TIME Nigeria

Stable Elections in Nigeria Threatened by Boko Haram’s Latest Attacks

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan to discuss peaceful elections at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria on Jan. 25, 2015.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan to discuss peaceful elections at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria on Jan. 25, 2015. Akintunde Akinleye—AFP/Getty Images

Nigerian militants laid siege to military bases in the northern capital of Maiduguri on Sunday, raising questions about the army’s ability to combat the insurgency

As campaign season ramps up ahead of Nigerian general elections on February 14th, President Goodluck Jonathan has sought to downplay an insurgency in the country’s northeast that has been raging almost as long as he has been in power. The rise of Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based militant Islamist group best known for vicious attacks on military targets and its penchant for kidnapping women and girls and conscripting men and boys, has stymied Jonathan’s government since the former vice-president ascended to the presidency in 2010.

The insurgency has killed an estimated 11,000, according to the Council on Foreign Relation’s Nigeria Security Tracker. Unable to defeat it, the Jonathan campaign has chosen to all but ignore it as the president asks his people for an additional four-year term. But that strategy backfired on Saturday night, as militants swept into the strategic northern capital of Maiduguri just hours after Jonathan stumped for support from city residents.

The militants, who reportedly infiltrated the city of two million disguised as travelers on local buses, laid siege to key military installations and battled into Sunday. The Nigerian army eventually beat them back, but the fact that they were able to penetrate the city undetected raises questions about the military’s ability to defeat the movement, and, as the country’s Commander-in-Chief, Jonathan’s commitment to the fight.

Even as the insurgents retreated in Maiduguri, others looted, killed and abducted residents in a string of attacks on unguarded villages about 200 kilometers away, according to local authorities. As with previous attacks, such as an assault on a military base and several nearby villages that started Jan. 3 and killed scores, the government response has been muted.

Amnesty International, which has been closely documenting Boko Haram’s expansion, warned of a looming humanitarian crisis in a statement released Sunday, noting that the capital had already seen a massive influx of rural residents fleeing the violence over the past several months. “These ongoing attacks by Boko Haram are significant and grim news. We believe hundreds of thousands of civilians are now at grave risk,” said Africa Director Netsanet Belay. “People in and around Maiduguri need immediate protection. If the military doesn’t succeed in stopping Boko Haram’s advance they may be trapped with nowhere else to turn. The government’s failure to protect residents of Maiduguri at this time could lead to a disastrous humanitarian crisis.”

Boko Haram’s increasing boldness comes at a delicate time for Nigeria, which is just three weeks away from an election that promises to be the closest in the country’s short democratic history. Jonathan is up against former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, who has made security the main issue in his campaign platform. Elections in Nigeria are invariably accompanied by violence — the 2011 elections saw some 800 killed in post-polling fighting when Buhari lost to Jonathan — and fears are rife that Boko Haram could take advantage of the instability to sow further discord, or advance while the security services are distracted.

The United States has expressed concerns that the elections could usher in a new wave of violence, particularly if allegations of rigging by either side are widespread. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Lagos on Sunday to reiterate the U.S.’s desire to see clean elections. “This will be the largest democratic election on the continent,” Kerry said at a press conference following meetings with the two main candidates. “Given the stakes, it’s absolutely critical that these elections be conducted peacefully — that they are credible, transparent and accountable.” But obstacles are rife: some 25 million registered voters have yet to receive their biometric voter identity cards. There is not yet a system in place for an estimated one million internally displaced to cast their votes. And the ongoing violence in the northeast could prevent voters in what is traditionally a Buhari stronghold from coming to the polls.

On Jan. 22, Jonathan’s national security adviser Sambo Dasuki suggested at a meeting of the Royal Institute of International Affairs at London’s Chatham House that the elections be postponed, but such a delay risks prolonging the instability and prevents a unified response against Boko Haram. On the same day, government spokesman Mike Omeri announced that Nigeria was considering bringing home some 3,000 soldiers deployed in international peacekeeping missions elsewhere in Africa to help secure the elections and combat the insurgency. But the military’s inability to combat Boko Haram has less to do with numbers than a longstanding history of alleged corruption within the leadership ranks, a lack of adequate weaponry and logistical supplies, unpaid salaries and poor training, according to several military analysts and frustrated soldiers. Dasuki, in his Jan. 22 Chatham House comments, defended the military leadership and instead blamed cowardice among the troops for Boko Haram’s advance. “We have people who use every excuse in this world not to fight. We’ve had a lot of people who we believe joined because they wanted a job, not because they wanted a career in the military. And it’s most of them who are running away and telling stories,” he said.

