Category Archives: Special Report

Kenya’s terror survivors need more trauma support

The Dusit hotel, which was part of the complex attacked by terrorists in Nairobi in January 2019, has reopened. 21 people died in the attack, bringing the number killed in terror attacks in Kenya to at least300 in the past five years. These attacks have been traumatic for many of those affected. Stephen Asatsa tells The Conversation Africa’s Moina Spooner what needs to be done to support them.

Civilians run for safety as police provide cover during the suicide bombing and mass shooting attack on the 14 Riverside complex. Wikimedia
Civilians run for safety as police provide cover during the suicide bombing and mass shooting attack on the 14 Riverside complex. Wikimedia

How does trauma affect people who are directly or indirectly involved in a terror attack?

When a person feels like they’re in a crisis, the hindbrain (lower back of the brain) is activated while the forebrain is switched off. The hindbrain deals with survival functions: fight, flight or freeze. The forebrain deals with higher functions like logical reasoning, language and imagination. The forebrain isn’t helpful in times of crisis because it’s slow to make decisions.

This means that initial interventions must target the hindbrain to normalise the body from its state of emergency. Meditation, breathing exercises, massage and physical activities – like dance and games – can all help to relax the hindbrain. Later it can process the traumatic event during long term counselling.

Once the body returns to normal, it is important to track unprocessed emotions and help the survivors to express them. Social support is one of survivors’ greatest resources for survivors. This can be offered by strengthening family and friend ties to promote long term recovery, even after counselling stops. Family members should also be actively involved in crisis interventions.

Untreated trauma is dangerous. It may develop into other mental health issues that lead to drug abuse, depression, anger and hatred.

What does research show about the type of trauma people experience and the effectiveness of counselling at overcoming it?

Threatening events lead to direct or secondary trauma. Direct trauma involves physically experiencing or witnessing the event – people who survive the threatening event, as well as those who may not have faced the threat but saw others being attacked. It would also apply to rescue staff like the police, fire fighters and doctors.

Secondary trauma involves people who were not physically present during the event but learn about it through others or through the mass media.

Symptoms are similar in both types of trauma. Traumatised people tend to be hyper vigilant, agitated, suffer from negative mood swings and avoid reminders of the crisis. But often, those who experience secondary trauma are neglected.

Yet research shows that from a single traumatic event, there are instances where more people have secondary trauma. For example a survey on the effects of terrorism in Pakistan reported 3.9% physical effects (direct trauma – meaning they were present at the location of the crisis), while 79.2% reported mental health effects (secondary trauma).

How prevalent has counselling been for those affected by terror attacks in Kenya?

The use of counselling services in Kenya is very low. During the crisis intervention that followed the 1998 terror attack on the US embassy in Nairobi, just 15% of survivors sought counselling services.

Recently there’s been an improvement, possibly because of increased awareness and moretrained psychologists.

In my study on the Garissa University terror attack survivors – in which 148 people were killed – I found that most survivors received counselling services. Only 16.5% didn’t. But a large number only had “critical incident debriefing”, which usually involves fewer than three counselling sessions. Survivors may need longer forms of intervention to give the healing process enough time.

I also found that women were more likely to attend long-term counselling. This could be attributed to cultural reasons: men are socialised not to ask for help even when they need it.

What type of counselling works best in these situations?

Many different approaches can be used to help terror survivors.

Psychological first aid focuses on initial emotional support offered to victims of trauma in a bid to reduce distress and prevent further trauma. This is not necessarily offered by mental health practitioners, but by any available helper.

Critical incident debriefing is offered to trauma victims with the aim of preventing the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe condition that could drastically affect a person’s normal functioning by keeping them withdrawn, highly agitated, restless, and sometimes suicidal.

These trauma interventions are the most prevalent forms of psychological support in times of crises. But they are short-term. Missing out on long-term counselling poses a threat to survivors’ mental health. Survivors of the Garissa terrorist attack, for instance, pinpointed a few painful experiences that slowed their recovery. These included the short term nature of counselling, counselling being stopped too soon and relatives being excluded from crisis intervention.

There needs to be a shift to long-term counselling which targets the survivors, their family members, rescue workers, counsellors, news reporters and the general public.

Are there lessons from other countries on how best to support victims?

There’s a lack of awareness in Kenya about the importance of mental health. This may be partly why people don’t seek out counselling. In some developed countries, by contrast, mental health is fully entrenched in public health institutions.

In Kenya, the mental health sector is not well regulated, compromising the quality of services. Legal frameworks – like the Counsellors and Psychologists Act of 2014 – haven’t been implemented because of competing professional bodies that make it hard to monitor the profession. The ministry of health also seems reluctant to register and license counsellors and psychologists, which could be the reason why humanitarian organisations often take the lead in coordinating psychologists during a crisis.

If the government allocated funds to mental health, and took it seriously, there would be better services for survivors of traumatic events, like terrorism, who would receive proper psychological help.


Here is why Yahya Jammeh is unlikely to face justice soon

Two weeks ago, new allegations were added to a litany of human rights abuses that have been levied against the former president of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh. The exiled former leader, who once infamously claimed that he could cure AIDS with his own secret herbal mixture and spiritual healing techniques has been accused of sexually abusing at least three women at the height of his power.

