Polio hopes and Zika fears in the vaccine race

It’s busy times for the vaccine industry – a new vaccine against dengue fever has been deployed in the Philippines, research for a vaccine against Zika virus is gaining steam (although questions remain over the threat it poses), the Ebola outbreak refuses to go away, and a yellow fever outbreak in Angola has exposed an alarming lack of stockpiles.

Against this backdrop, the biggest-ever effort in human immunisation might finally be reaching the beginning of the end. Wild polio, once crippling hundreds of thousands a year, is found now in only two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan. There have been just nine reported cases so far in 2016.

If polio were in full retreat in 2017, it would mark 40 years since the last natural case of smallpox – the first disease to be completely wiped out in human history, in 1977.

The multi-agency polio eradication programme led by the WHO since 1988 shows that the road to eradicating any disease is long and expensive, even one with relatively simple characteristics (unlike a number of other diseases on the global agenda, polio can only survive in humans; there’s no reservoir in animals or insects). The Polio Eradication Initiative has a budget of more than $1 billion per year.

The research and development stages of any drug or vaccine take years, but that’s only one ingredient. Public education and mobilisation, funding, and, inevitably, tackling anti-vaccine suspicion and rumours, have all played their part in the twists and turns of the polio campaign. The same will surely be true of any future eradication programme.

The next steps of the anti-polio drive require a synchronised switch in the type of vaccine, due between now and 1 May in 155 countries, and then, in the years to follow, a gradual transition to injectable vaccines to replace the oral drops so many countries are familiar with.

Unintended consequences

Until this year, the most common oral vaccine protected against all three types of polio. Since type two is now eradicated in the wild, the new version of the vaccine only protects against types one and three.

Some surprising data is a factor behind this move.

While the number of naturally-acquired cases of polio last year were 74, the total number was 106. How?

In a tiny minority of cases – the WHO suggests it’s a 2.7 million to one chance – the oral polio vaccine backfires and causes paralysis: the signature symptom of polio.

Given the right circumstances, both in the patient’s stomach and an unhygienic environment, the polio virus can further survive in faeces and be transmitted to others. This, circulating vaccine-derived polio virus (cVDPV) is most commonly a variant of type two, so it makes sense to remove the pathogen from the vaccine now if it’s not present in the wild.

In 2015, 32 cVDPV cases were reported from Madagascar, Laos, Guinea, Myanmar, Nigeria and Ukraine.

Therefore, the old oral polio vaccine was in fact the cause of about a third of cases of polio-related paralysis last year. Governments accept the rare incidents of vaccine-derived polio as an acceptable price to pay along the road to worldwide eradication. Using only the new bivalent (two-pronged) vaccine should reduce this unintended consequence significantly, while concentrating firepower on the remaining two types. Developed countries now tend to use the injectable polio vaccine, which carries no risk of vaccine-derived polio. The rest of the world should also graduate to the injectable model if the frontline battle against polio can be won by the oral vaccine.

Ben Parker/IRIN
A Sanofi Pasteur employee visually checks a vial of vaccine. Manual and automated quality control is a significant part of the vaccine manufacturing process.

What about Zika?

Vaccine controversies, unfounded in science, have surfaced in Europe and the United States in recent years. There is no proof of a link between autism and vaccines, and a dropoff in vaccination rates has caused an upswing in cases of measles. Such scares and debates have always accompanied vaccines and are inevitable part of the public conversation, according to Sanofi Pasteur spokesman Alain Bernal.

Much of the recent media hype involving vaccines has centred on the Zika virus, which has exploded in the Americas this year and has been categorised as a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization.

Sanofi Pasteur head of global research, Nick Jackson, told IRIN that in addition to being a major producer of polio and other vaccines it is among a number of bodies moving towards early-stage “wet experiments” on Zika.

For Zika, there is a particular lack of data and research on the virus, its mosquito hosts and means of transmission. There’s also debate about the normal incidence of various congenital and neurological conditions that have so far been linked to it. Building baseline data will be critical both for researchers and for subsequent public confidence in any vaccine. A recent review of expert opinion by Scientific American explores a range of risks and complicating factors, all suggesting a quick win in vaccine research unlikely.

One of the conditions that may be linked to Zika in adults is a severe neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). “What is tricky is to be able to measure the level of GBS without vaccination… The background level exists naturally. It’s very important for a vaccine producer to demonstrate the level of these events before the vaccination, so that after the vaccination people don’t blame the vaccine,” Bernal told IRIN.

Pressure for Zika treatment and prevention is an acute international priority according to the WHO – and the outbreak’s development in the Americas has triggered the early promise of US cash and research resources. At a recent consultation in the US, researchers, drug company officials, medical journals and public health officials compared notes. “Ebola’s scary because we know what it can do. Zika’s scary because we don’t know yet what it can do,” said Jackson.

[Sanofi Pasteur provided travel expenses for IRIN’s visit to its facilities in Lyon.]



Might this be the year polio is defeated? Polio hopes and Zika fears in the vaccine race vaccinetesting.jpg Ben Parker Feature Aid and Policy Health LYON IRIN Africa Madagascar Guinea Nigeria Americas United States Asia Afghanistan Lao Peoples Democratic Republic Myanmar Pakistan Europe Ukraine Laos


Chibok girls – do we really care?

The world united in a campaign to demand #BringBackOurGirls after the abduction of the Chibok school girls two years ago by the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram. But there has been next to nothing in the way of support to the women that have managed to escape the militants.


They are now homeless, reduced to begging to survive, and forced to deal alone with the trauma of their ordeal.


