Hundreds Dead in Ghana Infrastructure Failure

municipal workers cleaning massive open sewers. accra, ghana, photo by z/Flickr

municipal workers cleaning massive open sewers. accra, ghana, photo by z/Flickr

GHANA, Accra - In a similar pattern to other African capitals, Accra has snowballed to four million residents, doubling in size within the last 20-years. This growth means that Ghana's capital has a growing population that increasingly puts pressure on a city that still relies on a colonial-era drain and sewage system that covers only 15% of the city.

The weak system of open sewers and water streams leading out of the city are further impeded by the massive amounts of trash that have collected in them over the years. Due to this congested network, heavy rains and tropical storms in the area cause massive, widespread flooding across the capital that in turn results in casualties, ruined infrastructure and new disasters.

Earlier this month, a flood in Accra caused many people to take cover at a gas station. However, their refuge was foiled by the horribly poor infrastructure in the country as torrential rains seeped into the underground fuel tanks, and once accidentally lit, resulted in over 200 deaths.

After such a horrible accident, President John Mahama chose the next day to credit the disaster to zoning and gutters filled with debris, instead of bringing more of the weight onto political leadership. The government's track record is hard to ignore, though, as millions have been poured into the country over the years specifically for infrastructure, yet little is to be shown for it. There was the Korle Lagoon Ecological Restoration Project, worth $160 million, that was supposed to remove trash from the waterway and restore it to its pristine original state. Years later, mounds of debris remain and the lagoon continues to flood whenever it rains.

In a bizarre, similar scenario, the Ghanaian government promised the people a $595 million Drainage Alleviation Project, funded through the US' Import-Export Bank. The project would include storm drains, trash collection systems and a waste water treatment plant. The government launched the life-changing project with a grand ceremony in 2013, but as it turns out, they had not even applied for the loan yet.

Based on the millions of dollars of funding that have made it to the country, alongside the promises of the country's leadership, Ghanaians are left wondering what has happened to the proposed projects. Deaths and destruction from an issue that could be mitigated by proper drainage is inexcusable, and a clear display of leaders' lack of resolve and dedication to the country's water and sanitation systems.

Buhari's First Challenge: Military Mass Killings

nigerian soldiers riding in lorry, photo courtesy of dammex1

nigerian soldiers riding in lorry, photo courtesy of dammex1

NIGERIA - Amongst the feeling of hope and a fresh start in the air from President Muhammadu Buhari's inauguration, Nigeria was slammed this week with a report from Amnesty International that claims the Nigerian military is tied to over 8,000 deaths in the country.

The research for the report has been conducted since 2009, in alignment with the rise of the Boko Haram insurgency. While the rise in violence by the military was driven by Boko Haram, the report finds that the majority of those 8,000 deaths have nothing to do with Boko Haram members.

This process was started through widespread rounding up of boys and young men, over 20,000 of them, based on often unreliable informants and poor intelligence. The report states that one could be arrested based on the word of a single unidentified informant. Upon arrest, the thousands of prisoners were placed in detention centers where they were commonly cramped into overcrowded cells in abysmal condition.

Many died from starvation, dehydration, suffocation and preventable diseases, as the prisoners were kept from adequate water, food and basic hygiene and sanitation. In one case, a detention center survivor told Amnesty, they were denied water for two days and 300 inmates died. In these dire situations, they were often forced to drink urine.

Those who were able to survive these terrifying living standards were still at risk of the brutal treatment by the military commanders, which included extrajudicial killings, torture, electrocution, and a myriad of other horrifying tactics. On March 14, 2014, after a Boko Haram attack on the Giwa barracks (and detention center), the military killed at least 640 men and boys who were imprisoned there. Satellite analysis has confirmed the presence of multiple mass graves in the area shortly after this date.

More worrisome is that this system of detainment and mass murder was widely known through all levels of the Nigerian military, including senior officials, Chief of Army staff and Chief of Defense Staff who regularly received reports of military activity in these regions of war-torn Northern Nigeria.