While in Lagos, Kerry reiterated the U.S.’s continued backing for Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram. But that support comes with caveats: the Nigerian government must ensure that the upcoming elections will be fair and transparent. “Bottom line, we want to do more,” he said. “But our ability to do more will depend to some degree on the full measure of credibility, accountability, transparency, and peacefulness of this election.” But doing more won’t help if Nigeria’s current leadership, both miltary and civilian, don’t want to do more to help themselves.

TIME Boko Haram

Boko Haram Militants Are Back on the Attack in Nigeria as a Presidential Election Looms

A second bloody attack in the northeastern town of Baga coincides with the launch of Goodluck Jonathan’s Presidential campaign. What that means for the election season.

As thousands of supporters clad in the red, white and green of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party thronged the formal launch rally of his reelection campaign in Lagos on Thursday, thousands more were fleeing for their lives in the country’s northeast, where an ongoing militant offensive, launched on Jan. 3, has killed scores. Such twinned scenes of jubilation and carnage are likely to be a regular feature in Nigeria over the coming weeks, as the country gears up for Presidential and general elections on Feb. 14,—even as the Boko Haram militant group gains ground in a campaign that took more than 10,000 lives last year, and has driven more than 1.5 million people from their homes.

Residents of Baga, a small town on the shores of Lake Chad, and some sixteen surrounding villages fled on foot or by boat as members of Boko Haram razed buildings and stalked the streets in search of government supporters, according to local officials. “These towns are just gone, burned down,” Borno State Senator Ahmed Zanna told NBC News via telephone. “The whole area is covered in bodies.”

The offensive started on Jan. 3 with a daring raid on a multinational military base near Baga that had been established to combat crime in the lawless border region where Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon meet. It has since been repurposed to address the growing regional threat of Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group that got its start in northeastern Nigeria in 2002 and has used kidnapping—most notably of more than 200 schoolgirls last year—as an effective tactic. The base fell to the militants early Sunday morning, Jan 4, after several hours of intense fighting.

The second assault, which started in Baga itself on Jan. 6, appears to be an attempt by the rebels to assert their authority in an area of divided loyalties, according to Roddy Barclay, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks, a political risk consultancy based in London. “Boko Haram has frequently attacked communities perceived to support the government,” he says. “The use of violence is designed to drive community fear and compliance in order to further Boko Haram’s agenda.”

While that agenda has little to do with the elections on the surface—as staunch Islamist militants, Boko Haram, like other radical Salafist groups, does not believe in elections or democratic rule—attacks like this one will contribute to a general climate of fear that could result in a low turnout in the election, or a closing of the polls in the northeast all together. Despite the increasing violence, Nigeria’s national election commission has said it will not postpone the elections. This could lead to post-campaign turmoil, if the opposition All Progressives Congress party, which has stronger support among the Muslim-dominated north, feels that the outcome has been skewed against them. Violence could erupt, as it did in the wake of the contested 2011 elections that brought Jonathan to power.

The Baga attacks aren’t necessarily tied to the elections, says Barclay, but they will play into the general conditions that could make the election season more volatile. More attacks should be expected, he adds. “Boko Haram will be a key player in the 2015 elections. It will seek to disrupt the elections by staging targeted attacks and by seeking to incite broader religious violence.” The group played a similar role during the 2011 elections, but “in 2015 Boko Haram has far greater military capability than it did back then,” he says. “It will use those capabilities to stage attacks which impact both on local-level politics, but also potentially on the national scene.”

One of the principal reasons that Boko Haram has managed to grow in strength and reach over the past few years is because political disputes have sapped the will of the Nigerian government to fight back, according to Jacob Zenn, an analyst of African and Eurasian Affairs for The Jamestown Foundation, a DC- based research and analysis institute with a focus on terrorism. “There is a real lack of unified political will, making it difficult to develop a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to combat Boko Haram,” he says by telephone from Abuja, the Nigerian capital. “Until taking care of Boko Haram becomes a priority over concerns about the elections, there will be no way to contain the threat.”

