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4 years after it disappeared, officials in Cameroon say polio is back

Officials say the outbreak may have been caused in part by a refusal of vaccinations

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Cameroon
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Cameroon has declared a public emergency after reporting a polio case in its far north, four years after the virus disappeared from the country, the health ministry said on Thursday.

The confirmed case of polio type 2 was found in the Mada area in the remote north bordering Chad and Nigeria, the ministry said in a statement.

It declared a “new polio epidemic following the confirmation of a case of poliovirus type 2 detected in samples.”

A source at the ministry said the outbreak may have been caused in part by a refusal of vaccinations and the cross-border movement of people in the area.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease which mainly affects young children and can result in permanent paralysis. There is no cure and it can only be prevented through immunisation.

International polio vaccination efforts have run into problems in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Militants and religious leaders in rural areas often tell locals immunisation is part of a shadowy conspiracy to weaken their faith.

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Central African Republic panel calls for closure of Chinese-run gold mines

The nature of the ecological disaster discovered onsite justifies the immediate, unconditional halt to these activities

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Four Chinese-run gold mines should be closed in the Central African Republic because of pollution threatening public health, a parliamentary panel said in a report published Saturday. 

“Ecological disaster,” “polluted river,” “public health threatened,” were some of the phrases used in the report.

“Gold mining by the Chinese firms at Bozoum is not profitable for the state and harmful to the population and the environment,” the commission found after its investigation into mining in the northern town. 

“The nature of the ecological disaster discovered onsite justifies the immediate, unconditional halt to these activities,” the report found.

A local missionary, Father Aurelio Gazzera, has published a video showing the state of the river and named the four firms concerned as Tian Xian, Tian Run, Meng and Mao.

Members of the commission spent four days in Bozoum a month ago in response to “multiple complaints from the population.”

There, they found a badly polluted River Ouham, shorn of several aquatic species following the excavation of its riverbed.

They discovered that a rising death rate in fishing villages as well as shrinking access to clean drinking water.

The commission also turned up suspicions of accounting irregularities during its investigation. 

“Average production is between 400 grams (1 lb) to 1 kilo per site per month. This situation seems unacceptable with regard to daily production costs,” the report says.

The investigators also voiced fears that the country’s “resources are being squandered with the complicity of certain ministry of mines officials.”

The C.A.R is rich in natural resources but riven by conflict which has forced around one in four of its 4.5 million population to flee their homes.

Under those circumstances, exploitation of the country’s natural resources is difficult to monitor effectively given that the state only has partial control of its own territory.

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Corruption scandal hampers timber industry operations in Gabon

Wood is big money in the Central African nation, which is almost 80 per cent covered by forests.

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Corruption hurts Gabon's Timber industry

Tropical timber is piling up at Gabon’s main port as the country’s logging industry reels from a corruption scandal that brought down the vice president and ushered in a veteran environmentalist to oversee its forestry.

Wood is big money in the central African nation, which is almost 80 per cent covered by forests. The timber industry accounts for 17,000 jobs and 60 per cent of non-oil related GDP. But at the port of Owendo on the Libreville peninsula, exports have stagnated for months and warehouses are overflowing.

The trouble began in late February, when customs officials discovered huge quantities of kevazingo, a precious and banned hardwood, in two Chinese-owned depots at Owendo. Nearly 5,000 cubic metres were seized, worth around $8 million, some of it disguised in containers bearing the stamp of the forestry ministry. 

Several suspects were arrested, but the plot thickened in April when 353 of the confiscated containers mysteriously disappeared from the port. The ensuing scandal, dubbed kevazingogate, led to the government sacking the vice president, the forestry minister and several senior civil servants.

The minister was replaced last month by British-born Lee White – an environmental campaigner who has lived for years in Gabon, battling to conserve its forests and wildlife. 

Gabonese President Ali Bongo with forstry minister as corruption hurts the Timber industry
Gabonese President Ali Bongo (2nd L) listens to Water and Forestry Minister Gabriel Tchango (2nd R) before National Parks head Lee With (R) and Prime Minister Raymond Ndong Sima (L) on June 27, 2012, during the burning of five tons of ivory worth around 10 million euros in Libreville. AFP PHOTO / WILS YANICK MANIENGUI (Photo by WILS YANICK MANIENGUI / AFP)

Related: Gabon recovers 200 containers of rare hardwood, 153 still missing

Scandal hits timber exports

The scandal has “heavily affected people working in Gabon’s timber industry, without differentiating between those who cheat and those who play by the rules,” said Philippe Fievez, head of French timber company Rougier in Gabon, which has been present in the country since colonial times.