As stated in Amnesty's report, "A high ranking military officer...further said: '...people were not strong enough to stand...They keep them to die. They are deliberately starved. The effect is devastating. You have massive deaths. I believe close to 5,000 [in total] have died like that. It increased after the state of emergency.'" This behavior indicates that the Nigerian military's strategy to fight Boko Haram included murdering thousands of boys and young men without giving them fair trials or even the slightest confirmation that they were tied to the terrorist organization. Through this tactic, they managed to make the Boko Haram insurgency more detrimental to their country and its citizens.

Since the report has surfaced, the Nigerian military has rejected the findings as "concocted and biased," and even called Amnesty International an "irritant" in a Premium Times' article. Regardless of their response, the international community is up in arms over the findings and it is increasingly evident that new President Muhammadu Buhari must address these atrocities as soon as possible. If he wants to keep his promises of tackling human rights violations, it is imperative that he holds those who are guilty accountable and pave a new, morally upright pathway forward. The future of the country depends on it.

The entire report can be found here. 

Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols
LinkedIn: Jessamy Nichols

U.S. Citizens Head Not Only to the Middle East to Fight Others' Battles

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BANJUL, Gambia - On December 30th, armed groups in Gambia carried out a coup attempt against the president, Yahya Jammeh. The harsh and restrictive leader has been in power since 1994 (due to a coup, ironically), and is globally infamous for his widespread limitations on free speech, homosexuality, "witchcraft" and other aspects.

In most coups, outside observers assume the outraged masses are solely compiled from the country that is being ruled by the usually oppressive leader that is being ousted. For example, in this instance, one would picture Gambians revolting against their Gambian leader -- right? Not so fast because in recent years, this has evolved into an assumption that is no longer safe to make. For proof, just look to the Middle East where foreign fighters from all over the world, most shockingly Western democratic countries, travel to Syria, Iraq and other turbulent regions to fight for causes they believe in strongly enough to die for.

The foreign fighter trend in the Middle East is becoming a norm among the national security community,  but this did not prevent the United States from being surprised when they found that two US-Gambian nationals had traveled to Gambia to participate in the "violent overthrow of a foreign government". Eric Holder issues this statement adding that this is in strong violation of US law and that the US "condemns such conspiracies." The law that they are accused of violating is the Neutrality Act, which prohibits US citizens or residents from taking up arms or plotting against a nation at peace with the US.

Incidentally, the coup failed and the Gambian armed forces were able to stop the revolt fairly quickly. Jammeh has been quick to accuse those responsible for the coup as "terrorists" and also point fingers at multiple countries. Similar to his decades of rule, he has been ruling the country with an iron fist since the coup and has been arresting all those who may have had links to the coup. On January 11th, he did come out with a statement that he no longer believed Britain to have any involvement, however he indicates he will continue to crack down on his own country.

While the result of the coup didn't result in a lasting regime change in this case, it is important to note the continuing trend of foreigners traveling to other countries to fight. If it persists, will it create a new era of state sovereignty pitted against non-citizens from across the world?

Follow Jessamy on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols

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Ramadan: Airplanes, Athletes, and Reality TV

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ACCRA, Ghana -- Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and contemplation, began on June 28th.

Until recently, the concept of this religious event was distant to me as there isn't a large Muslim population in my North Carolina home.  However, since coming to work in Accra, the capital and largest city of Ghana, my interactions with Muslim people has increased.

I work next to a lovely Muslim village full of women in brightly colored Hijabs, and have witnessed demonstrations of peaceful coexistence, when in every conference that I attend, the opening prayer is done by a Christian and the closing prayer given by a Muslim.

Under terms of Ramadan, Muslims must fast from sunrise to sunset. This fast means no food and in some cases no water, but it's also a time of restraint for other things, such as personal vices, unkind thoughts, and angry actions.

While I am not partaking of the fast myself, but out of respect me and many non-Muslims choose not to eat in public during Ramadan. Until I restricted my public eating habits, I never realized he availability of food. Vendors in every corner, sales ladies walking through traffic jams balancing baskets of bread or fruit or candy on their heads and selling their wares to people in cars, bicyclers pushing ice-cream carts.... All forbidden during Ramadan.

