Nigeria and Jamaica completed a direct flight from Nigeria’s largest city Lagos to Montego Bay on Monday as the two nations attempt to pave way for a regular direct airline route between the two destinations.
“As part of the activities to commemorate 50 years of good bilateral relations between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Jamaica, an inaugural direct flight, Air Peace, departed from Lagos and has landed in Montego Bay, on Monday 21 December 2020,” the ministry said in a statement.
Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama was on board the flight, accompanied by a delegation of government officials and members of the private sector.
The delegation was received at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay by Jamaica’s Minister of Transport Robert Montague and other leading state officials.
According to the statement, the event will strengthen relations between the two countries in several areas, among them tourism, education and economic activities.
Niger holds presidential elections on December 27, which could see the country's first democratic transition of power since independence. But the new president faces problems from insecurity to corruption and poverty.
Around 7.4 million Nigeriens will cast their vote in presidential and legislative elections on Sunday, December 27.
Unlike some of his counterparts in neighboring countries, incumbent Mahamadou Issoufou, who has already served for two terms, isn't standing for reelection.
He thus paves the way for a peaceful transition of power between two elected presidents, a first for the West African country, which has seen four coups since achieving independence from France in 1960.
Despite ongoing security problems along Niger's borders, experts don't think the election will be seriously disrupted.
"There are jihadist groups on the border with Nigeria and on the border between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. They are making some incursions from time to time but these are very localized attacks," said Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, a consulting analyst for the Sahel at the International Crisis Group.
'Climate of mistrust'
But political dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition is still deadlocked.
In November, the Constitutional Court declared the main opposition candidate Hama Amadou "ineligible" to run in Sunday's election.
Although the court didn't give a specific reason, it is assumed Amadou's candidacy was rejected because of a one-year jail sentence he received in 2017 for his links to a network trafficking infants from Nigeria.
Niger's electoral code bars citizens convicted of crimes with prison sentences of one year or more from running for president.
Amadou, a former prime minister, maintains his innocence, saying the charges against him were politically motivated.
Just a week later, the same court dismissed doubts around the nationality of Mohamed Bazoum, a protege of President Issoufou and the candidate for the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS). Under Niger's constitution, only those with Nigerien nationality are eligible for the presidential office.
A pre-electoral mission conducted by the African Union and ECOWAS in Niger at the beginning of December noted "the persistence of a climate of mistrust between the main actors in [Niger's] electoral process." It called for a dialogue between stakeholders, something which is now unlikely to happen before the polls.
Progress with Bazoum
A total of 30 candidates are running in Sunday's election. Bazoum, a political veteran, is the clear favorite. The 60-year-old held the position of minister of the interior for the last four years and is a staunch ally of Issoufou.
The PNDS is hoping its popularity will push Bazoum over the 50% mark in the first round, thereby avoiding a run-off. This would also be a first in the country's electoral history.
Africa expert Paul Melly from Chatham House, a London-based think tank, believes the PNDS has rightly won popularity, especially in rural areas.
"The government has really treated food security and village development as a big political priority over the last ten years. Many villages in parts of Niger that aren't affected by insecurity are benefiting from the sustained effort to tackle basic development problems," Melly told DW.
That could work in Bazoum's favor considering Niger is a predominantly rural country, which was regularly ravaged by famine up until recently, he said.
Niger is one of the poorest country's in the world. According to the World Bank, despite some real progress, the poverty rate remains very high at 41.4%, affecting more than 9.5 million people.
Bazoum has turned his attention to Niger's pressing demographic problems, seen as one cause of poverty. The predominantly Islamic country has one of the highest global fertility rates, with an average of seven children being born to every woman.
"Bazoum is stressing the case for more education for girls. But he's tying that to the question of family size in a way that is quite brave politically," Melly said.
Human rights abuses
The government's human rights record stagnated, however, while Bazoum was interior minister.