Then President of The Gambia Yahya Jammeh and First Lady Zeinab arrive at the White House in Washington DC for the US Africa Leaders Summit in 2014. EPA/Michael Reynolds
Then President of The Gambia Yahya Jammeh and First Lady Zeinab arrive at the White House in Washington DC for the US Africa Leaders Summit in 2014. EPA/Michael Reynolds

Jammeh ruled The Gambia with a totalitarian grip for 22 years after seizing power in an army coup in 1994. After he suffered a shock defeat in the 2016 presidential election, he refused to relinquish power. It was only after regional troops mobilised troops on The Gambian border that he fled to Equatorial Guinea. He’s still there.

Since then, allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, freedom of speech violations, and suspicious deaths in government custody have emerged. To get to the bottom of the allegations hearings are being carried out by a Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission set up by the new government.

Under the slogan, “never again”, the Commission has the job of creating an impartial historical record of violations of human rights that took place under Jammeh’s regime. It is hoped that process achieves a number of objectives. These include promoting healing and reconciliation, addressing the impunity of previous members of government, establishing the fate of disappeared victims, allowing victims to tell their account of violations, and to grant reparations where appropriate.

So far, the public has heard from current and former members of armed forces over an alleged counter-coup plot against Jammeh early in his rule. The testimony of those soldiers has been horrific. But even if more victims come forward and speak out, and more human rights violations are revealed during future testimony from both victims and abusers, pursuing legal consequences against Jammeh is likely to prove very difficult, if not impossible.

The problem is one that those pursuing justice against former dictators and human rights abusers have encountered before. After Jammeh lost power, he fled to Equitorial Guinea with the equivalent of more than $1 billion from public funds. Equitorial Guinea is not a signatory to the Rome Statute and has no obligation to return him to The Gambia to face justice. This has left Jammeh’s fate in the hands of the country’s President Teodoro Obiang, a close friend and ally.

The evidence

In one incident an alleged member of the counter-coup was arrested, beaten, stripped naked, shot and stabbed with bayonets. It was then discovered that his body was too tall for the grave that had been dug, so one of the executioners chopped off his legs with an axe.

Three women so far have levied accusations of sexual violence against Jammeh. Two have remained anonymous while one – Fatou “Toufah” Jallow – has agreed to come forward publicly. She is expected to give testimony to the Commission later in the year.

In graphic detail, Toufah explained to Human Rights Watch how she became a target of the president’s unwanted attentions when, at the age of 18, she won a state-sponsored beauty pageant. As part of her duties as a beauty queen, she was called to a meeting with Jammeh, who began to shower her with presents and money. After a sexual attack in the presidential residence, and fears for her future safety, she disguised herself in a burka and fled across the border to Senegal.

Two other women have also made allegations to Human Rights Watch, but they have chosen to remain anonymous. Marion Volkmann-Brandau, the researcher who exposed these allegations, believes that there were many more victims.

Toufah has said that she hopes her revelations encourage other victims to come forward and share their stories. Her plea has been echoed by the Attorney General  who has praised her actions and asked others to speak out.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has not yet examined any allegations of sexual violence. These hearings are due to take place later in the year.

Justice might be elusive

Pursuing legal consequences against Jammeh is likely to prove very difficult, if not impossible. One reason for this is that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission does not have the power to prosecute Jammeh, or any other individual for human rights abuses. Its powers are limited to recommending that the Attorney General acts on cases that can be taken before the courts.

Even if cases are brought, the Gambian government would have to extradite Jammeh from Equatorial Guinea to face trial. Initially, there were hopes that Obiang, who himself has been accused of numerous human rights atrocities, might feel political pressure to return Jammeh to The Gambia to face his accusers. But a recent video of the two celebrating New Year together extinguished those hopes.

At least in the short term, it looks unlikely that Jammeh will face either his victims or consequences for human rights abuses.

Sophie Gallop, Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From drug dealers to tortillas sellers: the future of former gang members

Becoming a gang member is often assumed to imply few long-term life opportunities beyond dying or being imprisoned. In most of the world, however, this only concerns a minority of gang members, with the majority tending to “mature out” out of their gang, and becoming (more or less) upstanding members of society.

Indeed, a striking finding of my longitudinal research in Nicaragua is that many former gang members can actively thrive directly as a result of their gang-related experiences, to the extent that we can talk about there being clear dividends.

Only gang leaders thrive

In their book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner famously highlight how the benefits of being a member of a drug-dealing gang are often quite limited. In particular, the authors describe how the overwhelming majority of those involved in the US drug trade earn less than the minimum wage, with only gang leaders receiving anything in the way of substantial material returns.

While this is not necessarily the case everywhere, there is no doubt that the material benefits of drug dealing can often be unevenly distributed. In a scene from the film Scarface (1983), gang leader Tony Montana enjoys the profits of his drug-dealing business before going ‘legit’.

In a scene from the film Scarface (1983), gang leader Tony Montana enjoys the profits of his drug-dealing business before going ‘legit’

At the same time, being a member of a drug gang can also provide individuals with more intangible benefits drawing from street-experience or specific skills and knowledge inherent to the “job”. These can potentially have more important consequences for post-drug dealing trajectories than any putative material returns.

However, the long-term benefits are highly variable, as my research shows through the contrasting trajectories of Milton and Bismarck, two former members of a drug-dealing gang in the barrio Luis Fanor Hernández, the poor neighbourhood in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, where I carry out my work.

