Congo: New Boss Same As The Old Boss

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August 30, 2019: In early August, Congolese government health officials publicly stated what everyone suspected: many doctors and health care workers believe the medical relief effort is identifying only half of Congo’s Ebola virus (Ebola hemorrhagic fever) cases. That meant the current epidemic that began in August 2018, could continue another three years. During August 2019 the government and WHO (World Health Organization) confirmed the virus has spread from Ituri and North Kivu provinces to a third Congo province, South Kivu, where two cases were confirmed. WHO continues to worry about the spread of Ebola in the city of Goma (North Kivu province) and into Rwanda. Goma has over two million residents and many people cross the unguarded Rwanda border rather than an official border crossing site. Therefore they do not go through health screening.

On August 17 the government confirmed that a woman in the village 160 kilometers from Goma had contracted Ebola. This was well away from the epicenter of the epidemic. The Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels still occasionally raid the area where this Ebola victim lived and local Security officials noted this was in a “very insecure area.”

The virus continues to take a steady toll within Congo. As of August 26, Congo had 2983 Ebola cases (2878 confirmed and 105 probable). So far 1994 have died from the virus, so it continues to have a 67 percent fatality rate. Reports have to be compiled and tend to be a few days behind the field count and, as health officials acknowledge, the figures likely understate the number of victims. On August 15 WHO reported a total of 2,842 Ebola cases and 1,905 deaths. Over an 11 day period, 89 people died. (Austin Bay)

August 29, 2019: Uganda confirmed it had a second case of Ebola and like the first one in June it was someone who had just come from Congo. Uganda is also administering the new American Ebola vaccine to 800 health care workers living along the Congo and Rwanda border. This vaccine is still in the testing stage but medical personnel likely to deal with Ebola patients are the ones who need the protection a vaccine would provide and usually volunteer for the human trials of new vaccines. This particular trial will last two years and those receiving the vaccine will receive periodic medical checkups.

August 28, 2019: In Congo, 204,044 people were inoculated with the Merck Ebola virus vaccine since August 8. The United States paid for the Merck V920 Ebola vaccine used in Congo.

August 27, 2019: Other epidemics stalk central Africa. On June 20 Congo declared the country was experiencing a measles epidemic. From January 1 through July 21, 2019, Congo suffered over 130,000 cases of measles and 1,801 deaths. That is 90 percent more than the same period in 2018. However, in mid-August, it was estimated the measles death toll had reached 2,758 for 2019. The government now estimates over 145,000 people (mostly children) had contracted the disease in 2019. Measles cases have been confirmed in 23 of Congo’s 26 provinces.

And there’s more. Burundi is experiencing a malaria epidemic – well, officially a medical emergency. As of August 11, Burundian health officials report the country has suffered 5,992,214 malaria cases resulting in 2,192 fatalities. Burundi normally averages about 6.5 million cases of malaria a year. From 2015 to 2017 it had 19.7 million reported cases of malaria. It is on a pace to have over ten million in 2019. This is out of a population of around 12 million people.

August 26, 2019: Congo has finally formed a coalition government, seven months after President Felix Tshisekedi was inaugurated. The bottom line: 42 of the 65 cabinet members are supporters of former dictator-president Joseph Kabila. That is why Kabila’s cronies will run the mining ministry, finance ministry and defense ministry. Kabila’s party, the FCC controls both houses in parliament. President Tshisekedi’s party has less than a third of the ministerial positions. However, a Tshisekedi supporter will run the ministry of interior and security.

August 25, 2019: Australian media accused Rwanda of spying on Rwandan dissidents living in Australia. Rwanda denied the charges.

August 24, 2019: In northeastern Congo (Ituri Province), fighting between soldiers and militias erupted. Three soldiers and 20 militiamen were killed since yesterday. In early July the army began a long-term campaign in Ituri to destroy rogue militias operating there.