Of course, many people in Nigeria’s government, military and civil society believe that if the elections go smoothly, “the new government will be able to prioritize the fight,” says Zenn. “However, if there is a period of post-election tension and infighting, it could make countering Boko Haram even more difficult.” That may be just what Boko Haram has in mind as it makes every effort to undermine security in the northeast, ensuring that elections don’t happen at all.

TIME central african republic

One of Joseph Kony’s Top Commanders Just Surrendered to U.S./African Union

The leader of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels Joseph Kony (seated C), surrounded by his officers, addresses his first news conference in 20 years of rebellion in Nabanga, Sudan, on Aug. 1, 2006.
The leader of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels Joseph Kony (seated C), surrounded by his officers, addresses his first news conference in 20 years of rebellion in Nabanga, Sudan, on Aug. 1, 2006. Adam Pletts—Reuters

Dominic Ongwen could have information about the movements of Joseph Kony

At 10 he was forced to become a child soldier and he rose to become a commander of child soldiers. Now Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army [LRA], a cult-like rebel group that started in Uganda, has surrendered to members of a joint military task force run by the United States and the African Union.

According to U. S. State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, U.S. officials have yet to confirm that Ongwen, who declared his defection from the group in the Central African Republic on Tuesday, is who he says he is, but Ugandan army spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda trumpeted a rare success in the region-wide hunt for the group best known for amputating the limbs of detractors and turning young children into soldiers and sex slaves. “This is great news,” says Kasper Agger, the Uganda-based field researcher for the Enough Project, a Washington D.C.- based human rights advocacy organization that has been tracking the Lords Resistance Army across Uganda, South Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic. But whether or not Ongwen’s defection will lead to the eventual capture of Kony “is the million dollar question,” says Agger. “We can hope that he has vital information to share, but nailing down Kony at a specific time and place is still very difficult.”

According to Psaki, the defection of Ongwen, 35, would “represent a historic blow to the LRA’s command structure.” Ongwen, who was abducted by the LRA on his way to school according to Agger of the Enough Project, quickly made his way up the ranks to become a brigade commander, collecting multiple charges of grievous human rights abuses along the way. In 2005 the International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted Ongwen for seven counts of crimes against humanity including murder, pillaging and enslavement.

Ongwen’s defection, says Agger, may be a sign of weakening leadership within the organization, but it is also possible that the commander may have had a falling out with Kony and was in fact fleeing for his life. “We do know that he had been increasingly marginalized over the past few years,” says Agger, but Kony also has a tendency to pull commanders back into the fold as younger, less experienced soldiers die off. “So he could still have some useful information.” Ongwen’s defection may be a “victory along the road” says Agger, but it is no reason to rest in the hunt for Kony. “If anything, it’s an encouragement to keep up the pressure, to make sure that we see this through to the end, and that the Lords Resistance Army is truly finished.”

TIME Nigeria

Everything to Know About Boko Haram’s Advance in Nigeria

Image taken from a video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network, Oct. 31, 2014.
Image taken from a video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network, Oct. 31, 2014. AP

The fall of the Baga military base in north eastern Nigeria caps a slew of successes for the Islamist group

The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has roared back into the headlines in recent days, with a series of bold attacks on remote villages in the country’s northeast, culminating with an assault on a multinational military base near a town called Baga on the shores of Lake Chad over the weekend.

Refugees fled on boats, while the last bastion of government control in the northern part of Borno State erupted into flames. As the uptick in attacks seems poised to disrupt the upcoming Presidential elections slated for Feb. 14, here’s everything you need to know about Boko Haram’s advance, and why its ambitions extend way beyond kidnapping schoolgirls:

Why are we seeing so many attacks in Nigeria’s northeast?

Borno State has long been a hotbed for Boko Haram supporters. Since the Islamist group started gaining strength in 2011, the militants and the military have traded control of many of the area’s small towns and military bases in a chess-like series of feints and retreats that have left the region perpetually on edge. “The militants build their capabilities by raiding police bases and armories for vehicles and weapons, then the military beats them back,” says Roddy Barclay, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks, a political risk consultancy.

