Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Sudan: "nodding disease"

Check out this New York Times article:
About 300 children in and around this jungle village in southern Sudan have the mysterious ailment. It typically strikes during or just after a meal. The neurological disorder has left epidemiologists baffled. One of the few things understood about nodding is that it appears unique to southern Sudan.

Nodding is just one effect of the unusual malady. The children who begin nodding eventually stop growing when still small. Their brains stop developing as well, leaving victims mentally retarded. Eventually, the disease kills, and families dig tiny graves at the back of their mud huts.

... Researchers have found that the nodding occurs when children are fed the local diet of beans and starch. Candy bars, power bars and candy do not seem to have any effect.

Nigeria: launching first satellite this week

Nigeria's first satellite will be launched from Siberia on September 26th. According to Nigeria's Daily Trust "... the satellite was built by 15 Nigerian engineers with the technical input of the University of Surrey (Surrey Satellite Technology)."

The satellite cost $13 million and will be used for disaster monitoring.

According to The Economist
[Nigerian] Space agency officials admit that they could buy data from existing satellite operators for less. They hope to recoup money by selling images to corporations or other African countries, but sceptics scent a loss-making prestige project, of which Nigeria has endured several in the past.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

smallpox vaccine shows promise against HIV/AIDS

Though more testing is required, a study has found that a smallpox vaccine produced by the UK biotech firm Acambis can protect against HIV/AIDS.
Laboratory tests showed that blood samples from people vaccinated against smallpox were fives times less likely to become infected by the Aids virus.

... Professor Ken Alibek, director of the [George Mason] university's centre for biodefence, said it was not known why the vaccine appeared to boost immunity to the Aids virus. "There is a strange connection between the discontinuation of the smallpox vaccine in Africa and the emergence of the HIV infection."
Here is a bit more on the theory from the press release announcing the results of the study.
Based on the natural history or spread of HIV in Africa, Weinstein and Alibek proposed that declining immunological responses to smallpox -- due to the elimination of the disease and the discontinuation of immunizations -- may have been associated with the emergence of HIV.

... The study was conducted using blood cells from 10 vaccinated and 10 unvaccinated subjects. Despite the small number of subjects involved, there was a statistically significant difference in resistance to HIV infection between the blood cells from the vaccinated and the unvaccinated subjects. HIV failed to grow or grew at substantially reduced levels in the cells from the vaccinated group when compared to the unvaccinated group. Weinstein and Alibek explain that these results suggest smallpox vaccination may be adapted to provide an individual with significant protection to subsequent HIV infection.

On vacation ... will get back blogging next week.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

DRC: primer on conflict

This is a pretty good primer on the conflict in the DRC ... it's a video and it's short!

And if you haven't read it yet ... then you must make time for King Leopolds Ghost by Adam Hochschild. It details Belgium's colonial rule of DRC/Zaire which was, in a word, ... horrifying.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

South Africa: Jacob Zuma on the ropes

South Africa's Deputy President, Jacob Zuma, has been embroiled in a major corruption scandal ... which might destroy his very promising political career.

Here is a good bio of Zuma ... explains the source of his popularity.

Here is an article on how the scandal might affect next year's elections.

Zimbabwe: MDC does well in by-elections

There was low voter turnout across the country. But the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) did well in its strongholds ... just as Mugabe's ZANU-PF did well in its strongholds.

Liby: hitch in the Libya-UTA families deal

The UTA families are still negotiating with Libya. It's not clear what the hitch is ... but the following might be something.
The Kadhafi Foundation -- the charity run by Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam which has been negotiating for Libya -- said on Sunday that as part of the deal France would "resolve the matter" of six Libyans who were convicted in Paris of the bombing in absentia four years ago.

However under French law arrest warrants for the men, including Kadhafi's brother-in-law Abdallah Senoussi who was sentenced to life imprisonment, will remain in effect until 2019. It was unclear if this legal point was the stumbling block.
Here is yesterday's post on the deal.

Rwanda: after the election

Today, Rwanda's Supreme Court dismisssed the petition brought by opposition candidate Faustin Twagiramungu. Twagiramungu had asked the Court on Thursday to nullify the election results which had President Paul Kagame win with 95% of the votes. In dismissing the suit, the Court said Twagiramungu had offered no evidence to back his claim that the elections were crooked.

Late last week, the head of Rwanda's National Electoral Commission accused the EU of being biased in favour of Twagiramungu. This followed reports from EU election observers that there were some irregularities during the election.

Here is the last mammoth post I had on the election.

Madagascar: vanilla crimes

Vanilla prices are the highest they've ever been ($200/kg) ... most people are paying three times more for a bottle of vanilla as they did three years ago. And according to this report, as prices rise, there seems to be a corresponding rise in the incidents of robbery and murder in Madagascar.