August 23, 2019: In southwest Congo (Kasai region), peacekeepers report that the security situation has improved. As a result, 8,500 refugees who fled to Angola’s Lunda Norte province will be returning to their homes.

August 22, 2019: Uganda and Rwanda have agreed to re-open their mutual border. Angola mediated the negotiations that led to the agreement. The talks began in July. The conflict broke out in February when Rwanda closed a major border crossing and urged its Rwandans to avoid visiting Uganda. Rwanda said Rwandan citizens were not safe in Uganda. Rwanda also accused the Ugandan government or supporting rebel forces who oppose Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Uganda accused Rwanda of sending “state agents” to abduct Rwandan citizens. Uganda also claimed Rwanda wanted to “destabilize” Uganda. Both Rwanda and Uganda have fairly competent military forces, so the threats and counter-threats ran the risk of an armed clash between the nations.

August 21, 2019: The Republic of Congo-Brazzaville (the other, smaller Congo on the other side of the Congo River), announced that two oil companies had discovered a new on-shore oil field in the Oyo area (northern Congo Republic). The field has an estimated 360 million barrels of recoverable petroleum.

August 17, 2019: In the Central African Republic (CAR), there has seen a slight decrease in violence, but clashes between Christian Anti-Balaka militias and the Muslim based Seleka group continue. On February 14 armed groups and the government signed an agreement that was supposed to end violence in the CAR. Armed groups still control approximately 80 percent of the country. There is evidence that Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary militia has been selling weapons and other military equipment to armed groups in CAR.

August 15, 2019: Uganda acknowledged that it has technicians from China’s controversial Huawei Corporation helping with security and surveillance issues. The government said that there are threats to itself and President Museveni. Thus the national police hired Huawei to build 11 monitoring centers to help the police “fight crime.” Opposition political leaders and activists accuse the government of using the Huawei technology and technicians to spy on them, especially opposition leaders.

August 14, 2019: In Congo, it is estimated that over the last two years (through June 2019) armed groups (rebel organizations, local militias, gangs, etc.) in the east (North and South Kivu provinces) killed 1,900 people and abducted another 3,300. There are an estimated 130 or more armed groups continuing to operate there. Soldiers and police also abuse civilians, just not as much as the armed outlaws. The Ugandan Islamist rebel ADF is active in North Kivu and accounted for about a third of the dead.

August 13, 2019: Burundi has begun an Ebola virus vaccination program for health workers. The health ministry has vaccinated its personnel in Gatumba, a major entry point from Congo.

August 9, 2019: The International Criminal Court (ICC) recently dropped arrest warrants against two senior Lords Resistance Army commanders, Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odhiambo because the two were apparently dead. The warrant for LRA senior commander Joseph Kony remains in effect.

August 8, 2019: In Congo, Glencore Mining announced that the price slump for cobalt has forced it to “mothball” its huge Mutanda Congo cobalt mine. Prices are now around $13 a pound. In early 2018 cobalt sold for around $43 a pound. Closing Mutanda is a major economic blow to Congo. In 2018 the mine paid the government around $600 million in taxes and royalties. The decision to mothball the mine also means 3,000 local workers will be laid off. However, Glencore insists it will continue to fund the mine’s hospitals and social projects. Workers may continue to receive some pay.

August 7, 2019: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), military police arrested three medical workers involved in an April attack on an Ebola virus treatment clinic. A WHO epidemiologist from Cameroon was murdered, apparently by some Congolese doctors.

August 4, 2019: Congo continues its efforts to convince skeptical Congolese that they must take the Ebola epidemic seriously. Ebola clinics have begun using “isolation cubes” constructed of clear plastic sheets. Family members can speak will ill relatives without risking transmission. The government has also built hand and foot-washing stations throughout eastern Congo.

August 2, 2019: Rwanda reopened its border with Congo. The border was briefly closed after health officials confirmed a third death in the nearby Congolese city of Goma.

 

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