Nigeria has declared that the meningitis menace was declining after recording 839 deaths from the outbreak.
The government said a total of 9,646 cases were reported.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said the number of new cases of suspected Cerebro Spinal Meningitis (CSM) was declining, as control measures took effect.
NCDC Communication Manager Lawal Bakare, said in Abuja on Thursday that the nation expected a continued decline in the number of new cases, with the intensification of control measures in the affected states.
“While the total number of suspected cases will rise with each new incident, the number of new cases recorded per week is dropping in the affected states, indicating that the outbreak is likely to have peaked,'' Dr Bakare said.
He said the national response had identified the need to provide technical support to all affected states in case management, epidemiology and risk communication.
The communication manager added that support teams were being deployed to the most severely affected states of Zamfara and Sokoto to further strengthen their response.
Dr Bakare further said a reactive vaccination, which would cover over 800,000 people aged between two and 29 years, had commenced in Sokoto on Thursday.
He explained that a national support team, led by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), would be providing support to Sokoto to ensure the vaccination was well coordinated.
“Partners from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Unicef and others are all collaborating with NPHCDA and NCDC to provide the best possible support to Sokoto during the vaccination.
“People are being mobilised to turn out en mass to be vaccinated,’’ he said.
According to the NCDC Chief Executive Officer, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, the lessons from the outbreak would inform Nigeria's future responses.
“This includes the need to strengthen awareness, improve clinical skills of health workers, strengthen laboratory capacities to confirm diagnosis of meningitis promptly,’’ he said.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli has ordered the immediate dismissal of more than 9,000 civil servants found to be possessing fake academic credentials.
“It is a criminal offence to forge any document for whatever reason; these 9,932 workers with fake certificates, should be fired immediately and be deleted from payroll,” said the president.
“They are thieves like any other thieves, and their names should be publicly advertised in all media outlets in the country, and their positions should be announced as being vacant so that other people with relevant qualifications recruited right away, to take up these posts,” added the president.
President Magufuli said the government was paying around $310 million (TSh700 billion) salaries to ghost workers per month.
He further promised to deal with fake certificate holders and ghost workers still on the payroll past May 15.
"I am giving them up to May 15th this year for them to leave voluntarily, failure to which the law must take its course. If found guilty, they should be imprisoned for seven years according to the law,” noted President Magufuli.
The Minister of State in the President’s Office, Ms Angella Kairuki, said that “no stone would be left unturned” in the process of verifying academic credentials.
Ms Kairuki said the team discovered that 94.23 per cent workers had valid academic certificates, while 19,700 others, comprising 2.4 per cent, possessed fake documents and a further 1,538 had certificates whose authenticity was questionable.
According to the report, about 2.8 per cent of civil servants submitted incomplete information on their professional and academic certificates.
“Our task force findings show the presence of workers with fake certificates, the presence of several personnel who use the same certificate and those with uncertainties on their academic certificates,” noted Ms.Kairuki.
Gambia is all set to reopen its embassy in Qatar, Foreign minister Ousainou Darboe, said.
Mr Darboe said in an interview with Qatar's The Penisular newspaper that the embassy that was closed by former President Yahya Jammeh would become operational within five months.
He expressed President Adama Barrow’s respect for Qatar, its leadership and desire to revive the bilateral relations between the two countries.
His first visit
Mr Darboe, who was on his first visit to the Middle East, said Qatar occupied an important position, not only in the Gulf, but in the whole Middle East.
He described his mission as aimed at strengthening bilateral relations.
“Unfortunately, the previous regime closed the embassy of Gambia in Qatar and now we want to reopen it and I have informed Qatar’s Foreign Minister about it. Qatar has welcomed the move,” Mr Darboe was quoted saying.
The minister explained to Qatari investors the tax exemptions, among others, as the aspects of Gambia’s investment-friendliness.
“Both countries have already a treaty to avoid double taxation, which is operational, therefore Qataris should invest in Gambia,” he said, noting the West African state has a lot of potential for agriculture.
“After the opening of embassy, things will be on fast-track,” Mr Darboe said.
"Energy is another sector with a lot of potential for investors. We want plenty of investment in the energy sector, particularly renewable energy."
Mr Darboe praised the Middle East country’s role in dispute resolution in the region and across the world, assuring them of Gambia’s support at international forums.