Safiya sits on a woven mat under a scraggly tree in the grounds of Madina Mosque, on the outskirts of the northeastern city of Maiduguri, rocking her newborn son. The mosque has become a rough-and-ready sanctuary for around 2,000 people who have fled the conflict.


“We spent three months in the forest, crawling through the bush, bringing all five children and trying not to disturb the infection in my husband’s wound from where Boko Haram shot him,” she says.


She was pregnant as well at the time. When she felt the baby was almost due, she left her husband with the children and walked the remaining 70 kilometres to Maiduguri, and this mosque.


Safiya delivered her son here a week later, without a doctor, midwife, or medicine. Her family finally managed to join her, helped by communities along their path, and though they are now physically safe and united, that’s about the extent of it.


Safiya is from Baga – as are many of the families camped out on the mosque grounds. The town in the far north, on the border with Chad, was captured and destroyed by Boko Haram in January last year.


“We are just managing to survive here,” Safiya says. The women sitting with her, braiding hair and bouncing children on their laps, nod. One chimes in: “all the children do here is beg. All the women do is beg. We have nothing else to do.”


Although the Nigerian army is finally getting the upper hand in the insurgency, towns like Baga are far from secure. Nobody here feels ready to risk going home.


The six years of violence has killed an estimated 30,000 people and uprooted 1.9 million. Most of these internally displaced persons (IDPs) have escaped to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, whose motto – conceived in happier times – is the now ironic “home of peace”.


Read more

Go home, Nigerian government tells Boko Haram victims


Fleeing Boko Haram: nowhere to run, nowhere to hide


Beyond Boko Haram: Nigeria’s hidden crisis


Virtually all IDPs are sheltering in the local community, among friends or relatives, or places like the Madina Mosque. It’s run by Khalifa Ahmed Aliyu Abulfathi, a prominent leader of the Tijaniyya: the largest Sufi religious order in West Africa.


The IDPs are allowed to set up rudimentary shelters in the grounds, but there is little else in the way of support for them.


Just eight percent of IDPs live in more than 80 government-run “camp-like” sites, according to the International Organization for Migration. Conditions are so poor, including the risk of sexual exploitation by the security forces patrolling them, that most of those displaced prefer to try and be absorbed by the community.


Made into wives


Amnesty International estimates that more than 2,000 women have been abducted by Boko Haram, but the actual number could be a good deal higher. They took 276 school girls from Chibok alone in April 2014, and in Damasak last year, 400 women and children were seized by the militants.


Nearly every woman IRIN spoke to under the age of 50 who had been captured by Boko Haram said they had been raped or sexually abused, usually under the guise of a sham “marriage”.


Bawagana, a shy 15-year-old living in Sanda Kyarimi camp, one of the official IDP sites, said that a Boko Haram fighter had come to her home in Dikwa, 90 kilometres east of Maiduguri, and asked “Do you love me?”


“Of course I answered, ‘no!’” she said, with her eyes fixed on the ground. “The boy got very angry and said: ‘If you do not come with me, I will kill your father, but if you come with me I will let him live.’”


“I followed to save my father. The boy left 10,000 naira (about $50) on the floor. It was a bride price in Boko Haram’s eyes.”


In the Boko Haram base, she was sexually assaulted and beaten, forced to cook and clean for her ‘husband’. She also attended a perverse Quranic school in which she was taught that “anyone who is not Boko Haram is an infidel” – and therefore can be killed.


She didn’t mind the classes, as “life was easier for the women that went to the school – they did not have to cook as much and they were treated more softly.”


Bawagana finally managed to escape when her husband left on a raid – the kind of brave, desperate action all the women here, who had been in Boko Haram captivity, had also taken.




What the stories of these escapees makes clear is that capturing women and girls is a deliberate strategy of Boko Haram. They are used as a commodity to recruit, retain and reward its militants.


“In this crisis, these men can take a wife at no extra charge,” explained Kaka, a young woman orphaned, captured and raped by Boko Haram. “Usually it is very expensive to take a wife, very hard to get married, but not now.”


In some Boko Haram bases, the marriage ceremony is formalised. A 15-year-old boy who was held by the insurgents for two years recalled how “they gather all the people around and the imam marries them like it is a normal thing.” With a slow shake of his head he added: “they even sing in Arabic after, just like other weddings.”


For others there was no ceremony – a Boko Haram fighter simply laid claim to them as a “wife”.

Selling water
Obi Anyadike/IRIN
Selling water to make ends meet

Others described anarchic sexual assault. One girl in Sanda Kyarimi IDP camp said they “would rape each other’s wives when they were not around; they would hold a knife to your throat and tell you not to scream.”


Abuse in the camps


The official IDP camps should provide medical care, education, food, and psycho-social counselling, through the government’s Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), its local state equivalent, and an alphabet soup of international relief agencies.


In reality the assistance is limited and uneven. Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, but the oil price crash and a currency devaluation has squeezed the delivery of even the most basic services to the camps. The authorities are also eager for the IDPs to return to their homes.


Those who don’t live in the camps are often overlooked in humanitarian efforts – even though NEMA has talked about off-camp support for years. They instead depend on the community, which has been impoverished by an insurgency that has also ruined the region’s trade and livestock-based economy.


Umma, a worn 60-year-old woman, says living in the mosque and surviving on begging means she eats “maybe one meal a day, usually rice”: Some days “we get nothing.” 


