TIME Mali

4 Hostages Freed From Mali Hotel After Fighting Leaves 12 Dead

mali hotel attack
Reuters

The four freed were U.N. employees

(BAMAKO, Mali)—Four people held in a hotel in central Mali by Islamic extremists were freed Saturday by the army and special forces after fighting since Friday left 12 people dead, Mali’s defense ministry adviser said.

After the operation ended four additional bodies were found in the Hotel Byblos in Sevare, including three hotel staff and one jihadi, said Lt. Col. Diarran Kone. Officials had earlier announced that five Malian soldiers were killed, two jihadis and a U.N. contractor, bringing the total death toll to 12.

“The operation ended around 5 a.m.,” he said. “The operation was led by Mali’s gendarmerie with our partners.”

The four freed were U.N. employees, said U.N. mission in Mali spokeswoman Radhia Achouri. She would not give their nationalities but said they were at the U.N. offices in Sevare and would soon go to Bamako, Mali’s capital.

Mali’s special forces were transported to Sevare from Bamako early Saturday. The government said Friday that forces detained seven suspected militants.

Islamic extremists started the attack Friday at the hotel in Sevare, about 600 kilometers (375 miles) north of Bamako.

Northern Mali fell under the control of jihadis in 2012 but a French-led offensive ousted them in early 2013. Remnants of the extremists have staged attacks on U.N. peacekeepers and Malian forces, but Friday’s assault on a hotel popular with U.N. pilots marks a serious escalation.

Sevare and the nearby town of Mopti in central Mali have long been the heart of Mali’s tourism industry and had been spared the attacks more common in the northern towns of Gao and Timbuktu. Mali’s jihadi groups have been stepping up their attacks further south from their strongholds in the north.

TIME Mali

Hostages Seized in Mali Hotel Attacks That Leave at Least 4 Dead

A U.N. peacekeeper was among the dead

(BAMAKO, Mali)—Jihadists stormed two hotels in central Mali on Friday, seizing at least six hostages and killing three Malian soldiers and a U.N. peacekeeper in one of the most brazen attacks in months, defense officials said.

The Islamic militants assaulted one hotel in the town of Sevare, and then after an exchange of gunfire moved on to the Hotel Byblos next door where they grabbed between six and 10 people, said Lt. Col. Diarran Kone.

“The operation to free the hostages is ongoing,” he said.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry issued a statement based on information from its embassy in Algeria saying that the goal of the attackers was believed to be to take hostages from among the foreign citizens living in the hotel.

“According to the information available, a Ukrainian citizen may be among those foreign citizens taken hostage. In addition, three citizens of South Africa and a French citizen may be held hostage,” it said.

Nelson Kgwete, a spokesman for South Africa’s foreign ministry, said South African diplomats in Mali had been instructed to “liaise with the authorities in the region where the incident took place” to ascertain whether South African citizens were caught up in the attack.

“We are waiting for a report from our embassy,” Kgwete told The Associated Press.

Northern Mali fell under the control of jihadists back in 2012 but a French-led offensive ousted them from power in early 2013. Remnants of the group have staged a number of attacks on U.N. peacekeepers and Malian forces though Friday’s assault on a hotel known to be popular with U.N. pilots marks a serious escalation.

Sevare and the nearby town of Mopti in central Mali have long been the heart of the country’s tourism industry and had been spared from the attacks more common in the northern towns of Gao and Timbuktu.

On Friday, smoke could be seen coming from the area near the hotels, according to a resident who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of his safety.

“This morning as I was leaving for work I heard shots and saw smoke coming from the Hotel Debo. The area is surrounded by soldiers who told us to return to our homes,” he said.

Mali’s jihadist groups have been stepping up their attacks further south from their strongholds in the north.

In March, a masked gunman opened fire at a restaurant popular with foreigners in Bamako, the capital, killing five people. In June, gunmen killed three soldiers in a village near the Mauritania border. The next day extremists briefly occupied a village near Ivory Coast. The extremist group Ansar Dine said it was behind those attacks.

TIME ebola

Mali Is Now Ebola-Free

Mali Ebola Spared No More
Baba Ahmed—AP A health worker sprays disinfectants near a mosque, after the body of a man suspected of dying from the Ebola virus was washed inside before being buried in Bamako, Mali

The country has gone 42 days without reporting a new case

Mali is officially Ebola-free after going 42 days without reporting a new case, according to the World Health Organization.

