Burkina Faso’s new interim government is set to hold its first meeting Monday, just three weeks after the army took over in the wake of a popular revolt that resulted in the resignation of President Blaise Compaore. While the new interim government will be in control of the West African country until presidential elections are held November 2015, it is evident that the country’s army will retain a powerful position – a move that has caused some concern across the country.
Officials confirmed Sunday that Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida will remain prime minister over the next year and will also take the defence minister post. Alain Thierry Ouattara, the new government secretary general announced Sunday that the military will also have control of the interior ministry. In all, four military members are included in the 26-member cabinet. Interim civilian President Michel Kafando will also b the country’s foreign minister. No opposition figures are among the members of the new interim government. This was done by choice as no one within the interim government will be allowed to stand in next year’s elections. This includes the interim president and prime minister.
President Kafando, a former diplomat, took office on Friday and will lead the country during the transitional 12-month period after veteran president Blaise Compaore was forced from power in a wave of popular unrest last month. The military has pledged to help bring the country back to full civilian rule. While the new government was initially expected to be unveiled on Thursday, and then Saturday, it was repeatedly held up by differences between the rival parties. According to sources, the delay was caused by the military’s opposition to several ministerial candidates who had been proposed by civil society groups.
Despite a civilian in power, the military’s control of the security services effectively means that army officers will remain a powerful political force. This has caused some civil society representatives to voice concern, particularly over Lt. Col. Zida’s appointment. Some residents of Ouagadougou have called the move a betrayal of their “revolution.”
The new government is set to hold its first cabinet meeting at 10:00 AM Monday
Meanwhile on Friday, ousted president Blaise Compaore flew to Morocco from the Ivory Coast, where he had fled after his long rule ended on 31 October. It currently remains unclear how long Mr Compaore will remain in Morocco.
Just a week after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it would deploy experts to the Ivory Coast and Mali to test their Ebola-preparedness measures, on Thursday, Mali’s Health Minister confirmed the country’s first Ebola case.
Speaking on state television late Thursday, Malian Health Minister Ousmane Kone confirmed that a two-year-old girl has tested positive for the deadly virus, disclosing that she was currently being treated at a hospital in the western town of Kayes, which is located 600 kilometres (375 miles) from the capital city Bamako. According to the Health Minister, the girl was brought to the Fousseyni Daou hospital on Wednesday, where she was immediately tested for the virus, which came back positive. Reports have indicated that the girl had recently returned from Kissidougou, in neighbouring Guinea, where the Ebola outbreak first emerged last December. Her mother died in Guinea several weeks ago, with the girl recently being brought to Bamako by relatives. She stayed in the Malian capital for ten days, in the Bagadadji neighbourhood, before leaving for Kayes. The child and 43 people who have come into contact with her have been put in quarantine, with the health minister urging anyone who may have had contact with the girl to come forward. A source within the health ministry has reported that the child’s condition is said to be improving.
Mali is now the sixth country in West Africa to be affected by the worst-ever Ebola outbreak, however both Senegal and Nigeria have in the past week been declared Ebola-free by WHO officials. Health officials have long viewed Mali as one of the most vulnerable to Ebola’s spread as the West African country borders both Guinea, which has been one of the hardest-hit countries by the current outbreak, and Senegal. The WHO’s list of fifteen African countries that need to be prepared for a possible Ebola case identified both Mali and the Ivory Coast as top priorities. Last week, WHO officials announced that they will deploy experts to both countries in order to test their Ebola-preparedness measures as both countries are currently at the greatest risk of being the next to be affected by the outbreak. Speaking during a news conference in Geneva last week, Isabell Nuttal, the WHO’s health security response chief disclosed, “as the number of cases is increasing, it wouldn’t be a surprise to have a case in neighbouring countries. And its for this very reason that we are working with them so that they are able to detect and take immediate action,” adding, “border checkpoints and health points have been implemented on the major roads that are crossing between the countries, so it provides a level of reassurance in terms of travelling.” On Sunday, a team of ten experts was set to deploy to Mali, with another team set to deploy to the Ivory Coast in the coming days.