Selling crack on a bicycle

Between 2010 and 2011, Milton was a crack dealer, selling drugs in a concealed manner to avoid attracting attention. As he explained:

“I wouldn’t sell on the streets but would only sell to regular clients and … deliver drugs to them directly, whenever they wanted it instead of having them come to the barrio … I had a good number of clients, who would text me whenever they wanted some crack, which I’d then deliver to them on my bicycle.”

Milton was a successful dealer but he did not save much money, preferring to spend conspicuously. He ceased drug dealing in 2011 after the drug trade in Luis Fanor Hernández collapsed due to the local wholesaler’s arrest. Finding himself out of work, he decided to start a tortilla-making business instead.

“Everybody likes tortillas”

“Why a tortilla-making business, you ask? Well, my mother was a tortillera – you know, a tortilla-maker – but she was getting old and wanted to give it up, so I told her, why don’t you let me take over?”

Milton went on to explain how normally tortilleras would make their tortillas early in the morning, but by the time they go out to sell them they would be all stale and cold, and “nobody likes a cold tortilla”. He had an idea that would enable him to sell fresh, steaming-hot tortillas:

“I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I do like I did with drugs, get people to text me when they want tortillas, and I’d then make them and deliver them straight away?’”

Tortillas come in all form and shapes (Mexico, 2016). Omar Torres/AFP

Milton therefore confidently approached local businesses with samples of his tortillas, and told people that if they wanted fresh, hot tortillas, they should just text him.

“At first only a few people did so, but word got around, and pretty quickly I was getting more orders than I could cope with.”

A success story

These were the days when rapid-food delivery companies were in their infancy worldwide. In Nicaragua such services were unknown, so this new way of producing and delivering tortillas was a game changer. Milton’s business expanded rapidly, to the extent that he had to hire five people to make tortillas and invest in a motorcycle for deliveries.

A delivery motor-bike parked in front of a tortilla restaurant in Mexico. digiyesica/FlickrCC BY-SA

Now producing around 3,000 tortillas a day, Milton’s business is extremely successful, and completely dominates the tortilla market in Luis Fanor Hernández and its surroundings.

In 2016, it provided him with a weekly profit of almost US$200, more than twice Nicaragua’s monthly median wage, and about 80% of what he used to make as a drug dealer.

This success is directly due to Milton’s having drawn on his drug-dealing experience to structure his new business. In particular, the use of mobile technology and the “just in time” delivery enabled him to gain an edge on existing tortilla sellers. Normally this field of economic activity has traditional means of operating and low profit margins. But Milton established the basis for an exceptionally profitable mode of operation.

Bismarck, the real-estate baron

At the same time, the knowledge and skills learned in gangs are not always useful or deployable in a sustainable manner. The case of Bismarck, who dealt drugs in barrio Luis Fanor Hernández between 2000 and 2006, is a case in point.

Unlike Milton, Bismarck saved a significant proportion of his drug-dealing profits. He had much less of a conspicuously consuming lifestyle, and would regularly invest in real estate, buying houses to rent out and building an inexpensive hostel in Luis Fanor Hernández.

When he stopped dealing drugs, these properties ensured that he continued to enjoy a comfortable monthly revenue, albeit equivalent to about 55% of what he had earned as a drug dealer, something that Bismarck professed himself to be more than happy with insofar as “being a businessman was much less dangerous than being a drug dealer”.In Colombia, tour operators guide tourists around Pablo Escobar’s famous properties. But real-estate can be risky.

In Colombia, tour operators guide tourists around Pablo Escobar’s famous properties. But real-estate can be risky.

A risky venture

Unlike other property owners in the neighbourhood, Bismarck was successful at obtaining prompt rental payment because he drew on his gang experience to intimidate, threaten and sometimes enact violence against his renters.

This proved to be something of a double-edged sword, as within a few years, Bismarck lost all of his property portfolio except for his own home, due to the very reason that had made his real estate business initially successful. Some of his houses were expropriated by renters, themselves former gang members, who banded up to intimidate and beat up Bismarck. His hostel was burned down by a group of ex-military men staying there who did not take well to being threatened when they failed to pay their rent.

Bismarck’s post-drug dealing trajectory thus contrasts strongly with Milton’s, and highlights how the skills and knowledge gained through having been a gang member can have different consequences and variable outcomes. Not all gang-related skills and knowledge are always beneficial, and their dividends depend very much on the way and field of activity within which they are deployed.

But knowing that the gang member experience is not necessarily always negative and can sometimes potentially lead to more positive outcomes is clearly important in relation to developing coherent policies and opportunities for former gang members that will harness their undoubted vitality and allow them to maximise their post-gang contribution to society.

Dennis Rodgers is a research Professor, Anthropology and Sociology, Graduate Institute – Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Using Libya to understand the failed coup in Venezuela

To understand what makes a coup succeed, as recently happened in Sudan and Algeria, or fail, as it did this week in Venezuela, it helps to consider the strange events in Libya a half-century ago.

Protesters in Istanbul in 2016. When rogue officers tried to oust Turkey’s government, political support never materialized. Credit Gurcan Ozturk/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For much of 1969, the country was filled with rumors of an imminent coup. In September, a handful of military vehicles rolled up to government offices and communication centers, and a terse statement announced the end of Libya’s decrepit monarchy.