Others worry that their roofless shelters will be flooded in the coming rainy season. “The conditions here are unsafe, but it is a different insecurity from Boko Haram,” said Aisha, who fled Baga with a newborn baby strapped to her back.


And yet a significant number of these women are steering clear of the official camps. One member of the mosque, who visits the IDPs regularly, said that one reason is the “reports of military men and [the vigilante] Civilian Joint Task Force exploiting the women for sex”.


One human rights advocate confirmed that “girls in the camps, as young as seven, are being forced into having sex for a little money or even just the rations they deserve.”


An employee at the government-run Bakassi Camp admitted “some of the women have left the camp to return to their homes, where it is not yet secure, rather than face the constant sexual assault. They return to the places that the police are even afraid to go.”


The lack of support being offered to the women in Maiduguri and across the region undermines the government’s project to rebuild the northeast and undercut the appeal of Boko Haram among the poor and marginalised.


While the physical infrastructure can be repaired, there is no corresponding commitment to rebuild the communities devastated by the insurgency.




chibok.jpg Analysis Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Chibok girls – do we really care? Hilary Matfess IRIN #BringBackOurGirls should be more than a hashtag MAIDUGURI Africa Nigeria


Boko Haram is losing, but so is food production

Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram is finally swinging in the government’s favour, but it’s going to take much longer for food production to recover in the country’s northeast. The same is true in neighbouring Cameroon, which has also felt the impact of the violence.

According to the Famine Early Warning Network, FEWS NET, the conflict has scared farmers off their land, closed roads and markets – which means higher food prices – and squeezed income-earning opportunities.

Though the army’s gains may slowly begin to revitalise rural areas, enabling some who fled to return to their homes, “this will not completely offset the negative impacts that conflict has already had on household food and income sources,” FEWS NET said.

See also

Go home, Nigerian government tells Boko Haram victims

The USAID-funded agency is predicting a food “crisis” for poor households in the worst-affected areas of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states between February and September this year, with much of the rest of the three states food “stressed” – meaning people have the barest minimum.

A malnutrition survey of children in December found a rate of 15 percent – the internationally recognised emergency threshold.

A regional problem

Across the border, in Cameroon’s Far North Region, some 1.4 million people are estimated to be food insecure – one third of the population, according to Felix Gomez, World Food Programme country director.

That’s a doubling of the figure since June 2015, he told IRIN. Some 200,000 people are “most at risk”, facing “severe food insecurity”, with over 150,000 children under five and more than 30,000 mothers in need of emergency nutrition assistance.

Cameroon’s remote north has traditionally struggled to feed itself. But the Boko Haram conflict – expanding out of Nigeria – has exacerbated the problem.

Cross-border attacks, beginning in 2013, have so far claimed more than 1,200 lives, according to government spokesperson, Issa Tchiroma Bakary. Boko Haram regards the governments in both Nigeria and Cameroon as secular and illegitimate.

In the growing insecurity, farmers have cut their risk by reducing the size of the plots they cultivate. The crucial commodity trade with Nigeria has also dried up as the authorities seek to limit cross-border movement, and food prices are rising.

The strain felt by poor households is reflected in the growing number of admissions into nutrition programmes “in districts affected by the Boko Haram crisis”, said Gomez. At the same time, health facilities are being forced to close as a result of the unrest.

“This situation could continue to deteriorate, if an adequate response is not provided, due to insecurity, poor harvests and increased pressures caused by population displacement,” Gomez warned.

It’s not just Boko Haram violence that’s causing hardship. Cattle rustling and kidnapping by armed groups from across the border in unstable Central African Republic is also disrupting farming and the agro-business in Cameroon’s Adamawa region (not to be confused with Nigeria’s), a major beef producer.

A report by the local association of cattle breeders, known by the French acronym APESS, said cattle owners paid $170,000 in ransoms to kidnappers in 2015, and lost thousands of cattle.

“We have noticed a deteriorating food security situation in the Adamawa region in 2015,” said Gomez. “Ongoing criminal activities such as kidnappings, stealing of cattle and crops have exacerbated the situation and impacted the farmers as well as cattle headers in the region.”

Key to future food security is whether Cameroon’s farmers will feel safe enough to plant in the next few months.

Cameroon’s meteorological services are predicting delayed rains, but are acknowledging incomplete data as Boko Haram has scared its officers from the field.

Meteorologist Gervais Didier Yontchang told IRIN that if any weather measuring equipment breaks down now, “things get more complicated, because no one will be ready to risk his life going to repair it.”


market.jpg News Conflict Food Politics and Economics Boko Haram is losing, but so is food production Mbom Sixtus IRIN YAOUNDÉ Africa Cameroon Nigeria


Go home, Nigerian government tells Boko Haram victims

The Nigerian government is encouraging people in the northeast who have fled Boko Haram attacks to return to their homes, despite concerns over the safety of some of the more remote rural areas.

The army has proclaimed the jihadist insurgency “technically defeated”. Late last month it announced the re-opening of major roads in Borno State – closed for three years – linking the capital, Maiduguri, with Damboa to the southwest, Bama and Mafa in the southeast, and the eastern town of Gamboru Ngala.

“The roads are safe and those who left can return,” army chief-of-staff, General Buratai Tukur, was quoted as saying.

At least 1.9 million Nigerians have been displaced by the six years of violence. As the military tide turns in the government’s favour, people are already returning to their communities, especially in more secure Adamawa State, to the south of Borno.

But three quarters of all internally displaced persons (IDPs) are in Maiduguri, having fled an insurgency that at one stage held most of the districts, known as LGAs (Local Government Areas), in the state. 

