In Indonesia, Stage Is Set for Battle Over Future of Democracy


New York Times by Joe Cochrane

October 1, 2014

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Indonesian Parliament, under the control of emboldened political forces opposed to President-elect Joko Widodo, convened for a new five-year term on Wednesday, setting the stage for a long-term battle over the future of democracy in Southeast Asia’s most populous country.

The opposition bloc is led by Prabowo Subianto — a former army general who lost a bitterly contested presidential election to Mr. Joko in July — and controls 68 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives, the main legislative body.

Mr. Prabowo, 62, was once a son-in-law of Suharto, Indonesia’s late authoritarian president, whose military-backed regime ruled the country for 32 years until he was forced to resign amid pro-democracy demonstrations in 1998.

Despite Mr. Prabowo’s election loss three months ago, his “Red and White Coalition” — a reference to the colors of the Indonesian flag — continues to exert its influence, including orchestrating the passage last Friday of 11th-hour legislation in the previous Parliament that eliminated direct elections for mayors, district chiefs and provincial governors.

This week, incoming opposition lawmakers raised the notion of amending the Indonesian Constitution to eliminate direct presidential elections and giving the power to appoint the country’s president back to a legislative body that Suharto had firmly controlled and used to perpetuate his hold on power.

Indonesians began directly electing their presidents in 2004 and provincial-level leaders in 2005 as part of a political and economic decentralization that followed Suharto’s ouster, devolving power away from Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.

Led by Mr. Prabowo’s Gerindra party, the opposition bloc includes Golkar, which was Suharto’s political vehicle during his rule, and four other parties that backed Mr. Prabowo’s presidential run.

Mr. Joko, who will be sworn in on Oct. 20, was a popular mayor who rose to national political stardom after being elected governor of Jakarta in 2012. A former furniture exporter born in a slum in Central Java Province, Mr. Joko, 53, is viewed as a success story of decentralization because he will be the first president in Indonesian history not to be linked to the Suharto-era political elite or to have been an army general.

Philips J. Vermonte, head of the politics and international relations department at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said Mr. Prabowo and his supporters, still stung by their election defeat, were determined to “recentralize” power back into the hands of the political elite in the capital.

“All these achievements we’ve had, including with fighting corruption, were all part of the reform movement after Suharto,” he said. “These changes that Prabowo is trying to do, people feel they are trying to bring us back to square one.”

Despite the country’s successful democratic transition, analysts said, a pattern of political patronage, corruption and money politics that emerged after Suharto’s resignation still holds sway.

On the eve of the July presidential election, parties aligned with Mr. Prabowo passed regulations making it harder for the country’s independent Corruption Eradication Commission to investigate lawmakers for graft.

“There is a stagnation of the democracy process going on in Indonesia,” said Dewi Aryani, a departing lawmaker from Mr. Joko’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. “We must think this through together.”

The departing president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who came under fire after his governing Democratic Party staged a walkout before last week’s vote on direct elections, thus handing victory to Mr. Prabowo’s bloc, has said that he will issue a presidential decree to block the law.

This would, in effect, be a temporary veto, forcing the new Parliament to vote on the issue again within three months.

Yet Mr. Joko will face more immediate problems given the strength of the opposition, whose members have made no secret of their plans to try to thwart his administration at every turn.

Wednesday’s opening session was limited to procedural matters, but the opposition is already set to control the legislative agenda. Parties backing Mr. Prabowo’s candidacy orchestrated parliamentary changes that eliminated the automatic awarding of the post of speaker to the winning party from the April 9 national general elections.

Mr. Joko’s party, known as the P.D.I.P., placed first, but given that his opponents control the new Parliament, the next speaker may come from Mr. Prabowo’s camp.

Alvin Lie, a political consultant and former lawmaker, said Mr. Joko might be compelled to offer incentives to political parties aligned with Mr. Prabowo to defect, including positions in his cabinet, in order to prevent his agenda from being blocked.