Army units around the country, assuming that military chiefs were leading the coup and expecting them to show up at any moment, bloodlessly secured the rest of Libya. Foreign powers quickly recognized the new government. Nobody bothered to check who was leading the takeover.

A week later, an unknown 27-year-old army signal corps lieutenant announced that he and a few dozen low-level officers had in fact staged the coup. His name was Muammar el-Qaddafi.

If Libyans felt tricked, it was too late. Dislodging the officers would require a critical mass of Libya’s power brokers, citizens and foreign allies to come together against the new rulers, something they hadn’t managed even against the unpopular monarchy.

Mr. el-Qaddafi held power for 42 years.

This week in Venezuela, the opposition leader Juan Guaidó struggled to create that sense of inevitability for his plan to oust the president, Nicolás Maduro, but the military backing he called for never emerged.

Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, trying to rally the military to rise up against the government. Credit Fernando Llano/Associated Press

His failure, alongside the success of recent movements to oust unpopular leaders in Algeria and Sudan, underscores the dynamics that typically make a coup succeed or fail. A historic lull in coups and revolutions appears to be ending, making these dynamics increasingly consequential well beyond Venezuela.

Confidence Games

We tend to think of coups as driven by angry protesters or rogue officers. But, in practice, they are almost always brought about by the country’s dominant political, military and business elite.

Those power brokers, after all, have the final say over whether a leader stays or goes. But they can only remove a leader if they act together — making any coup what Naunihal Singh, a leader scholar of coups, called a “coordination game.”

In Libya, Mr. el-Qaddafi was able to set off the political equivalent of a bank run, with much of Libya joining his takeover, because the government’s fall was widely assumed as imminent.

That sense of inevitability meant that each Libyan official assumed that the coup would succeed and that the new government would have wide backing, so they better go along.

Mr. Guaidó has been trying to cultivate a similar sense of consensus and inevitability among Venezuela’s power brokers.

Some of Mr. Guaidó’s failures have been tactical, such as issuing his call to action on Twitter, Mr. Singh said. Coup leaders traditionally favor national TV and radio stations because seizing them is a way to convince the country that they have already taken control.

Mr. Guaidó has also called on military leaders to join him, drawing attention to his lack of support.

“You don’t say ‘We can win if only we have your support.’ What you say is ‘We’ve already won,’” Mr. Singh said. “By making it seem like you’ve already succeeded, you get the support necessary to succeed.”

There is a deeper issue that has stalled attempts at removing Mr. Maduro: Venezuela’s power brokers, like its citizens and the wider international community, are deeply split.

Even if each individual political or business elite might be better off with Mr. Maduro gone, they cannot coordinate to create the necessary sense of inevitability. But many are receptive enough that the threat of a coup hangs over Venezuela.

Libyan leader Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi in Tripoli in 2011. Credit Moises Saman for The New York Times

It took 12 hours for Mr. Maduro to appear on TV announcing he was still in power — an ominously long delay.

Initiating a coup without that critical mass of elite support can be dangerous. When rogue officers tried to oust Turkey’s government in 2016, they appeared to signal for political support that never materialized. The attempt, and the government’s response, ended with dozens killed and the plotters in jail.

Demonstrating Inevitability

Turkey’s debacle underscored that a coup is less a military operation than a collective action problem.

The elites who determine a coup’s outcome are typically too numerous and dispersed to communicate directly. And they are risk-averse. The coup leaders’ task is to persuade each elite that all the others will join in, spurring them to move in unison.

This often means marshaling protesters and foreign governments to the cause, creating the appearance of consensus.

That is why Venezuela’s power struggle is partly playing out over a seemingly technical issue: Mr. Guaidó’s claim to be the legitimate president.

A leader’s legitimacy works like modern currencies. The paper itself has value only because consumers treat it as having value. Likewise, a leader is legitimate only as long as his country’s citizens and institutions treat him as legitimate.

If enough Venezuelan citizens and institutions are swayed to treat Mr. Maduro as no longer legitimate, then he will cease to be legitimate in practice.

But a critical mass still treat him as legitimate, if only passively. Venezuela itself is a case in point: Even as runaway inflation has rendered its currency near valueless, citizens continue to use it.

Manufacturing Popular Consensus

Mr. Guaidó’s challenge may be that he is trying to solve two problems at once. He is trying to use hints of elite defection from Mr. Maduro’s government to spur a wider popular uprising. And he is trying to use protests to encourage more elite defections.

Those two audiences, in any movement to unseat a government, tend to want mutually exclusive outcomes. Elites typically want to uphold the status quo. Citizens usually want deeper changes: democracy, which threatens elites’ power, and rule of law, which might threaten elites’ income and even their freedom.

In Zimbabwe in 2017, this contradiction became apparent only after elites complied with protester demands to oust Robert Mugabe, the longtime leader. Rather than delivering democracy, they installed another insider.

The protests most likely provided the necessary spur for Zimbabwe’s elites to coordinate in removing Mr.

Mugabe. Still, they put their own interests first, using the protests as an excuse to switch out an unreliable old leader for a new one. The coup may have been a success for Zimbabwe’s elites, but arguably not for its citizens.

Former President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe at his residence in Harare last year. Elites who backed his ouster installed another insider. Credit Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press

Protesters in Algeria and Sudan, after successfully pushing for the ouster of their own aging despots, are watching for a similar bait-and-switch.