Being a small country, he said, Gambia supports Qatar’s voice on various international issues.
The minister disclosed that Gambia would host the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Summit next year with the help of Qatar.
Gambia has turned to Sierra Leone for counsel as it grapples with how to deal with its immediate dark past.
A delegation of Gambian officials is currently in Freetown to learn about the Sierra Leone experience on Transitional Justice Mechanism, with particular focus on the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The move, officials say, was part of the search for a way to deal with alleged atrocities committed under former President Yahya Jammeh.
Jammeh, whose regime has been accused of gross human rights abuse, lost power following a disputed election in December, ending his 22-year reign.
The Gambian delegation, headed by Justice minister Abubacarr Tambedou, also includes representatives of the UNDP, said to be funding the initiative, and the civil society community.
The seven-man delegation has held talks with various human rights related institutions and individuals, including the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL).
A statement by the HRCSL indicated the Gambians were also contemplating establishing a National Human Rights Commission.
Jammeh was accused of grave human rights abuses, including murder, torture and pilfering of state resources.
Several of his accomplices, mainly security agents, have been detained in connection with some of the most heinous crimes.
But the new government of President Adama Barrow was unsure of whether it wants a mere truth and reconciliation, or one that goes with justice.
It was also concerned about the effect of any such action on the lives of the ordinary people.
Mr Tambedou said at a meeting with HRCSL that while the Gambian scenario was not an open conflict as was with Sierra Leone, the governance system the former experienced during the past regime wrecked its social, economic and political institutions.
He said the goal now was to rebuild those institutions and at the same time find ways of dealing with the past to foster social cohesion and ensure national reconciliation.
The delegation, the minister noted, was also out to find out about the relationship between the TRC and the Human Rights Commission, as well as how they both impacted the life of the ordinary citizens.
Sierra Leone formed it's TRC at the end of its 11-years civil war.
It allowed people to testify with some form of immunity. The goal was for subsequent governments to draw lessons from the recommendations.
But critics have accused the current government of ditching those recommendations.
Zimbabwe has reacted angrily to a South African minister’s claims that its soldiers were behind bank robberies in Africa’s largest economy as tensions between the two countries grow over illegal immigrants.
South Africa’s Police minister Fikile Mbalula drew Harare’s ire on Tuesday when he said Zimbabwean soldiers were fleeing their country to engage in violent crimes in South Africa.
“The Zimbabwean government does not condone criminality by any of its citizens and the law must take its course whenever this is the case,” Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa Isaac Moyo told the African News Agency.
However, he said Mr Mbalula’s statements were not accurate and were regrettable.
“We cannot accept the many ill-informed elements in the said statement and we deeply regret that they were made without due regard to accuracy,” he said.
Mr Mbalula had claimed that Zimbabweans were behind most violent crimes in South Africa and it was difficult to bring them to book because they were illegal immigrants.
“These are people who come here from Zimbabwe and they cross the line here,” the minister said.
“They run away from the military in Zimbabwe and they come here and promote criminality here in South Africa.
“There are Zimbabwean ex-soldiers who are in this country, robbing banks and promoting criminality.
“They are running away from Uncle Bob (Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe).”
Mr Mbalula said it was easy to track down South African criminals because their fingerprints were available on police database.
“In Zimbabwe, once you are a soldier, you are a soldier for life,” Mr Mbalula claimed.
“You can’t get out of it. So to get out of it, they run to South Africa, then they come here and rob banks.
“They are on the payroll of criminals, we can’t trace them. If a South African steals, it’s easy to trace them because I will find you somewhere in the forensics because I have your fingerprints.”
Ordinary Zimbabwean soldiers retire at the age of 50. Zimbabwe has in the past complained that South Africa ill-treats its citizens living in that country.
Zimbabweans were often caught up in xenophobic violence in South Africa and the latest incidents happened early this year.
Mr Mbalula claimed his statements were not xenophobic, saying he had evidence to back them.
“Zimbabweans are working for us in this country, very good Zimbabweans,” he said.
“They are working in our kitchens, they are everything and so on, highly educated people.
“If there is anything President Mugabe did, it was to educate his people.
“The people who are working in your kitchens are doctors. They are more educated than you, from Zimbabwe.”