Read more

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

Unmaking Nigeria’s Boko Haram

More than 90 percent of the IDPs live with relatives and friends, a real strain on already poor households. The rest are in “camps”. These range from open-air sites of ad hoc tents, to repurposed public buildings like schools, or short-term “transitional centres”. The conditions, however, are uniformly grim.

“People will go back to their villages if the government can provide some security guarantees,” said Suleiman Aliyu, the headmaster of a private school that takes in children from families on both sides of the conflict – Boko Haram and the security forces. “The number of Boko Haram has been reduced. They are few, but they are still in the bush.”

Sarah Ndikumana, country director of the International Rescue Committee, is worried the government’s eagerness to get the displaced back to their homes will override sensible security precautions.

“From a protection standpoint, I’m really concerned about possible coerced relocation out of Maiduguri into the rest of Borno,” she told IRIN.

Ndikumana said services in the camps, poor at the best of times, are getting worse. “I saw people trying to salvage spoilt rations of rice and beans – I couldn’t even recognise what it was – drying it out in the sun to make it marginally more edible, as the only food source they have.”

Noting that a deterioration would do the government’s attempts at persuasion no harm, Aliyu added: “Things are so difficult for [the displaced]. Compared with a few months back, the quality and quantity of food [rations] is falling.”

Camps being closed

Ndikumana said some of the school-based camps are already being closed, with people being moved to larger camps in Maiduguri like Dolori – perhaps a first step in the planned return exercise.

But not even camps like Dolori are secure. Last month an attempted suicide bomber – a seven-year-old boy – was caught before he could detonate his device.

“To me, it’s still not clear when and which LGAs will be pronounced safe enough to send people back,” said Ndikumana. “It feels like any moment it could start.”

She pointed out that the military has been telling people in the countryside to go to their LGA capitals so “mopping up” operations can begin. It has warned that “anyone still in those rural areas after a certain date will be considered Boko Haram or Boko Haram sympathisers.” 

Part of the government’s urgency in getting people to their villages is that the planting season starts around May, in a region where food production and the livestock trade has been hit hard by the conflict.

Virtually the whole of Borno is classified by the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network as in “crisis”, and therefore in need of food aid.

“They’re pushing hard to get people into the LGAs before the planting season, but they are also telling the farmers to go into displacement in the LGA capitals,” said Ndikumana.

And, because of the security concerns, the returnees will be on their own.

“They’ll be heading back to their homes that have been destroyed, but the humanitarian community will not be able to go with them and provide assistance because we can’t consider it safe enough,” Ndikumana said.


nigerian_troops_in_northeast.jpg News Migration Conflict Human Rights Go home, Nigerian government tells Boko Haram victims IRIN NAIROBI Africa Nigeria


Briefing: The new Jihadist strategy in the Sahel

Security has been intense over the last few weeks in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, with police and soldiers on the streets, vehicle searches, and round-ups of alleged Islamist militants.

It’s the response to the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) attack in Burkina Faso on 15 January that left 30 people dead. Until the assault on the Cappuccino restaurant and the Splendid Hotel, next door on Ouagadougou’s trendy Kwame Nkrumah Avenue, Burkina Faso, like Senegal, felt safe from the jihadist violence that has destabilised other countries in the region.

“We thought we were not really concerned by terrorism, that we were shielded by our armed forces and our diplomacy,” Ousmane Ouedraogo told IRIN outside his cellphone shop on Kwame Nkrumah Avenue. “But now we know we are vulnerable.”

That vulnerability stems from the political instability in Burkina Faso following the youth-led toppling of Blaise Campaore after nearly three decades in power. 

But there is a more fundamental fragility that has its roots in the legitimacy and authority of governments across the Sahel region, which AQIM, AQIM-linked groups, and, more recently, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) are seeking to exploit.

The Burkina Faso attack was carried out by the militant group al-Mourabitoun, which had recently pledged allegiance to AQIM. The targets were popular with Western aid workers, businessmen, and soldiers serving with Operation Barkhane, France’s regional counter-insurgency mission.

The raid put together a team of young men based in Mali (AQIM named three but there are suggestions three escaped); at least one of the identified men seems to have been Fulani – a pastoralist ethnic group that spans West Africa; and their cars had Niger license plates. It was, then, a fine example of regional militant integration. 

It followed an earlier al-Mourabitoun attack in November that killed 21 people at the Radisson Blu Hotel in the Malian capital, Bamako.

It’s a fairly safe prediction that these two events are the beginning of a trend that will continue in 2016.

“Three years ago, AQIM’s plan was to hold territory in northern Mali. That has changed,” Jean-Hervé Jezequel, the senior Sahel analyst at the International Crisis Group, told IRIN. “The new strategy is that instead of managing territory, they want to show they can impact a much larger area by attacking the capitals of countries collaborating with Western forces.”

Why should Senegal worry?

The heightened security in Dakar is a recognition of how tempting a target it is. It’s the regional base of scores of international organisations. Senegal is a pro-Western partner, especially of France and the United States, and Dakar has provided troops to the French-backed African Union military intervention in Mali. More than 500 people have been picked up in the current crackdown.