Both coups were textbook cases: Powerful and tightly unified elites, who would have coordinated with relative ease, seized on protests to remove a weak and unpopular leader.

The odds of a coup leading to democracy are slim. Since World War II, democracy followed only one in four instances in which a dictator was removed from office.

Even when coup leaders begin a real transition to democracy, they will often ensure that the elite’s privileges and rights remain in place, all but guaranteeing that full democracy cannot take hold until the old elite quite literally die out.

Still, for citizens in countries without meaningful elections, protests calling on their elite to remove the leader by force might be the only plausible way to force change.

Amy Erica Smith, an Iowa State University political scientist, wrote for the website Vox that conditions in Venezuela heighten odds of a coup leading to democracy, citing “a discredited authoritarian regime; a history of citizen-led resistance against the regime; an alliance between democratic politicians and the military; a history of partisan electoral competition.”

Still, the same conditions that have made Mr. Maduro’s government unusually resistant to coup attempts — a divided elite and population, deep corruption in the military, a deadlock among foreign powers — could make establishing democracy difficult.

“History is littered with cases of military-supported transitions of power,” Ms. Smith wrote, “that are supposed to lead to elections and democracy … and don’t.”

The Interpreter is a column by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub exploring the ideas and context behind major world events. Follow them on Twitter @Max_Fisher and @amandataub.

Amanda Taub contributed reporting.

Some unfinished businesses to note as South Africa freedom day approaches

South Africans celebrate Freedom Day on April 27 every year to mark the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. A quarter of a century later, though, questions remain: how much and whose freedom is to be celebrated?

The differing answers among voters might affect the results of the national elections on May 8.

South Africans can still not celebrate freedom from want. They are painfully aware that one cannot eat democracy. Formal political equality is rightly celebrated as an achievement by those who suffered under dictatorship, minority rule and other forms of oppressive regimes that denied them basic rights. But democracy doesn’t put food on the table. Nor does it provide decent shelter or secure a dignified living.

Former US President Franklin D.

Roosevelt’s famous 1941 speech to Congress identified four freedoms: those of speech, of worship, from want and from fear.

Freedom from want, [as he explained], means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants – everywhere in the world.

Acutely aware of this, the drafters of the Freedom Charter – which was adopted in 1955 by the African National Congress (ANC) that now governs South Africa, among other anti-apartheid activists – included far more than just political freedoms. It also has the sharing of the country’s wealth among all people as a fundamental principle.

But these ideals, still considered a basic blueprint for the country, have – to a large extent – remained remote goals.

The South African Constitution is among the very few to recognise socio-economic rights as human rights – including the right to food, health care, shelter, water and education. But there is a huge gap between setting norms and implementing them.

Today, South Africa is one of the most consistently unequal countries in the world. More than half the population lives in poverty, while a staggering 27% of people are unemployed.

According to Eunomix, which advises some of the biggest mining companies in the country, the past 12 years saw the country suffer more declines in its socio-economic and governance performance than any other nation that’s not at war.

This is thanks largely to worsening corruption and policy paralysis during former President Jacob Zuma’s nine years in office. And, things are not about to get any better soon.

The country’s Reserve Bank has painted a gloomy picture of the country’s prospects for growth. This is thanks to rampant corruption, whose effects have been acutely felt at Eskom, the electricity utility, crippling the country’s power supply and hobbling economic growth.

Discontent and disruption

Freedom Day should be a forceful reminder of the democratic rights enshrined in the Constitution. These include the right to free speech and to protest, basic human rights which were suppressed under centuries of colonial and apartheid rule.

The problem is that South Africa’s political culture today does not live up to the ideal the Constitution enshrines. There is a massive gap between declared norms and actual realities.

For example, in early April protesters from Alexandra township, one of Johannesburg’s poorest black settlements, were prevented by police from marching to Sandton, the adjacent, affluent suburb. In the same week rogue elements of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League disrupted a book launch in the posh suburb. They tore up copies of a book by an investigative journalist exposing the network of corruption allegedly overseen by the governing party’s secretary-general Ace Magashule, while he was the premier of the Free State.

The Youth League was later forced to abandon plans for a public burning of the book after the ANC intervened. The party implored its members to

protect the values and reputation of the ANC, by practising political tolerance and defending the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Such noble words, however, only point to the governing party’s inability to walk the talk. For example, when the ANC’s deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte was confronted with questions she did not like from a journalist who works for eNCA, an independent TV station. The question was about the party’s controversial proposed list of MPs. Duarte attacked the reporter, fuming you don’t even have a right to exist as a TV station in this country.

Much more to do

On Freedom Day, South Africans might or should celebrate the fact that they have covered some distance on the road to freedom. But it will remain a long and winding road. As Raymond Suttner, an ANC liberation struggle hero who spent years in solitary confinement, says

even though elections with all people entitled to vote for the first time was a massive victory, freedom is never finally realised. … It needs to be seen as a concept with an indefinite scope and meaning.

Where there is no fight for it, there is no freedom. The end of minority regimes does not equate freedom. Liberation movements as governments are no guarantee of good governance ensuring equal rights and benefits for all.

New regimes often just create space for privileges to a new elite in cohorts with earlier vested interests.

They do not live up to the promises made to the ordinary people. Rather, they disclose the limits to liberation.