He said the company had been able to export wood for just three of the first six months of the year and at the height of the crisis had had to temporarily lay off 400 of its 1,400 employees. “It’s going to take us between six and nine months to return to normal.”

After the stash of kevazingo, also called bubinga, was found in late February, the team responsible for checking cargo loaded onto ships at ports was suspended, accused of complicity in a smuggling plot.

The following month, timber exports ground to a halt. “A month later, the team was replaced, allowing exports to resume,” said Fievez. But then the containers vanished in April, and several top executives were suspended and the fallout reached the highest reaches of power. 

Francoise Van de Ven, secretary-general of the forestry industry association UFIGA, said, “our companies have been unable to export since early May – we are talking about a considerable loss of profits”.

White, the new forestry minister, “immediately took on the case” after his appointment in mid-June and exports “have just resumed,” she said. But the scandal has inflicted “significant” reputational damage, she admitted.

Gabon's Forest minister hopes to resume Timber exports
Photo taken on September 29, 2016 British born Professor Lee White, then head of Gabon’s National Parcs (Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux, ANPN) sits in a Gazelle helicopter for wildlife anti poaching purposes in Gabon, donated by South Africa’s Ichikowitz Family Foundation in Midrand, north of Johannesburg. – White has been appointed new Gabon’s Forest minister in a Gabonese government reshuffle, a move that follows a scandal over the smuggling of precious timber, AFP reports on June 11, 2019. (Photo by Karel PRINSLOO / AFP)

Related: Foreign investors are flocking to Nigeria’s film industry

Tarnished image also affects timber exports

Exports were also hit by a damning report issued by British NGO the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in March that pointed the finger at a Chinese group, Dejia, which has widespread logging interests in the Congo Basin.

The report laid out the apparent ease with which officials took bribes to cover up the fraudulent activities of some loggers, and within weeks of its release, the government suspended Dejia’s licence at two logging sites.

Benjamin Feng of the Chinese company KHLL Forestry said that now “buyers have the impression there is a risk of purchasing illegal timber when buying wood from Gabon”. “We have about 1,500 cubic metres (53,000 cu. feet) of Azobe wood ready to go to Europe, but my Dutch buyer is hesitating, asking me: ‘What proves that your wood is legal?’.”

“I can prove it, I have all the papers, but the image has been tarnished,” he said. Rougier’s Fievez tried to look on the bright side. “At least the scandal had the merit of pointing out the bad practices of some loggers – now everyone plays by the same rules.”

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Illegal miners defy eviction deadline from Glencore’s Congo project

A landslide at the Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) concession killed 43 people, prompting the government to vow the miners’ removal

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Illegal miners at a copper and cobalt mine run by Glencore in the Democratic Republic of Congo defied a deadline to vacate the site on Tuesday, a union official said, raising fears of a potentially violent standoff.

A landslide at the Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) concession, majority-owned by a Glencore subsidiary, killed 43 people, prompting the government to vow the miners’ removal last Thursday.

According to the army’s inspector-general, General John Numbi, an operation to clear the estimated 2,000 miners will begin shortly.

Union officials and international activists, including Amnesty International, argue expulsion does nothing to address underlying factors, such as poverty and unemployment that lead people to brave dangerous conditions in mines.

“Without an alternative, the artisanals will not leave and the army will move in. When soldiers are sent into the field, we all know what happens,” says Charles Kumbi, regional programme director with the Industrial union.

Last week’s accident, which briefly sent Glencore’s shares tumbling 7%, underscored foreign investors’ exposure to illegal mining activity on their properties. 

Tens of thousands of informal miners operate in and around large industrial mines in Congo. Often equipped with little more than shovels, buckets and straw sacks, they burrow deep underground in search of ore. Accidents are common.

Congo produces more than half the world’s cobalt, a key component in electric car and other electronic batteries, but is one of the world’s least developed countries, afflicted by corruption, conflict and misgovernment.

Reports about the dire conditions under which cobalt and copper is mined, including cases of child labour, have piled pressure on producers and end-users to prove supply chains are clean.

Companies fear that copper and cobalt will be dubbed “conflict” minerals like gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten, which have been used to finance wars in eastern Congo, said Gregory Mthembu-Salter, a former U.N. sanctions monitor in Congo.

While last week’s army intervention forced miners from their operational point at Tenke Fungurume, it was unclear if they had abandoned the site or only retreated to surrounding areas to wait out the operation. Local activists say the area offered to the miners has only low-grade ore and is unlikely to satisfy them.

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