Even though it clearly requires a great deal of restraint, at least it seems pretty straightforward -- a time of self-sacrifice and re-devotion to Allah, a time to cut out the bad and nurture the good. However, the blessed month can come with some unexpected twists and hurdles.

For instance, while traveling. Technically, the Quran gives a pass to travelers, suggesting they keep up their strength for he journey and make up the missed days later. However, many Muslims continue adhering to as many guidelines as possible.  Timing is important during Ramadan, and a hassle for anyone flying through time zones. There is a time for prayers, a time for fasting, and a time for Suhoor (pre-fasting meal) and Iftar (meal to break the fast.) In places with a heavy Muslim population, there are public announcements or alerts reminding Muslims of the time.

I was caught off guard while watching TV last week when my regularly scheduled programming switched suddenly to play Arabic music and show a passage from the Qur'an. However, those mid-flight have a bit more trouble than those at home watching TV.  Luckily, airlines are usually sympathetic.  Recently, Emirates announced that along with providing traditional Muslim sunrise and sunset meals, with items such as vegetable samosas, dates and baklava, it would also be using a special tool that calculated latitude, longitude and altitude to provide the most accurate possible timing for the ceremonies.

Back on solid ground, athletes may also have problems.  This year, Ramadan coincides with the World Cup, which causes some Muslim players extra difficulties.  On the other hand, the Qur'an does give an exemption to warriors about to go into battle, so perhaps Football is covered in that fine print.  Ramadan's timing may even have affected betting odds on teams, as some suggested teams from Muslim regions might have performance issues.  France, Germany, Belgium, and Algeria all had prominent Muslim players and, in my humble opinion, they all played admirably, fast or no fast.  That may be thanks to a special team of nutritionists FIFA provided to advise the fasting players.

As well as lack of food and hydration fears, disrupted sleep schedules (for nighttime prayers) may result in athletes not being up to par. In the past, some coaches held nighttime practices so the players could be well nourished during practice, so at least the nutrition issue would be solved, if not the disrupted sleep issue. Especially in hotter regions, it isn't uncommon for any Muslim to burn the midnight oil during Ramadan, which unfortunately can lead to an increase in car accidents during the month.

On the other hand, in Brazil sun up to sundown is only 12 hours, so if athletes make sure their sunrise meal is adequate and they start the day hydrated, it shouldn't be a problem.  In the Netherlands, however, Muslims would have to be much hardier, as a day lasts almost 20 hours there this time of year. Australian Muslims have it easiest, with only ten hours of fasting.

Perhaps one of the more bizarre results of the clash of modernity and Ramadan is its recent mingling with Reality TV.  Though not without its share of controversy, as some think the TV personalities don't present the proper air of modesty and good taste representative of the faith.  However, some shows are better than others, and such idiosyncrasies vary from show to show.

For example, one where teens try to recite the longest passage from the Qur'an to win prizes, or shows where gifts of charity are awarded specifically to those less fortunate, to the "ever popular" cooking shows that in this instance, focus on Suhoor and Iftar -- each with the apparent intent of declaring that even the oldest and most sacred traditions can keep pace with changing times.

If you are not partaking in Ramadan, please be considerate to those who are.  Know that employees may need time off and it's not a "holiday" or "vacation" -- it requires dedication, commitment, and adjustment.  Extra attention to charity or one's family life, as well as daily prayers, require a more flexible schedule and understanding colleagues.  If in a Muslim neighborhood or workplace, be discrete in your dress and eating habits. And try to eat an Iftar feast if you get the opportunity.

To our Muslim readers: Ramadan Kareem!

Ebola Outbreak Foretells of its Resurgence

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Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 01:28 a.m. DST, 28 March 2014

Man on Floor of Hut, Guinea, West Africa, Photo by Dawid

WEST AFRICA -- While the animals that play host to the Ebola haemorrhagic fever (EHF) rarely show warning signs of contamination, the same cannot be said for the humans infected with the virus. In three West African countries, the outbreak continues to manifest in the form of rashes, bruises, bleeding, muscle pain and widespread fear. For those infected, these ailments will later compound with more serious internal indicators, including blood clotting, organ failure, seizure and coma.