Mr. Joko has in recent weeks resisted linking political support to cabinet positions.

“At the end of the day, the P.D.I.P. will have no friends in the Parliament, and in politics, unless you get 51 percent of the votes in elections, you need friends,” Mr. Lie said.

“It doesn’t mean just cabinet seats,” he said. “A coalition can mean more, like how you share power in the Parliament, how you work in regional governments, how you formulate policies and the execution of policy.”

Nigeria’s Actions Seem to Contain Ebola Outbreak


New York Times by Donald McNeil Jr.

September 30, 2014

With quick and coordinated action by some of its top doctors, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, appears to have contained its first Ebola outbreak, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

As the epidemic rages out of control in three nations only a few hundred miles away, Nigeria is the only country to have beaten back an outbreak with the potential to harm many victims in a city with vast, teeming slums.

“For those who say it’s hopeless, this is an antidote — you can control Ebola,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the C.D.C.

Although officials are pleased that success was achieved in a country of 177 million that is a major transport and business hub — and whose largest city, Lagos, has 21 million people — the lessons here are not easily applicable to the countries at the epicenter: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Public health officials in those countries remain overwhelmed by the scale of the outbreak and are desperate for additional international assistance.

A student washed her hands as classes resumed in Lagos last week.CreditAkintunde Akinleye/Reuters

Nigeria’s outbreak grew from a single airport case, while in the three other countries the disease smoldered for months in remote rain-forest provinces and spread widely before a serious response was mounted.

Ebola, Dr. Frieden said, “won’t blow over — you have to make a rapid, intense effort.”

While the danger in Nigeria is not over, the health minister, Dr. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said in a telephone interview that his country was now better prepared, with six laboratories able to make diagnoses and response teams and isolation wards ready in every major state.

After the first patient — a dying Liberian-American — flew into Lagos on July 20, Ebola spread to 20 other people there and in a smaller city, Port Harcourt.

They have all now died or recovered, and the cure rate — 60 percent — was unusually high for an African outbreak.

Meanwhile, local health workers paid 18,500 face-to-face visits to repeatedly take the temperatures of nearly 900 people who had contact with them. The last confirmed case was detected on Aug. 31, and virtually all contacts have passed the 21-day incubation period without falling ill.

The success was in part the result of an emergency command center financed in 2012 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fight polio. As soon as the outbreak began, it was turned into the Ebola Emergency Operations Center.

Also, the C.D.C. had 10 experts in Nigeria working on polio and H.I.V., who had already trained 100 local doctors in epidemiology; 40 of them were immediately reassigned to Ebola and oversaw the contact tracing.

The chief of the command center, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, gave credit to a coordinated effort by the Health Ministry, the C.D.C., the World Health Organization, Unicef, Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee for the Red Cross.

Also, he noted, Nigeria has significant advantages over poorer countries where the outbreak is out of control.

It has many more doctors per capita, some educated abroad at top medical schools.

It has standing teams of medical investigators, with vehicles and telephones, who normally trace outbreaks of other ills like cholera or Lassa fever.

Lagos University Teaching Hospital was able to do Ebola tests in six hours.

The hospitals where patients were isolated were equipped to do tests for electrolytes and blood proteins, both of which must be kept in balance as patients are fed orally or intravenously to replace fluids lost to diarrhea and vomiting.

And air-conditioned hospitals let people wearing protective gear work longer without overheating.

Nigeria also had some luck. Although the first patient, a businessman named Patrick Sawyer, was vomiting on his flight in, none of the roughly 200 others on the plane fell ill. Others did after helping him into a taxi to a hospital.

And a patient in Port Harcourt went to her church and became violently ill during a ceremony in which the congregation laid hands on her. But none became infected.

Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the Gates Foundation’s chief executive, said she was “heartened to see this positive result of the efforts of so many in Nigeria.”

On July 17, Mr. Sawyer defied medical advice and left a hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, where he was being held for observation after caring for his sister, who died of Ebola, although it was unclear whether he knew what she had.