The country’s Health Minister Ousmane Kone made an announcement during a national broadcast on Sunday night.

During his speech, Kone heaped praise on the country’s health workers and Malian authorities for “weeks of intense work” that led to the result, according to Agence France-Presse.

Mali recorded its first Ebola case in October after a 2-year-old contracted the deadly virus. Following the incident, the country launched a massive eradication campaign.

In total, the disease only infected eight people in the country, but six of them were killed by it, according to statistics compiled by the WHO.

More than 8,400 people have succumbed to the deadly virus in West Africa.

TIME ebola

U.N.: Ebola Outbreak Will Take Several More Months to Contain

Liberia Ebola Missed Goals
Abbas Dulleh—AP Health workers wearing Ebola protective gear spray the shrouded body of a suspected Ebola victim with disinfectant at an Ebola treatment center at Tubmanburg, on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, on Nov. 28, 2014

The U.N. goal of containing 100% of Ebola cases by Jan. 1 will not be met

The U.N.’s special envoy on Ebola said Thursday that it would be several months before the outbreak in West Africa is under control.

Dr. David Nabarro said international governments as well as local communities had taken a “massive shift” in responding to the crisis over the past four month, the Associated Press reports.

However, he noted that more needed to be done to contain the spread of the disease in western Sierra Leone and northern Mali.

“It’s going to take, I’m afraid, several more months before we can truly declare that the outbreak is coming under control,” Nabarro said.

The World Health Organization aimed to have 100% of cases isolated by Jan. 1, but acknowledges that previous targets have not been met.

[AP]

TIME ebola

The U.N. Says It Cannot Meet Its Dec. 1 Target Date for Containing Ebola

TOPSHOTS-SLEONE-HEALTH-EBOLA-WAFRICA
Francisco Leong—AFP/Getty Images A cemetery at the Kenama Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone run by the Red Cross Society on Nov. 15, 2014

"Intense" transmission of the virus in West Africa, especially in Sierra Leone, continues to bedevil efforts

The U.N. mission responsible for responding to the Ebola outbreak will miss its Dec. 1 target for containing the disease because of rising transmission rates in the West African countries of Sierra Leone and Mali.

Anthony Banbury, the head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), told Reuters that though progress has been made in some areas — including in Liberia, one of the countries hardest hit by the current outbreak — setbacks elsewhere have put the mission off its target.

UNMEER said in September that it hoped to have 70% of Ebola patients in treatment, and 70% of Ebola victims safely buried, by the start of next month. But just 13% of Ebola patients have been isolated in Sierra Leone, according to a UNMEER statement.

“Progress is slow and we are falling short, and we need to accelerate our efforts,” said Amadu Kamara, the U.N.’s Ebola crisis manager for Sierra Leone, in a statement.

The Ebola virus has killed some 5,459 people worldwide, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The most recent World Health Organization situation report, released on Friday, describes transmission rates in all three countries as “intense.”

Mali, which was believed to be Ebola-free after a toddler’s death from the virus there in October, said on Monday that an eighth person in the nation had tested positive for the disease.

Still, UNMEER said that it is hopeful that efforts to stop the virus in Mali will benefit from lessons learned in the three nations still reeling from Ebola.

Banbury also told Reuters that Liberia was a bright point in the mission’s efforts to contain the virus.

Liberia’s President expressed optimism at a ceremony on Monday that her country, whose economy has been gutted by the outbreak, could still reach its goal of no new Ebola cases by Christmas.

“We’ve set a pretty tough target,” said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Associated Press reports. “But when you set a target, it means that you stay focused on that target and on that goal.”

TIME ebola

Passengers Arriving in the U.S. From Mali Will Now Be Screened for Ebola

Coast Guard Corpsman checks the temperature of a traveler at Washington Dulles International Airport
Handout—Reuters A U.S. Coast Guard Corpsman working with the Office of Field Operations checks the temperature of a traveler who has recently traveled to either Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia in this handout picture from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection taken at Washington Dulles International Airport on Oct. 16, 2014

Travelers will also have to monitor their temperatures and any potential symptoms for 21 days

From Monday, airports around the U.S. will begin to screen and monitor for Ebola passengers flying into the States from the West African country of Mali.