The process of diagnosis is a difficult one, given the analogous traits of the Ebola virus and Marburg virus disease (MVD). Another confounding variable in the effort to contain the spread of Ebola is the relatively long incubation period of the deadly viral agent, estimated at about two weeks. This makes it nearly impossible for officials and doctors to estimate the size and the scope of the threat.

But some statistics are widely accepted in the international community. At least 63 deaths have been linked to the Ebola outbreak since the virus materialized in Guinea last month. This week, neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone have both attributed deaths to Ebola. The medical aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres, known as Doctors Without Borders in the English speaking world, is actively combatting the lethal contagion with increased medical provisions and treatment centers.

There is hope for the future of Ebola treatment. In clinical studies, a vaccine has proved effective in safeguarding mice from the virus. Another test drug has successfully immunized primates that would otherwise traffic the disease across vast regions. Researchers name fruit bats and primates as the disease's primary carrier, and recently warned against the consumption of these animals, which are dietary staples in some communities.

Since Ebola was first recognized in Zaire and Sudan in 1976, outbreaks have occurred regularly in remote African communities that are home to tropical environments. The disease has claimed over 2,000 lives over the past 40 years. While the efforts of local officials and doctors, international aid programs and medical volunteers should be commended, we should also acknowledge that food security poses a larger threat to those living in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, many times over.

Across the globe, six million people will die this year alone due to starvation and hunger related illnesses. It will do little good to discuss the Ebola threat without examining the continued risk of malnourishment in the impacted regions. Food security remains an underreported serial killer in Africa and across the world. Rural, impoverished areas that win the war against Ebola will still face the reality of food insecurity in the months following the current media attention.

Gender inequity, violence, food provisions and medicine are interwoven issues, and it does little good to magnify one issue to such a degree that the others are left out of the snapshot. And sadly, the discrimination against women and single-parent families will continue to threaten the health and wholeness of Africa and the globe. A perspective that highlights the interplay between the short-term Ebola danger and the ongoing discussion of human rights progress will be more advantageous towards lasting change in the West African region.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom

Will Liberia Let Them Eat Dust?

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 14:16 PM EDT, 8 May 2012

African Man Carrying Potable Water, Photo by Oxfam InternationalMONROVIA, Liberia – Across Africa water shortages and drought are an increasingly prevalent phenomenon. Some instances are a consequence of natural disaster, but in some cases clean water is being hoarded by powerful factions and used to extort impoverished people, or as a means to subjugate a war-weary population.

According to the World Health Organization, “Africa has the lowest total water supply coverage of any region, with only 62% of the population having access to improved water supply. This figure is based on estimates from countries that represent approximately 96% of Africa's total population.

The situation is much worse in rural areas, where coverage is only 47%, compared with 85% coverage in urban areas. Sanitation coverage in Africa also is poor, with only Asia having lower coverage levels. Currently, only 60% of the total population in Africa has sanitation coverage, with coverage varying from 84% in urban areas to 45% in rural areas.” (Source: WHO)

This endemic problem continues unabated despite the United Nations passing Resolution: 64/292 on 28 July 2010, which decreed that every human being has the right to have access to water and proper sanitation, and to deny access to these is deemed a human rights abuse.

The West African nation, Liberia, is a country of firsts and lasts, the first African nation to have elected a female head of state, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and last according to the UN Human 2011 Development Index which ranks it at the bottom percentile of all countries and territories at 182 out of 187.

Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, is home to 1.1 million people in a country with a total population of nearly 4 million who live on less than US$1 per day according to 2010 World Bank data. As with most countries there is a growing divide among the rich and the poor, but in Liberia, unlike other nations with social service nets, the poor are subjected abject poverty exacerbated by abysmal living conditions.