An outbreak of the Ebola virus in Mali would likely severely threaten the country’s already fragile security situation, as Mali is continuing to stabilize after a coup and Islamist militant takeover of its northern region. It could also result in a greater risk to healthcare workers deployed in the country. While several teams of health workers have been attacked in Guinea, with several workers killed in September by locals as they attempted to spread awareness about the deadly virus, terrorist groups operating in the northern regions could target health workers for kidnap-for-ransom or could carry out violent attacks similar to those that targeted polio vaccination workers in Nigeria and Pakistan.
New figures released by the WHO on Wednesday indicate that Ebola has now killed 4,877 people and infected 9,936 across West Africa, with most of the deaths and cases occurring in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The official number of cases and deaths however remains unknown as under-reporting continues to be a major issue in this outbreak, however the WHO indicated last week that the true death toll may be three times as high as the one currently being reported. A separate and unrelated outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa currently appears to have been contained.
On Thursday, French President Francois Hollande will embark on a trip to three former colonies in West Africa. The official tour comes as his country puts the finishing touches to a military operation aimed at combatting extremist violence in the Sahel region. On Sunday, France’s Defense Minister announced that the country will end its military offensive in Mali, effectively replacing it with a new operation, codenamed Barkhane, which will involve some 3,000 French troops and which will span the largely lawless Sahel region. However in a sign that tensions in Mali are far from over, on Monday the French Defense Ministry confirmed that a French legionnaire died in a suicide attack near the northern town of Gao. This is the ninth casualty that France has suffered in the West African nation.
According to the President’s office, Hollande’s upcoming visit will include stops in the Ivory Coast, Niger and Chad, which is where Barkhane’s headquarters will be located. The French president will begin his African tour in Abidjan, the commercial capital of the Ivory Coast, which is currently on the economic rebound after experiencing a decade of unrest that was sparked by a failed coup in 2002. He will then visit Niger, which includes a stop at a French military base from which surveillance drones are deployed within the region. According to a source close to Hollande, because Niger is surrounded by restive areas – Nigeria to the south, Libya to the north, and Mali to the west – the president will “continue strategic talks on all these crisis areas surrounding the country and establish how we can collaborate to ensure better security in the region.” In the Chadian capital N’Djamena, Hollande will visit the headquarters of Operation Barkhane, which apart from troops, will also mobilize drones, helicopters, fighter jets, armored vehicles and transport planes.
France announced Sunday that its military offensive in Mali will now be replaced by an operation that will focus on the wider and largely lawless Sahel region, and will aim at combatting extremist violence, which is now threatening the entire area.
During a television interview Sunday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that President Francois Hollande “…wanted a reorganization of our troops in the Sahel zone.” France’s Serval offensive was launched in January last year and saw French troops deploy to aid Malian soldiers in stopping al-Qaeda-linked militants and Tuareg rebels from descending further south and advancing on the capital Bamako. While France had initially planned to end operation Serval in May, and redeploy troops to the Sahel region to fight al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups, renewed clashes between rebels and the army in the northeastern town of Kidal effectively forced officials in Paris to delay the pull out.
While the French-led Serval operation, which saw nine soldiers die over a period of eighteen months, has widely been deemed a success by the international community, Le Drian indicated that the concern has now shifted to the vast Sahel region, noting the operation aims “to make sure there is no upsurge (in terrorism) as there are still major risks that jihadists will develop in the zone that goes from the Horn of Africa to Guinea-Bissau,” adding “the aim is to prevent what I call the highway of all forms of traffics to become a place of permanent passage, where jihadist groups between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean can rebuild themselves, which would lead to serious consequences for our security.”