The Department for Homeland Security (DHS) says although there are no direct flights from Mali to the U.S., around 15 to 20 travelers each day transit through other countries to reach America, NBC reports.

“The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommended this measure because there have been a number of confirmed cases of Ebola in Mali in recent days, and a large number of individuals may have been exposed to those cases,” the DHS said in a statement.

Travelers flying from Mali will also have to monitor their temperatures and any potential symptoms for 21 days after they arrive.

The U.S. already carries out these protocols on passengers flying from Ebola-hit Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

[NBC]

TIME ebola

Ebola Death Toll Surpasses 5,000 Worldwide

A team transports a corpse for burial near an Ebola treatment center in Suakoko, Liberia, Oct. 5, 2014.
Daniel Berehulak—The New York Times/Redux A team transports a corpse for burial near an Ebola treatment center in Suakoko, Liberia, Oct. 5, 2014.

The latest update from the World Health Organization presents a mixed picture of the fight to contain the worst outbreak of Ebola on record

More than 5,000 people have died from the Ebola virus, marking a macabre waypost that coincides with the disease’s return to Mali and a pickup in its spread in Sierra Leone, according to a status update released Wednesday by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ebola has killed 5,160 out of 14,098 people infected across eight countries, according to the group’s most recent update, which presents an uncertain stage — dented with disappointments but also peaked with some bright points — in its effort to bring the Ebola outbreak under control.

In one hopeful sign, the rate of Ebola transmission is no longer increasing at a national level in Guinea and Liberia, though some areas of both countries are still seeing an escalation.

Yet Sierra Leone, where 1,169 people have died, continues to weather “steep increases” in the number of cases, says the WHO. Some 421 new cases were reported in the nation in just one week in November alone.

And in Mali, which was thought to be Ebola-free after an infected toddler died there in October, at least one person has recently died from the virus, while two deaths are suspected to have also been from Ebola, according to the update. One of the suspected cases, a grand imam, was buried after a “ritual washing” and a funeral assembly attended by “many mourners,” the WHO says.

Meanwhile, the WHO has received just 49% of the $260 million it deems necessary to handle the Ebola outbreak, according to the group’s latest figures. Though an additional 15% of the total amount has been pledged to the organization, it is still wanting for 36% of the required sum.

Out of 4,611 hospital beds planned for Ebola treatment centers in the three hardest-hit West African nations, just 24% are operational, and only 4% of the some 2,636 beds planned for community care centers have been set up. Just 38% of the 370 or so burial teams the WHO plans to train are good to go.

Still, all districts in the affected countries are within 24-hour access of a laboratory clinic, and some 95% of people the WHO is monitoring for possible exposure are receiving daily communications, the organization says.

Read next: Ebola Treatment Clinical Trials to Start in West Africa

TIME ebola

Mali Aims to Limit Ebola Spread After First Case Dies

Electron micrograph of Ebola virus
NIAID/EPA

Two-year-old girl from Guinea tested positive on Oct. 23, died the next day

A two-year-old Guinean girl who recently traveled to Mali and was later confirmed to have Ebola has died, officials said on Friday, one day after her positive diagnosis meant the virus had reached its sixth nation in West Africa.

The child died around 4 p.m. local time at a treatment center in the western town of Kayes, a health official told Reuters. On Thursday, Health Minister Ousmane Kone told state television that she had traveled from neighboring Guinea, where more than 900 people have died in an outbreak that has killed nearly 4,900 and infected more than 9,900 others. The girl was admitted to a hospital on Wednesday night, where she tested positive for Ebola.

Health officials told the World Health Organization (WHO), according to a report released Friday, that she was accompanied to Mali by her grandmother. The girl’s mother was reported to have died a few weeks earlier, but WHO could not yet confirm that the grandmother went to Kissidougou, in southern Guinea, for the funeral. The pair returned to Mali by public transportation and arrived in the capital, Bamako, where they stayed for two hours before moving on to Kayes.