Nigerian news reports said he used Liberian government contacts for permission to leave, flying to Lagos by way of Ghana and Togo. He planned to go to an economic development conference there and then fly back to Coon Rapids, Minn., for his children’s birthdays, according to media interviews with his widow.

Taken to a small private hospital after he collapsed, he denied any contact with Ebola victims and was initially treated for malaria. He died on July 25.

“That hospital had zero infection control,” Dr. Frieden said.

A nurse who helped reinsert an IV line when Mr. Sawyer was delirious and bleeding wore no gloves, had a cut on her hand and did not wash it, he said. She later died.

After malaria treatment failed, Ebola was “high on the index of suspicion,” Dr. Shuaib said.

He learned about Mr. Sawyer’s diagnosis as he sat chatting in his office with a colleague.

“I thought: ‘Oh, my God, not Nigeria. Not Lagos.’ I knew the potential for it to spread in a densely populated place.”

Even though the emergency center swung into action quickly and aggressive contact tracing was possible because Nigeria’s Port Health Services obtained records of Mr. Sawyer’s travel, there were still problems.

It took 14 days, Dr. Frieden said, for the first isolation ward to open in a former tuberculosis ward.

“Health workers initially wouldn’t go in,” he said. “They were afraid. We ultimately trained 1,800 staff.”

Wards were reconfigured to add space between beds, put in washing stations with chlorinated water and create rooms where doctors and nurses could carefully don and remove protective gear. The worked in teams of two so they could watch each other and prevent mistakes.

Also, according to a C.D.C. study released Tuesday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, inaccurate news media reports before the government began offering official information “created a nationwide scare.”

Sales of false cures, including “Blessed Salt,” shot up, and two Nigerians died of drinking large amounts of saltwater.

But Dr. Shuaib emphasized that even terrified Nigerians did not deny the virus’s existence or attack health workers, as happened in the other countries. “No conspiracy theories entered the debate,” he said.

Nigeria’s success shows how important preparation is, said Dr. Frieden, adding, “Some countries that could well be the next Lagos still don’t have a clue about how to deal with this.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Nigeria’s Iron Lady


The Nigerian Guardian by Adekeye Adebajo

September 25, 2014

On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Cape Town in March 2013, I chaired a book launch starring Nigeria’s formidable first female finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, resplendent in her trademark African traditional dress and matching head-gear. She talked unpretentiously without the affected foreign accent of some Nigerians that have spent two decades abroad. She had recently published a book Reforming the Unreformable on her time – between 2003 and 2006 – as finance minister of Africa’s largest economy, which received surprisingly few reviews in Nigeria. Okonjo-Iweala had been the architect of the deal to pay off Nigeria’s $30 billion debt (the second largest such debt deal with the Paris Club of creditors at the time), and led a team of technocratic reformers seeking to tackle corruption, build efficient public and private institutions, and transform the country into an emerging economy.

Without any notes, Okonjo-Iweala gave a fluent, inspiring, and intrepid presentation, breaking down complicated economic concepts in ways that were easy for the general audience to digest. She berated Nigeria’s failure to create a system of sound planning and financial management of its oil resources; described Herculean efforts to fight vested interests at great personal cost; detailed how she had used her impressive international network to achieve Nigeria’s debt deal; observed that Nigeria’s political class appeared to be intimidated by its economic technocrats; and brushed off concerns about women not being equal to men. Nicknamed Okonjo-“Wahala” (Troublemaker) by Nigeria’s lively press, this was a virtuosic performance.

