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.
The government reported on Tuesday, 5 March that at least seventeen people died Monday in fighting in the capital Brazzaville, adding that they had been killed in a “terror attack” and the subsequent “rapid intervention” by security forces.”
Government spokesman Thierry Moungalla posted on Twitter Tuesday that “three members of the security forces, two civilians and 12 attackers” were killed in the unrest that occurred in the city’s south, adding that “six members of the security forces were inured, as well as some civilians. The number is being evaluated.” Moungalla also stated that six police stations, a town hall and two customs checkpoints were torched along with many vehicles, adding that attackers had made off with “weapons of war and ammunition.” He also stated that “in the course of the police operation during the assault, security forces arrested around fifty former milita members, the perpetrators of the attack,” adding that officials have identified them as former members of the disbanded Ninja Nsiloulou milita. The Ninjas is a rebel group that fought two civil wars in the 1990’s. It is headed by Protestant preacher Frederic Bintsamou, known as Pastor Ntumi, who disbanded the group in return for a junior government position. He recent came out in favor of presidential candidate Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas, who came second to President Denis Sassou Nguesso in last month’s election. According to Moungalla, “the overwhelming evidence held by relevant services clearly points to the active implication of Mr Bintsamou in the events of Monday.” On Monday, thousands of people fled the heavy fighting in southern Brazzaville districts loyal to the opposition. Residents were woken by automatic gunfire and explosions before dawn on Monday. The fighting continued sporadically until sunset, forcing many to spend the night sheltering in churches and government buildings. On Tuesday, troops were deployed across key points of the capital city and manned roadblocks.
On Wednesday, 6 March the runner-up in Republic of Congo’s election called on his supporters to accept the official results of the violence-tainted poll, which returned longtime president Denis Sassou Nguesso to power. Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas disclosed that he did not wish to stir up controversy by challenging Monday’s Constitutional Court ‘s findings that Sassou Nguesso, who has been in power for 32 years, won the 20 March election with over 60 percent of the vote. Speaking to reporters in the capital Brazzaville, Kolelas stated that “I accept the Constitutional Court’s verdict, however questionable,” adding “I nonetheless invite President Sassou Nguesso, the declared winner, to be humble in victory because this election has been marred by all sorts of irregularities.” Kolelas further called on the president to work to heal the divisions brought on by the vote.
On Monday, 4 April, the Republic of Congo’s Constitutional Court published final election results, showing that President Denis Sassou N’Guesso, who has been in power for more than thirty years, has won re-election.
Results given by the head of the court, Auguste Iloki, indicate that Sassou N’Guesso won 60 percent of the 20 March election, trailed by challenger Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas with 15 percent and Jean Marie Michel Mokoko with nearly 14 percent. The court further disclosed that about 69 percent of the more than 2 million eligible voters participated in the election. Iloki has ruled against motions by the opposition contesting the election.
The announcement of the final election results came as gunbattles erupted in the capital Brazzaville on Monday, effectively shattering a relative calm that had followed last month’s disputed vote. According to government spokesman Thierry Moungalla, former members of the “Ninja” militia that fought Sassou Nguesso in a 1997 civil war raided and set alight military, police and local government offices. The gunfire, which broke out at 3 AM local time (0200 GMT) in the opposition strongholds of Makelekele and Bacongo, lasted until 6 AM. It resumed around 8 AM and intensified late in the morning as military helicopters patrolled southern Brazzaville. The attacks have since been contained. According to witnesses, gunfire had died down by mid-afternoon as security forces blocked access to southern Brazzaville, where exchanges of heavy calibre fire between police and unidentified fighters broke out. Dozens of heavily-armed Republican Guard troops and police later headed towards the Kingouari neighbourhood of southern Brazzaville, where isolated gunfire persisted in the afternoon, while some residents took refuge in Catholic churches.
While the government has not indicated whether anyone was killed in the fighting, the clashes resulted in thousands of residents streaming north, with many carrying their possessions on their heads. Some residents of southern Brazzaville who had taken shelter in churches in the central and northern areas of the city on Monday have disclosed that they feared a resurgence of fighting after the government case suspicion on the losing candidates in the election.
On Thursday, the interior minister for the Republic of Congo announced that President Denis Sassou Nguesso has won a new five-year term in office, gaining 60.39 percent of the vote and effectively extending his long rule over the oil-producing country that first began in 1979.