The old slogan that the struggle continues – a luta continua – is as valid today as it was during the struggle for liberation. The difference is that others now have to carry the torch.

Maybe Freedom Day can serve as a reminder of such unfinished business.

Why is Africa still so important to the US

By Maria Ryan

US National Security Advisor John Bolton sees China as a threat to Washington in Africa.
US National Security Advisor John Bolton sees China as a threat to Washington in Africa. John Bolton is pictured. | AP Photo/Politico

In December last year the US National Security Advisor, John Bolton, gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC, in which he outlined the Trump administration’s new Africa strategy. According to Bolton, the US now faces “great power competitors” – namely Russia and China. In his view [they both]

are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa… to gain a competitive advantage over the United States.

Bolton’s portrayal of great power competition sounded like the Cold War era when the US and the communist powers, led by the Soviet Union, fought for influence over the new states emerging from colonialism across sub Saharan Africa.

At the end of the Cold War, the US withdrew almost completely from Africa. In the 1990s, Washington distanced itself from an area of the world in which it no longer saw any vital interests.

But in the 21st century there has been a significant turnaround in US policy. What’s emerged is a return to seeing sub-Saharan Africa as a site of US geopolitical and commercial interests.

This reversal is based on three factors. The first is the increasing significance of new African oil supplies. The second is the alleged presence of terrorists in the “large uncontrolled, ungoverned areas” of sub-Saharan Africa. And the third is the emergence of middle class African consumers as a potential new market for US exports.


Under George W. Bush, the US recognised that African oil from the Gulf of Guinea had become an “important factor in determining conditions in the oil market.”

Africa was also home to

a number of frontier oil provinces that may become hot exploration areas during the coming decade.

These included São Tomé and Principe, Gambia, Liberia, Togo, Benin and Niger.

Washington launched a programme to improve transparency in the oil sectors of the major African producers to make these countries

better hosts to the very large investments needed to develop energy resources and make more reliable contributions to our own energy security.

Energy security considerations led to more US military activity in the Gulf of Guinea. In 2004, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Charles Snyder, called  for a West African coastal security programme because

a lot of this new oil is actually offshore. There is no one to protect it, unless we build up African coastal fleets.

This led to the launch of the US Navy’s Africa Partnership Station in 2007 to help Gulf of Guinea states secure the region from security threats at sea.

The focus on energy security continued through the Obama years. The Obama administration established Operation Obangame Express, and the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership to train Gulf of Guinea nations to protect offshore energy.

Both have been continued under the Trump administration.


The terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001 resulted in a new counter-terrorism dimension to US security strategy in sub-Saharan Africa. The region began to be viewed as part of an “arc of instability” stretching from Latin America, through Africa and the Middle East and extending through Asia. Its “ungoverned space and under-governed territories” might provide “sanctuary to terrorists.”

To prevent this, the Bush and Obama administrations established a series of programmes designed to strengthen border security and build internal security. A number of initiatives were launched in a bid to build security capacity in African states thought, by Washington, to be vulnerable to penetration by terrorists.

These included (to name but a few), the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (2002-present), the Partnership for Regional East African Counterterrorism (2009-present) and the Counter-terrorism Partnerships Funding (2014-present).

The expanding US military presence in Africa was symbolised by the establishment in 2007 of a new US military command structure, Africa Command(AFRICOM). It took charge of all US military activity on the continent, including the bombing of Somalia.

Commercial drivers

Finally, US interest in Africa has been driven in recent years by commercial considerations. In April 2012, the Assistant US Trade Representative, Florizelle Liser, told Congress that sub-Saharan Africa contained

many of the fastest growing economies in the world with rapidly growing middle class consumers

who were “increasingly demanding high quality US products.”

One result was a law passed in 2012 that sought to increase American Jobs through greater exports to Africa.

Commercial opportunities in Africa were also at the heart of the first ever US-Africa Leaders Summit in 2014. This saw the launch of the Doing Business in Africa campaign.

What now

The Trump administration’s expansion of the bombing of Somalia, its continuation of Bush and Obama era counterterrorism programmes, and its own new strategy for Africa suggest that policymakers continue to view the continent through a geopolitical lens.

The particular twist put on this by Trump is his emphasis on the competition the US faces from China – but this is hard to imagine given that China has just one military base in Africa.

But the Trump administration must learn from mistakes made in the recent past by Bush and Obama. This includes the negative impact US action has had in some instances. Take its support for the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006 and for the subsequent Ethiopian-led occupation force. These actions contributed to the development of Al Shabaab, the extreme Islamist group that merged with Al Qaeda in 2012 and began to conduct attacks in other countries.

report by the US Senate concluded that:

Al Qaeda is now a more sophisticated and dangerous organization in Africa… [It]s foothold in Somalia has probably been facilitated by the involvement of Western powers and their allies.

It is likely that US air strikes in Somalia “have only increased popular support for Al-Shabaab.”

More broadly, Washington’s internal security and capacity building initiatives have not worked. If anything, terrorism in Africa has worsenedwith the emergence of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

US policymakers need to think again about whether a security agenda based on US priorities and choices will always solve the problems sub-Saharan African states face.