But the military’s heavy-handed tactics, from arbitrary arrests and detention to extrajudicial executions, have alienated the local population. When a military operation is over, the militants move back in to remind local communities that they are the real source of authority. Even though Boko Haram also traffics in fear and intimidation, says Barclay, they have the local advantage. “[The most recent attack in] Baga is part of the cycle of violence that draws on local grievances to accelerate recruitment to the militant cause,” he says. The more the military responds, the more fresh recruits flock to Boko Haram.

Where will Boko Haram go next?

Boko Haram’s leaders have set their sites on the state capital Maiduguri, which they lost to government forces in 2011. Such a defeat would be a devastating blow for the Nigerian government, which suffered a major setback last year when militants launched a daring raid on the main military barracks. It is not clear that Boko Haram has the capacity, manpower and weapons to retake the town – at least for now. But they do have the capability to launch devastating suicide attacks, a method that they have used to great effect several times over the past 6 months.

Could the threat spread beyond Nigeria’s borders?

Boko Haram shares many characteristics of transnational terror groups; it adheres to the strict Salafist ideology of governance by Islamic law, and controls an estimated 30-35,000 square kilometers, roughly the same amount of terrain as Syria and Iraq’s Islamic State. It has also launched small scale operations in Cameroon and Chad in what some analysts have described as an attempt to establish Islamic rule across a region once contained within the borders of the historic Kanem-Borno Empire.

For the moment, though, it seems largely focused on its immediate region, in the country’s impoverished north-east. But even if the group’s activities have minimal impact outside that region, the symbolic weight is immense, says Peter Pham, Africa Director for the Washington D.C.-based Atlantic Center policy institute. “Nigeria is the regional power, and if its government is proven impotent in the face of the insurgency, that could have a spillover effect on other countries in the region,” which are equally threatened by Islamist uprisings.

And its domestic threat shouldn’t be understated, says Pham. “You have Africa’s most populous nation and its largest economy. And now it’s coping with a hollowing out of the state – the government can’t control its territory, resources are being diverted to combat the insurgency, and there is the reputational harm as well. Lagos may be a world away, but if terror attacks are the main news item coming out of the country, it won’t help the investment climate. “

What role will Boko Haram play in the upcoming Presidential elections?

Boko Haram has already denounced the elections as “un-Islamic.” Barclay, of Control Risks, predicts a surge in violent attacks in the weeks leading up to February’s vote. The result will be two-fold: along with the spread of terror, elections will not be be held in some areas due to the security risks, undermining the legitimacy of the candidate that secures the presidency — likely to be the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. “Even if the election meets the legal requirements, it would still be a hollow victory,” says Pham. Jonathan’s campaign doesn’t need the three northern states most impacted by the insurgency to win, but if residents don’t turn out to vote for fears of an attack, it would shrink his mandate, says Pham. “That would not only weaken his hand in terms of dealing with the Boko Haram crisis, but also with the looming threat of declining oil prices” — Nigeria’s largest export.

And what happened to the kidnapped girls of Chibok?

Despite an ongoing government search, with U.S. assistance, none of the girls kidnapped last spring have been recovered. Most likely they have been forcibly married off to militants, or used as camp hands. Some local media outlets speculate that they could be part of a recent surge in female suicide bombers. But Boko Haram didn’t stop with the girls; for a militant group plagued by military losses, kidnapping is part of the growth strategy. Hundreds of men, women and boys have been kidnapped over the past year; the Baga offense started with the forced conscription of some 40 young men after a sermon at the local mosque, according to CNN. Hundreds more are likely to be abducted before the Chibok girls are ever found.

TIME Africa

Africa Fashion Week Showcases the Continent’s Best Talent

The growing trend of Fashion Weeks across the African continent challenges the notion that global fashion starts in the northern hemisphere

The lights dim on the catwalk as a capacity crowd quiets in anticipation. A pounding drum rhythm builds suspense as, backstage, stylists swarm the waiting models, applying last-minute dabs of foundation, glittering lip-gloss and bursts of hair spray. Next to the catwalk, professional photographers jostle for space with fashion bloggers preparing to snap candids with raised iPhones.