My impression of Nigeria’s “Iron Lady” was of an incredibly competent, courageous, and intelligent individual with a strong sense of public service. I, however, also had the impression of a diva who was aware of her own importance, clearly enjoyed her celebrity status, and came across as a “head-of-state in waiting”. Okonjo-Iweala is not shy about blowing her own trumpet and her role in the Nigerian reform team, talking of the “legitimacy and dynanism that I brought to the team”. Forbes named her among the 10 most influential women in the world in 2011, while Foreign Policy listed her among the top 100 global thinkers in the same year. The 60-year-old technocrat’s brilliant economic credentials are from the prestigious Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – where she had obtained her doctorate. It is clear that the poor grasp of complex economic issues that many of Nigeria’s political leaders and parliamentary dunderheads have exhibited is what has given technocrats like Okonjo-Iweala their immense power, and a belief that they can take better decisions than the leaders they seek to advise.

Okonjo-Iweala grew up in a solidly middle-class Nigerian family with both parents being professors. Her upbringing was a happy, idyllic one full of ballet classes and piano lessons until the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970 forced her family back east, having lost all their savings.  Her father was recruited into the Biafran army. Living on one meal a day, watching children dying, and sleeping on the floor of a bunker were formative experiences that made Okonjo-Iweala determined to succeed, and perhaps also contributed to her three-decade exile in graduate school and at the World Bank in Washington D.C. where she rose to become vice-president in 2002.

Okonjo-Iweala avoids such personal details in Reforming the Unreformable and focuses squarely on her time as finance minister between 2003 and 2006. Despite the technical subject matter, the book is highly readable, rich in detail, and devoid of complex economic jargon. The story is well told and presents a bird’s eye view of Nigeria’s chronically underperforming and staggeringly corrupt state. The book covers the strategies of Okonjo-Iweala’s “Economic Team”; the efforts to address the structural constraints to private enterprise through liberalisation; restructuring the civil service, trade, tariffs, customs and banking sectors; the battle against corruption; the titanic struggle to achieve the annulment of Nigeria’s debt; and the lessons learned from the reform process.

In an impressive example of South-South sharing, Nigeria’s reforms were inspired by Brazil’s experiences. Under Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership, the “Economic Team” – including individuals such as Charles Soludo, Nasir Al-Rufai, Obiageli Ezekwesili, Nenadi Usman, Nuhu Ribadu, and Bode Augusto – develops the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) which set out to tackle poor economic management; weak public institutions and poor governance; the failure of the state to deliver public services; and a hostile environment for private-sector growth. The team sought to bring rationality to a deliberately irrational process designed to enable widespread graft.

A controversial Excess Crude Oil Account (ECA) was created to ensure that savings for the future could be used to stabilise the management of Nigeria’s finances. To increase transparency, Okonjo-Iweala published monthly in national newspapers the funds that state governors and local governments received. A major achievement of the reforms was the liberalisation of Nigeria’s antiquated telecommunications sector. Banking reforms also saw the consolidation of banks from 89 to 25 and the increase in their capital base from $15 million to $192 million. A competitive bidding process for contracts saved the country $1.5 billion in two and a half years. The climax of this rich story is undoubtedly the historic debt deal of 2005. The agreement led to Nigeria’s first-ever sovereign credit rating, and non-oil sector foreign direct investment doubled from $2 billion to $4 billion following the accord.

Okonjo-Iweala is honest in admitting that her reform efforts could have benefitted more from cultivating cabinet members and consulting more with civil society and the civil service. Changes were often pushed through with the assistance of the notoriously autocratic president, Olusegun Obasanjo, without proper intellectual debate and disagreement or wide consultation with key interest groups. It is almost as if some of the genuine opposition to reforms is treated as treasonous, and critics of reform are sometimes unfairly branded as being part of corrupt “vested interests”. The reformers often come across in the book as a secret society and cabal of unaccountable priests championing a religion of neo-liberal reform. Such dogma was, however, not to be challenged, and anyone who tried, was branded a heretic to be burned at the stake.