The new “counter-terrorism” operation, which has been codenamed Barkhane, will launch in the coming days and is being implemented in partnership with five countries including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Some 3,000 French soldiers will take part in the operation in which 1,000 will remain in the northern regions of Mali while the rest will be deployed in the four other countries. Drones, helicopters, fighters jets, armored vehicles and transport planes will be used in the operation, with the headquarters stationed in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena.
Suicide Attack in Northern Mali
Meanwhile, in what is a sign that security in northern Mali remains fragile, France’s Defense Ministry confirmed Tuesday that a French legionnaire has been killed in a suicide attack in northern Mali. This brings the number of soldiers killed in Mali since 2013 to nine.
A statement released by the Defense Ministry indicated that Serbian-born Dejvid Nikolic, 45, who held French nationality and was part of the Genie 1st regiment, “fell victim to a suicide attack” about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the northern town of Gao on Monday. A suicide bomber in a car targeted French troops who were on a security mission in the Al Moustarat region north of Gao. Seven soldiers were injured in the attack and Nikolic died of his wounds on Monday evening. He had been a legionnaire for more than twenty-five years and served in several hot spots, including Afghanistan and Lebanon. He had also worked in Africa, notably in Gabon and Djibouti. The Defense Ministry stated that his currently mission was his eight abroad. News of the death of the French soldier comes just days before President Francois Hollande is due to travel to West Africa as France prepares to redeploy some of its troops from Mali to the wider and largely lawless Sahel region in a bid to combat extremist violence.
The World Heath Organization (WHO) on Thursday called for “drastic action” in order to fight the deadliest Ebola outbreak on record, and announced an 11-nation meeting to address the growing crisis.
As of Sunday 22 June, 635 cases of hemorrhagic fever, most confirmed to be Ebola, including 399 deaths, have been reported across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This effectively makes the outbreak the largest ever “in terms of the number of cases and deaths as well as geographical spread.” A statement released by the UN agency stressed that “drastic action is needed,” and warned of the danger that the virus could jump to other countries. The WHO’s call for drastic action comes just days after medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) indicated that the virus was now “out of control.’
Since the deadly epidemic emerged in Guinea in January, WHO has deployed more than 150 experts in a bid to tackle the crisis. However despite its efforts, and the efforts of other medical charities, over the past three weeks there has been a “significant increase” in the number of cases and deaths reported each day. According to WHO’s regional director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, the agency is now “gravely concerned by the on-going cross-border transmission into neighboring countries as well as the potential for further international spread,” adding “this is no longer a country specific outbreak but a sub-regional crisis that requires firm action by governments and partners.”
WHO’s top Ebola specials Pierre Formenty warned last week that the recent surge in cases had likely come in part because efforts to contain the virus had been relaxed too quickly after the outbreak appeared to have slowed down in April. In order to address the on going crisis, officials at the WHO announced Thursday that they will convene a meeting of the health ministers from 11 countries in Accra, Ghana on July 2 – 3 in order “to discuss the best way of tackling the crisis collectively as well as develop a comprehensive inter-country operation response plan.” Ministers from Guinea, where nearly 400 confirmed, suspected and probably cases have surfaced so far, including 280 deaths; and Liberia, which has 63 cases and 41 deaths, will take part in the meeting. Ministers from Sierra Leone will also be present. Additionally, neighboring countries, including Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal, and countries as far afield as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda have also been invited. The meeting will also include a range of UN agencies and other aid organizations including MSF and the Red Cross as well as the Western African, British, EU and US centers for disease control.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, officials from the WHO announced that, at the request of the Sierra Leonean government, they were changing the way it reports fatalities from the Ebola outbreak in the country.
Previously, probable and suspected deaths from Ebola were included in the count however from now on, only laboratory confirmed cases will be reported. Therefore this reduces the death toll in Sierra Leone from 58 to 34 as of 24 June 2014. According to WHO spokeswoman Fadel Chaib, the way that deaths are reported in Guinea and Liberia, which are the other two countries affected by the deadly outbreak, will remain unchanged.