Interior Minister Raymond Zephyrin Mboulou announced the result on state television, stating that opposition leader Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas, who is popular in the south of the capital Brazzaville, won 15 percent in Sunday’s election, while retired general Jean-Marie Mokoko won 14 percent. Opposition candidates have alleged election fraud, and on Wednesday, they disclosed that their won results shows that President Sassou Nguesso was headed for defeat. The government has imposed a blackout on Internet and mobile phone communications since Sunday and it also banned the use of motor vehicles nationwide during the vote itself.
President Sassou Nguesso came to power in 1979 and governed until 1992, when he lost an election. He regained power in 1997 after a civil war and went on to win elections in 2002 and 2009, during which there were allegations of fraud. This time around he campaigned on a promise to develop the country’s infrastructure and commit a quarter of the state budget to education and to tackle high youth unemployment in the nation, which has a population of 4.5 million. The 72-year-old president pushed through changes to the country’s constitution in a referendum that was held in October and which aimed to alter the term and age limits that would have effectively barred him from standing for another five-year term.
On Sunday, 20 March, voters in five African countries cast their ballots, including four presidential elections and a constitutional referendum. Incumbents in Niger and Republic of Congo are expected to sail to re-election, while Benin’s presidential election run-off vote is less certain.
Below is a look at the contests:
Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi is stepping down after the maximum of two terms in office, effectively enhancing the West African country’s democratic credentials. Sunday’s election was between the current Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou and businessman Patrice Talon, who was once accused of trying to poison the outgoing president, an allegation he denies. Prime Minister Zinsou, who quit his job as the head of one of Europe’s biggest investment banks when he was nominated prime minister last year, is the leading contender. The 61-year-old candidate for Boni Yayi’s Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) has the support of the majority of lawmakers in parliament via the backing of two main opposition groups. During the first round of voting, on 6 March, Zinsou won 27.1 percent of the vote, with Talon, a 57-year-old entrepreneur who made his money in cotton and running Cotonou’s port, coming in second with 23.5 percent. However since then, 24 of the 32 other candidates who stood in the first round of the election have come out in support of Talon, including third-placed Sebastien Ajavon, who won 22 percent of votes.
Polls opened at 7:00 AM (0600 GMT), with 4.7 million people eligible to cast their ballots. Voting was to close at 4:00 PM (1500 GMT). Voting on Sunday passed off calmly, with no major incidents reported.
On Monday, 21 March, Benin Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou conceded defeat to businessman Patrice Talon in the presidential elections. He conceded after early results overnight indicated that Talon won 64.8 percent of the vote, against 35.2 for Zinsou.
- Youth Unemployment – The 15 – 34 age group makes up some 60 percent of the country’s working population. Officially, the unemployment rate is under 4.0 percent, however with 85 percent of works in the informal sector of the jobs market, the figure does not reflect reality. With few jobs available, many university graduates end up driving motorbike-taxis that are increasingly found everywhere in the West African country. Zinsou has promised to create 350,000 jobs by 2021, especially for the young and women, while Talon has pledged to take steps in order to encourage job creation in the private sector.
- Corruption – When President Boni Yayi first took office in 2006, he had vowed to stop endemic corruption in several key sectors, including in the port in Benin’s commercial hub, Cotonou, and the cotton industry. However his two terms in office have been marked by several embezzlement and bribery scandals. In 2010, the head of state ws implicated in a major savings scandal in which thousands of Beninese lost money. The construction of a new national assembly building in the administrative capital Port Novo has also taken millions of dollars however it has never been finished. Furthermore, last year, the Netherlands suspended aid to Benin after four million euros, which were earmarked for drinking water schemes, disappeared.
- Health and Education – Benin, which has a population of 10.6 million, is considered by the World Bank to be a low-income country with poor ratings in both the health and education indicators. Free primary school education has been seen as a positive from Boni Yayi’s presidency, even if subsidies do not always reach schools. Furthermore, President Boni Yayi also created a universal scheme to open up access to healthcare to the poorest in society via an average monthly subscription of 1,000 CFA francs (1.5 euros). The scheme however is not yet up and running. Prime Minister Zinsou has promised that he will make development a key priority, including helping the 100,000 poorest families and improving medical infrastructure.
