TIME ebola

Clashes in Liberia Slum Sealed Off to Halt Ebola

A Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, beats a local resident while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.
A Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, beats a local resident while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

Hundreds of residents of the West Point slum in Monrovia clashed with security forces

(MONROVIA, Liberia) — Hundreds of residents of a seaside slum in Liberia’s capital clashed with security forces Wednesday to protest an armed blockade of the peninsula that is their neighborhood as part of the government’s desperate efforts to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Protests began in the morning when roads into and out of West Point were blocked by riot police and troops and a coast guard boat patrolled the waters offshore.

When the local government representative, who had not slept at home, returned to get her family out, hundreds of people surrounded her house until police and soldiers packed her and her family into a car and hustled them away. Security forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd, and residents threw stones or whatever was at hand at them. At least one person was injured.

Deputy Police Chief Abraham Kromah said later Wednesday that forces managed to restore order in the area. He said the police were investigating whether any shots had been fired.

Fear and tension have been building in Monrovia for days, and West Point has been one of the flash points. West Point residents raided an Ebola screening center over the weekend, accusing officials of bringing sick people from all over Monrovia into their neighborhood. The move to seal off the densely populated, impoverished peninsula shows that the government is struggling to contain a deadly outbreak that is spreading faster in Liberia than anywhere else.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered West Point sealed off and imposed a nationwide curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“We have been unable to control the spread” of Ebola, Sirleaf said in an address to the nation Tuesday night. She blamed the rising case toll on denial, defiance of authorities and cultural burial practices, in which bodies are handled. But many feel the government has not done enough to protect them from the spread of Ebola.

Family members of West Point district commissioner Miata Flowers flee the slum while being escorted by the Ebola Task Force on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.
Family members of West Point district commissioner Miata Flowers flee the slum while being escorted by the Ebola Task Force on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

The Ebola outbreak, which according to the World Health Organization began in December, has killed at least 1,229 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

On Wednesday, riot police and soldiers created roadblocks out of piles of scrap wood and barbed wire to prevent anyone from entering or leaving West Point, which occupies a half-mile-long (kilometer-long) peninsula where the Mesurado River meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Few roads go into the area and a major road runs along the base of the point, serving as a barrier between the neighborhood and the rest of Monrovia. Ferries to the area have been halted.

At least 50,000 people live in West Point, one of the poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods of the capital. Sanitation is poor even in the best of times and defecation in the streets and beaches is a major problem. Mistrust of authorities is rampant in this poorly served area, where many people live without electricity or access to clean water.

The community is in “disarray” following the arrival of forces on Wednesday morning, West Point resident, Richard Kieh, told The Associated Press by phone.

“Prices of things have been doubled here,” he said.

The Ebola outbreak has already touched other parts of the capital, where dead bodies have lain in the streets for hours, sometimes days, even though residents asked that they be picked up by Health Ministry workers.

Liberia has the highest death toll, and its number of cases is rising the fastest. Sirleaf also ordered gathering places like movie theaters and night clubs shut and cordoned off Dolo Town, 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the capital.

While whole counties and districts in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been sealed off and internal travel restrictions have limited the movement of people in Guinea, the sealing off of West Point is the first time such restrictions have been put in place in a capital city in this outbreak.

The current Ebola outbreak is currently the most severe in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but the U.N. health agency said that there were encouraging signs that the tide was beginning to turn in Guinea. There is also hope that Nigeria has managed to contain the disease to about a dozen cases.

Nigeria’s health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said Tuesday that a fifth person had died of the disease in that country. All of Nigeria’s reported cases so far have been people who had direct contact with a Liberian-American man who was already infected when he arrived in the country on an airliner.