The change comes after Sierra Leone’s press had criticized the government for reporting lower death rates than those reported by the WHO. The changes however now bring the WHO figures inline with those released by the Sierra Leone government. The latest Ebola outbreak has now been named by international organizations as the worst Ebola epidemic ever with 635 cases and 399 fatalities occurring in dozens of sites across the three countries, including in major cities and remote areas. Officials from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have described the outbreak as “out of control,” adding that it had reports of cases in more than 60 sites and that its resources were now stretched to the limit. In light of the on going outbreak, which has worsened in recent weeks, the European Commission announced Tuesday that it was committing an additional 500,000 euros in funding in order to combat the outbreak. This latest funding brings its total contribution to 1.9 million euros.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has released an arrest warrant for Ivorian ex-minister Charles Ble Goude pertaining to charges over war crime allegations. According to the ICC, he is wanted for alleged crimes against humanity which occurred during the violence that erupted following the 2010 disputed elections in the Ivory Coast. Meanwhile in Guinea, the country’s President has called on the opposition to accept the results of Saturday’s vote. While the provisional results have yet to be announced by the country’s electoral commission, security in the capital city has increased as the atmosphere has been tense.
ICC Makes 2011 Arrest Warrant Public
While the Ivory Coast’s Charles Ble Goude, 40, has denied leading pro-Laurent Gbagbo militias in the violent attacks that occurred shortly after the 2010 elections, the ICC has indicated that Mr. Ble Goude, who is currently detained in the Ivory Coast, is suspected of murder, rape, persecution and other inhuman acts that were committed between December 2010 and April 2011. During that time, some 3,000 people lost their lives in the crisis after ex-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat. Judges in The Hague have stated that forces loyal to former President Gbagbo targeted civilians who backed his opponent, the Ivory Coasts current President Alassane Ouattara. Although the arrest warrant for Mr. Ble Goude was issued in December 2011, it has only now been made public and it describes the Ivorian ex-minister as a member of Mr. Gbagbo’s “inner circle.”
Following the post election violence, Mr. Ble Goude spent more than eighteen months in hiding. He was arrested in January 2013 in Ghana and extradited to the Ivory Coast, where he also faces war crimes charges. He has previously stated that as head of the Young Patriots group, he had only organised rallies and meetings and that he never ran a militia. Mr. Ble Goude, who was placed under United Nations sanctions in 2006 for allegedly inciting attacks against UN personnel, has indicated that he is prepared to go in front of the ICC in order to clear his name.
Ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, 67, was arrested in 2011 and is currently awaiting trial, on four charges of crimes against humanity relating to the election violence, at The Hague. The former president’s wife, Simone Gbagbo, has also been indicted by the ICC however the Ivory Coast’s ministers have voted to dismiss the ICC warrant and have instead indicated that they will try her in the country’s own courts.
Tensions Increase as Guineas Await Election Results
On Wednesday, in the midst of security being increased throughout the capital city amid fears of violence, Guinean President Alpha Conde urged party leaders to accept the results of the September 28 legislative polls. While the results have not yet been confirmed, the President has praised the vote, calling it the dawn of democracy in the West African state which has been chronically hit with instability. During Conde’s speech, which marked the 55th anniversary of Guinea’s independence from France, the President stated “I would like to say how proud I am…of your amazing mobilization to make these legislative polls a real success.” The 75-year-old added that the election “has allowed us to take another step on the path to democracy.” However while the president has urged for calm as the election results begin to trickle in, the country’s main opposition parties have already stated that the elections were rigged. On Tuesday, Guinea’s electoral commission released some partial and provisional results. Although full provisional results had been due to be released on Wednesday, officials indicated late on Tuesday that tally sheets were still being transported from polling stations.
On Wednesday, police and military reinforcements were visible on the streets of Conakry, with barricades being set up around the headquarters of the electoral commission. Despite the independence day bank holiday, an increased number of shops and market stalls remained shut as the atmosphere continued to be tense.