The NEEDS strategy turned out to be a top-down plan imposed on the country without proper and widespread consultation and buy-in from critical civil society actors. The Nigerian civil society actors in the book remain mostly nameless and faceless. Their criticisms of NEEDS is never spelt out or explained. One does not have a sense that there was any serious engagement with these groups. The core of Nigeria’s intelligentsia is caricatured as “inclined towards socialism”. Okonjo-Iweala tends to lump all opponents of reform together, sometimes blurring the line between opportunistic vested interests and genuine intellectual opposition.  The views of Nigerian economists and think-tanks are also completely absent from the book, even as Western scholars like Jeffrey Sachs are admiringly cited. Indigenous solutions to these deep-seated problems clearly do not seem to have been taken as seriously as external advice.

In terms of other reforms, the author frankly concedes that customs reform was an “outright failure”. There were also glaring supervisory and regulatory failures that led to a severe banking crisis in 2008/2009 which nearly destroyed Nigeria’s financial sector. The “panacea” of privatization turned out to be a mirage.     For all her undoubted brilliance, Okonjo-Iweala has several blind spots. Her criticisms of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) diabolically devastating 20-year socio-economic experiments – the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) – on African guinea-pigs from the 1980s, involving large enforced cuts in health and education and consistently wrong advice, and conducted in an utterly unaccountable manner that often undermined the democratic wishes of African populations, are extremely muted. Critics have charged her with lacking a political antenna: she received much blame for the bungled efforts to eliminate oil subsidies in 2004 and 2012, underestimating the widespread anger and cynicism of the Nigerian public towards a corrupt and corpulent political class that was not trusted to spend, in the public interest, any surpluses resulting from removing oil subsidies.

After serving as the widely-respected Managing Director at the World Bank (its second most powerful position) between 2007 and 2011, Okonjo-Iweala returned to Nigeria in the enhanced position of minister for the economy and finance. Her “second coming” has, however, not proved to be as messianic as the first, confirming the observation that there are no second acts in life.  The great debt deal – the marquee achievement of Okonjo-Iweala’s first term – is being reversed under her very nose as Nigeria’s external debt rose to $9.38 billion and its domestic debt to 8.9 trillion naira by June 2014. Her impeccable integrity of the first term has been increasingly questioned. Accusations have increased of her turning a blind eye to graft to pursue greater political ambitions. In February 2014, the governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, blew the whistle on an alleged $12-20 billion in missing funds from the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Okonjo-Iweala investigated and noted that the missing amount was closer to $10.8 billion, demanding a forensic audit of the NNPC.  Will Nigeria’s “Iron Lady” fall on her sword if these funds are not properly accounted for?

• Dr. Adebajo is Executive Director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, South Africa.

Mexico on road to becoming carmakers’ Nuevo Detroit


Seattle Times by Tim Johnson

September 22, 2014

AGUASCALIENTES, Mexico — It might be a stretch to describe Aguascalientes in north-central Mexico as the new Detroit. But it wouldn’t be a huge stretch.

Mexico’s automotive sector is at full throttle, and Aguascalientes is one of several cities primed by foreign car manufacturers to rev its engines.

Once a sleepy railway crossroads, Aguascalientes now has two massive auto plants and a third on the way. This is making it what one national newspaper called a “mini-Detroit.”

“We’re going to produce 1.1 million vehicles just in Aguascalientes by 2020,” said Rodolfo Esau Garza de Vega, head of economic development in the state.

Nearly every major global automaker now either builds in Mexico or plans to erect an assembly plant in the country. Billions in investment have arrived.

Mexico has leapfrogged other nations. In 2009, it was the world’s 10th-largest auto producer. But it’s soared past Spain and France, and this year Brazil to become the world’s No. 7 automaker and the fourth-largest exporter. Experts say Mexico is one of the most dynamic hubs of the auto industry.

Gone are the days when Mexico produced only compact sedans and pickup trucks.

Later this decade, new plants will be producing premium vehicles, BMWs and Mercedes, Infinitis and Audis.

Many Nissan vehicles that roll out of the existing plants in Aguascalientes are bound not for domestic showrooms or to U.S. auto dealers, but for Brazil, Colombia, the United Arab Emirates and dozens of other markets.