Most of the city’s residents live in burned out buildings without access to running water, sanitation, or potable drinking water. Many have to walk miles to fill numerous small plastic jugs, large 'jerry' jugs, or empty petrol barrels which can weigh from 40 lbs. (80 Kgs) to 70 lbs. (32 Kgs) once filled. (Source: The Water Project.org)

Women, who are typically responsible for collecting the water, are often forced to walk miles to communal water pumps or rivers. In the case of water pumps, the water is often untreated, and in cases where river water is used, there is a high probability of exposure to water-borne illnesses which can be as life threatening as dehydration.

In West Africa, during what is called the Harmattan season, dry and dusty West African trade wind blows south from the Sahara, which starts in early November and last through April. During this time water tables also fall precipitously low, forcing people to walk longer distances to find water which has not been muddied by the fine particulates of sand which cover everything. Those who cannot afford to pay for water, or do not possess the constitution to walk the many miles to transport water to and from hand pumps and wells are most at risk of death.

Because of the lack of response from the government to this pressing human rights issue, many entrepreneurs, some unscrupulous, have developed profitable businesses selling bottled water at grossly inflated prices to city dwellers. The water which they sell is often untreated though marketed to the contrary.

According to the Liberian Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT), in the vast slums of Monrovia water is sold on the black market where “five liters of clean water is sold for LD$ 20 Liberian dollars (US$0.28); while the same quantity is sold for LD $40-50 in areas with severe shortage of water.”

The lack of access to clean water and a working sanitation system is one of many complaints against President Sirleaf’s government. During her first term stated that if elected her government had “plans to construct 25 borehole wells in five counties to increase access to clean water, construct or rehabilitate 150 sanitation facilities in 10 of the 15 counties, and repair hand pumps, among other things. (Source: MICAT)

Though this did not materialize, President Sirleaf’s government cannot bear the entire blame, since the major infrastructure which would have been in place to repair and facilitate access to clean water and sanitation were destroyed during the nearly 11 years of constant civil war which began under Charles Taylor, the recently convicted war criminal and former president of Liberia.

According to the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare statistics, about 100,000 children under five and infants die annually from water borne diseases and related illnesses. Because of the lack of access to sanitation, many people are forced to relieve themselves in outhouses, ‘hanging toilets,’ or whatever secluded place they can find.

This results in the contamination of ground water and provides a fertile breeding source for various transmission vectors via insect or human to human contact. Some of the diseases to which people without proper access to clean drinking water can be exposed to are:

1. Diarrhea 2. Dysentery 3. Enteric Fever 4. Worm Infection 5. Louse Borne Fevers

Equally debilitating are the infectious diseases the populace can be exposed to as a consequence of lack of adequate sanitation:

1. Soil Transmitted Helminthes 2. Tape Worm 3. Filariasis (Elephantiasis) 4. Schistosomiasis

(Source: http://content.alterra.wur.nl/Internet/webdocs/ilri-publicaties/publicaties/Pub52/pub52-h4.0.pdf)

As stated in the beginning of this post, the problem of access to clean water is not unique to Liberia, or West Africa; however, it seems prudent that a implementing a substantive, quantitative, and verifiable resolution to this issue is essential to the economic recovery and growth of the country.

Now that oil reserves have been identified off the coast, it is incumbent upon President Sirleaf’s government to make sure that any proceeds from the sale of natural resources is poured back into the country to make the necessary improvements that will ultimately strengthen the country both economically, socially, and politically.

In her second term, President Sirleaf campaigned on an anti-corruption platform and it remains to be seen if she and her government do the right thing for their countrymen or like other African leaders, choose instead to line their pockets while their citizens ‘eat dust.”

Tuareg Rebels Eye Azawad Secession

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:23 PM EDT, 2 April 2012

Tuareg with Sword, Niger, Photo by Swiatoslaw WojkowiakAZAWAD, Mali - The stability of Mali continues to be a grave issue for its citizens and neighboring countries.  West African leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), an organization comprised of 15 countries, have brought to bear the strictest economic sanctions available to them against the Malian military usurpers.