___

Associated Press photographer Abbas Dulleh in Monrovia, Liberia, and writer Maram Mazen in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

TIME health

Here Is One Thing We Can Do to Control the Spread of Ebola

Isata, a 22-month-old, is the youngest patient to be discharged from the Ebola treatment centre in Kailahun district, Sierra Leone on Aug. 6, 2014.
Isata, a 22-month-old, is the youngest patient to be discharged from the Ebola treatment centre in Kailahun district, Sierra Leone on Aug. 6, 2014. Jennifer Yang—Toronto Star/Getty Images

The outbreak reminds me that the lack of shoes in my hometown of Sierra Leone could be contributing to the spread of the virus

Growing up in the village of Konjo in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone, I remember the walks. After waking up to the crowing of hens, I’d take long, cold morning walks to the farms to chase away birds from our little crops and work for as many as 12 hours. I’d walk barefoot to and from school. I’d carry our chickens in a cage with a rope tied to it and hung around my head so that the cage rests on my back while my head held the weight.

I didn’t mind growing up this way, for I didn’t mind work and did not know what I did not have. But I hated having to make these walks barefoot because we could not afford shoes. The injuries were too much. I sustained burns from the hot ground and rocks; wounds from sharp stones, thorns, and even broken bottles; infections from unknown bacteria, and various ailments—red skins, open sores that took very long to hear, fevers. Even when hurt or ill, I had to keep walking, often as many as 20 miles a day, usually under a hot sun.

My concern is personal. My hometown is in the area that has been hardest hit by the Ebola virus. (I am in contact with my family but have not been back to visit since 2007). And the Kissi people (my tribe) are the majority in the places in all three countries where Ebola has broken out: the Kissi Chiefdoms in Kailahun, Sierra Leone; Gueckedou, Guinea; and Lofa County, Liberia. Are barefoot walkers, I wondered, coming in contact with Ebola-positive body fluids on the grounds they tread upon? People are always spitting out saliva. If an Ebola-positive person walks around barefoot, steps on a sharp object, and bleeds, he or she would easily spread the virus. And if an Ebola-negative barefoot walker steps on an Ebola-positive saliva or blood, that barefoot walker would unknowingly become infected. I’m not sure how much barefoot walking is contributing to the spread of the virus right now, but a virologist confirmed my hypothesis.

We rarely think about the perils of walking barefoot. But according to one widely cited estimate, some 300 million children on Earth don’t have shoes. Many illnesses and infections come from the ground, through stepping on sharp objects, or touching saliva, blood or bodily fluids. And it’s not merely those who can’t afford shoes who have to go barefoot; many millions of people around the world own poor quality shoes, but have to be careful not to overuse them to avoid early wear and tear. Shoes are for special occasions.

I no longer walk barefoot because my situation is better now; I live in the great United States of America, where I am working as a manager for a homeless program and completing my doctorate in public administration. I arrived here in 1996, the end of a journey of escape from the long, brutal civil war that destroyed my beautiful country. Stories like mine are common among Sierra Leoneans. I was among the first refugees in 1991 to cross the Makona River to neighboring Guinea seeking refuge from the rebels who attacked our villages from the Sierra Leone-Liberia border in east Kailahun District. I was just 9 years old at the time, and fled with my father. (My mother was not around at this time.) Despite the challenges in Guinea, I was relieved to have escaped. In the rebels’ zone, children were being recruited and kidnapped—and turned into child soldiers. One thing that made me happy was the pair of shoes that a UN worker provided me at our refugee camp in Guinea.

We left Guinea after a short stay and crossed back over the border to Freetown, where we had relatives. My country’s capital city was the safest place in Sierra Leone back then because of its western location—the war was raging in the east. I had expected Freetown to be a more prosperous place, but was disappointed to see children and adults walking barefoot as many do in the villages. I even sat in class with students who did not have shoes. I settled in Freetown and found myself playing soccer and other games barefoot with the other children. Consequently, our toes and the soles of our feet sustained many wounds, which became infected and led to swelling, pain, and the discharge of too much pus to recall here.

Today I think about those feet, and about barefoot children as I mourn, from the comfort of the U.S., those who have died from the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, as well as in Liberia, and Guinea. And I can’t help but worry that barefoot walking is contributing to the spread of Ebola in that region, as well as other contagious viruses, including Hepatitis A and C, that are transmitted through contact with blood and other bodily fluids.