The girl had begun bleeding from the nose before she left Guinea, the report found, “meaning that the child was symptomatic during their travels through Mali” and that “multiple opportunities for exposure occurred when the child was visibly symptomatic.” The initial investigation identified 43 close and unprotected contacts, including 10 health workers.

The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene said in a statement it had “taken all necessary steps to prevent the spread of the virus” and the government called for calm, claiming it had identified and isolated those who had contact with the child and begun monitoring for symptoms. Tracing this particular case is “a work-in-progress,” Isabelle Nuttall, the WHO’s director of Global Capacities, Alert and Response, tells TIME. WHO had already sent a team of 10 to Mali at the beginning of the week to work on mobilization activities and preparedness operations, and is sending more as part of a rapid response team.

Mali still has its border open to travelers from Guinea, though border checkpoints and health points have been implemented on major roads and crossings. Greg Rose, health advisor to the British Red Cross, says the fact that the child is now “in a more remote location is a good thing” because Kayes is not situated on the main transport routes (unlike larger towns situated on the Niger River) and only has a population of around 127,000, a fraction of Bamako’s 1.8 million. Another positive, Rose says, is that “it doesn’t look like the situation from where this child has come is out of control,” which could reduce the risk of transmission. He adds that Kissidougou, where the child’s mother is believed to have died, has seen relatively few cases since the beginning of the epidemic and is now the site of a treatment center.

Rose believes that being able to isolate people who are asymptomatic will prove a major advantage for Mali. Since the government has reacted very quickly and identified this case early, he adds, it will be able to do much more to contain any spread of Ebola from this sole case. In comparison, “when you have a disseminated outbreak like in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, where resources are limited, they can only isolate symptomatic people.”

Nuttall believes it is still too premature to assess the effectiveness of Mali’s public health response. But “so far, it looks good,” Rose says. “If you look back to Guinea when the outbreak first began in January of this year, nothing was being done because everybody was taken by surprise,” he adds. “Experience of Ebola in other contexts had shown that Ebola outbreaks tend to burn out so Guinea was neglected, which is why this got out of hand.”

While experts believe Mali’s health system is stronger than some of its neighbors, it is still quite weak. “In this part of Africa, as a general rule, the health system needs to be strengthened,” Nuttall says. Maternal mortality ratio, which Rose says is a solid indicator of public health infrastructure because it depends so much on the provision of health services and skilled attendants, is at 550 deaths per 100,000 live births in Mali. That figure isn’t as high as other countries affected by Ebola — Liberia stands at 640, Guinea at 650 and Sierra Leone at 1,100 — but is still remarkably high when compared with the U.S. (28 per 100,000) and the U.K., at just eight.

As the situations in Nigeria and Senegal have shown — both were recently declared Ebola-free — it is possible to contain the virus and control the epidemic. But as more cases pop up in the three hardest-hit countries, and now with Mali’s first case quickly turning deadly, controlling anxiety and fear alongside any actual spread could be a feat.

TIME ebola

Mali Minister of Health Confirms First Ebola Case

First case is a 2-year-old

Mali’s Minister of Health said the country has its first case of Ebola in a tweet Thursday.

The patient is reportedly a two-year-old girl who recently came into the country from Guinea, Reuters reported. The country borders Guinea, where the Ebola outbreak started. Mali is one of the first countries to start experimental vaccine trials.

TIME White House

Obama Hosts 51 African Leaders Amid Grumbling Over His Record

President Barack Obama speaks to participants of the Presidential Summit for the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in Washington on July 28, 2014.
Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP President Barack Obama speaks to participants of the Presidential Summit for the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in Washington on July 28, 2014.

Putting aside Gaza, Iraq and other distractions, Obama focuses on legacy

Barack Obama came to office representing the hopes and dreams of an entire continent. His father, after all, came to America not in the cargo hold of a slave ship hundreds of years ago, but on an academic scholarship from his native Kenya in 1954: for many on the African continent, Obama was the cousin who’d made it big in America. His election was a symbol of hope, and that maybe help was on the way.