An estimated three million Zimbabweans have sought economic refuge in the neighbouring South Africa owing to the deteriorating situation in their own country.
The arrival of timber firm SOFHONY with a bag of promises to the forest communities of Djoameodjoh and Biba II in the Lomie subdivision in the Upper Nyong Division in eastern Cameroon a few years ago, brought much hope to Mr Ndovan Pial Felix and his family.
Life had always been a long struggle for the residents of Biba II Village on the periphery of the Dja reserve that hosts more than 1,500 known plant species.
The logging company promised improved livelihood for the poverty-mired communities and according to Mr Felix, it was like turning darkness into daylight.
“We were promised roads, schools, hospitals… and the hope that things will be better made us expectant and happy,” Mr Felix said.
But, his dream and those of the entire village did not last for long because SOFHONY failed to live up to its promise. The communities were today disillusioned and even poorer than they were before.
Like in Biba II, the residents of Cameroon’s dense equatorial forest that straddles the east, south and the centre have all bemoaned the fact that the timber companies have not kept their promises.
Traditional authorities blame the government for continuously failing to include the local authorities in their negotiations with investors.
“Local authorities and forest communities usually have little or no knowledge of what they are due at the beginning of such negotiations,” said Mr Paul Gbalene, a traditional ruler of Djoameodjoh, a mixed forest-dependent community of the Baka pygmies and Bantus.
They were thus calling for proper and transparent procedures that involve the locals from the beginning of every negotiation.
“Communities need to be properly sensitised on sustainable management of the forest and natural resources on which they depend for their livelihood,” said Mr Robinson Tanyi, a traditional ruler and president of the Federation of Community Forests in Cameroon (FEDEFCOM).
There was a proliferation of complaints of massive exploitation and non-respect of the rights of local forest communities in the Central African nation that is home to the second largest forest belt in the Congo Basin, with 22 million hectares of cover, experts say.
Reached a deal
In Lomie in the the east's Upper Nyong Division where SOFOHNY was present, the conflict with the local community was evident.
After securing two “sales of standing volume” exploitation permits known in French as Ventes de Coupe in April 2013, the Chinese firm reached a deal with the local Djoameodjoh and Biba II communities to pay back $2.5 (FCFA 1,500) per cubic meter of wood exploited from their forest, community leader Mr Gbalene explained.
He said the company was supposed to open and maintain the enclaved local community’s road, “but you have seen for yourself what we have, is that a road?” he posed, saying the company was Chinese-owned, though its name was Cameroonian.
While the Djoameodjoh community was expecting $26,000 (FCFA16 million) for wood already harvested from their forest, SOFOHNY instead gave out 800 sheets of zinc valued at $6,500 (FCFA 4 million).
According to Mr Gbalene, the roofing sheets were not even given directly to the community as their agreement prescribes. It was instead remitted through the council, but finally ended in the local Lomie public treasury.
The picture was the same in Djoum in the Dja and Lobo Division in the south,
The indigenous Avebe community was angry with SIBOIS for non-respect of terms of a verbal agreement both parties reached in January 2016.
SIBOIS obtained a government permit and reached an agreement with the community to be paying FCFA 1000 ($2) per cubic meter of wood exploited from their forest, the traditional ruler and head of Avebe community, Mr Mbondjo Remy, explained.
“SIBOIS gave us $1,500 (FCFA900,000) and after felling the forest for about two months, they left, abandoning hundreds of already cut and stamped logs in the forest without giving a franc again,” the traditional ruler explained, saying the company also extended it activities outside its legal logging permit.
In Lembe Yezoum in the Upper Sanaga Division of the Centre region, the situation was probably worse for the local Endoum community. Besides the logs abandoned in the forest, CTA company has imposed a debt of about $113,000 (FCFA70 million) on the community.
“The company constructed a bridge and debited us, though the bridge was meant to facilitate the transportation of their wood. They said they had to deduct the money from what they owed us,” the president of the Endoum community forest management committee, Mr Timothée Engongomo Abomo, explained, saying CTA is a Chinese logging firm.
However, administrative authorities and representatives of some of the indicted companies do not agree with the complaints.
