Africa (as usual) is being ignored – The following article is from the Guardian

Why are Africa’s coronavirus successes being overlooked?

Afua Hirsch

Afua Hirsch

Examples of innovation aren’t getting the fanfare they would do if they emerged from Europe or the US

Remember, early on in the Covid-19 pandemic, the speculation as to how apocalyptic it would be if this disease hit the African continent? I do. There was deep anxiety about what it would mean for countries with lower income populations, dominant but harder-to-regulate informal economies and far fewer healthcare facilities than the UK or Italy.

There have been coronavirus mistakes and misjudgments, and deaths, and each one is a tragedy. And no one knows the course the pandemic may take next – the continent, like the rest of the world, isn’t out of the woods yet. But what has also happened is that many African nations, realising early on that large-scale, expensive testing and hospitalisation was not an option for the populations, had no choice but to take a more creative approach.

Take the two African countries I have called home – Senegal and Ghana. Senegal is developing a Covid-19 testing kit that would cost $1 per patient, which it is hoped will, in less than 10 minutes, detect both current or previous infection via antigens in saliva, or antibodies. It’s hard to know exactly how this compares with the price of Britain’s tests, but many of them use polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to detect the virus, and cost hundreds of dollars. And I can testify that a leaflet that came through my door in London this week offered me a private testing kit for £250.enegal is in a good position because its Covid-19 response planning began in earnest in January, as soon as the first international alert on the virus went out. The government closed the borders, initiated a comprehensive plan of contact tracing and, because it is a nation of multiple-occupation households, offered a bed for every single coronavirus patient in either a hospital or a community health facility.

As a result, this nation of 16 million people has had only 30 deaths. Each death has been acknowledged individually by the government, and condolences paid to the family. You can afford to see each death as a person when the numbers are at this level. At every single one of those stages, the UK did the opposite, and is now facing a death toll of more than 35,000. Advertisementhttps://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Ghana, with a population of 30 million, has a similar death toll to Senegal, partly because of an extensive system of contact tracing, utilising a large number of community health workers and volunteers, and other innovative techniques such as “pool testing”, in which multiple blood samples are tested and then followed up as individual tests only if a positive result is found. The advantages in this approach are now being studied by the World Health Organization.

Across the African continent, the lack of access to expensive pharmaceutical products, not to mention a well-founded historic lack of trust, has fuelled interest in whether traditional herbal remedies have anything to offer. One plant in particular – Artemisia annua, or sweet wormwood, which belongs to the daisy family – is drawing particular attention after the president of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, claimed it was a “cure” for Covid-19.

That may sound Trumpian, and the WHO has cautioned that further trials are needed before it can be advocated as a treatment for the disease. But I contacted the respected Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Germany, which is currently conducting clinical trials on a different breed of the same plant, in this case grown in Kentucky.

This specially grown, more potent variety of sweet wormwood is being tested on cells to determine its effectiveness in fighting coronavirus infections and the results so far, the institute’s director, Prof Peter Seeberger, told me, are “very interesting”. Human clinical trials are likely to follow.

More than 20 African countries have already ordered the Madagascan version, a vote of confidence for Rajoelina, who has taken to showing up at meetings and TV appearances with a bottle of a brown herbal drink made from the plant, touting its benefits.

The reason you probably haven’t heard about this, he says, is because of patronising attitudes towards African innovation. “If it was a European country that had actually discovered this remedy, would there be so much doubt?” he asked on French TV. “I don’t think so.”

The scientists will have to say whether his “cure” actually works (among those calling for better evidence of its safety and effectiveness is Madagascar’s own National Academy of Medicine). But on Eurocentric attitudes, he has a point. The African continent has a stellar history of innovating its way out of problems – just look at how mobile money and fintech has turned it into one of the most digitally savvy regions in the world. Advertisement

It has been well documented how a patronising attitude towards east Asia is what allowed European countries to be caught by such surprise at the spread of this disease. Now a similar mindset seems set to ensure we don’t learn the lessons Africa has to offer in overcoming it.

• Afua Hirsch is a Guardian columnist

Modern Mali…Elections matter!

Blog

While the July 30, 2018, general election in Zimbabwe – the first in almost four decades where longtime ruler Robert Mugabe won’t be on the ballot – has been attracting a great deal more attention, the presidential election in Mali one day earlier matters just as much and, arguably, is even more important to the security and geopolitical interests of the United States and its European allies.

Although a first-time visitor to Bamako, the sprawling Malian capital on the banks of the Niger River, might not know it from the rapid urbanization of the fastest growing city in Africa (and the sixth-fastest in the world) and the booming economy that saw real GDP jump 5.5 percent last year, just six years ago this was a failed state. After two decades of enviable constitutional order that caused then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to hail the country as “a model of stability and democracy in sub-Saharan Africa,” Mali collapsed under the combined pressure of tribal separatists allied with Islamist extremists, both reinforced with weapons and fighters that flowed freely from the wreckage of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.