Obama stroked those expectations and rapture with the reissuing of his book in 2005, Dreams from My Father, and with a triumphal African tour in 2006, which sparked the first speculation that he might make a bid for the White House. But in his first term in office, Obama visited Africa only once, stopping at the tail end of his first international trip in Cairo deliver his speech launching “A New Beginning” with the Arab world and spending 24-hours in Ghana where he outlined the four themes upon which, he said, the future of Africa would depend: democracy, opportunity, health and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

Those four “pillars,” as he called them, went all but neglected for the next four years as Obama’s attention swung from domestic priorities like health care reform to crises in Syria, Ukraine and Iraq. So, now, as Obama turns an eye to legacy, he is hosting 51 African leaders at the White House this week for a summit. But legacy requires achievement, and Obama has left much undone in Africa.

To be fair, Obama had a tough act to follow. His predecessor George W. Bush created the Millennium Challenge Corporation to boost foreign aid and the Presidents’ Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, where he invested $15 billion for AIDS drugs—a program universally credited for bringing down AIDS deaths in Africa. Bush also had a security vision for Africa, establishing military bases and a joint African command. He helped create an autonomous government in South Sudan in 2005 to stop the genocide in Darfur. And Bush expanded a free trade agreement created under Bill Clinton called the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA.

Under Obama—or, perhaps better said, the Republican cost-cutting Congress—Millennium Challenge funding has remained flat and PEPFAR has been cut from $6.63 billion to $6.42 bullion in fiscal 2013 and is expected to face another $50 million in cuts this year. South Sudan, whose independence America celebrated in 2011, fell into civil war this year after the U.S. neglected to appoint a special envoy for more than six months. And AGOA’s renewal remains stalled before a Congress full of members who want to rewrite it, or potentially kill it, much like the Export Import Bank, which finances most U.S. business on the continent.

While Obama did help intervene with NATO in Libya and sent special forces to Uganda in 2011 to hunt down the warlord Joseph Kony, who has yet to be found, Obama has otherwise taken a hands off approach militarily in Africa. In Somalia, he sent in seal team that took out an al-shabab leader but only after that group’s terrorist attack against a high-end Nairobi shopping mall attack, which killed 67 people from 13 countries. He declined to send troops into Mali with France but provided air support, but only after a terrorist attack on a gas plant in neighboring Algeria claimed the lives of three Americans.

“There were tremendous expectations,” says Carl LeVan, an African studies professor at American University, who has just written a book on Nigeria. “There were big expectations from some of the big emerging African players on the continent. What has emerge over time is an appreciation of the American presidency as a complex organization that speaks on behalf of a big country and not just one man.”

Obama second term African record has been better. Last year, he toured the continent with hundreds of business leaders in tow, touting American investment. His second national security adviser, Susan Rice, is largely credited with the U.S. intervention in Libya and has a long history with the continent, which she views as a priority. Ahead of that tour, Obama launched Power Africa, a $7 billion program to provide power to 20 million sub-Saharan Africans. He also started the Young Leaders’ initiative, which provides scholarships for young Africans to top U.S. universities.

Obama emphasizes how America’s innovation has helped Africa skip several steps of development. He points to the broad use of smart phones across the continent as evidence of how American innovation allowed Africa to skip poles and wires and still bring, not just phone service, but online global banking and Internet connectivity to the most rural of communities. America, he argued to The Economist last week, is “better than just about anybody else” at such applications of technology.

But America is no long Africa’s largest patron. As the U.S. is pivoting to Asia, Asia is pivoting to Africa. China’s investments in Africa surpassed those of the U.S. in 2010 and are now five times as big—$15 billion to U.S.’s $3 billion. China’s investment in the raw-resource laden continent is expected to reach as high as $400 billion over the next half century. While, Obama says “the more the merrier,” as he told The Economist, “my advice to African leaders is to make sure that if, in fact, China is putting in roads and bridges, number one, that they’re hiring African workers; number two, that the roads don’t just lead from the mine, to the port to Shanghai.”

To that end, Obama has a distinctly American message for African leaders. He has seized upon the conference to underline the power of democracy for emerging nations. It is not by accident that he invited so many former African leaders: a message to Africa’s many aging dictators that it’s okay to step aside and give someone else a chance. Obama has proven that he isn’t Africa’s savior, and there’s only so much he can do. “If there is any lesson regarding development and stability that has been consistent since the end of World War II and the colonial era,” says Anthony Cordesman, a top conflict analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “it is that we can only really help those states that are helping themselves.”

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