In the case of Djoameodjoh and SOFOHNY, the local Lomie sub-division authority, Mr Oumarou Housseini, admitted that the money paid by the company was delayed because of the 2013 municipal elections, but claimed that it was subsequently used to provide zinc for the community.
“When SOFOHNY brought the money in 2013, it was in the midst of the municipal and legislative elections and the mayor’s signature was invalid, reason why it was kept in the state treasury,” the administrative officer explained, saying the amount was $10,000) (FCFA 6 million).
A senior SOFHONY official, who only gave his name as Cheriff, denied the allegations that the firm owed the community money.
“We paid everything as agreed with the communities and we have the receipts. We paid about $34,000 (FCFA21 million) for one of our two permits,” Mr Cheriff said on phone.
He also denied that the logging firm was Chinese-owned.
“The company is not Chinese, Upper Nyong is not in China.”
Experts recommend the strengthening of the forest governance legislation and strict application to ensure transparency.
According to Forest Governance and Policies Expert Patrice Kamkuimo, some Chinese companies have little regard for Cameroonian forest law and the principles of sustainable management.
“Given the fact that some Chinese enterprises are profoundly tarnishing China's image and investments in rural communities, it is important that China establish a policy banning the import of illegal timber,” Mr Kamkuimo said.
RECTRAD (French acronym), a network engaged in protection of the environment and sustainable management of forest ecosystems in Africa, says it had made attempts for a lasting solution to no avail.
The coordinator of the network and traditional ruler of the Bityili-Minko Village in the south, Mr Mvondo Bruno, said the Chinese embassy in Yaoundé promised to facilitate a meeting with the Chinese firms in Cameroon to check the activities of logging companies but the result of that promise was still being awaited.
The question of abuse of the rights of forest communities has become a global issue.
A May 2016 report <http://www.forestpeoples.org/topics/agribusiness/publication/2016/securing-forest-peoples-rights-and-tackling-deforestation-democ> by Forest Peoples Programme, highlights the many socio-environmental impacts and human rights violations that communities experience in association with forest loss in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Yet globally, communities only hold legal ownership rights to 20 per cent of their customary lands, leaving the door open for states and private companies to reach in, evict villages and cut down the trees in order to exploit the treasures beneath, according to a March 2017 report by Greenpeace.
Habre lawyers speak out
Lawyers for Chad's former president Hissene Habre hold a news conference, a day after a special African court upheld his life sentence for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture.
Eyes on Kenya
Monitoring developments in Kenya following the unveiling of veteran politician Raila Odinga as the joint opposition candidate in the August presidential election.
Buhari health concerns
Eyes on Nigeria as state officials seek to allay fears about the health of President Muhammadu Buhari after his absence from the last two Cabinet meetings.
Nigeria Meningitis toll up
The death toll from a Meningitis outbreak in Nigeria rises to 839.
Cameroon activist in jail
The outlawed Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium activists arrested in the ongoing unrest in the English speaking part of the country to remain in jail till May 24 when the Yaoundé military court will deliver a ruling.
Gambians seek lessons
Gambian delegation in Freetown, Sierra Leone to learn about Transitional Justice Mechanism with particular focus on the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Southern Africa tensions
Zimbabwe reacts angrily to a South Africa’s claims that its soldiers were behind bank robberies in Africa’s largest economy as tensions between the two countries grow over illegal immigrants.
Comment on the life sentence for former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre
The Sierra Leone government has called for calm amidst concern over a mysterious disease outbreak in neighbouring Liberia.
The outbreak, which was reported on Tuesday, is said to have claimed eight lives with a total of 14 cases reported.
The Sierra Leone Ministry of Health said it had instituted its surveillance system at all entry points and other border areas to avoid a spill over.
“No such incident has been reported in the country and the public is urged not to panic,” a statement, signed by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Brima Kargbo, said.
Victims of the mystery disease in the Liberian southeastern Sino County, suffer general body weakness, abdominal pains, vomiting and diarrhoea.
But health officials say the absence of fever and details of test results from preliminary investigations confirmed that it was not the dreaded Ebola virus disease.
Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which constitute the Mano River Basin, were the scenes of the deadly Ebola epidemic that erupted in 2014 and claimed the lives of over 11,000 people.
That epidemic, which began in Guinea, spread to Liberia and then Sierra Leone.