Angered that they were left so poorly equipped to fight the rebels, the elements of the military overthrew President Amadou Toumani Touré just weeks before he was scheduled to step down at the end of his second and final term of office. Amid the ensuing chaos, the separatists and their Islamist allies seized control of the northern two-thirds of the country. It took a French-led military intervention in early 2013 to prevent the militants from overrunning the rest of the country and, ultimately, to drive them from the provincial capitals they had occupied.

In the wake of Operation Serval, elections were quickly organized which, while the results clearly reflected the will of the Malian people–a majority of registered voters took part and, in the second round, almost 78 percent cast their ballots for Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, a former prime minister commonly known by his initials “IBK”–it was also evident that even if the polls might have been “good enough” under the circumstances, there was plenty of room for improvement.

And the ensuing years have not been easy. While President Keïta’s government reached an “agreement for peace and reconciliation” with the ethnic separatists in 2015, its implementation has been hobbled, in part because of the ongoing insurgency by the Islamist extremists whom the separatists brought into their fight earlier in the decade. These jihadists who, as I pointed out in congressional testimony last year, align themselves varyingly with either al-Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State, have given rise to ever-increasing violence as they “literally compete to outdo each other in the Sahel in the hopes of attracting recruits and other resources.”

Thus despite the dubious distinction that the 15,000-strong United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) enjoys for being the deadliest peacekeeping operation in the world for four straight years, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2423 late last month, extending mission’s mandate for another year during which it will be joined by some 250 Canadian troops who recently began arriving in the country. Moreover, the deadly October 4, 2017, ambush of US Special Operations Forces by Islamic State in Greater Sahara militants in Niger, not far from the porous border with northern Mali, only underscored the seriousness of the threat emanating from this part of the Sahel.

The impact of the insecurity goes well beyond counterterrorism concerns, as worrisome as these are in and of themselves. The violence, coupled with poverty and governance challenges, also contribute to the flow of Malian migrants trying to reach Europe: a study last year by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University found Mali ranked sixth among African countries in absolute terms of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and second in terms of migrants per capita making the voyage.

Even more than a source of illegal migration to Europe, Gao in northeastern Mali is a major transit hub with smugglers and other human traffickers exploiting the government’s struggles to funnel more than 40,000 people annually to embarkation points in Algeria and Libya, according to 2017 research by the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael. With the more immediate threats they face from jihadists as well as separatists, it is understandable why, however sympathetic they may be, helping Europe with its migration crisis may not be the highest priority for Malian officials, especially given the lack of resources to invest in the effort.

Within Mali, despite not-insignificant progress since the 2012 coup, the security situation remains precarious, especially in the northern and central regions where just last week militants fired mortars on the airport in Sevaré, which is both the base of a MINUSMA contingent and the headquarters of the G5 Sahel counterterrorism force made up of soldiers from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger, as well as Mali, and shelled a town in the Kidal region during the voting on Sunday, an attack that Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen, an umbrella group linked with al-Qaeda, claimed credit for.

Not surprisingly, this insecurity has fueled tensions between various groups and intercommunal violence is on the uptick, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reporting close to 300 civilians killed so far this year, three-quarters of them in the central Mopti region. To their credit, Malian authorities have acknowledged that some soldiers have been implicated in recent atrocities and Defense Minister Tièna Coulibaly, formerly Mali’s ambassador in Washington, quickly ordered an investigation by military prosecutors.

Fears of violence have, of course, raised concerns about whether the election can be deemed credible. While the importance of the legitimacy of the process cannot be underestimated, one should be careful of those whose motives for raising questions may be self-serving. Here, details matter. Much has been made of the potential for insecurity in parts of the country disenfranchising voters.

While Malians have organized 23,041 polling stations for the 8,000,642 registered voters across the country as well as abroad, the numbers of those impacted by the violence, while important, is less than might appear by simply looking at a map. At a news conference after the polls closed, a campaign manager for Soumaïla Cissé, viewed by most observers as the leading challenger to the incumbent, claimed that 644 polling stations had not been able to open because of insecurity. However, since he did not specify where these places were, it is impossible to determine the magnitude of the problem alleged.

For example, together, the Gao, Tombouctou, and Kidal regions–an area larger than Texas and Oklahoma combined–constitute two-thirds of the territory of Mali and has been the stage for much of the conflict since the beginning of this decade. Yet, the three regions are home to less than 9 percent of registered voters, a figure not much larger than the proportion of the electorate in the diaspora (who, under Malian law, are entitled to vote in specially-organized polling stations where large émigré communities are found).

Furthermore, it is worth noting that if voter turnout seems disappointing, the figures should be taken in historical perspective: since the advent of democracy in Mali in 1992, voter participation in the first round of a presidential election has exceeded 50 percent only once, in 2013, when just over 51 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. In the prior four elections, turnout never exceeded 40 percent (and, in fact, twice did not even reach 30 percent)–and this was during a period when jihadist terrorism was not that big of a concern.