The scene could come from any of Europe or America’s frenzied fashion shows, but for two key differences: the models are mostly black and the designers all African. Welcome to Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg, an annual event that offers a sharp rebuttal to the idea that international fashion begins and ends in the northern hemisphere. “When it comes to fashion design, Africa is the next frontier,” says Precious Moloi-Motsepe, a women’s health doctor and wife of South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe who founded African Fashion International, which organizes the event, in 2007.

Now in its sixth year, Fashion Week Africa—which recently picked up Mercedes Benz’s sponsorship in a sign of its growing prominence (the company also sponsors fashion weeks in Australia, Russia and Mexico)—is a showcase for Africa’s top designers. Headlining designer David Tlale of South Africa makes regular appearances at New York’s fashion week, while Mozambican Taibo Bacar and South African Hendrik Vermeulen wowed audiences in Milan and Rome earlier this year.

The message from Johannesburg is clear: Africa is no longer just a source for ethnic inspiration and fashion shoots, but a fount of original talent that may just give the established global brands a fresh dose of creativity, Tlale tells TIME. “The industry needs fresh blood. Armani is tired. Galliano is trying to resuscitate himself. McQueen is gone. Gucci is failing to reinvigorate and Prada needs a new creative team. It’s time for the big fashion investors to start looking to Africa. Not appropriating our themes, but taking on our design talent.”

The first obstacle may be overcoming expectations. When Tlale, arguably Africa’s best-known designer, first showed in Paris in 2007, reviewers needled him about his line’s lack of leopard print. It still happens today. “There is so much more happening in Africa than animal prints,” he groans. “The time for showcasing the big five is over.” He is talking about the big five safari animals, but he could just as easily be referencing Africa’s big five fashion clichés: Mandela shirts, animal skins, vibrant Ghanaian fabrics, Ndebele beadwork and the red plaid and beaded collars of the Maasai.

Take the clothes on the catwalk in Johannesburg on Oct. 29 to Nov. 2: from diaphanous trench coats to daring hotpants, they have nary a whiff of the African stereotype. Tribal motifs made an appearance, but they were translated into muted knitwear that could almost pass as Nordic.

As much as international fashion design could use a jolt of African creativity, Africa, which has become dependent on imported fashion, needs the economic stimulus of domestic production. In South Africa, the clothing manufacturing sector used to be the country’s biggest employer, even more than mining, according to Anita Stanbury, of the South African Fashion Council. But in the early 2000s changes in the law allowed Chinese imports to take over, and the industry all but collapsed. South Africa’s fashion weeks, of which there are six year round, are one way to encourage interest, and investment, in local production. South African fashion retailers only buy 25% of their product locally, says Stanbury. If they bought 40%, the number of clothing manufacturing jobs in South Africa would nearly double, from 80,000 to 150,000. “That is a huge reason why we should support the domestic fashion scene,” says Stanbury. “It gives us the opportunity to pull people out of poverty, and make them consumers in the market.”

The domestic economic benefit is one of the main reasons Moloi-Motsepe started with fashion, but pride plays a part as well. She believes it’s time for African fashion to take its place in the spotlight. “We see ourselves as global fashion players,” says Moloi-Motsepe. Just as she pairs Prada with creations by local designers, she is waiting for the day she spots a Londoner mixing Stella McCartney with Tlale. Global fashion, she says, would be better for the cross-pollination.

TIME ebola

Faster Ebola Tests Could Help Stem the Outbreak in West Africa

Liberia Races To Expand Ebola Treatment Facilities, As U.S. Troops Arrive
A health worker in Paynesville, Liberia, carries a girl awaiting her test results John Moore—Getty Images

Better Ebola testing in West Africa would save lives and could help bring an end to the outbreak

The dying at the tin-roofed clinic in the rural Kono district of Sierra Leone comes at a ruthless pace. In the first two weeks of October, 20 out of the 22 patients seeking treatment for Ebola died. That fatality rate, high even by the lethal standards of Ebola, could easily be brought down, says Dan Kelly, an infectious-disease doctor who is currently in Kono with the Wellbody Alliance, a medical nonprofit organisation he set up eight years ago. “The ability to test for Ebola, to test quickly, has become ever more important,” says Kelly, who believes the high death toll in the Kono clinic was due in part to the fact that there is no place to test for Ebola in the entire district. Instead, blood samples from suspected Ebola patients have to be sent to the capital over rutted mud roads that are often washed out by rain. “Even if we have the best treatments available, without a timely diagnosis people are still going to die,” says Kelly.