Controlling the Ebola outbreak is a complex, global effort. But at the local level, we could start with something very basic, but very important. Providing shoes to barefoot walkers would make them safer and healthier. It also might save us.

Stephen T. Fomba is program manager at the San Gabriel Valley Consortium on Homelessness, and is studying for a public administration doctorate at the University of La Verne. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Africa

U.S. to Provide South Sudan With $180M in Food Aid

(EDGARTOWN, Mass.) — The United States is providing $180 million in emergency aid to address a food crisis in South Sudan.

White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice says the people of South Sudan face the worst food shortage in the world. She blamed the suffering of the South Sudanese on their leaders’ inability to put the people’s interests ahead of their own.

The money for the food aid is coming from USAID, as well as a Department of Agriculture trust.

The White House says the U.S. has already provided South Sudan with more than $456 million in humanitarian aid, but more is needed because of the threat of famine.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 8

1. We won’t know that new investment in Africa works unless we build solid systems for reporting real data about success.

By Nikhil Sonnad in Quartz

2. China needs sweeping reform to shake its deeply ingrained corruption.

By Kenneth Courtis in the Globalist

3. Don’t make college students select a major; make them choose a problem they want to solve.

By Jeff Selingo in LinkedIn

4. Foundations can learn from startup culture to better direct funds and amplify their impact.

By Shauntel Poulson in 1776 DC

5. President Obama can still secure his legacy if he spends his final years in office focused on economic inequality.

By Walter Isaacson in Time

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME

Watch How Ebola Has Spread Across West Africa

 

As of August 19, the World Health Organization has confirmed 2,240 infections of Ebola across four countries, resulting in 1,229 deaths.

This map shows the path of the disease’s outbreak, as recorded by the World Health Organization beginning March 23, 2014. Data from last week shows the disease spreading to Nigeria when a Liberian-American traveled to Lagos in July.

With reporting from Becca Staneck.

TIME Western Sahara

There’s a New Terrorist Threat Emerging in Western Sahara, and the World Isn’t Paying Attention

A man flashes a v-sign as soldiers from
A man flashes a V sign as soldiers from the proindependence Polisario Front parade during a ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of the proclamation of independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in the Western Saharan village of Tifariti on Feb. 27, 2011 Dominique Faget—AFP/Getty Images

For 39 years, exiled Sahrawis have watched their homeland being stripped of its resources with the West's complicity. Now, they could feed into the latest wave of Islamic extremism in North Africa

When the Sahrawi refugees of North Africa drink tea, they make each successive cup sweeter than the last. The first cup, they explain, is bitter like life, the second sweet like love. The third one is sweeter still, they say — like death.

If that’s a rather mournful thing to say about the simple pleasure of drinking a warm beverage, it’s because these refugees are a mournful people. They are former soldiers, or the children of former soldiers, from one of the world’s forgotten conflicts: the Western Sahara war. For decades, about 100,000 of them have languished in camps for the displaced, waiting to fight anew in a struggle that never picks up, and killing nothing more besides time.

North Africa has become ever more volatile since the Arab Spring, run through by militant Islamist outfits and Latin American drug cartels. The Algerian group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has established footholds in Mali, Niger and Mauritania, and recently staged its deadliest attack in Tunisia. Ansar al-Sharia has filled the power vacuum in several parts of Libya after Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall, and Morocco has, in recent weeks, raised its security alert because of the fear that terrorist fighters will return from Syria and Iraq. Boko Haram and al-Shabaab are extending their reach from the west and the east. And on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama announced an annual $110 million investment to counteract the increasing terrorist threat across the African continent.

Stuck in the middle of this vortex are the Sahrawis. The next lot of extremists could easily arise among them.