"It is clear that the government has abused power in terms of reducing people's freedoms and liberties and arresting activists just for demonstrating," said Sahel expert Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim.
There are also reports of military executions of civilians, people who disappear and all manner of other abuses perpetrated by the state.
This doesn't mean that Niger is rejecting a multi-party political model, Paul Melly believes.
"I think there's a sort of reflex in the Nigerien system. Whether it's a reflection of the fact that the army in Niger has always been a pretty powerful institution and that shapes mindsets is hard to tell," he said.
Corruption as another problem facing the country despite what Melly called "serious efforts" to tackle it.
Help from the international community
Donors are bound to keep up discreet pressure on the next government to remedy these ills.
The administration of outgoing President Issoufo has benefited from significant aid by the West, intent on fighting jihadism in the Sahel and stopping West African migrants using Niger to transit to Europe.
The Nigerien budget has seen a "staggering increase" said Ibrahim from the Crisis Group, pointing out that this, together with military aid, has helped stabilize the country.
The new government doesn't need to fear a loss of interest by the international community.
"I think the position of Niger now gives it a lot of say in the way that the region is run," said Ibrahim, adding that Niger serves as a barrier that prevents many insurgent groups in the Sahel from merging.
"This is like a dam. If the dam breaks up, then the flood will inundate the entire area," Ibrahim said.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations migration agency, on Monday said that 11,891 unauthorized migrants have been intercepted and returned to Libya so far in 2020, compared with 9,225 in 2019.
The migrants intercepted this year include 811 women and 711 children, the IOM said.
The UN agency also said that 316 migrants died and 417 others went missing on the Central Mediterranean route so far this year, compared with 270 migrants dead and 992 missing in 2019.
Libya has been mired in chaos following the ouster and killing of its leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, making the North African country a preferred point of departure for unpermitted migrants who want to cross the Mediterranean Sea towards Europe.
The IOM has repeatedly stressed that Libya is not a safe port of disembarkation for migrants.
Thousands of unpermitted migrants, who were either rescued at sea or arrested by the authorities, remain detained in overcrowded detention centers in Libya, despite repeated international calls to close those centers.
Reports from Britain and South Africa of new coronavirus strains that seem to spread more easily are causing alarm, but virus experts say it’s unclear if that’s the case or whether they pose any concern for vaccines or cause more severe disease.
Viruses naturally evolve as they move through the population, some more than others. It’s one reason we need a fresh flu shot each year.
New variants, or strains, of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been seen almost since it was first detected in China nearly a year ago.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions because of the new strain, and several European Union countries banned or limited some flights from the U.K. to try to limit any spread.
Here’s what is known about the situation.
WHAT’S CONCERNING ABOUT THE RECENT STRAIN FOUND IN ENGLAND?
Health experts in the U.K. and U.S. said the strain seems to infect more easily than others, but there is no evidence yet it is more deadly.
Patrick Vallance, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, said that the strain “moves fast and is becoming the dominant variant,” causing over 60% of infections in London by December.
The strain is also concerning because it has so many mutations — nearly two dozen — and some are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells. That spike is what current vaccines target.
“I’m worried about this, for sure,” but it’s too soon to know how important it ultimately will prove to be, said Dr. Ravi Gupta, who studies viruses at the University of Cambridge in England. He and other researchers posted a report of it on a website scientists use to quickly share developments, but the paper has not been formally reviewed or published in a journal.
HOW DO THESE NEW STRAINS OCCUR?
Viruses often acquire small changes of a letter or two in their genetic alphabet just through normal evolution. A slightly modified strain can become the most common one in a country or region just because that’s the strain that first took hold there or because “super spreader” events helped it become entrenched.
A bigger worry is when a virus mutates by changing the proteins on its surface to help it escape from drugs or the immune system.
“Emerging evidence” suggests that may be starting to happen with the new coronavirus, Trevor Bedford, a biologist and genetics expert at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, wrote on Twitter. “We’ve now seen the emergence and spread of several variants” that suggest this, and some show resistance to antibody treatments, he noted.
WHAT OTHER STRAINS HAVE EMERGED?
In April, researchers in Sweden found a virus with two genetic changes that seemed to make it roughly two times more infectious, Gupta said. About 6,000 cases worldwide have been reported, mostly in Denmark and England, he said.
Several variations of that strain now have turned up. Some were reported in people who got them from mink farms in Denmark. A new South African strain has the two changes seen before, plus some others.
The one in the U.K. has the two changes and more, including eight to the spike protein, Gupta said. It’s called a “variant under investigation” because its significance is not yet known.
The strain was identified in southeastern England in September and has been circulating in the area ever since, a World Health Organization official told the BBC on Sunday.
WILL PEOPLE WHO HAD COVID-19 FROM AN OLD STRAIN BE ABLE TO GET THE NEW ONE? WILL IT UNDERMINE VACCINES?
Probably not, former U.S. Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“Unlikely,” Gupta agreed.
President-elect Joe Biden’s surgeon general nominee, Vivek Murthy, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that there’s “no reason to believe that the vaccines that have been developed will not be effective against this virus as well.”
Vaccines produce wide-ranging responses by the immune system beyond just those to the spike protein, several experts noted.
The possibility that new strains will be resistant to existing vaccines are low, but not “inexistent,” Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser for the U.S. government’s vaccine distribution effort, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Up to now, I don’t think there has been a single variant that would be resistant,” he said. “This particular variant in the U.K., I think, is very unlikely to have escaped the vaccine immunity.”
“I’m not concerned” because a lot of changes in the genetic code would probably be needed to undermine a vaccine, not just one or two mutations, Bedford wrote on Twitter. But vaccines may need fine-tuned over time as changes accumulate, and changes should be more closely monitored, he wrote.
Murthy said the new strain doesn’t change the public health advice to wear masks, wash hands and maintain social distance.
Credit: Associated Press
The Luozi pharmaceutical research centre (CRPL), on Tuesday, approved the “MANACOVID” drug to treat the coronavirus (COVID-19) in DR Congo.
A statement issued in Kinshasa said the results were observed by three teams of doctors on a total of 300 cases that tested positive to COVID-19.
All these cases proved negative with the disappearance of symptoms and a good tolerance, within five days of treatment or 100 per cent recovery.
Approved on 24 November 2020, with a certificate of invention as evidence, “MANACOVID” is a product based on local medicinal plants. It was discovered in March 2020 by Congolese chemist-doctor, Etienne Flaubert Batangu Mpesa, following his work with a team of pharmacist researchers, the statement said.
MANACOVID is one of three projects selected and recommended by the Ministry of Scientific Research and Technologic innovation since 14 April 2020, for clinical tests.
Before its approval, all the processes were respected, particularly the approval of the MANACOVID protocol by the National Health Ethics Committee (CNES).
The clinical tests were carried out from June to October 2020 through three independent teams of Congolese investigative doctors registered with the DRC Doctors Order under the coordination of a principal-investigator.
Pharmacist Etienne Flaubert Batangu Mpesa graduated at Lovanium University since 1971, now University of Kinshasa (UNIKIN). He became a teacher of Pharmaceutical sciences at Montreal, Quebec/Canada University in 1980.
Mpesa, now chairman of the board of directors of CRPL, is the inventor of the products Manadiar (against amebic diarrhoea) and Malaria (anti-malaria).
Central Africa Republic former President Francois Bozize has said that he ‘accepts’ election bar. His country’s top court a fortnight ago rejected his candidature in forthcoming elections because he is being sought for alleged murder and torture and is under UN sanctions.
The ruling was handed down by the Constitutional Court, which also rejected three other candidacies for the December 27 vote.
Bozize, whose overthrow in 2013 marked the start of CAR’s descent into conflict, has been seen as the only major rival to incumbent Faustin-Archange Touadera.
In its ruling, the court said it would not accept Bozize’s candidacy, “given that the candidate is the target of an international arrest warrant” filed by the CAR in 2014 “for murder, arbitrary arrest, sequestration, arbitrary detention and torture.”
It also noted UN measures against Bozize, which meant that he failed to meet “criteria of sound morality in the electoral code.”
The United Nations placed Bozize on its sanctions list in 2014, freezing any assets he held abroad and banning him from travel, on the grounds that while in exile he had been supporting militia groups guilty of “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The CAR, landlocked and impoverished, is one of the most volatile countries in Africa.
Rival French and Russian disinformation campaigns have sought to deceive and influence Internet users in the Central African Republic ahead of an election later this month, Facebook said on Tuesday.
Facebook said it was the first time it had seen foreign influence operations directly engage on its platforms, with fake accounts denouncing each other as “fake news”.
The company said it had suspended three networks totalling almost 500 accounts and pages for so-called “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. One network was linked to “individuals associated with French military,” it said, while the other two had connections to “individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency” as well as Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin.
The French defence ministry and military command did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Representatives for Prigozhin, who U.S. prosecutors say directed the Internet Research Agency to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. He denies the U.S. allegations.
“You can’t fight fire with fire. We have these two efforts from different sides of these issues using the same tactics and techniques, and they end up looking sort of the same,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy.
France and Russia are both keen to assert influence in Africa. Paris has ties with many French-speaking African countries, which it sees as vital to preventing the spread of violent Islamisation, and Moscow is jockeying for position in a lucrative market.
Facebook said the two campaigns largely focused on the Central African Republic (CAR), which votes on Dec. 27, but also targeted users in 13 other African countries including Algeria, Cameroon, Libya and Sudan.
Ben Nimmo, head of investigations at social media analytics firm Graphika, said both campaigns used fake accounts to pose as local people, sometimes sharing doctored photos.
The French effort started in mid-2019 and pushed pro-French messages before targeting “Russian fake news” following Facebook’s suspension of a Russian-linked disinformation campaign in Africa in October last year.
The subsequent Russian operation attempted to promote Russian business and diplomatic interests, as well as the candidacy of President Faustin-Archange Touadera in the election, he said. Later, the Russian accounts tried to out the French accounts that were trying to out them.
But neither side built a significant audience in CAR, he added. “They looked like two troll teams arm wrestling, with nobody else really paying attention.”
The 52-year-old prime minister died in a South African hospital four weeks after testing positive for COVID-19.
The prime minister of Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, died in a South African hospital on Sunday, the government said in a statement.
Ambrose Dlamini, 52, tested positive for COVID-19 four weeks ago.
“Their Majesties have commanded that I inform the nation of the sad and untimely passing away of His Excellency the Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini,” Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku said in a statement.
The prime minister “passed on this afternoon while under medical care in a hospital in South Africa,” he added, without detailing the cause of Dlamini’s death.
Dlamini had announced in mid-November that he had tested positive for the coronavirus but said that he felt well and was asymptomatic.
He was moved to South Africa on December 1, to “guide and fast-track his recovery,” from COVID-19. At that time, the government said Dlamini was stable and responding well to treatment.
Dlamini was appointed prime minister in November 2018, following his position as the chief executive officer of telecoms company MTN Eswatini. He had worked in the banking industry for more than 18 years, including as the managing director of Eswatini Nedbank Limited.
Formerly known as Swaziland, the kingdom of Eswatini has reported over 6,700 coronavirus cases and 127 deaths among its population of 1.2 million people.
A South Africa-based civil society group, the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), had accused the government of giving the prime minister special treatment by moving him to a country with better healthcare.
More than 39 percent of the tiny landlocked country’s population lived below the poverty line in 2016 and 2017, according to the World Bank.