Work out quickly who does and does not have Ebola and you’ll get a long way toward stopping an outbreak that has killed at least 4,877 and infected thousands more. Right now that simple proposition can feel like a fantasy. In Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the three countries with the most cases, the need for rapid test results far outpaces the capacity to carry them out.

That means patients often aren’t getting treatment until it’s too late, when the disease has ravaged their bodies beyond repair, and when they may have already infected friends and family. “If patients are promptly diagnosed and receive aggressive supportive care, the great majority, as many as 90%, should survive,” wrote the global health expert Paul Farmer in a recent issue of the London Review of Books.

Even in a top U.S. laboratory it can take up to eight hours to search a blood sample for Ebola through an expensive and complex array of technical hardware and computer software called a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. military have helped by setting up four additional labs in West Africa over the past six months—Liberia now has a total of five, Sierra Leone four and Guinea three—but capacity is still limited to about 100 tests per lab per day, not nearly enough to cope with an epidemic that could grow to 10,000 new cases a week by December, according to the World Health Organization. Laurie Garrett, an expert on Ebola at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, says that number could be brought down through better testing. “The only thing that makes a dent when you model what is going on with the epidemic now and what it looks like in two months, is being able to separate the infected from the non-infected.”

Health care workers on the ground say that more PCR labs are urgently needed. “Crushing this epidemic means getting 70% of the population with Ebola into isolation and care,” Kelly says. That could be achieved, he believes, by putting a PCR lab in every district.

The challenges don’t stop there. Testing can create risks even as it offers solutions. Medical personnel must draw blood from patients for a PCR test, a potentially lethal process for caregivers. “Taking samples is extremely dangerous,” says Dr. Estrella Lasry, a tropical medicine adviser in Liberia for Doctors Without Borders (MSF). At any time you risk a needlestick injury that can expose you to the virus.”

And then there’s the risk that patients without Ebola are being exposed to patients with the disease. Lasry estimates that 30% to 50% of people coming into the MSF clinics end up testing negative for Ebola and instead have other illnesses like malaria that have similar early symptoms. All those being tested for Ebola must wait in holding centers for their results, to ensure they don’t have an opportunity to infect others back at home if they test positive. That means patients with other illnesses must wait among patients with Ebola, increasing the chances of transmission.

Kelly hopes researchers can develop a test that could give readings at a clinic immediately and wouldn’t require trained technicians to interpret the results. “It would be a game changer if you could immediately identify patients needing quarantine from those who do not,” he says. Several versions of so-called point-of-care rapid diagnostic tests are already in development, but while some are at the testing stage, it is not clear when they could actually be used on the ground.

One U.S. company, Corgenix, received a $2.9 million grant in June from the National Institutes of Health to perfect its prototype, a pregnancy-test-style slip of paper that reveals a dark red line within 15 minutes when exposed to a drop of Ebola-infected blood. Instead of needles and syringes, test takers need only a pinprick to get the sample, much like an insulin test for diabetes patients. These tests, which would cost anywhere from $2 to $10 (PCR tests average about $100 each) could also be used in airports to confirm whether someone with symptoms has Ebola.

If the Corgenix test had been available, says one of its lead researchers, Robert F. Garry, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, it might have helped diagnose Amber Vinson, an American nurse infected with Ebola, before she boarded a flight from Cleveland to Dallas on Oct. 13. “This is a test that could be used anywhere you would want to test for Ebola,” says Garry. “Anyone could use it, and anyone could read it.”

With the epidemic worsening in West Africa, medical staff in Ebola-hit countries can’t afford to wait for companies like Corgenix to bring their product to market. Kelly has been hearing about better, faster tests almost since he started working on Ebola in June. He fears that pinning hopes on future technologies undermines efforts to ramp up testing facilities. “Everyone says they have a new test, but at this point I’m like, ‘Show me the money,’” says Kelly. “ We already have a working technology that is deployable. Get me a PCR in every district capital, and then we can start talking about faster tests.”

Garry says he has people in every U.S. time zone working “as fast as humanly possible” to get the Corgenix test out. “We want to make an impact on this outbreak,” he says. “With enough tests, we can shut it down it down.” Without them, Ebola may be here to stay.