The huge growth comes not just because of Mexico’s good highways and railways, its healthy steel industry and its cheap wages. It’s also because of the nation’s plentiful engineers and the skill of global automakers at keeping quality high, wherever their cars are built.

“The quality and cost of Mexican (automotive) products have no equal in Latin America,” said Luis Lozano Soto, automotive team leader at the Mexico City offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a global consulting firm.

There’s another key factor. President Enrique Peña Nieto, in announcing in August that the South Korean automaker Kia would build a $1 billion plant outside Monterrey, noted Mexico has free-trade agreements with 45 nations.

The United States, in contrast, has free-trade accords with only 20 countries. Brazil has only eight free-trade agreements.

“We have a unique geographical location with privileged access not only to North and Latin America markets, but also those of Europe and Asia,” Peña Nieto said.

About 66 percent of Mexico’s auto exports go to the U.S. market, 8 percent to Canada, 11 to 12 percent to Latin America, 8.3 percent to Europe and the remainder to Asia and the Middle East, Lozano said.

The history of Nissan, the Japanese automaker, in Mexico reflects the growth of the auto industry as a whole.

More than half a century ago, Nissan chose Mexico as the site for its first assembly plant outside Asia. Now it dominates the Mexican market, with a 26 percent share.

Five of the top 10 best-selling vehicles are Nissan models.

Nissan built its first plant in Cuernavaca, near Mexico City. It built a second plant in Aguascalientes three decades ago. Then in November, it inaugurated a second Aguascalientes plant, which it had built in a record 19 months.

Now, its two Aguascalientes plants produce a car every 38 seconds.

Nissan exports cars it produces in Mexico to 50 countries, said spokesman Herman Morfin Ortiz.

At the new plant, a stamping facility that molds rolled steel into fenders and chassis parts clangs and hisses. But overall, the rest of the factory has little of the racket of older auto-assembly plants.

Each chassis moves along the assembly line on a silent robotic vehicle that follows a magnetic strip. It’s a major advance from the noisier overhead rails that pull a vehicle at the other Aguascalientes plant.

All workers wear gloves. “The idea is that no worker touches the vehicle directly until the new owner takes possession,” said Irvin Herrera, who led visitors through the plant.

As auto plants spring up across Mexico in cities like Celaya, San Luis Potosi, Monterrey, Salamanca and Saltillo, factories making electronics, tires and other automotive components are popping up, lining highways in central Mexico.

“It’s just a brutal knock-on effect. If you pass by Queretaro, it’s one factory after another. And it’s all auto parts,” said PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Lozano, who noted that some 550,000 people work in some aspect of the nation’s auto industry.

About a third of all Japanese investment in Mexico concentrates in the state of Aguascalientes, whose capital city of the same name has a population of about 1 million people.

Garza de Vega, the state’s head of economic development, said 70 Japanese companies have set up in the state, some in logistics, services and spare parts for machinery.

Nigeria Free Of Ebola As Final Surveillance Contacts Are Released


Forbes by David Kroll

September 23, 2014

As the WHO Ebola Response Team published dire predictions of the west African outbreak in the New England Journal of Medicine, overnight – including an updated 70.8% fatality rate – the Health Minister of Nigeria reports that his country is completely free of active Ebola cases and have today released the final victim contacts from surveillance.

In a telephone interview last night where he was preparing for a United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, Minister of Health Onyebuchi Chukwu, MD, said, “Presently, there is no single case of Ebola virus disease in Nigeria – none.”

Dr. Chukwu provided further details, saying, “No cases are under treatment, no suspected cases. There are no contacts in Lagos that are still under surveillance, having completed a minimum of 21 days of observation.”

In the process of tracing contacts of individuals infected with Ebola, anyone showing no symptoms after three weeks of last known contact with a victim is considered free of any potential for the disease.