A territory about the size of the U.K. stretched out along the Atlantic, between Morocco and Mauritania, Western Sahara is often called “Africa’s last colony,” since it never gained independence when Spain decamped in 1975 — 91 years after seizing it in 1884. Instead, Morocco invaded and fought a 16-year-long war against a Sahrawi army of independence, known as the Polisario Front. When the war ended, the Sahrawis were left with the arid easternmost part of the territory, and half of the population fled to six refugee camps on the Algerian side of the border. Morocco took territory along the seaboard. To defend it, the Moroccans built a fortified barricade half the length of China’s Great Wall, and laid before it an estimated 9 million mines.

The U.N. called for a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawis in 1991, but since Morocco had moved in hundreds of thousands of its nationals into its part of Western Sahara, the sides couldn’t agree on the electoral rolls. The Sahrawis have since rejected an offer of autonomy within the Moroccan nation and remain keen for the U.N.-backed poll.

Morocco has meanwhile consolidated power over the territory it occupies, while the Sahrawis nurture the embryo of their would-be state — the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) — among the refugee camps in Algeria. SADR is currently recognized by 46 nations — its most vocal supporter being Algeria, which has a long-standing enmity against Morocco — and is a full member of the African Union. But because of strong Western support for Morocco — it is seen as the most stable state in the area and a bulwark against terrorism — the dream of an independent homeland seems ever more like a mirage.

That has bred a good deal of resentment. In 2012, three Spanish aid workers were abducted in the camps, and over the following year several dozen Sahrawis were reported to have taken part in the militant Islamist advances in Mali. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned of the risk that: “fighting in Mali could spill over into the neighboring countries and contribute to radicalizing the Western Saharan refugee camps.”

J. Peter Pham, director of the Washington, D.C.–based think tank Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, believes that is already happened. “The disconcerting fact is that because these camps are closed, there needs to be at least tacit approval on the part of those responsible to permit infiltration and exfiltration,” he tells TIME. “Whether that’s because of policy or corruption, I don’t know.”

In October 2012, Polisario reportedly set up a counterterrorism squad to protect the camps, but Pham views this initiative with skepticism. “In a way, it’s like breeding vermin and then setting up pest control,” he says. “The ongoing maintenance of a phantom state that will never exist creates the climate for extremism.”

According to Pham, Polisario should accept the offer of autonomy, because an independent state would not be viable. “The last thing Africa needs is another failed state, and that’s exactly what Western Sahara would become if Morocco left,” he says. “There are no real natural resources which can be commercially exploited, it would never be viable by itself. An independent Western Sahara would be an even bigger breeding ground for terrorists.”

That, of course, is not how the Sahrawis or their supporters see it. There is a possibility of offshore oil, and phosphates, fish and arable land are already being exploited in the occupied territory in violation of international law — and with Western connivance. In 2011, a major fishing agreement between Morocco and the European Union was scrapped, partly because fishing in Western Saharan waters was thought controversial, but in December 2013 it was surprisingly renewed. The new agreement talks about benefits to the “local population,” but makes no specific mention of the Sahrawis.

“The E.U.’s interpretation of the legal opinion is preposterous,” Hans Corell, former legal counsel of the U.N. and the author of its legal opinion on Western Sahara’s resources, tells TIME. “It is utterly embarrassing that the international community has been unable to solve this conflict. Since Morocco is able to capitalize in Western Sahara, there will be no incentive at all to change the situation.”

Neither are the E.U. or the U.N. providing any mechanism for humanitarian monitoring in the territory. The U.N. has had a peacekeeping force in Western Sahara since 1991, but it’s the only such operation in the world lacking a mandate to monitor human rights, because of an annual French veto in the Security Council. Isabella Lovin is one of several members of the European Parliament who have tried both officially and unofficially to enter Western Sahara to take soundings among the Sahrawis, but she’s been both denied and deported.

“If neither the U.N. nor the E.U. are allowed to monitor in Western Sahara, how can human rights ever be guaranteed?” Lovin asks.

Protests are commonplace in the occupied territory, but they are invariably broken up by police, since any questioning of Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara is punishable with prison terms. Activists are commonly prosecuted on trumped-up charges such as assaulting a policeman or planning riots. The binding evidence is often a written testimony, supposedly made by the defendant during extended pretrial detention without access to legal counsel. Because of the lack of monitoring, it is often impossible to tell whether these statements are true, false or coerced.

