|NAIROBI 04 February 2014 (IRIN) – Plans to reshape and modernize African cities, in part driven by investment, architecture and construction companies seeking new markets, could deepen existing social inequalities, according to recent research. But these development plans could also benefit the poor if governments are responsive to the needs of their citizens, argue analysts.|
Marondera — Zimbabwe’s veteran President Robert Mugabe on Sunday celebrated his 90th birthday with tens of thousands of Zimbabweans, a milestone that no other founding fathers of African nations has achieved in office.
One of Africa’s most prominent anti-apartheid fighter Mugabe has been the leader of Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, and having ruled 34 years, he is Africa’s oldest leader and one of the continent’s longest reign president.
“I feel as youthful and energetic as a boy of nine. I drop the zero now,” Mugabe said, triggering a round of applause from Zimbabweans who gathered at the open ground of a stadium in Marondera, 75 km southeast of the national capital Harare.
He said leading a healthy life devoid of smoking and beer drinking had greatly helped him to live this far.
As in past years, Mugabe threw balloons and cut the colorful and gigantic birthday cake with his family — wife Grace Mugabe and their children — while entertainers danced and sang throughout the day. The event was organized by the ruling Zanu-PF party with estimated cost of 1 million U.S. dollars.
But this year suspicion around the nonagenarian leader’s health was aroused as he only returned to Zimbabwe on Saturday, a day after his actual birthday on Feb. 21. Officials said Mugabe had traveled to Singapore to have cataract removed from his left eye.
On Sunday, Mugabe displaced no visible signs of illness and delivered his signature firebrand speech for over an hour.
He took aims at the opposition party, the West that imposed sanctions on the country, withdrawing most of the official aid since the turn of the century.
“The British — we don’t hate you, we only love our country. We love our freedom,” Mugabe said.
He also criticized opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai for allowing violence in his MDC-T party.
“It is said Tsvangirai himself told the youths to beat the leaders. We cannot have a party of that nature coming into government, even allowing them to dominate possession of parliament seats in our urban areas,” Mugabe told the congregants, many of whom were school children. “You don’t raise your hand to hit your senior, never ever. You may quarrel but the best you can do is to go and complain if your senior is wronging you.”
Mugabe also thanked leaders of China and Russia, who sent congratulations through respective embassies, for their best wishes, noting that ties with the two countries date back to the liberation struggle.
“I thank you for the best wishes and for assuring me that the friendship between China and Zimbabwe will be sustained for all times,” he said of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Born in a village about 80 km west of Salisbury, present day Harare, Mugabe grew up basically under the watch of her mom.
A teacher himself and holding the most college degrees among his peers, Mugabe was most accredited for ushering in a bright decade for black Zimbabweans in his first decade’s rule, sustaining the growth of white-dominated farming sector, pushing for universal health-care, education, and social services, and successfully keeping his critics at bay.
Mugabe also consolidated his support base in the country’s vast rural areas by determinedly pushing forward the land re- distribution program, which he says is to correct the wrongs done by imperialists.
Mugabe was once considered, even by the West, as Africa’s success story but the glow began to fade when Nelson Mandela rose to power after 27 years of incarceration.
Even Mandela once jokingly said about Mugabe: “He was the star and then the sun came out.”
But the real threats to Mugabe’s rule only emerged after 1997. Weakening economic growth, galloping inflation, and freezing of British funds to compensate land programs came in toes.
A “fast-track” land re-distribution program, or more commonly known as compulsory land seizure, drew the irk from Western countries. They began to accuse Mugabe of human rights violations. And after the West alleged Mugabe rig 2002 elections, Mugabe and his senior party officials were slapped with travel bans and overseas asset freeze. Generous official aid from the West during the first two decades, amounted to 200 million U.S. dollars a year, was withdrawn.
During the 2000s, the country’s economy was in free-fall. On the political front, Tsvangirai was close to unseat Mugabe in 2002 and 2008 elections. The two political rivals were forced into a four-year-old coalition government after the 2008 election.
But as economy recovered, Mugabe also led the revolutionary Zanu-PF party back on its feet, defeating Tsvangirai and his MDC-T party by wide margins in the presidential and parliamentary elections last July. Mugabe’s new five-year term will end in 2018 when he turns 94.
A new constitution that was passed in 2013 allows a president to serve only two five-year terms but the term limit does not apply retrospectively.
In an interview with state broadcaster ZBC prior to his 90th birthday, Mugabe said he is yet to retire and criticized party leaders fanning factionalism, threatening to expel them if they continued with the bad practice.
“Why should it (succession) be discussed when it is not due? Is it due?,” Mugabe said. “The leadership still exists that runs the country. In other words I am still there.”
Vice President Joyce Mujuru, 58, and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, 67, have been widely reported to be the two faction leaders. Both have been in Mugabe’s cabinet since the 1980s. They have repeatedly denied leading factions.
“When the day comes and I retire, yes, sure, the day will come, but I do not want to leave my party in tatters. I want to leave it intact,” Mugabe said. – Xinhua
As rates of Ebola infection fall in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, planning has begun on how to rebuild public health systems and learn lessons from the outbreak.