Maria Ryan has received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The rise and rise of sports betting in Nigeria: the seen future

By Onyemachukwu Precious Nkechi

Sports Betting are now Siamese twins for many Nigerians. Sports betting are referred to as any activity of predicting sporting result and placing a wager on its outcome, with the hope of winning a prize. Sports betting can be traced back to the pastimes of the Greeks. It is the oldest known form of gambling on the planet.

Sports betting in Nigeria have become legal in the thirty- six states and Abuja. As a nation, Nigeria is betting up to five billion naira per day, according to Ademola Adebaji, the head of one of the largest football betting services provider operating in Nigeria. The growth of sports betting in Nigeria is at an increasing rate of 2.5 % every year. The companies operating the business of sport betting in Nigeria are expected to obtain a sport lottery permit from the regulatory body in Nigeria known as the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC). The operators are expected to confine their business to the boundaries of sporting activities.

Nowadays, students, young and upwardly mobile men and women dominate the customers of sports betting shops in Nigeria. Some of the most popular betting companies in Nigeria include Nairabet ( the first online sport betting website in Nigeria), Surebet 247, Bet365naija, Bet9ja, 1960 bet, 360 bets, 9ja Predict, and Winners Golden Bet.

These companies offer sports betting, virtual dog racing, virtual football league and virtual horse racing. The sports they have available to bet on include football, Aussie rules, darts, baseball, basketball, Beach volleyball, bowl, boxing, cricket, cycling, ice hockey, tennis, handball, volleyball.

According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), quoted by, said that” 60 millions Nigeria between the ages of 18 and 40 years of age place bet of more than on one billion naria daily on sports betting”. The report also revealed that ” a betting company can generated up to twenty million naria and use between five million naira and seven million naira to meet winner obligations in terms of payment “.

There are three types of sports betting and they include  betting shops, online betting sites and offshore or international betting sites. Many Nigerians finds it easy to place a bet because of the invention of Smartphone and internet. Instead of trekking to a distance, they can do it at their own convenience because of the presence of online betting sites and the bets are reduced to as low as fifty naria to place a bet thereby increasing their customers.

Speaking on the growth of sport betting in Nigeria, some betting agents spoke anonymously and revealed to Bloomgist on why the business of sports betting will stay for a long time in Nigeria without losing interest.

“I have been in the business for more than five years now and I can say that the business is profitable. As long that there is sports, there is a match to bet and it is a game of chance. I place a bet for fun and have won money in return and I can tell you that sports betting is growing as fast as ever and also sport betting provide employment opportunities as every year they bring in new features and benefits”, while the second agent operating in that area, said that “I have been in this business for 3 years and I can say that it is very profitable as I have many customers in a day. Sport betting has helped with my finances as I sometimes win money when I place a bet. Sports betting will continue to growing unless they stop football”.

Sports betting are growing at an alarming rate; the amount used to bet is now easily affordable for school children as you place a bet of fifty naira and could win ten thousand.  Also the money attached to winning as some people believe that they can hit it big and win a million, so they continue to play even if luck doesn’t favour them with the hope that one day will be for them. And others who won money will like to play again to win more money. Sports, Sports betting and good rewards works hand to hand.

The future of sports betting in Nigeria is standing strong as there are laws that strongly support it. As long as more people divert into sport of various kinds, there will be a bet to place. Sports betting will no longer be a thing of the past, it will grow faster than we can ever imagine and more people of this country will become a customer to those betting companies. Sport betting in the future will be a game of addiction. Modern sports betting will become very popular.

It is going to be worse than drugs or crime as more people can bet out their entire savings or life to play. Companies that offer sports betting will grow faster than our industries and they will be making more money. There will be employment opportunities for those youth who wants to work as an agent of any sports betting companies. Other online betting sites will be created because the offline sites are not enough to satisfy customers demand.  Sports betting in the future will be made very easy because you can be able to bet at the time convenient for you.

In conclusion, sport betting is now the highest form of gambling as it is played by both the rich and the poor. Sports betting centers have now become the home of some people, they will be there analyzing what match to bet on, whom to support, what will be the outcome and the rewards for my wins. If sport betting has no control, it will drastically reduce the developing minds of our youths thereby reducing economic development. Sport betting is at the top list of the greatest enemy that Nigeria needs to face and defeat.

Improvement in sub-Saharan Africa housing but millions of people still live in slums

Study identifies major transformation in quality of living conditions, but governments urged to improve urban sanitation

From cities to the countryside, Africa has undergone a dramatic transformation in living conditions over the past 15 years, according to a new study.

But the research, based on state of the art mapping and published in science journal Nature, also found that almost half of the the urban population – 53 million people across the countries analysed – were living in slum conditions.

Led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the study offers the first detailed estimate of housing quality in sub-Saharan Africa.

Using the most recent data available from 31 countries, researchers found housing had improved across several measures over a 15-year period. Sufficient living area, improved water and sanitation and the durability of construction were found across 23% of houses in 2015, up from 11% in 2000.

The study’s senior author, Dr Samir Bhatt from Imperial College London, said: “Our study demonstrates that people are widely investing in their homes, but there is also an urgent need for governments to help improve water and sanitation infrastructure.

“We saw a doubling in the number of people living in an improved house. This parallels the success stories we are seeing in terms of Africa’s development. It is supported by a wide variety of other studies that show that when people get sufficient income, one of the things they do is invest in their homes.”

Bhatt said the improvement will have a “huge impact” on people’s health and susceptibility to disease.