Map of AQIM affected countries in the Sahel

The spread of militancy

There is ample evidence of Senegalese recruitment to various jihadist causes. Senegalese are among IS forces in Libya; a small group of Wolof speakers (an almost exclusively Senegalese language) were believed to have fought alongside Islamist militants in northern Mali; men speaking Wolof were among the kidnappers of Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler in Niger in 2008; young militants from the large Senegalese diaspora are believed to be with IS in Syria; and there have been periodic arrests of individuals, most recently four activists detained for alleged ties to Nigeria’s IS-linked Boko Haram

But Senegal is also a traditionally tolerant and democratic society. Although 90-percent Muslim, for the first 20 years of independence it was ruled by a still well-regarded Catholic president, Léopold Senghor. Four popular and powerful Sufi brotherhoods dominate religious practice. The brotherhoods have been described as the gatekeepers between the people and the state, conferring legitimacy on the latter.

Salafism, a more conservative literal interpretation of Islam, is growing in popularity – backed by Gulf state money. But Salafism does not equal jihadism and there have been no clashes with the state. The bulk of the 500 arrests made so far are likely to have been of people simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, explained one Dakar-based analyst, who asked not to be named. 

“Although there is certainly a credible terrorist threat to Senegal from AQIM and related groups, the recent crackdown seems to be far in exaggeration of what would constitute even reasonable suspicion,” Andrew Lebovich, a visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, told IRIN.

Roots of radicalism

AQIM’s lineage extends back to Algeria’s Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), and further still to the brutal insurrection of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which took up arms after Algeria’s French-backed military annulled the election victory of the Islamic Salvation Front in 1992. GSPC militants looking for a safe base began crossing into remote northern Mali in 2003. Among the pioneers was the one-eyed Mokhtar Balmokhtar, who built the foundations of the “Sahara Emirate”

By 2006 he had aligned with AQIM and was attracting followers from across the West African region. In an example of the fluidity of the armed groups, he split with his superior in Algeria, formed a new unit the ‘Masked Battalion’, merged with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and then set up al-Mourabitoun, the ‘Signed-in-Blood Battalion’. Other like-minded formations have ranged across the region for years, kidnapping and attacking perceived Western targets in Mali, Niger and Mauritania.

Mali has been an excellent choice as a militant hideaway. Foreign jihadists established themselves in the communities in which they operated through marriage, kinship connections and largesse. Key to their survival was a tacit agreement with the Malian military and state officials that largely left them alone. In Mali’s dysfunctional political system, the north has historically been marginalised, with what limited central control there was exerted through patronage, proxies and pay-offs. Taking a slice of the region’s lucrative informal economy – from drugs, to migration routes and famously, in the case of Balmokhtar, contraband cigarettes – provided yet more impunity.

The message

Beyond Islamic ideology, in a region that often distrusts Western intentions, AQIM and other related movements have framed their message as one of fighting a neo-colonial enemy bent on stealing Africa’s riches. They have also tailored their narratives to fit their local contexts – reflecting some of the concerns of the diverse ethnic groups, Tuaregs, Arabs/Moors and black African Fulani and Songhai. 

“A lot of this is to do with justice,” said the Dakar-based analyst. “The feeling that the world is not right, the state is oppressive, the global economic system is unfair. Basically, you are living with nothing while ministers have mistresses and big cars. It’s a very populist story of resentment. People can easily connect their personal life stories with a global discourse around the idea of justice and injustice, which at its very core says religion can make it right.”

French Tigre helicopter

The French intervention had not solved the problem

Socially complex northern Mali has long been a region of simmering discontent. On-off peace over the years between Bamako and secessionist-minded Tuareg, the government’s manipulation of ethnic-based militia, and a lack of state services have all contributed to the stew. Full-scale rebellion was triggered by the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2012, when some Tuareg that had served in his army returned with their weapons, helping form the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. The north splintered as competing groups emerged – some narrowly ethnic, others throwing in their lot with the jihadists.

French military intervention in 2013 was instrumental in clearing the militants from the cities they controlled. But the north remains volatile, despite an Algerian-brokered peace deal signed in Bamako in June 2015. Unable to impose its authority, the government has resorted to its old policy of using proxy militia. But this has only succeeded in further militarising the region – it does not deliver the governance, accountability and freedom from corruption that can generate stability.

But, according to an ICG report released in December, a détente has begun to emerge between leaders of the Coalition of Azawad Movements, the main rebel coalition, and those of the Algiers Platform, the pro-government coalition, as a result of negotiations in Anefis. “In the last few months these guys, the businessmen, the warlords and key politicians have come to realise neither side can win. The war is too costly and bad for business,” said ICG’s Jezequel.

The ceasefire has lasted for five months but remains fragile. There is the “persistent threat posed by radical groups excluded from the peace process”, warned the ICG report, and it urges all sides “to refocus attention on the implementation of the Bamako agreement.” Among the key outstanding goals are the setting up of a transitional authority in the north and a Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme. 

The idea of DDR is that at the end of the process the only people holding guns will be the security forces, and the now easy-to-identify Jihadists. But in reality, ideological affiliation can be fluid, with divided loyalties within individual families. “I’m not convinced that among the local security forces in the north there won’t be connections with radical groups, and that you will be willing to target your cousin or your brother who may be with the jihadists,” said Jezequel. 

Niger and Mauritania

Mali’s policy of accommodation of the radicals has infuriated its neighbours, Mauritania, Niger and Algeria. All have suffered attacks at the hands of the jihadists. But in Mauritania, whose Islamic schools and Salafist mosques have turned out a cadre of senior members of AQIM, there is currently stability, although it cannot be taken for granted, Mauritanian specialist Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem told IRIN.

Among the reasons for the apparent calm are: major reforms of the security sector, with a special focus on anti-terrorism training; a strong intelligence network in northern Mali; and a deradicalisation programme, working with mosques and detainees, with the goal being their reintegration. Excluded from that programme are AQIM members convicted of attacks in Mauritania, said Salem, author of an influential study on the subject.