Rivers State, whose capital city is Port Hartcourt, had been home to over 400 contacts under medical surveillance. As of last night, only 25 contacts remained.

“None of them are showing any symptoms. Tonight [Mon 22 Sept] will mark the end of their 21 days of observation and the plan is to get them discharged from surveillance tomorrow [Tues 23 Sept].”

“Nigeria will be as clean as any other country as far as Ebola virus disease is concerned.”

Achievement in perspective

PBS TV reporter Fred de Sam Lazaro wrote yesterday from Port Hartcourt, “The story of Ebola in Nigeria is an unusual and frankly rare one about things going right somewhere in Africa.”

“Nigeria’s achievement truly hits home for a television crew working “in the trenches” of a country the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency describes as “hobbled by … insecurity and pervasive corruption,” added Lazaro, who can be found on Twitter @newshourfred.

His team’s outstanding 8-minute report aired last night on PBS Newshour.

Indeed, the disease has now been contained in Lagos, a city of 21 million people, and Port Hartcourt, population 1.4 million.

Nigeria is the most populous country on the African, with 177 million people, yet only suffered 21 Ebola cases and eight deaths. In contrast, Liberia has just 4.3 million people yet has experienced 2,710 reported cases, with 1,459 deaths (as of 18 September).
Ebola virus was brought to Nigeria when naturalized American and Liberian Ministry of Finance official, Patrick Sawyer, traveled to Lagos for a meeting of the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) in Calabar on July 23.

Sawyer had symptoms of the disease before leaving Liberia and became very ill on the flight, infecting others from ECOWAS who greeted him and at the hospital where he was treated and died two days later.

A contact under quarantine in Lagos for some reason took flight to Port Harcourt, about a seven-hour drive. There, he was treated in secret by Dr. Ikechukwu Enemuo. Both later died.

Enemuo infected others, including his wife and sister. Both were successfully treated and recovered. But authorities had to track 477 contacts in the Port Hartcourt area.

The need for cautious communication

Dr. Chukwu told me, and has said publicly elsewhere, that one challenge in Nigeria has been preventing stigmatization of anyone under surveillance as well as Ebola survivors.

“Three terms became part of our lexicon: surveillance, quarantine, and isolation.” But these need to be clearly explained, said Dr. Chukwu.

“Surveillance is sort of like house arrest. You don’t criminalize them. The person is actually a victim, not a criminal. We monitor their movements, the rest of the family are counseled about what contact can and can’t be done. We have contact with them everyday. You can imagine what this effort must’ve been like when we had 300 in Lagos and over 400 in Port Hartcourt.”

Only when those under surveillance show symptoms – a fever, whether it ends up being Ebola, yellow fever, or malaria – they are put under quarantine.

“That is the first time we are denying that individual the comfort of his own bed. We put him in separately from the isolation ward from those who are confirmed. If malaria, we discharge them to their doctor to be treated for malaria.”

Credit to WHO-assigned physicians

The Ebola survivors in Nigeria were not treated with any experimental drugs. Contract tracing and early identification of cases were managed by isolating the patients and replacing fluids and electrolytes. In some cases, blood transfusions were necessary.

Dr. Chukwu had high praise for WHO Director General, Margaret Chan, for sending physicians to Nigeria. “We only knew about Ebola virus through our medical books. We’ve never seen a single case of Ebola virus until this year. So we needed someone with practical experience who had seen the virus to come and train our doctors what to do and the rest, and then we took over.”

“It is important that we let the world know that WHO did well in sending us doctors with practical experience, said Dr. Chukwu. “But we also worked with the CDC, UNICEF, and MSF in managing the disease.”

Controlling the outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone

Dr. Chukwu said that a major challenge is that the three countries are contiguous and in need of independent, coordinated oversight. The case in Nigeria was different because once President Goodluck Jonathan declared a health emergency, he had the authority and resources to direct the entire national effort.