Whatever the final level of voter participation, the deployment of some 30,000 police and military personnel across the country to provide security permitted what the correspondent for Le Monde described as “an almost normal voting day” despite the isolated attacks by militants, a judgment echoed by international election observers who, according to Jeune Afrique, noted that “overall the vote was calm in the capital, Bamako, and no major incidents were reported.”

Perhaps the most significant demographic bloc courted by the candidates in the run-up to election day was the country’s young people: more than 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25 and many of them were choosing a president for the first time.

For many of these young voters, the main issues revolve around jobs and opportunities. Notwithstanding the positive macroeconomic trends and significant natural resources–inter alia, the country is the third-largest gold producer in Africa–Mali still ranks 175th out of 188 countries and territories on the UN Human Development Index for 2017. The next president will have to make these economic and social challenges as much a priority as the security threats if the latter is not to worsen.

Procedurally, the election process is much improved from previous polls and several safeguards have been put into place to ensure its integrity. Each polling station during the vote was manned by a chairman, two assistants, an official observer for the majority party, and an official observer for the political opposition. The voter roll, complete with a photograph of each voter, are displayed at each polling station, corresponding to the biometric identification cards which were distributed across the country.

The chairman and the two official observers in each polling place must sign the back of every ballot before it is given to voters and these same officials are present–along with designated representatives of all the candidates (there are twenty-four altogether)–for the counting of the votes. Presumably they would object if a ballot emerged without their signatures. All five of the officials and observers must sign three copies of the tabulated results, one of which is sent to the Constitutional Court, one to the election authorities at the Ministry of Territorial Administration, and one kept in place. Should no candidate win at least 50 percent of the votes cast, a runoff will be held between the two top vote getters fifteen days after the Constitutional Court certifies the result.

In short, with assistance from international partners, Malians have worked hard to organize elections which like they will prove to be more than “good enough” this time around. Despite logistical and security difficulties, polling places were up and running over the weekend in many of the places where lack of security had made it impossible to hold voting as recently as the local elections in November 2016. Now, with a bit of luck as well as some statesmanship on the part of the contenders, hopefully what will emerge is a president with a clear mandate to pursue peace and consolidate the institutions that are so important not only for Mali’s ongoing stabilization and future prosperity, but also the security of its West African neighborhood and beyond.

J. Peter Pham is Vice President of the Atlantic Council and Director of its Africa Center.

More on This

Mali Elections Marred By Rocket Attacks, ViolenceThe count has begun in Mali after an election marred by violence. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s first term was… Read more »

The Balafon – One of the musical instruments featured in Spirits of the Land

In Spirits of the Land, Sumaguru of the Sosso tribe is famous for inventing the balafon.  This instrument is featured throughout the story.

“The people ate well tonight,” Kon said to Doua.  Listening to the people sing and dance to the rhythm of tam tams and the strings of the kora made him smile.  It was the haunting tones of the balafon that made him think about the future.

The following information comes from the website Stream Africa http://streamafrica.com/culture/the-balafon/

There are several idiophone instruments in West Africa, one of which is the balafon. The balafon, also known as balafo, bala, Balani, Gyil, and Balangi, is a type of tuned percussion instrument. It is played by using two padded sticks to strike the tuned keys.

Now, where did the balafon originate and what makes it special?

Brief History

An instrument known to have existed since the 12th century CE during the Mali Empire, the balafon has been and still is popular in West Africa. Its name has a Manding origin but the name varies in some parts like Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Balafon means the “act of playing the Bala,” with “Balan” corresponding to the instrument, while “fo” a verb meaning “to play” in the Malinke language.

Guinea’s Susu and Malinke peoples, as well as the Manding people dwelling in Senegal, Mali, and Gambia are the popular users of the instrument. Balafon traditions were also recorded in Chad, Cameroon, and around the Congo Basin.

In ancient times, the balafon is considered a sacred instrument that is exclusive to trained and skilled caste members. It was stored in a temple for safekeeping and can only be played at certain traditional and ritual occasions such as funerals, weddings, and festivals. Not to mention that the balafon has to be purified first before being played.

Playing Styles

The balafon is played in a wide variety of ways, depending on the culture in a certain area. Some hold solo balafon performance, while others, especially those from Cameroon, create an orchestra consisting of six balafons. The instrument can also be a part of an ensemble, just like in Guinea and Mali, where people use an ensemble of three: low, medium and high pitches.

There are two main types of balafon. One is called the fixed key, which involves a fixed frame with keys strung over it. Most of the time, calabash resonators are placed underneath it. The other type is the free-key balafon. Its difference is that the keys are independently attached to a padded surface. The typical balafon features 17-21 keys. It is up to balafon players what kind of tuning they want – tetratonic, pentatonic, or heptatonic scale.

Popular Balafon Players

Given balafon’s rise to popularity, many artists have started using it in their music. Among the most famous ones include Ba Banga Nyeck, El Hadj Djeli Sory Kouyate, and Modibo Diabate. Balafon players can be found all over Africa and other parts of the world. The sound created by balafon is associated with jazz and other music genres.

Reference:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balafon

http://www.gandharvaloka.co.nz/instruments/melodic.html

By Titus Kivite