There has not been an attack in northern Niger since the 2013 raid on the French-owned Areva urnanium mine in Arlit, 1,000 kilometres from the capital Niamey. Niger is the base of French and US special forces and a drone programme, and its military is seen as capable. But of far greater concern to the authorities, said Jezequel, is the expansion of Nigeria’s Boko Haram violence into the southern Diffa region, which shares the same ethnicity as the people across the border, and the same lack of opportunities that can spur recruitment.

Regional response

The Western donor response has been “some 16 different stabilisation strategies”. But the “lack of coordination among the actors involved, and weak ownership at the local level, cast doubt on their overall effectiveness,” noted a report by Clingendal, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations. “They have been accused of feeding insecurity precisely because of their security-specific focus.”

In 2014, the leaders of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso formed the G5 – a regional organisation to strengthen cooperation on development and security in the Sahel. The African Union’s Nouakchott Process expands the number of participants in enhanced security cooperation, which includes regular meetings of security chiefs. But the area is vast, the terrain unforgiving, and regional security forces are small. 

“The emphasis should not be on securing borders,” said Jezequel. “The emphasis should be on providing exactly what’s missing – social services, state services. It’s a huge project, a long-term project, but it’s the central issue.”



102410 A member of the the CMA (Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad) secure the perimeter of the CMA HQ Feature Conflict Jihadist groups in the Sahel Obi Anyadike IRIN NAIROBI Burkina Faso Mali Mauritania Niger Nigeria Senegal


Corruption and risk 2016

Transparency International has launched its annual ranking of corruption, pointing to the negative effects of public sector graft on the poor and vulnerable. The ranking combines a range of factors to produce a best-to-worst chart. Denmark comes out on top, while Somalia and North Korea share the bottom ranking.

Alternatively, the INFORM index is a ranking of countries according to their humanitarian risk. A score from 0 to 10 is derived from a range of elements, including a country’s exposure to various risks, natural or man-made, and its ability to deal with them. On this ranking, Singapore is the least risky, and Somalia the most. 

If your country is prone to earthquakes, corruption can’t be blamed. The INFORM index includes “Institutional Capacity” as only one of the many factors in its formula. A government mired in corruption will not respond well to a natural or man-made crisis.

So what is the picture when you combine the two?

Are corrupt countries more vulnerable? Are vulnerable countries more corrupt?

Judge for yourself in the graphic below.


Corruption and Risk 2016


At the worst end of both scales, we see a cluster of troubled countries, Afghanistan and Somalia in particular, both facing the impact of years of conflict and severe poverty. 

At the bottom left are some Nordic countries and Singapore – neither corrupt nor risky in humanitarian terms. 

A few countries appear to buck the trend: Kazakhstan scores badly on corruption but isn’t looking too bad on humanitarian risk, while for Mali and Ethiopia, it’s the reverse.


Are corrupt countries more vulnerable? Are vulnerable countries more corrupt? A camel caravan in northern Kenya. Conflict in Somalia is spilling over into parts of northeastern Kenya Ben Parker Maps and Graphics Aid and Policy Politics and Economics LONDON IRIN Africa East Africa Central African Republic Kenya Somalia South Sudan Sudan Uganda Southern Africa West Africa Chad Nigeria Americas Haiti Asia Afghanistan Bangladesh Myanmar New Zealand North Korea Europe Denmark Finland Germany Luxembourg Norway Sweden United Kingdom Global Singapore Middle East and North Africa Iraq Yemen


Ministry to establish training school for artisans, craftsmen – Perm. Sec

Abuja, The Ministry of Power, Works and Housing says it will establish Building Craft Training Schools in the six geo-political zones in the country for the training of artisans and craftsmen.

The Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mr Abubakar Magaji, stated this on Thursday at a one day stakeholders’ validation workshop on the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for the building trades.

Magaji was represented by the Director, Building and Quantity Survey Department in the ministry, Mrs Salma Mohammed.

The permanent secretary said there was urgent need to upgrade the skills and competencies of artisans and craftsmen, to enable them to meet the aspiration in the built industry.

“A well-articulated skills development plan for the building sector would empower and create employment opportunities for the idle youths.

“This would not only impact the economy positively, it would also improve the security situation in the country.

“To this end, this ministry is proposing the establishment of building craft training schools in each of the six geo-political zones in addition to the existing ones in Lagos, Abuja and Ikeduru, Imo State.’’

Magaji also said the ministry was collaborating with both local and foreign organisations for the training of artisans and craftsmen in order to acquire the National Occupational Standards.

He identified the organisations to include Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, Dangote Group of Companies, Lafarge Cement Plc and a U.S.-based Home Builders Institute.

The permanent secretary commended the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON) for its effort in the accreditation and regulation of the building programmes in tertiary education institutions across the country.

He, however, urged CORBON to sustain its commitment to the development of the capacity of practitioners and collaboration with other professionals in the built sector.

“Government has noted with satisfaction the achievements of CORBON in the areas of accreditation for building programmes in the universities and polytechnics, regular registration and induction of eligible builders.

“Also worthy of commendation is your regular mandatory continuous professional development, and now the National Occupational Standards for the appropriate skills of building trades in Nigeria,’’ Magaji said.

Earlier, the Chairman of CORBON, Prof. Kabir Bala, said that the National Board for Technical Education had mandated the body to oversee the training and certification of artisans and craftsmen.

Bala explained that the NOS were subject to review every three years to accommodate the dynamism in the materials and construction industry.