In an attempt to centralize the west African reponse, the current chairman of ECOWAS is the president of Ghana and convening a meeting of west African health ministers together with the director of the Nigerian Center for Disease Control.

In the rest of Africa, Dr. Chukwu suggested that Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone (as well as Senegal) could benefit from the expertise of doctors in Uganda and the DRC who have successfully treated Ebola patients. The rest of the world can certainly provide the aid that is starting to grow: emergency mobile hospitals, supplies such as IV fluids and personal protective equipment.

But people in these countries are also voicing a loss of confidence in their own governments as their economies fail and food and clean water are in short supply.

And, particularly with the killing of aid workers in Guinea last week, the international effort must bolster security to encourage volunteers that they can work safely in what are already extremely demanding conditions.

Nigeria oil union strike not affecting exports-Shell


Reuters Africa by Chijioke Ohuocha

September 18, 2014

A strike by Nigeria’s oil unions is not having any immediate impact on crude oil exports from Africa’s top exporter, despite moving into a third day, spokesmen for leading operator Shell and Nigeria LNG said.

Nigerian oil unions say the strike could affect exports if no agreement is reached with the government.

The spokesman for NLNG, the gas exporter which is run jointly by Shell and the government, said he did not foresee any impact from the strike, which began on Tuesday. The dispute is over pensions and a lack of crude supplied to refineries.

Also indicating that the strike has yet to have any impact, the Qua Iboe BFO-QUA grade of crude oil for November export came to market on Thursday, on schedule.

Oil traded slightly lower below $99 a barrel, pressured by ample supply and concern over the weakening of demand growth in major consumer nations, as well as a rise in the U.S. dollar.

The employees on strike work for the state-owned oil firm the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), not the international oil majors, which operate the oil blocks and export terminals.



Indonesia Rupiah Drops Past 12,000 as Fed Sparks Outflow Concern


Bloomberg News by Yudith Ho

September 17, 2014

The rupiah weakened beyond 12,000 per dollar for the first time since June on speculation foreign investors will cut their holdings of Indonesian assets as the Federal Reserve moves toward raising borrowing costs.

Foreign funds sold $216 million more local equities than they bought this month through yesterday, exchange data show. The U.S. central bank raised its end-2015 median estimate for the federal funds rate by 25 basis points after a two-day meeting that ended yesterday. Indonesia’s current-account deficit was $9.1 billion last quarter, near the record $10.1 billion of a year earlier. Outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is said to have refused a request by his successor to reduce fuel subsidies before his term ends in October.

“Indonesia may be less resilient to outflows compared with its peers,” said Saktiandi Supaat, head of foreign-exchange research at Malayan Banking Bhd. in Singapore. “We haven’t seen much improvement on the current-account or the fiscal side with the fuel subsidies still to be decided.”

The rupiah fell 0.7 percent to 12,038 per dollar as of 9:28 a.m. in Jakarta, prices from local banks show. It earlier dropped to 12,041, the lowest level since June 27. In the offshore market, one-month non-deliverable forwards lost 0.6 percent to 12,138, 0.8 percent weaker than the onshore rate, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Bank Indonesia set a fixing used to settle rupiah forwards at 11,908 per dollar yesterday, with today’s rate due at 10 a.m. in Jakarta. One-month implied volatility, a measure of expected swings used to price options, jumped 54 basis points to 11.92 percent, the highest level since July 10, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Subsidies, Bonds

Yudhoyono has declined to raise fuel prices before he leaves office, saying it’s not a conducive time to do so, President-elect Joko Widodo was cited by news website Tempo as saying after a meeting between the two on Aug. 27. Indonesia’s central bank, the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry,Finance Ministry and the national police have agreed to allow government bodies to hedge against currency moves, Rizal Djalil, head of the nation’s audit agency, said yesterday.

Government bonds declined, with the yield on the 8.375 percent notes due March 2024 rising two basis points, or 0.02 percentage point, to 8.30 percent, according to the Inter Dealer Market Association.