- Major Port in Benin – The port accounts for almost half of the country’s tax receipts and more than 80 percent of customs tariffs. It handles some 90 percent of the country’s overseas businesses and sells itself as a transit port for neighbouring Nigeria to the east and surrounding countries, such as Burkina Faso and Niger. Major infrastructure work has been carried out, including the construction of a new quay, which allows it to handle twice as many containers in 2014 as it did in 2008. A computerized management system of truck arrivals and departures has also been put in place as well as a single counter to handle all transactions, effectively helping to streamline procedures and cut graft. However waiting times remain long due to a lack of available space and the new checks. Accoridng to sources, ships often wait up to a week before offloading, with some opting to go to Lome in neighbouring Togo, brining in the containers by lorry, which is quicker. The port of Tema, in Ghana, is also a main competitor for business.
The election in Niger effectively pits incumbent president Mahamadou Issoufou against opposition figure Hama Amadou, who has been in prison since November 2015 on charges, which critics say are politically motivated. President Issoufou is campaigning on his credentials in the fight against Islamic militancy. His opponent left the country late last week to seek medical treatment in France for an unspecified ailment.
Voting on Sunday ended in Niger with President Mahamadou Issoufou the likely winner of the election. Throughout the day, security forces were posted at polling stations. They also patrolled the streets of Niamey and monitored the city’s main intersection. As polling stations closed in the early evening and elections workers began counting ballots, observers disclosed that there were no major incidents that had been reported, adding that voter turnout had been low. Provisional results are due to be released in the next few days.
Republic of Congo
President Denis Sassou N’Guesso, 72, who has been in power for more than 30 years, is seeking another term in office after he organized a constitutional referendum that effectively removed the an age limit that would have disqualified him from running again. The run-up to the October referendum was marred by violence, and mobile phone service was blocked in the country.
On 19 March, authorities in Republic of Congo announced a 48-hour communications blackout for Sunday’s presidential election. On Saturday, a government source disclosed that all communications would be cut on Sunday and Monday, by order of the authorities in order to avoid “illegal publication” of the results. A letter from interior minister Raymond Mboulou to the country’s phone companies disclosed that “for reasons of national security, please block all communications including SMSs from March 20 and 21.” The government source added that the move would not affect the voting process and would “in no way hinder the opposition’s access to the results.”
On Sunday, voting began under a media blackout, in a tense ballot that is expected to see President Denis Sassou Nguesso prolong his 32-year rule. Polling stations opened promptly at 7:00 AM (0600 GMT), with on the ground sources reporting that voters lined up quietly outside in the capital Brazzaville. The polls closed at 6:00 PM (1700 GMT). Tensions later broke out with riot police using tear gas to disperse 200 opposition supporters who were trying to get into a polling station. According to on the ground sources, dozens of heavily armed police fired tear gas at the supporters of opposition candidate Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas and chased them away from the polling station in the south of the capital Brazzaville.
Senegal is voting on a constitutional referendum, which proposes fifteen reforms that would make sweeping changes. In contrast with many African leaders, Senegalese President Macky Sall is asking voters to shorten the country’s presidential term from seven years to five. The proposed changes also call for a strengthened National Assembly, better representation for Senegalese abroad, and greater rights for the opposition in national elections.
Voting began on Sunday at 0800 GMT and ended at 1800 GMT, with up to five million Senegalese voting in the election. Technical problems with producing voter ID cards however will prevent 200,000 from exercising their democratic rights. According to Doudou Ndir, the head of the country’s election watchdog, turnout was slow early on, with only 10 percent of votes cast by 11 AM. Activity however was likely to pick up in the afternoon. The results are no expected to be released until later this week.
Voters are casing ballots in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania. The opposition parties have called for a boycott of the election. Zanzibar’s vote is a re-run of an October ballot, which the main opposition parties say runs counter to Zanzibar’s electoral laws.
On Sunday, voting began with tight security. Polling stations opened on time at 7:00 AM (0400 GMT), with votes lining up peacefully. Turnout however was expected to be low in opposition strongholds after the Civic United Front (CUF) urged its supporters not to participate. The Zanzibar Election Commission (ZEC) indicated that there had been no delays in the delivery of ballot boxes and papers and said both local and African observers were in place, although those from the EU had stayed away. Polls closed at 4:00 PM (1300 GMT) with results expected as early as Monday.