“These trials are the most blatant violations of human rights and end up in people being locked up for years,” Eric Goldstein, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, tells TIME. “Police beating demonstrators, however, is a weekly ritual.”

Some rights activists worry that the protests, beatings and trials will escalate now, as oil companies off the Western Saharan coast intensify their exploration. In 2005, Norway’s Government Pension Fund, the world’s largest sovereign-wealth fund, started divesting in Kerr-McGee, because their operations in Western Sahara constituted an “unacceptable risk for contributing to other particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.” However, Kerr-McGee’s American partners Kosmos Energy, continued the enterprise.

Currently, Kosmos Energy has a drilling ship on its way to the region. Mohamed Alouat is one of many Sahrawis who have protested against Kosmos’ plans. A video from June 10 purportedly shows him taking to the streets with a poster that says the oil is Sahrawi, before a policeman assaults him with a razor blade.

“They beat my mother so she fainted,” Alouat says. “This all happened to me now because I held a poster against Kosmos. Where are our rights?”

Even though it is still some way from actual oil production, Kosmos Energy has gone out of its way to publicly promise that “local populations” will benefit from any discovery. “We believe that economic development of the territory can and should proceed in parallel with the U.N. mediation process,” a Kosmos spokesperson tells TIME. “In fact, some experts believe a discovery may be the catalyst to lead a resolution of the conflict.” The energy company adds that it is in the process of engaging with a range of local stakeholders, “including Sahrawis.”

Erik Hagen, chair of Western Sahara Resource Watch, disagrees.

“If oil is struck, the Sahrawi future is forever ruined,” he says. “Morocco is the only country in the region that doesn’t produce oil, it is completely unthinkable that they would seek a solution with the Sahrawi if they make a discovery.”

That, of course, would only stoke frustration in the refugee camps. “Militant groups are operating in the camps and their influence is growing,” says the Atlantic Council’s Pham. That could make Africa’s last colony its newest terrorist hotbed.

TIME foreign affairs

Congo’s Presidential Entourage Investigated for Beating Protesters in U.S.

The incident was allegedly captured on video and posted on YouTube

The U.S. State Department has taken steps to seek the prosecution of a members of the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s entourage, who were allegedly captured on video Thursday beating a protester in the streets of Washington, D.C.

A video posted on YouTube shows a man in a dark suit kicking the head of a protester as he lays on the ground near a member of D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department, who appeared to be trying to defuse the situation.

“We are still gathering details on the incident, but are very troubled by reports that protestors were attacked by members of the President’s entourage,” the State Department said in a statement Thursday. “We take the right to freedom of expression very seriously, and violence against peaceful protestors is totally unacceptable.”

The statement went on to commend the efforts of D.C. police for coming to the aide of the protesters. “We have communicated our concern to the delegation from the Democratic Republic of Congo in the strongest possible terms,” the State Department statement continued. “We have requested a waiver of immunity to permit those involved to face prosecution. If it is not granted, we will ask that they leave the United States immediately.”

A spokesman for D.C.’ Metropolitan Police declined to comment, and a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service said the investigation would be handled by the State Department.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo President Joseph Kabila is visiting Washington, D.C., for an African leader summit at the invitation of President Obama. According to a 2013 State Department human rights report, Kabila was elected in 2011 in an election international observer missions said “lacked credibility.”

“[Non-governmental organizations], including Human Rights Watch, reported security forces killed or arbitrarily detained dozens of citizens prior to the voting,” the report reads. The human rights condition in the country has remained poor since then, despite the appointment by Kabila of a human rights commission.
“Elements of the [state security forces] continued to harass, beat, intimidate, and arbitrarily arrest and detain domestic human rights advocates and domestic NGO workers, particularly when the NGOs reported on or supported victims of abuses by the SSF or reported on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the East,” the report reads.

 

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