Nobody is declaring victory yet. But in Sierra Leone, the worst-affected country, there were 117 new confirmed cases reported in the week to 18 January, the latest statistics available, compared with 184 the previous week and 248 the week before that. Guinea halved its cases in the week to 18 January – down to 20 – and Liberia held steady at eight.
The epidemic is not over until there are zero cases over two incubation periods – the equivalent of 42 days. “It’s like being only a little bit pregnant – there’s no such thing as a little Ebola. We have to get to zero, there can be no reservoirs of Ebola,” Margaret Harris, spokesperson of the World Health Organization (WHO), told IRIN.
But after 21,724 cases and 8,641 deaths in nine countries since the epidemic began in Guinea last year, there is some light. And health workers are already starting to look at what’s next. “Right now important meetings are going on in each country to work out what needs to be done to rebuild – in some significant respects to build health systems almost anew – and to build back better,” said Harris.
A European Union donor conference is due at the beginning of March in Brussels. “What we want to see as a country is a resilient health system that can withstand shocks,” Liberia’s Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah told IRIN. “Our plan [to be presented in Brussels] will be finalized by the end of February. It will be well costed with tangible goals.”
Ebola tested the public health systems in the three West African countries to near destruction – most places in the world would have also struggled. But where the three failed was at the basic “nitty-gritty” level of “standard surveillance, testing and monitoring, the containment of cases, the bread and butter of public health”, said Adia Benton, a social anthropologist at Brown University in Rhode Island.
Citizen and state
A successful malaria campaign in Sierra Leone last week, which reached 2.5 million people, and a planned polio and measles vaccination programme in Liberia, are positive signs for the health services. But the list of necessary reforms is long: stronger surveillance; healthcare that will work after the international partners leave; access to affordable services. The list must also embrace longer-term structural changes, including the relationship between citizen and state.
According to Antonio Vigilante, Deputy Special Representative for the Consolidation of Democractic Governance in the UN Mission in Liberia, and Resident Coordinator, “there is a golden opportunity to have a different start, to have a more balanced development that leaves outcomes in the hands of the people. It’s a very delicate stage, full of opportunities, which should not be missed.”
Liberia is one of the world’s poorest countries and Ebola has been a tragic addition to the burden. It has destroyed livelihoods; already dizzying rates of unemployment have worsened; and food prices have soared. Both rural and urban communities are suffering.
Vigilante is worried the economic impact of Ebola, and the interruption of immunization and reproductive health services during the crisis, could put more people at risk than the virus itself did. “A number of [social protection] measures in the recovery phase would need to be universal,” he said. One example would be if Liberia scaled up its pilot Social Transfer Programme, launched in 2009, to provide just US$40 per year to two million children. There would be sizeable “knock on effects on local markets and entrepreneurship” at minimal cost, according to the Washington-based Centre for Global Development.
Schools are due to re-open on 2 February in Liberia, and a strong case could be made for a universal school feeding programme to attract and retain children in class. “Even before Ebola many children were out of school,” UNICEF spokesman in Liberia, Rukshan Ratnam, noted.
But will the donors come to the party? Donors pledged $1.5 billion to a UN coordinated appeal for Ebola last year, but $500 million is still unpaid. “If we cannot close that funding gap we will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s as simple as that,” Bruce Aylward, WHO assistant director-general in charge of the Ebola response, told reporters on 23 January.
Wasted dollars can be expected in a crisis when the priority is effectiveness – stopping the outbreak – rather than efficiency in how the money is spent. That equation will change if Ebola does not come roaring back with the rains in April, and donors begin to look at competing needs.
There is potential to re-purpose Ebola infrastructure – some of it now idle with a glut in treatment facilities – if donors are willing to be flexible, said Vigilante. Laboratories used for testing could be incorporated into national laboratory services; some of the more permanent treatment units could be re-launched as community-based health facilities; contact tracers could be used as community mobilizers.
“We certainly lost staff as a result of Ebola. But the converse of that is there was a very rapid upskilling as people were trained to work in the treatment units or as contact tracers. It’s a group we should build on,” said Harris. “It’s really important we don’t lose them in the transition to a normal service.”
Among the lessons learned across the region has been the importance of consulting, engaging and empowering local communities: their lack of trust in central government was a major handicap in tackling the epidemic. “Community, community, community. Engagement, engagement, engagement,” said Harris. “We need to listen more. We need to do a lot of work with sociologists and anthropologists.”
Liberia in particular has a highly centralized system of government, but local communities have emerged as critical players in the response with a new can-do attitude. “People given a chance can do a fantastic job,” said Vigilante.
101046 201410131102590518.jpg Feature Health After Ebola Obi Anyadike IRIN NAIROBI Burkina Faso Benin Côte d’Ivoire Cameroon Cape Verde Gabon Ghana Gambia Guinea Equatorial Guinea Guinea-Bissau Liberia Mali Mauritania Niger Nigeria Sierra Leone Senegal Sao Tome and Principe Chad Togo Samoa West Africa Africa
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