Keep up vigilance
“Communities are advised to keep up vigilance and report any unusual health conditions to the nearest health facility,” the Sierra Leone ministry statement said.
The illness, described by Liberia’s state broadcaster as a “strange” disease, is said to have a fatality rate of 57 per cent.
Reports indicate the outbreak has been linked to the death of an 11-year-old girl. She is said to have attended a funeral of a religious leader.
Three other people who attended the same funeral reportedly died under similar circumstances – after experiencing headache, body pain and skin itching - at the same hospital.
Several other people who came into contact with the dead were isolated.
WHO, CDC and other partners were working with Sino County Health Team to control the situation.
Sources spoke of health workers dressing in their Personal Protective Equipment, bringing back the Ebola memories.
The UN also reportedly issued a precaution to its staff to ensure heightened personal protection.
A desert warfare specialist, Chad's Hissene Habre seized power in 1982 and quickly embraced the role of ruthless dictator, with brutal atrocities the hallmark of his eight-year reign of terror.
Often dressed in combat fatigues that complemented his "desert fighter" nickname, Habre fled to Senegal after he was ousted by current Chadian President Idriss Deby in 1990.
Habre will now serve the rest of his life behind bars after judges in Dakar Thursday upheld his sentence for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture, quashing the appeal attempt by his court-appointed lawyers, though a rape conviction was overturned.
A global precedent
Habre was first sentenced by the Extraordinary African Chambers in May last year, setting a global precedent for the first time a country had prosecuted a former leader of another nation for rights abuses.
The legal body created by Senegal and the African Union further ordered him in July to pay compensation to each victim who suffered rape, arbitrary detention and imprisonment during his rule, as well as to their relatives, a decision also upheld on Thursday.
Mr Reed Brody, a US-based lawyer who has worked closely with Habre's victims to secure the conviction, said the final verdict would "go down in history as the day that a band of unrelenting survivors finally prevailed over their dictator," all of whom have waited a quarter century for justice.
The 74-year-old's rule was marked by fierce crackdowns on dissent, including alleged torture and executions of opponents, earning him comparisons to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Investigators found that more than 40,000 people were killed during his rule.
The son of a farmer, Habre was born in Faya-Largeau, northern Chad, and grew up among nomads in the Djourab desert.
His intelligence landed him a job as a local official before he left for Paris in 1963 to study law and attend Sciences-Po, the prestigious political science school. One of his influences at the time was Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
Habre joined the Chad National Liberation Front a year after returning home in 1971 and became its leader, before breaking away to form another rebel group, the Northern Armed Forces (FAN).
He made headlines in 1974 when he kidnapped a French ethnologist who was held for three years before France agreed to terms for her release.
A staunch nationalist, Habre then served as prime minister in the government of president Felix Malloum and as Defence minister under his sometime ally Goukouni Weddeye who later became president.
Unlike Weddeye, Habre was an outspoken opponent of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the relationship did not last.
Habre broke from his Tripoli-backed ally just months after the formation of Weddeye's 1979 government, triggering violence in Chad's capital, N'Djamena.
He fled the city for eastern Chad in 1980, but returned to fight his way to power in 1982.
During his rule, opponents — real or imagined — were arrested, tortured and often executed by the dreaded Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), Chad's secret police.
Habre's reign ended as dramatically as it had began when Deby, formerly a loyal general, led a rebel force that drove him from power and into exile in Senegal.
The former dictator lived freely for more than 20 years in an upmarket Dakar suburb with his wife and children, swapping his military garb for billowing white robes and a cap.
Habre was considered a discreet, generous neighbour and a pious Muslim who helped finance the construction of several mosques.
The AU mandated Senegal to try Habre in July 2006, but then president Abdoulaye Wade delayed the process for years despite an agreement to create a special court for the trial.
Belgium also sought Habre's arrest over allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity after three Belgian nationals of Chadian origin filed a suit in 2000 for mass murder, arbitrary arrest and torture during his regime.
Brussels issued an arrest warrant for him in September 2005, and he was arrested in Senegal shortly after, but the African country said its courts did not have the jurisdiction to rule on a Belgian extradition request.
Habre was arrested again in Dakar on June 30, 2013, and the AU decided his trial should take place there, a world first.
Now a convicted war criminal, Habre will serve his sentence in Senegal or another African Union country.