TIME South Africa

Heated Reaction in South Africa to Pistorius Sentence

Oscar Pistorius after he is sentenced at the Pretoria High Court on October 21, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa.
Oscar Pistorius after he is sentenced at the Pretoria High Court on October 21, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Herman Verwey—Getty Images

The six-time Paralympic medal-winning athlete is sentenced to five years in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, eliciting charges of injustice in his native South Africa

When the judge sentenced Oscar Pistorius to five years in jail for killing his girlfriend, his reaction was muted. The response elsewhere in South Africa was not. “Five years for murder?” screeched one angry caller to a local radio talkshow. Twitter lit up with angry condemnations of the judge, some commentators going so far as to suggest that all murderers would be so lucky to have her presiding over their case.

After all the drama of a trial that evoked Hollywood theatrics and a blockbuster viewership over the course of its seven-month-run, Judge Thokozile Masipa finally delivered her sentence Tuesday morning in the courtroom in Pretoria, condemning Pistorius to five years in prison for killing his girlfriend, 29-year-old law graduate and model Reeva Steenkamp in what he described as a tragic mistake. Pistorius wiped his eyes upon hearing his sentence and reached for the hands of family members gathered behind him.

Pistorius, 27, killed Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, shooting her four times through a closed bathroom door in his home. He testified that he had mistaken her for a nighttime intruder. Immediately following his sentencing he was escorted out of the packed court, down a flight of stairs and into the court’s detention center to await transport to the prison.

On Sept. 12 Masipa convicted Pistorius of culpable homicide, a crime similar to manslaughter, but acquitted him of murder at the conclusion of a trial that had become an international spectacle. Pistorius, a double amputee dubbed the “Bladerunner” for his athletic prowess on blade-shaped prosthetic limbs, alternately wept, vomited and collapsed at various points of the trial as the prosecutor presented graphic evidence taken from the scene of the crime and asked Pistorius to recount, in agonizing detail, the events of the night his girlfriend was shot. The prosecution accused Pistorius of murdering Steenkamp in a fit of rage.

In sentencing Pistorius to five years imprisonment, Masipa split the difference between the prosecution’s argument for 10 years and the defense’s case that any jail term would be an unjust punishment for a double-amputee in a violent prison system where Pistorius could be subjected to abuse because of his disability. His lawyers had argued for a three-year probation period of house arrest and community service.

The Steenkamp family appeared to be satisfied, with family lawyer Dup De Bruyn saying that it was “the right sentence,” and that “justice was served,” according to Reuters, suggesting that an appeal is unlikely. Public reaction has been much more heated. Radio talk shows were inundated with angry callers lambasting the judge. “Lady justice just had her legs amputated,” shouted one irate caller. Another cursed Masipa on air, prompting a flurry of Twitter comments over the inappropriateness of denigrating a judge, no matter the reason.

It is likely that Pistorius will be paroled after serving at least one sixth of his sentence — 10 months — according to legal analysts, prompting sarcasm from one math-impaired Twitter commentator: “Three women are killed by their partners every day in [South Africa]. I guess an 8-month sentence will help fight this,” tweeted@ justicemalala.

Meanwhile, the International Paralympic Committee, which has awarded Pistorius six medals throughout his career, says that he will be banned from competing for five years, even if he is paroled early. Given the high profile nature of both Pistorius and Steenkamp, it was a given that no matter the sentence, people would be angry. Twitter commentator @ZuBeFly summed it up best: “Only way I’d feel 100% satisfied is if any type of sentence the judge passed would bring Reeva back. No winners here either way.”

