread, adding that the Brazzaville government should consider a “pre-emptive vaccination campaign in high-risk areas,” noting that the virus was moving towards Central and Eastern Africa.
Results have shown that more than 92% of voters in the country’s controversial referendum have approved constitutional changes to allow President Denis Sassou Nguesso to run for a third term in office.
According to figures read out by the electoral commission on radio on Tuesday, turnout in the referendum, which was held on Sunday, was 72 percent. The electoral commission further disclosed that more than 1.2 million people voted in favor of the change, while nearly 102,000 rejected it.
The opposition had boycotted the poll, with a senior opposition leader stating on Monday that the poll should be annulled due to low voter turnout. Clement Mierassa has disclosed that “from what we could see on the day of the vote, the announcement that turnout was more than 72% is extremely scandalous.”
President Sassou Nguesso, 71, is one of Africa’s longest serving rulers. He first came to power in 1979, ruling until 1992 when he lost the elections. He returned as president in 1997, after a brief civil war, and has since won two elections. He is now coming to the end of his second seven-year term. Under the current constitution, the president has been unable to seek re-election because he is over the age of 70 and has already served two terms. The presidential election is due to take place in 2016. In September, tens of thousands of people took part in a peaceful demonstration against the referendum. Last week, four people were killed and dozens left inured when security forces dispersed angry protesters in the capital, Brazzaville, as well as in the economic hub of Pointe-Noire.
Africa’s Longest-Serving Leaders:
- 36 Years – Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (Equatorial Guinea) took power in a coup in August 1979.
- 36 Years – Jose Eduardo dos Santos (Angola) took over after the death of the country’s first president in September 1979.
- 35 Years – Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) won the country’s independence elections in April 1980.
- 32 Years – Paul Biya (Cameroon) took over after the resignation of the country’s first president in November 1982.
- 31 Years – Denis Sassou Nguesso (Republic of Congo) was installed by the military in October 1979. He was out of power from August 1992 until October 1997.
- 29 Years – Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) became president after his rebel group took power in January 1986.
Just one day after peace talks were launched between the Central African Republic’s sectarian rivals, on Tuesday the talks were suspended after the ex-rebel Seleka group failed to show up for the second day of the forum. The suspension came one day before the deadline to reach a deal that the international community was hoping would bring an end to the on going violence.
Sources indicated Tuesday that delegates from the mainly Muslim Seleka had been provided a copy of the draft accord for the talks, which had been due to end on Wednesday, however they were apparently still studying the text. According to a member of the Congolese organizing committee, the two main negotiation sessions of the talks, one focusing on securing and bringing an end to hostilities while the other focusing on disarming fighters in the CAR, were suspended as a result. A third workshop on the political transition went ahead at the request of the regional grouping ECCAS.
The three-day forum for reconciliation and political dialogue, chaired by Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso and backed by a contact group composed of some thirty countries, was aimed at resolving the crisis that has already left thousands of civilians dead and has driven more than a million people from their homes, with many fleeing into neighbouring Cameroon and Chad. The continuing tit-for-tat attacks have also strained delivery of humanitarian relief, with aid agencies indicating that half the country is in need of humanitarian assistance. Around 170 Central African officials were taking part in the talks, including members of transitional President Catherine Samba Panza’s government, along with lawmakers, envoys from armed groups, political parties and civil society. While the Seleka rebel group’s failure to attend the talks signifies another set back for the CAR’s return to stability, recent clashes, that broke out as the talks opened Monday, have further demonstrated that the current on the ground situation is also far from reconciliation.
On Monday, new violence broke out in Bangui with the killing of a former Seleka rebel, which has sparked reprisal attacks from the mainly Christian anti-balaka group. The African Union-led peacekeeping force in the CAR, MISCA, has blamed the anti-balaka groups for the killing, stating the victim was on his way “to get breakfast” near the main hospital when he was killed. His death sparked allies of the victim to storm out of their nearby base camp, where they began looting, robbing stores and firing off shots and taking a group of students captive. According to a MISCA source, a “…number of youth from the high school next to the hospital were also taken prisoner by the ex-Seleka.” Although MISCA and European-led forces have taken up positions to secure the hospital area, where the fighting occurred, Monday’s violence has underscored the challenge facing peace negotiators in Brazzaville.
The CAR plunged into chaos when the Seleka rebel group seized power in a March 2013 coup. Since then, there have been months of atrocities that have been carried out by rebels gone rogue, which have in turn sparked reprisal attack carried out by the mostly Christian anti-balaka vigilante group.
Armed men on a motorbike killed at least four people late Sunday in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa in an attack that left another eight people wounded.
According to Mombasa’s chief of police Robert Kitur, the attack occurred at 8:30 PM (1730 GMT) when gunmen on a motorbike shot and killed four people and injured a number others in the area of Soweto, adding that the identity of the killers remains unknown.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the shooting however on the ground sources have reported that the gunmen also handed out leaflets stating that the attack was in retribution for last month’s violence in Mpeketoni, a town located 300 km (185 miles) north of Mombasa. In June, more than sixty people were killed in two days of violence. Despite al-Shabaab claiming responsibility for that attack, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta blamed “local political” networks.
In recent months, Mombasa has been the scene of worsening unrest, with a string of shootings and bombings blamed on Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants or local sympathizers. The al-Qaeda-linked group has indicated that attacks carried out on Kenyan soil by al-Shabaab militants are in retaliation for Kenya’s on going military intervention in Somalia.
The attack in Mombasa comes just two days after another incident occurred on Kenya’s coast. On Friday night, seven people were killed when militants targeted a bus near the Kenyan holiday island of Lamu. Two police officers were amongst those killed. Responsibility for that attack was claimed by al-Shabaab, with the militant’s spokesman stating that the group was “ready to act or attack anywhere necessary within Kenya.”
Reconciliation Talks Begin in Brazzaville
Meanwhile the key players in the Central African Republic conflict launched new talks on Monday in neighbouring Congo. The talks are aimed at ending more than a year of sectarian bloodshed.
Congo’s President Deni Sassou Nguesso chairs the three-day forum, which will focus on reconciliation and political dialogue. Backed by a contact group, that will bring together some thirty countries and organizations, the latest talks aim to produce an accord by Wednesday that will effectively end the violence, disarm the fighters and set up a new framework for political transition. According to sources, this accord will eventually pave the way for a much-needed national reconciliation council that will take place in October in the CAR’s capital city Bangui.
Although some 170 officials from the CAR are expected to participate in these talks, including members of transitional President Catherine Samba Panza’s government, lawmakers, envoys from armed groups, political parties and civil societie, several political and religious leaders in the CAR have boycotted the talks, calling them to be held at home as the issue concerns the CAR and not the entire region. The lack of full representative envoys, coupled with the short time allocated for the talks, could hamper their chance of success. Previous peace summits held in Chad and Gabon have produced minimal lasting results.
The CAR has been in crisis since the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in March 2013. Months of atrocities carried out by rebels have sparked reprisal attacks by Christian vigilantes, with hundreds killed and thousands displaced. Despite French peacekeepers intervening in the former colony in December last year, along with a multinational force raised by the African Union, clashes between the rebels and vigilante groups have continued, with fears that the violence may result in a Rwanda-style genocide.