Madagascar produces about 75% of the world's vanilla. Three years ago, Cyclone Hudah destroyed somewhere between 15% and 25% of Madagascar's vanilla crop. Since the orchids take three years to flower, there has been a drop in the supply of vanilla ... and hence a rise in the price.

Now the big problem for Malagasy farmers & exporters ... according to this "... demand for vanilla, which is primarily purchased by American food manufacturers, is projected to fall from 2,000 tons in 2000 to 1,500 tons by next year."

Here is something I didn't know ... the ingredients in imitiation vanilla:
Vanillin, the vital chemical that gives natural vanilla its flavor, is also the key ingredient in most bottles of imitation vanilla.

But most vanillin does not come directly from a vanilla bean. More often it is collected as a byproduct of wood-pulp or petroleum production. It is then combined with several other natural and artificial ingredients to create vanilla taste.

Kenya: Mau Mau ban lifted

Forty years after independence, Kenyan government on Sunday lifted the ban on the Mau Mau -- Kenya's independence fighters -- which had been instituted by the British in the 1950s. With the ban liften, the fighters can now organize themselves into a society and claim certain benefits ... they can also sue for compensation from the British government for the torture they suffered during the colonial era.

Libya: Gaddafi 34 years in power

September 1 ... Gadaffi celebrated his 34th year in power. He was 27-years-old when he led the coup in 1969.

Officially, Gadaffi hasn't been the leader of Libya since 1977. The full name of the country is "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" ... Jamahiriya means that the country is "led by the people".

This article gives a decent (short) biography of the man.

This BBC analysis piece quotes a fair bit from the speech Gadaffi gave on Sunday.
"We liberated South Africa, Zimbabwe, Guinea Bissau, Cap Verde and Angola," he declared. He did not mention his support for the IRA, which was substantial.

"Now we are reaping the fruits of our struggle. Africa is with us, peoples are with us and support us. Our voice is heard and respected," said the Libyan leader.
The entire article is worth reading ... I chose to highlight this bit because I recall somebody asking why Gadaffi enjoys the support of so many African leaders. Well, there's your answer, in his own words. He supported a lot of armed struggles in Africa ... some honourable and some not so honourable.

In the honourable category ... South Africa and the ANC. In the "downright dastardly" category ... Charles Taylor of Liberia.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Libya: how do you spell the man's name!

How many different ways can you spell the name of Libya's leader? I stopped counting at 10.

Muammar al Qathafi ... Muammar el-Qaddafi ... Muammar Qadhafi ... Muhammar Qaddaffi .... Moammar Qaddafi ... Muammar Gadafy ...Moamar Gadhafi ... Moammar Gadhafi ... Muammar Gaddafi ... Moamer Kadhafi ...

I couldn't find an official government of Libya page ... but on the African Union page, his name is spelled "Muammar Al-Qaddafi".

That last one makes it 11 different ways to spell the man's name! How is it that people haven't arrived at a uniform way to spell his name?

So when you're using a search engine to look for information on the man ... just remember that he's a Colonel. People usually use his military title ... and as far as I know, there's only one way to spell "Colonel".

And the country's name can be spelled Libia ... but I think it's mostly the Italian and Spanish press that spell it that way.

Libya: deal reached with UTA families

Libya has reached a deal with the families of those killed in the 1989 bombing of UTA Flight 772 over Niger. The deal is not final yet because they haven't signed anything ... but both sides say they agree on the amount.

Years ago, the families of the 170 victims of UTA received about $33 million from Libya. In contrast, a couple of weeks ago, the US and UK secured $2.7 billion for the Lockerbie families. This deal outraged the UTA families and they demanded more money. The French government supported their demand by threatening to veto the resolution before the Security Council which would lift the international sanctions on Libya.

For what it's worth .... The victims' families have been negotiating directly with Libya ... the French government is just backing them up. This is in contrast to the governments of the US & UK which negotiated directly with Libya on behalf of the Lockerbie families.

There's also a report that Libya is trying to come to some compensation agreement with Germany for the 1986 nightclub bombing in West Berlin.

The money for all these different deals is going to be paid by the "Gaddafi International Foundation for Charity Associations" ... an organization run by Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi. This is the same organization that paid the ransom for those European toursists released a couple of weeks ago... and also paid the ranson for German (and I believe, South African) tourists held hostage in the Philippines a few years ago.

Here is my run-down of the Lockerbie deal.

Geneva: generic drugs deal approved

The deal to allow poor countries to import life saving drugs was passed on Saturday.

There are bound to be problems ... some say the deal has too many conditions/rules ...

WHO Director-General Dr Lee Jong-Wook had this to say about the deal today.
"If all the money and all the drugs are available today, that will not solve the problem because it cannot be delivered," Lee said ...

"There are simply not enough doctors, nurses and infrastructure. It's very misleading (to say) that it is a lack of drugs that is making this crisis worse."