Read next: Oscar Pistorius Gets 5 Years for the Culpable Homicide of Reeva Steenkamp

TIME ebola

Why Protective Gear Is Sometimes Not Enough in the Fight Against Ebola

Health workers receive assistance with putting on their protective gear before entering the high-risk zone at the Bong County Ebola Treatment Unit near Gbarnga in rural Bong County, Liberia, Oct. 5, 2014.
Health workers receive assistance with putting on their protective gear before entering the high-risk zone at the Bong County Ebola Treatment Unit near Gbarnga in rural Bong County, Liberia, Oct. 5, 2014. Daniel Berehulak—The New York Times/Redux

Human error can endanger even the most experienced health care workers in the fight against Ebola

When it comes to Ebola, the full-body Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] suit is probably the best way to prevent infection. But a PPE can also be one of the easiest ways to get Ebola. A PPE is usually made up of a full-body, impermeable suit with a hood, rubber boots covered by Tyvek booties, multiple pairs of surgical gloves, a surgical mask over the nose and mouth, a plastic bib, goggles, a plastic apron and a lot of duct tape. There is a reason why they are nicknamed moon suits: worn properly, they shouldn’t show an inch of skin. Putting them on right requires two people and about 10 minutes. Taking them off, in even the best of circumstances, is a clumsy, arduous process with multiple opportunities to make a lethal mistake.

It is not yet clear how, exactly, two health care workers at a Dallas hospital tending Thomas Eric Duncan, the first man to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, caught the disease, but health authorities are looking closely at the protective measures used at the hospital, and whether or not they were sufficient. Meanwhile, in Spain, where a nurse, Teresa Romero Ramos, is being treated for Ebola that she caught from a patient recently returned from Sierra Leone, officials are questioning whether or not she wore her PPE properly. On a Spanish television program quoted by the New York Times, Madrid’s regional health minister, Javier Rodríguez, questioned the need for extensive training on using the PPEs. “You don’t need a master’s degree to explain to someone how you should put on or take off” a protective suit, he said.

Maybe not, but no matter how experienced and qualified you are in putting on and taking off a PPE there is always room for error. I recently spent two weeks in Monrovia, Liberia, reporting on Ebola, and climbing into, and out of, PPEs on a regular basis, and I am still not sure I ever got it right. I was trained by the best, too: the Red Cross Dead Body Management teams, the guys responsible for picking up deceased Ebola victims and transporting them to the crematorium for safe disposal. An Ebola patient is at his most infective in the hours and days after death, when the virus swarms the skin and bodily fluids.

When the Dead Body Management team workers finish zipping a corpse into a double-sealed body bag they undergo an extensive decontamination process that best resembles a military drill in its precision and attention to detail. Each worker is paired with a sanitizer, a man wearing a backpack sprayer filled with a chlorine and water solution. The process is initiated with a good dousing of chlorine solution and a vigorous washing of the gloved hands. The worker removes his goggles, which are sprayed thoroughly and then discarded. His hands are sprayed again. Then the hood goes down, and the zipper is sprayed, as are the hands for another time. He unzips, and his hands are sprayed yet again. Then he has to shrug out of the suit without allowing any of the external surfaces to come into contact with his hands or the clothing underneath. And so it goes, layer after layer until the worker is left standing in boots, medical scrubs, and the last pair of gloves. Again he is liberally sprayed down with the chlorine solution, at which point he has to jigger off his gloves in a way that ensures that the surface does not come into contact with the skin.

Each organization, be it the Red Cross or Médecins Sans Frontières [MSF], has a similar ritual, even if small details vary. Still, mistakes are made. Even MSF, which has spearheaded the Ebola response in west Africa since day one, and probably knows more than any other organization about how to prevent infection, has seen two international health workers sickened with the disease. A United Nations medical worker infected in Liberia and transported to Germany for care died on Oct. 13. A doctor working for an Italian medical charity contracted Ebola last month, and is still receiving treatment in Germany.

The gear works, but the possibility of human error is still high, especially when working in a high-stress environment, when fatigue and fear stalk every move. PPEs can also provide a dangerously false sense of security. When they are not put on right, or if they are taken off incorrectly, they may as well not be there at all.

If you are lucky the droplet of sweat dropping into your eye as you remove your goggles without bending over first didn’t pass over some Ebola-contaminated material on your hood. I met one health care worker who thinks he caught Ebola when a young patient vomited on him, and the vomit passed through a chink in his Tyvek armor, where his suit didn’t entirely zip up over his mask. Both he and the patient survived. Which is why having the right kind of protection is only the beginning. There needs to be training, and it has to be drilled in daily. There needs to be a buddy system, in which one health care worker is always watching the other, to ensure that the protective gear is on correctly, and that it is taken off correctly. But there will always be mistakes. Ebola will get through. The important thing is to be ready when it does.

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