“NBTE has mandated us to train and certify artisans and craftsmen under the National Vocational Qualification Framework, leading to licensing them for improved service delivery.

“We have, therefore, designed these workable NOS to address the industry challenges with respect to our collective needs.

“It is for stakeholders to digest and add value where desirable for the enhancement and improvement of quality delivery of our industry tradesmen.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the validation exercise will cover selected construction industry trades such as carpentry, plumbing, masonry, electrical installations, steel fabrication as well as painting and decoration works.


UPP supports FG’s anti-corruption crusade

Abuja, The United Progressive Party (UPP) has commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his determination

to fight corruption in the country.

The National Chairman of the party, Chief Chekwas Okorie, made the commendation in a statement issued in Abuja on Wednesday.

He said that the party was happy with the progress made by the All Progressives Congress (APC) led administration to fight corruption.

Okorie said that “so far, the Federal Government had been transparent in the fight against corruption.

“We do not share the opinion that there is any form of partiality in the way the anti-corruption crusade is being prosecuted.

“Any person no matter how highly placed against whom a prima facie case has been established for playing any role whatsoever that is

considered corrupt by the relevant agencies of government must be made to face the law.’’

According to him, majority of Nigerians are in solidarity with Buhari in his effort to stamp out corruption and make corrupt practices

unattractive and unprofitable.

He then urged the EFCC, ICPC and Police to “expeditiously investigate the numerous petitions written by Nigerians before the Commission and

backed by credible evidences.

“It is our opinion that the lack of prompt attention to these petitions from the various states is what mischief makers twist to create the impression

that the corruption cases so far made public are targeted at some people.

“We also commend President Muhammadu Buhari for living up to his promise of non-interference in the electoral process as exemplified in

the recently conducted and concluded Bayelsa governorship election.

“This has raised the hopes of Nigerians that our democracy is in safe hands and shall grow steadily.

“We recommend that the icing on the cake will be for President Buhari to congratulate Gov. Seriake Dickson of the PDP who has been

declared the winner of the Bayelsa governorship election by INEC.’’

According to him, this is without prejudice to the right of the losers of that election to seek redress in a court of competent jurisdiction

if they felt aggrieved with the outcome of the election.


Boko Haram arrests worsen Cameroon prison conditions

Detention conditions in Cameroon’s prisons are worsening as thousands of people suspected to have links with Nigeria-based terrorist group Boko Haram are thrown in jail.

Since 2014, at least 1,300 people have been “arbitrarily arrested, and many held in deplorable conditions, which have led to dozens of deaths,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International’s director for West and Central Africa.

At least 700 of these suspected Boko Haram terrorists are currently detained in Maroua Central Prison, where already poor conditions “have been worsened by these massive arrests of Boko Haram suspects”, the attorney general for the Far North Regional Court of Appeals, Joseph Belporo, told IRIN.

Under Cameroon’s 2014 anti-terrorism law, the military and police have been raiding homes and markets along the northern border with Nigeria searching for suspected Boko Haram militants. Most of those taken into custody are teenage boys and men, and they are often arrested dozens at a time. Many families say they still don’t know where their loved ones were taken.

“It [has become] a normal thing for innocent citizens to be arrested and detained for the purpose of investigations at this moment when the country is at war with a terrorist organisation,” said Eva Etongue, of the National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms. “But we are concerned with how these suspects are treated and how long they are being held in custody.”

See: Cameroon pays high price for joining Boko Haram fight

Cameroon’s penal code allows judges to keep suspects in pre-trial detention for a period of six months, renewable once, but human rights advocates say many of these prisoners have been held for much longer.

“Since the government started arresting Boko Haram suspects, I am not sure they have released any of them,” Marie Nana Abunaw, who runs a local NGO called Prisons Fellowship, told IRIN.

Overcrowded and unsanitary

Statistics from the NCHRF indicate there are now a total of 26,702 inmates in Cameroon prisons. Maximum capacity is not meant to exceed 17,000.

The commission’s most recent report on the state of prisons found there is “little or no access by detainees to adequate healthcare facilities, [and] poor sanitation and inadequate feeding.” Due to rationing, each prisoner receives just one meal a day, worth less than 150FCFA ($0.25), they say.

A September report by Amnesty International found that at least 40 inmates at Maroua Central Prison died between March and May last year as a result of inadequate health care and poor sanitation.

The government has denied such allegations, and says that security officers involved in one particular case, where 25 people died while in custody, are no longer on the staff.

Communication Minister Issa Tchiroma Backary maintains that the arrests and detentions are “within the prerogatives of the armed forces, who are facing a faceless enemy,” and that the objective of the raids is to “protect national territories and citizens”. He insists that soldiers don’t intentionally detain innocent citizens without cause.

Responding to the concerns about overcrowding and the protracted detention periods, the president of the Far North Regional Court of Appeals, Fonkwe Joseph Fongang, blamed the situation on a host of factors: a shortage of magistrates; a lack of courtrooms at the military tribunal; lengthy trial procedures; and a “non-mastery” of the new criminal procedural code by some magistrates.

A wake-up call?

Prisons Fellowship’s Abunaw, who also served for 31 years as prisons general in Cameroon’s Ministry of Justice, said more must be done to improve the conditions for pre-trial detainees.

“Despite the rise in the number of inmates in Cameroon prisons due to the war against Boko Haram, the government has not increased the usual funds allocated for food and other facilities for prisoners,” she said. “That is why their situation is getting worse by the day.”

In Maroua Central Prison, for example, there is no running water and just 20 latrines for more than 1,200 people, according to Amnesty International.

An ex-convict, Celestin Yandal, who was held in pre-trial detention for 22 months, told IRIN that he suffered “inhumane and degrading treatment and punishment”. He claimed that at least five inmates died each week because of the conditions.

“It is a prison without water, electricity and especially without toilets,” he said. “Inmates defecate in pots.”

Settling scores

Cameroon’s Minister of Justice Laurent Esso was aware of concerns that his judiciary was not functioning as it should and did not seek to deny them.

“These claims are not totally unfounded and are not totally exaggerated,” he told IRIN.

Esso said the majority of inmates being held in pre-trail detention would have been released if it wasn’t for the logjam in court proceedings. He admitted the need to improve detention conditions, and added that the government was seeking to combat cruel and degrading treatment, in accordance with the UN Convention against Torture.

“There are still many examples of cases where justice is not rendered as it ought to be,” he said in a speech last year, adding that “such mishandling risks creating suspicion over the entire system.”
Amowahnou Agbessi, director of the UN Commission for Human Rights and Democracy for Central Africa, told IRIN: “we are aware many innocent people are being held in custody as Boko Haram suspects”.

But, he added, “we also know that some citizens in the Far North Region are using the situation to settle scores with their enemies. Some can just run to security officers and tell them that an enemy of his has links with Boko Haram, and given the magnitude of the terror situation, he will be arrested and put behind bars. The government of Cameroon does not want to take chances.”

The government says it is currently constructing new prisons across the country in order to alleviate overcrowding. But as the fight against Boko Haram intensifies, conditions will likely get worse before they get better.


102333 A police officer checks the papers of a motorist in Cameroon’s Far North region, following an increase in check points, which are an attempt to thwart potential Boko Haram attacks. Analysis Human Rights Conflict Migration Health Boko Haram and Cameroon’s prisons IRIN YAOUNDÉ Cameroon Niger Nigeria Chad West Africa


A cold wind blows for Nigerians made homeless by Boko Haram

The temperature is dropping across northern Nigeria as the seasonal Harmattan winds blow in a haze of dust from the Sahara, blotting out the sun for days on end. It’s miserable at the best of times, worse still if you’ve been made homeless by Boko Haram violence and don’t have decent shelter.

“It has not been easy since we came to this camp 11 months ago,” said Mama Aisha, who fled Maiduguri, the main city in the northeast, and now lives 800 kilometres away in north-central Kaduna State. “We don’t have blankets to keep us warm.”

See: Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

Aisha is just one of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have set up informal camps throughout the northern region, with little to no protection from the low temperatures.

For those lucky enough to have ‘proper’ shelters, the structures often still lack doors and windows. “We need blankets to cover ourselves and to protect the children from catching cold,” Aisha told IRIN.

The Harmattan usually arrives in late December and lasts until mid-March. People stay indoors as much as possible during this period, especially in the evenings. While average temperatures range from 23 to 31 degrees Celsius throughout much of the year, they fall to as low as 6 degrees at night during the Harmattan season.

For most, this is considered “freezing”.

“I don’t like this weather,” said 65-year-old Haruna Abdullahi. “People of my age find it difficult to stay outdoors because it gives us a cough and runny nose. Every night we must use local lanterns to keep our room warm before going to bed, but it is not enough.”

Twelve-year-old Muhammed* (last name withheld) fled Maiduguri – the birthplace of Boko Haram – with his mother, brothers, and sisters a few months ago. They settled in an IDP camp in Kaduna State, but life has not been easy.

“We don’t have blankets or mattresses,” he told IRIN. “My siblings and I sleep on the bare floor.”

Hajiya Mariya Mohammad, a refugee from Borno State, told a similar story. “We need assistance… to protect our children from cold weather. Things are hard for us,” she said, unsure how they would all survive the cold.

A need for aid

A few organisations, including a Muslim women’s group led by Rabi’atu Sufyan, have begun donating food items, blankets, and warm clothes to the IDPs in Kaduna. But they can only reach a small percentage of the more than 2.2 million Nigerians displaced by the Boko Haram jihadists.

See: Lost in the city

“They [the IDPs] are really in need of food and blankets to keep them warm throughout the Harmattan season,” Sufyan said.

Usman Bappa Aliyu, a doctor at Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Zaria, Kaduna State, told IRIN that the Harmattan poses a number of risks for those made homeless by the six years of insurgent attacks in the northeast, which have mainly targeted civilians.

“I’m worried for these IDPs who stay in tents at camps because the Harmattan comes with many health challenges,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy because it causes asthma, pneumonia, and cough, particularly for children, which may lead to death if not properly taken care of.”

He added that the number of respiratory cases they’ve seen at local hospitals has already increased since the Harmattan began last month.

What next?

“We are aware of their presence at various camps and houses within the state, but we are only waiting for the right time to start distributing the items to them,” Abubakar Zakari Adamu, a spokesman from the state’s emergency management agency, told IRIN.

When asked about the delay, he explained that the majority of the IDPs in Kaduna took refuge at relations’ houses, scattered across the state, making it difficult for agencies to have correct data about those in need.

“The right time is when we have their full numbers and enough materials to distribute,” he said.

See: The Road to Redemption? Unmaking Nigeria’s Boko Haram


102329 Little girl feeding her parents’ cows, in Kaduna state – northwest nigeria News Migration Conflict Health After Boko Haram, the cold Mohammad Ibrahim IRIN KADUNA West Africa Nigeria