Alassane Ouattara, the President of Ivory Coast and Chairman of ECOWAS, stated on Monday at the summit being held in Dakar, that a complete embargo against diplomatic relations, trade and freezing access to the country's bank accounts, would go into effect immediately.

The desired outcome is the restoration of constitutional order, as was promised in a televised announcement by Lt. Amadou Konare following last month’s coup which ousted former President Amadou Touré. Ironically, the military’s overthrow of Touré was in response to his government’s perceived ineffectiveness in handling the latest Tuareg uprising, but they have yet to subdue the rebels or quell the conflict.

In fact, the Tuareg remain steadfast in their determination to succeed from country. According to Akli Souleymane, a senior official at the Azawad separatist movement, they will not cease this revolution until they have achieved this objective. They do not recognize the current military coup orchestrators, and reject all negotiations with them as they did with the Touré government.

Unlike previous uprisings in which the Tuareg were ill-equipped and untrained, the mercenaries returning from Libya have significant insurgency experience. Fierce warriors, the Tuareg appear unafraid to die, which is an attribute that has kept their culture alive despite high infant mortality rates, and lack of access to potable water or education.

“Estimates of the number of returning Tuareg fighters range between 800 and 4,000. On their return to Mali, many stopped short of Kidal in the mountainous region around Ti-n-Asselak in the Abeibara district where they linked up with the fighters of former rebel leader Ibrahim ag Bahanga's (who died in August 2011) Mouvement Touareg du Nord Mali (MTNM). On October 16, these and various other groups merged to form the Mouvement National de Liberation de l'Azawad (MNLA).” (Source: Aljazeera)

Prior to 2011, the Tuareg have initiated four rebellions to establish the Azawad territory as a separate country. Azawad is the Tuareg name for the region north of Timbuktu that today covers the regions of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao. They have launched several attempts to secede from Mali which led to wars which lasted from 1916-1917, 1962-64, 1990-95, and 2007-2009.

It is estimated that there are roughly 5.7MTuareg living in the Sahara Desert region. Also, known as the Sahel, the majority of Tuareg, about 1.4M live in Mali, while the remaining occupy areas of Libya, Mauritania, northern Niger, southern Algeria, Chad, Burkino Faso, and parts of Nigeria.

According to the website North Africa United, the Tuareg culture is nomadic and up until the 20th Century, they lived an existence as traders following ancient caravan routes which they annually traveled from Sub-Saharan Africa to the north and the Mediterranean.

“The Tuareg came to control the Sahara caravan trade routes from the great centres of Sub-Saharan Africa to the north and the Mediterranean. They provided protection and also supervised the slave trade from West Africa. This continued till well into the mid-20th Century.

'Tuareg’ is an arabic term meaning abandoned by God and they call themselves themselves ‘Imohag’ which translates as Free Men. They are an ancient warrior race and their language is Tamashek, their writing script is Tifinagh which is said to have come from ancient Libya. As road and rail infrastructure took over, the Tuareg have largely abandoned their previous nomadic existence and have settled but have never had their own homeland.”

In prior conflicts the Malian government was successful in its efforts to subdue Tuareg rebellions by attacking civilians using some of the most atrocious tactics witnessed in many ethnic cleansing conflicts across the globe. In order to protect their vulnerable populations, the rebels ultimately surrendered and laid down their arms.

However, military gains by the rebels, especially the capture of Kidal and Gao in recent days, and yesterday’s capture of Timbuktu, have embolden the MNLA, giving them the confidence they need to push to the mark and finally achieve their separatist goal.

Since Tessalit fell to the MNLA several weeks ago, the Malian army, already dispirited and ill-equipped, may no longer be in a position to maintain control of the Azawad region. In a territory this vast, it was difficult to police with a democratically elected government. The interim military government has more pressing issues at hand, and may choose to abdicate control of Azawad in the face of increased desertions and MNLA gains.

It shall remain to be seen what the outcome of this confluence of events shall yield, but it certainly looks like Mali, much like Sudan before it, could be headed toward an unwilling succession.

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias