Nigeria – Olympians in the Making

Three women bobsledders stand on the brink of making history in the sport.

Driver Seun Adigun and brakewomen Akuoma Omeoga and Ngozi Onwumere have qualified for Pyeongchang 2018, ensuring an African nation will be represented in the sport at the Winter Olympics for the first time ever, CNN reports.

Despite numerous success stories in the summer Games – notably gold in the men’s football at Atlanta 1996 – no Nigerian has ever competed in a Winter Olympic event before.

“We are from a continent that would never imagine sliding down ice at 80 or 90 miles per hour,” Adigun told the BBC in March. “I find the idea of getting people to take to that inspiring in itself.”

But this is not Cool Runnings II, a sequel to the Jamaican bobsleigh team’s winter fantasy immortalised in the Hollywood hit movie.

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Akuoma Omeoga, Seun Adigun and Ngozi Onwumere – Obi Grant

Adigun, Onwumere and Omeoga don’t want to be a feel-good side story – they want a medal. For this trio of trail-blazing women, getting to the winter games is where their journey begins, not ends.

“We have goals,” Adigun, the driver and driving force behind the dream of a Nigerian team said, quoted by The Guardian. “A lot of our goals have been met just establishing this entire entity […] the bigger goal is to just be as competitive as we can and obviously shoot for the podium.”

Although the Nigerians have achieved the qualifying standard, there is still work to be done. Countries hoping to race in Pyeongchang must be in the top 40 of the global rankings on January 14th after seven World Cup races.

While they have a little further to go, they have come a long way.

Without access to proper training equipment or valuable ice time to perfect their skills, the team started their journey in Houston, Texas, in a makeshift wooden sled they nicknamed ‘The Mayflower.’

Once the team set their sights on the Winter Games, they established a crowdfunding website hoping to raise the much-needed funds to get to Pyeongchang.

Visa was inspired by their story and determination to carve out a place in history and pledged to help solidify the team’s trip, Nigeria’s Vanguard reports.

“We hope to provide this group of determined athletes with a global stage to tell their story and inspire athletes all over the world to follow their dreams and never give up,” said Chris Curtin, chief brand and innovation marketing officer at Visa.

The athleticism and determination of the Nigerian Women’s Bobsled Team is palpable, as they push to rewrite history in their sport:

Seun Adigun (driver): Adigun represented Nigeria in the 100m hurdles at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Wanting to get back on the Olympic stage, she began training for bobsled in 2014. She is currently a chiropractic student.

Ngozi Onwumere (breakwoman): Onwumere, a former competitive sprinter, clinched a Silver and Gold medal at the 2015 African Games in Republic of the Congo in the 200m and 4x100m relay, respectively. Onwumere started training after being recruited by Adigun in 2016. She is a full-time student pursuing a doctoral degree.

Akuoma Omeoga (breakwoman): Omeoga is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where she was a sprinter for the university’s track and field team, competing in the 100m and 200m races. The Winter Games 2018 will be the first time she is representing Nigeria. She also works as a healthcare recruiter. (Vanguard 16/11)

Teamwork and support have been integral in giving the women of Nigeria’s bobsled team confidence as they work towards success.

“Defying odds is what we are created to do,” Adigun told She Leads Africa. “Take chances in life and maximize opportunities. Things can always appear impossible – until you successfully achieve it.”

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

SPORT: World Athletics Championships (London)
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 8, pp. 21560B–21561C

SPORT: London Olympics
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 49, Issue 8, pp. 19400C–19401C

SPORT: Olympic Games
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 45, Issue 8, pp. 17662A–17664C

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Kenya, Tanzania – Cross-Border Dispute

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Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been strained over the seizure and sale of cattle belonging to Kenyan Maasai herders.

A Tanzanian court has auctioned 1,305 Kenyan cows whose herders had driven them across the border, said Tanzania’s Daily News on November 14th.

Four Kenyan herders were charged with being in the neighbouring country without valid travel documents. Tanzania remains the only East African Community (EAC) country that Kenyans need a passport and visa to enter, even while travelling by road.

Meanwhile, Tanzanian authorities recently burnt 6,400 chicks from Kenya on suspicion they could spread bird flu.

The auctioning of the livestock has stirred anger in Oloitokitok, which borders Tanzania.

The Kenyan herders sought the government’s help to secure the release of their animals before the auction, but the Tanzanian authorities remained adamant, the East African reported.

According to Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner Anna Mghwira, the auction followed the law after the herders failed to raise a fine imposed on them.

Easing tension

The herders along Kenya’s border with Tanzania now want the government to show a much firmer hand even as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls for dialogue with Tanzania to resolve cross-border issues between the two countries.

Tanzania is in the process of auctioning another 2,400 cattle for crossing into Mount Kilimanjaro National Park in search of pasture, the East African reported on November 11th.

Kenya is asking the EAC to formulate a policy guiding relations between border communities because the Maasai from either side traditionally cross the border in search of pasture.

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Maasai herder in the Serengeti, Tanzania. CC 2015

In a letter dated November 3rd to Tanzanian authorities, Kenya’s EAC Minister Phyllis Kandie said since August, Kenya has allowed in 4,000 cattle from Tanzania.

“We have tried our best to cool down the Kenyan community at the border and we hope Tanzania will play its part in promoting good neighbourliness,” Ms Kandie said.

However, Tanzania President John Magufuli has asked the country’s herders to brand their animals for easy identification and monitoring. He said the seizure was within Tanzania’s laws and key to conservation, adding that Tanzania was not a grazing field for cattle from other countries.

Kenya has said it will compensate herders whose animals were auctioned to the tune of $530,000.

‘Flimsy grounds’

Kajiado Governor Joseph ole Lenku accused the Magufuli administration of harassing Kenyans on flimsy grounds.

Former Tanzania prime minister Edward Lowassa, a Maasai, asked the governments to address the matter diplomatically.

“The Maasai have co-existed in harmony. When we start having such issues then we are threatening that same peace. We should try and sort out this issue at the national level so as to guarantee co-existence at the local level,” Mr. Lowassa told the East African.

However, the Permanent Secretary in Tanzania’s Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Maria Mashingo said that seizure of cattle would continue.

“It is important for our border communities to not allow, for any reason, herders from other countries to bring their cattle into our pastures as this is economic sabotage. We are also urging our herders to avoid crossing the borders into other countries by any means possible to overcome similar problems,” Dr Mashingo said.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

KENYA: Economy Slows
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 9, pp. 21852C–21853A

Kenya – Tanzania :Trade War
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 7, pp. 21773C

TANZANIA: Graft Scandal
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 6, pp. 21747B–21747C

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Africa – Infrastructure and Cooperation

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Experts discuss the findings of a report on infrastructure development, inclusive growth and the creation of a free trade area.

Overcoming infrastructure gaps remains critical if the continent is to unlock its economic potential, the executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Vera Sogwe, told delegates at a major conference in Addis Ababa in November.

Participants at the ECA’s Tenth Session of the Committee on Regional Cooperation and Integration were considering a report which presents the “ECA’s articulations” of Africa’s structural transformation “through inclusive economic growth and sustainable industrialisation”.

Sogwe said there was a consensus that “quality economic infrastructure in Africa is a catalyst to its industrial development,” exemplified by current efforts that focus on scaling up infrastructure facilities at national and regional levels.

Continental market

“Implementation of initiatives for promoting regional investments… as well as the Continental Free Trade Area need to be supported by all member states to achieve the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour,” Sogwe added.

The African Union (AU) in 2012 adopted a decision to establish the CFTA, which aims to create a single continental market for goods and services and to expand intra-African trade.

ECA’s African Trade Policy Center Coordinator David Luke, speaking to allAfrica on the sidelines, said that to boost intra-African trade, tariffs needed to be brought down. The average tariff within Africa is 8%, he said, whereas with “our external partners, it’s 2%”.

Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Bekele Bulado said it was prudent that the CFTA negotiations take into account different levels of development to “accommodate the Least Developed Countries” and vulnerable economies with regard to improving their productive capacity.

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Container port, Cape Town. CC 2008

Inclusive growth

Soteri Gatera, who heads the ECA’s Industrialisation and Infrastructure Section, said only “inclusive” economic growth will help resolve the “persistent social economic problems” Africa faces.

“For quite some time we have seen African economies grow steadily… but [the growth] is not creating enough jobs; it is not adding value which trickles down to everybody,” Gatera said.

One speaker pointed to the quality of Africa’s roads, which he said is “more than four times lower than the global average”.

The experts, who come from African governments, trans-national economic communities, academia and international institutions, acknowledged that many African countries have good policies, but that implementation of those policies is a problem.

The link between infrastructure and industrialisation was one of the key talking points of the expert session. The idea of convening the meeting, according to Gatera, is to try and “dissect” the findings and identify key policy recommendations.

Gatera said the report is based on country case studies and on extensive research into previous studies. Critiques of the draft report will be integrated into a final report, which he hopes will be released in two months.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

DJIBOUTI: Regional Hub Plans
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 4, pp. 21671B–21671C

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA: Restarting the Growth Engine
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 4, pp. 21686A–21687C

Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 4, pp. 21689B–21690B

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Malawi – ‘Vampire’ Attacks Reflect Healthcare Tensions

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Economic woes and unhappiness with healthcare have contributed to the panic in the southern part of the country, says a leading clinical psychologist.

Ten people have been killed and others attacked in October over accusations of blood sucking in Malawi. Police have made some 200 arrests of those allegedly involved in mob justice.

“It’s a reflection of the way the country looks at things and makes sense of tensions and economic pressures,” Dr. Chiwoza Bandawe, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Malawi in Blantyre told RFI.

The first blood sucking accusations in Malawi occurred in 1948 and 1949, according to Catholic University lecturer Sangwani Tembo, who spoke at the university on this issue on October 27th.

While marginalised people, including widows, are typical scapegoats, accusations have been placed on the population at large, including doctors.

“It’s also about trying to make sense of the western-type medical profession vis-à-vis traditional medicines, and of course the western type has the power now, and all this contributes to the tension,” says Dr Bandawe.

“I think at some point also there’s been some dissatisfaction with the health system itself, because it has been under-resourced,” he says, adding that some stories have emerged where healthcare workers abused patients.

Medical practitioners are frequently on the receiving end of abuse, especially in the rural areas, says Dr. Amos Nyaka, the head of the Malawi Society for Medical Doctors in Lilongwe.

Lack of education comes into play as well, says Chitawira-based Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) Director Vincent Hango.

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Schoolchildren in Mulanje – CC 2010

“We have a good number of people who are illiterate. They believe in witchcraft. It’s very difficult to change their beliefs because this is what they have believed since they were born,” he says.

The government has enforced security in affected areas, but many feel that it should have taken a stauncher response, reassuring those who felt threatened by the wave of violence.

“As a country I think we’re very ashamed,” says Dr Nyaka, adding that the Malawi Society of Medical Doctors “will take this as a challenge to communicate to our people and to reassure them that they are not blood suckers.”

Malawi will from November 1st host a three-day high-level meeting on promoting policy coherence on health technology innovation and access for the African Regional Intellectual Property Office (ARIPO), said Malawi News Agency.

The meeting brings together a range of leaders, policymakers and institutions including representatives from Ministries of Trade, Health and Justice, civil society, international experts and academics.

Minister of Health Atupele Muluzi has said Malawi and many of the 18 ARIPO member states have made great strides in improving public health and by consequence, human development outcomes in recent years.

He said that despite significant progress, the burden of infectious diseases, particularly HIV, malaria and Tuberculosis pose a threat to public health.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Samuel Tembenu said the meeting comes at a time when countries around the world are pursuing various means to ensure availability and access to medicines for their citizens.

The meeting aims at providing a forum for ARIPO countries to exchange views and to share experiences on best practices that promote availability and access to affordable health coverage, Tembenu added.

The high-level meeting has been jointly organised by the Malawi government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Malawi – Refugee Clashes Deplored
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 6, pp. 21458C

HEALTH: Malaria
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 4, pp. 21416A–21417C

MALAWI: High Future Growth?
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 5, pp. 21707A–21707C

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Sahel – Regional Force

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An appeal by countries in the region for help in their battle against jihadist violence receives a boost as a visiting Security Council ambassador pledges support. 

“I can assure you Burkina Faso and the G5 Sahel Countries will get the support they need,” said Ethiopian ambassador Tekeda Alemu on October 22nd, as the 15-strong UN delegation ended a five-day visit to the region.

The “G5 Sahel” states – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – are to launch a first operation against the jihadists at the end of October but lack funding for equipment and training.

On the 22nd, the ambassadors had visited the command headquarters in the central Malian town of Sevare for talks on the security crisis in the region.

Sevare is just east of Mopti in central Mali, an area which has seen a severe worsening of security in 2017, giving greater urgency to a G5 move to relaunch a joint regional force initially created in November 2015.

The estimated budget for the force’s first year of operations is estimated at €423m ($499m), but so far only €108m has been raised.

The G5 countries have pledged €10m each, the European Union is giving €50m and France €8m.

Extremist hotbed

The vast Sahel region has turned into a hotbed of violent extremism and lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012 and the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

A fresh attack in Niger’s restive southwest, which borders Mali, killed 13 paramilitary police on October 22nd, just weeks after a deadly ambush on a joint US-Niger patrol.

1027 minusmaTroops of the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA – CC 2014

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned recently that the Sahel region is descending into all-out violence and said the world body must help the region confront the threat from Islamist militants.

Guterres warned that without urgent action “the stability of the entire region, and beyond, is in jeopardy, leaving millions of people at risk of violence,” a development he described as a “disastrous scenario.”

Guterres said the risks of not supporting the Sahel force “vastly outweigh the risks of supporting it, given the magnitude of the challenges facing the Sahel region.”

The UN chief stressed that there was a risk of human rights abuses during the counter-terror operations because many of the armed groups in Mali are entrenched in the population. A UN presence, he argued, could help reduce harm to civilians.

He put forward four options to back the force, including setting up a UN support office in the Sahel and sharing resources from the 13,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Mali.

The report will undoubtedly be welcomed by France, which has been lobbying hard for UN backing for the Sahel force, but the United States has resisted calls for funding.

A UN meeting on support for the force was scheduled for October 30th, as well as a donor conference in Brussels in December.

Mali has become particularly volatile since 2012 when jihadist groups captured the entire north of the country. (© AFP 16, 22/10 2017)

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

SAHEL: Regional Force Inaugurated
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 9, pp. 21594B–21594C

MALI: Peacekeepers Killed
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 8, pp. 21549A–21549C

SAHEL – FRANCE, EU: Bamako Summit
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 7, pp. 21523A–21524C

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Zimbabwe – NRZ Deal Approved

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The country’s sole rail company takes a first step towards becoming a modern, efficient and profitable railway system.

The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ)’s $400m deal with a consortium led by the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG) and South Africa’s Transnet is back on the rails after Cabinet gave a nod to the proposed tie-up, The Herald reported.

Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Joram Gumbo confirmed the new development on October 16th. It ultimately leads to the last leg of negotiations before the first phase can begin, he said.

The deal seemed to have run into some hurdles recently after questions were raised on the competence of Transnet to ably invest in the project. However, it later emerged that much of the details and clarifications sought had been submitted and evaluated.

DIDG/Transnet emerged as a winning bidder from five other companies – China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation; Crowe Howath Welsa; Croyeaux (Pvt) Limited; Sinohydro Corporation Limited; and Smh Rail Sdn Malaysia – that had been shortlisted for the deal. In the initial stages, 82 companies submitted bids for the parastatal.

Essentially, DIDG/Transnet has an ambitious three-year strategy that is premised on buying new locomotives and wagons and revamping operational efficiencies. From the $400m capital expenditure, $150m will be earmarked for 24 mainline locomotives and 13 shunting locomotives. Twenty locomotives in the current fleet are expected to be refurbished.

Similarly, NRZ plans to acquire 1,000 new wagons and refurbish 700 that it presently has. It is also envisaged that more than $100m will be invested in modernising and refurbishing the state enterprise’s train control and signalling system.

NRZ Class DE9A locomotive – Bob Adams 2006

The government in September made a commitment to assume $348m of NRZ debt with a view to laying a strong foundation for the investors to start on a new chapter. NRZ public relations manager Nyasha Maravanyika told The Herald Business that stakeholders were buoyant that a debt-free and capitalised NRZ would go a long way in reviving the parastatal.

NRZ has been operating below capacity for years largely because of an obsolete railway system, lack of capitalisation and skills flight among many other reasons.

NRZ board chair Larry Mavima said in an interview with Zimbabwe Independent  that the partnership will result in an immediate increase of up to 2m tonnes per year, based on the business that Transnet already has and will now be carried by NRZ.

He says that while the US$400m fixes the system to make it efficient and competitive, it is not adequate to modernise the system. The next phase will include opening up new corridors – for instance, to create a new line from Chinhoyi through to Kafue in Zambia.

Asked about the salaries owed to workers, Mavima said the situation was expected to improve in the short term and asked employees to be patient.

Johannesburg-headquartered Transnet is a state-owned enterprise that has interests in rail, ports and pipelines. Employing more than 49,000 workers, Transnet held more than $27bn in assets by March 31st, 2017 and generated more than $5bn in revenues during the same period.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

ZIMBABWE: Economy Grows
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 7, pp. 21785A–21786B

ZIMBABWE: Mugabe Talks the Talk
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 4, pp. 21678B–21679C

ZIMBABWE: Worsening Situation
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 53, Issue 9, pp. 21425A–21426B

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Madagascar – Tackling Plague

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The death toll from the plague spreading in Madagascar has risen close to 100, and the Red Cross has warned that growing stigma attached to the disease could undermine efforts to contain the outbreak.

While cases of bubonic plague occur in Madagascar nearly every year, this year’s epidemic is “much more dangerous”, said Elhadj As Sy, secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Plague arrived earlier than expected, and has become much more contagious as it is now being transmitted from person to person as well as from animals to humans, reported the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The infection is also spreading in urban centres and in areas that until now had not been affected, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in October. IFRC staff on the ground say panic is exacerbating the stigma around the plague.

There is a risk this could “drive people underground and that may result in us losing some of the contacts we are tracing in order to contain the outbreak”, Sy warned.

The Red Cross is using burial practices that avoid contact with corpses and has opened a plague treatment centre to help Madagascar tackle its worst outbreak of the plague this century.

The latest figures from the country’s health ministry show there have been 911 recorded cases of the plague across 17 of the island nation’s regions since August, killing 95 people so far.

Hospitals in Madagascar are on high alert and are implementing preventative measures, medical staff said. International agencies are also providing ambulances to ensure patients with suspected cases do not spread the virus by taking crowded buses and taxis.

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Council workers clear garbage during the clean-up of the market of Anosibe in Antananarivo – CNN

Sy said building partnerships and trust at the community level is critical, as well as reinforcing an existing referral system for suspected cases.

But overcoming the plague will require longer-term assistance, he emphasised – “not just intervening at the peak and then forgetting about it”.

The outbreak has also hit sectors of society outside impoverished communities, who are typically most at risk, London-based The Guardian reported.

“Normally, the people who catch the plague … live in poor areas, but in this case we find the well-to-do, the directors, the professors, people in every place in society, catching the disease,” said Dr Manitra Rakotoarivony, Madagascar’s director of health promotion.

Plague is curable if detected in time. “Our teams are working to ensure that everyone at risk has access to protection and treatment. The faster we move, the more lives we save,” said the WHO’s Madagascar representative, Charlotte Ndiaye.

Over the course of less than a decade, the country’s plague problem appears to have intensified, driven by a combination of economic and environmental factors.

Madagascar has a per capita GDP of about $400 (£300), and national programmes to control the disease have been “hampered by operational and management difficulties”, according to a report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Plague was first introduced to the island in 1898, when steamships from India brought rats infected with the disease. Within two decades or so, it virtually disappeared from Madagascar for 60 years, only to re-emerge in recent decades.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

VANILLA: Madagascar
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 8, pp. 21834C–21835C

MADAGASCAR: Tackling Corruption?
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 5, pp. 21423C–21424C

MADAGASCAR: Enduring Poverty
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 3, pp. 21636A–21636B

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