“You can give someone a mosquito net with insecticide, but having a window you can close makes a huge difference,” he said.

The study found the need for adequate housing to be “particularly acute” in Africa, since the continent has the fastest growing population in the world, predicted to rise from 1.2 billion people in 2015 to 2.5 billion people by 2050.

The improvement was highest in Botswana, Gabon and Zimbabwe. South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were among countries where progress was less marked.

The researchers found that improved housing may be linked to economic development. Improved housing was 80% more likely among more educated households and twice as likely in the wealthiest households, compared with the least educated and poorest families.

The new data could guide interventions to achieve universal access to safe and affordable housing and to upgrade slums by 2030, one of the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Dr Lucy Tusting, who conducted the work while at the malaria atlas project, University of Oxford, said: “Adequate housing is a human right. Remarkable development is occurring across the continent but until now this trend this had not been measured on a large scale.”

The UN definition of a slum household is one that does not protect against extreme weather, has more than three people to a room, lacks access to safe water and adequate sanitation, and has no security of tenure.

The researchers, who examined 600,000 households using an innovative technique that allowed the prevalence of different house types to be mapped across the continent, defined housing as “improved” if it had the first four conditions, but did not look at security of tenure.

More African women are dying through C-section 50 times more than any other place in the world

The in-hospital maternal mortality rate following a Caesarean delivery in Africa may be 50 times higher than in high-income countries. These were the findings of the African Surgical Outcomes Study that followed more than 3500 mothers from 22 African countries during a week of surgery in 2016.

The study found that maternal mortality rate was 5.43 per 1 000 operations, compared to 0.1 per 1000 operations in the UK. And one in six women developed complications following Caesarean delivery, which is nearly three times the rate in the US. Bleeding in the period shortly before, during, and immediately after giving birth, was the most common complication. And it had the highest attributable risk for maternal mortality. 

Although the complication rate was three times that of a high-income country, mortality was 50 times that of a high-income country. This suggests that a lot more complications result in death in Africa. When a complication results in death, this is known as “failure to rescue”. Mothers in Africa appear to be particularly susceptible to it, when compared to high-income countries.

Unfortunately, it isn’t only the mothers who are suffering in Africa. The in-hospital mortality of babies after Caesarean delivery was double that of high-income countries. There were indicators that the risk of subsequent cerebral palsy or epilepsy for the babies who survived Caesarean delivery, are between two and 11 times higher in Africa when compared to a high-income country.

These findings tell a sad story of life in Africa. Many families are incomplete, as a result of either a mother or child who died in childbirth, and for those children who survive a Caesarean delivery, a number of them will have long-term morbidity.

So what can be done to improve this situation? Unfortunately, there will be no “quick-fix”, as this is a complex, multifactorial problem. It speaks to a number of problems that need to addressed in Africa, if we are to improve outcomes for mothers and their children.

Where the problems lie

The first problem is poor access to Caesarean deliveries. In Africa, the Caesarean section rate is too low. There is a minimum threshold of the number of Caesarean sections per population to ensure optimal obstetric care. Most countries in Africa don’t reach this threshold. The result is that many mothers who would benefit from Caesarean section don’t have this option.

Secondly, access to surgical care is limited. This is reflected in the observation that 3 out of 4 mothers presenting for Caesarean deliveries present as emergencies. This may partly reflect the limitations in the current antenatal services available. 

The role of antenatal care is to monitor and identify both mothers and babies at risk. Early identification of those at risk could result in an elective Caesarean section in a more controlled environment. This, in turn, would lead to better outcomes for the mother and the baby.

But it appears that in the current antenatal environment in Africa a number of mothers at risk aren’t identified early enough in the community.

Another contributing factor is that there are limited skilled human resources to provide safe obstetric care in Africa. It’s generally accepted that to provide a safe Caesarean section, at least 20 specialists (obstetricians, surgeons and anaesthetists) are required per 100 000 population. In the African cohort it was found to be <1 specialist per 100 000population.

This creates a stressful and dangerous working environment. The majority of mothers are sick and present as emergencies, yet there is insufficient skilled staff to deal with the workload. 

Finally, it’s clear that mothers are dying predominantly secondary to bleeding around the time of delivery. This may be for many reasons; bleeding may not be identified early enough (both before and after surgery) due to limited human resources (resulting in “failure to rescue”). This could also be due to insufficient resources, such as limited drugs to stop bleeding or limited access to blood products. 

Reason for hope

Is there reason for hope? I believe there is. The African Surgical Outcomes Study network, which produced the study, is a group of over 1000 clinician investigators who now span over 30 African countries. They are committed to improving surgical outcomes in Africa. 

The group is looking towards large pragmatic trials of simple interventions designed to improve outcomes in resource constrained environments. To this end it will be running a large trial across the continent this year that will focus on identifying and managing high-risk patients in the perioperative period with the aim of preventing the progression of complications. The trial hopes to decrease “failure to rescue” in African surgical patients. 

Next year, the group hopes to conduct another large trial across Africa which will aim to decrease maternal bleeding. The hope is that this will also help bring down the numbers of mothers dying at a result of childbirth.

The network aims to extend its footprint into the community to ensure that “at-risk” patients are identified early, and high-risk patients are followed adequately after surgery. Improving maternal and surgical outcomes in Africa certainly demands a large collaborative effort.

Source; The Conversation