Counter-terrorism in Africa - The Economist

Back in the camp, an FBI bomb technician in a Wisconsin T-shirt explains the thermal, pressure and fragmentation effects of an explosion, using a large, ripe watermelon with a blasting cap detonator at its core as an example. On his count the fruit disappears, demonstrating all three explosive effects at once as chunks of shell rain to the ground and the trainees’ new sunglasses are misted by a sweet burst of fresh watermelon juice a few seconds later. “That’s why we don’t handle blasting caps,” the grinning instructor says.

Read More

Attack in Burkina Faso - The Economist

BULLET casings should not be strewn across city blocks. Yet in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, hundreds were on Saturday morning. Small or large, thin or long, copper or silver-coloured, they covered the intersection one street away from the Splendid Hotel, which had come under attack for more than 12 hours on Friday night. 

Read More

Faith's archivists - Christmas story for The Economist

On the other side of the world, Father Columba heads back to the monastery’s guest house, where the windows are streaked with ice. “Benedictines are fundamentally optimistic about the human project. That’s why we’re not frightened by science or novelty,” he says. “When people look at what we’re doing with Muslim communities, they say, why do you do this? I say, this is the time God has given us. We can’t pretend we live in the sixth century when Benedict wrote his rule, or the 13th, or the 1950s, before the sexual revolution. We live now. And part of the reality is cultures which are threatened trying to figure out how to work together on this fragile planet.” 

Read More

Murder in Mali

AFTER armed groups occupied the northern half of Mali and officers in the capital staged a coup in 2012, the country accepted generous international security assistance. A thousand French soldiers now monitor the jihadist plotters who lurk in the desert and the brush; over 12,000 United Nations peacekeepers are at bases in the capital, Bamako, or patrolling the north; and Mali’s own forces are being improved. All of these forces (plus a few American commandos) were deployed after two young gunmen burst into the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on November 20th. Their collaboration was swift and co-ordinated, which undoubtedly prevented more killing, but the death toll was over 20.

In the days that followed, the Radisson remained closed to outsiders as French investigators gathered evidence before handing the process back to the Malians. It was grim inside, with blood stains and the smell of burning plastic. At other hotels, sweeps were under way as the government launched a manhunt for two or three suspects who may have aided the attackers.

The attack was claimed by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group al-Mourabitoun, led by the infamous Mokhtar Belmoktar, who attacked a vast gas plant in Algeria from across the border in Mali in 2013. Intriguingly, many witnesses said the attackers spoke English, or at least something that was neither Arabic nor local. Then a second group, the new Macina Liberation Front (MLF) from the Mopti region in the north-west, claimed responsibility for the attack, which Mali’s president said was plausible. But the details of the investigation remain opaque.

This is the second time that Bamako has been attacked in the past year. The roots of the violence lie in the troubled centre and north of the country, where armed bandits and jihadists vie for control. The MLF in particular has shown its capacity for bloodshed by murdering imams who do not support it and attacking hotels popular with foreigners.

Yet there are some hopeful signs. This week, Germany announced that it was sending 650 troops to beef up the UN operation, a welcome move that will take some of the pressure off the French. And Malians are tired of the conflict. Villagers have started calling government forces after they are robbed by bandits, and helping soldiers find the aggressors. In Kidal, a northern desert region once thought lost, former rebels now run police operations against new violent actors. In Mopti, Malian forces are tracking down the MLF themselves. And development will continue; neither America nor Britain has any intention of cutting back aid in the wake of the attack. “We should honour them by continuing,” said Gary Juste, the mission director for USAID.

The Bamako attack struck at one of the most trusted hotels in the capital, requiring an international response and revealing the fragility of government systems. But it also showed emerging strengths and a willingness to collaborate among the Malian authorities. More help, and a willingness to accept it, will be needed in the years ahead.


Senegal Plans New City to Ease Gridlock, Woo China Investors

On a plain dotted with rotund baobab tree trunks Senegal is planning its future.

The government of the West African nation is laying the groundwork for a new city near the town of Diamniadio that’s meant to ease congestion in the seaside capital, Dakar, home to almost a quarter of the country’s 14 million people. With plans for a new airport nearby, a university, state ministries and a 50-hectare (123-acre) industrial park funded by China, it’s the most ambitious infrastructure project yet of President Macky Sall, who’s pledged to double growth by 2020.

Sall, in office since 2012, uses the slogan "Emerging Senegal" to define his policy of attracting foreign investment to reduce the country’s dependence on fishing, agriculture and tourism and make Senegal a hub for French-speaking West Africa. Cairn Energy Plc has found an oil reserve off Senegal’s coast that may produce as much as 100,000 barrels a day when it’s fully developed.

“It’s the first time we are developing a project of this size,” Ousmane Kasse, who heads the state agency in charge of the Diamniadio project, said in an interview. "We’re preparing the site, and making land available to investors who wish to come here.”

Diamniadio, a town of about 30,000 people, is expected to expand tenfold by 2018. The idea is to ease the urbanization pressure on Dakar, which was designed by the French colonial administration on a peninsula. Its narrow streets in the center haven’t changed since the 1960s and can’t cope with the amount of daily traffic, Ale Badara Sy, an urban planner, said in a phone interview.

China’s CGC Overseas Construction Group is building the industrial park, and Chinese companies may set up operations in the area, Xia Huang, the Chinese ambassador in Senegal, said in an interview. Senegal has strong economic ties with China, with trade reaching $633 million in 2013, U.K.-based risk advisory group Maplecroft said in a report last week.

With the nation’s economy forecast by the International Monetary Fund to expand at least 5 percent this year, up from 4.5 percent last year, the pressure on Dakar is only expected to intensify.

“There’s no space to build new schools or other public buildings,” Sy said. “More and more companies want to leave the center and move to residential neighborhoods.”

MAP: Diamniadio

Soaring real-estate prices have made housing “inaccessible” for middle class Senegalese and caused a shortage in Dakar, Sall said in a March interview. Average rent in the city tripled between 1994 and 2009, according to a 2012 survey by Senegal’s statistics agency, the most recent data available. Last year, Sall’s government passed a rent-control law in a bid to curb prices.

The government hopes the construction of golf courses, fountains and shopping malls in the Diamniadio area will lure residents from Dakar. Relocating as many as 12 government ministries to the area, including energy and mining, should also help cut costs according to Dieynaba Diop, an urban planner at the project.

“The state doesn’t have the means to have all its ministries in Dakar –- they are renting and it’s expensive,” Diop said.

Senegal’s first highway connecting Diamniadio to Dakar opened last year, as well as a conference center that hosted the annual summit of French-speaking nations. Next up is a $400 million regional express train that will connect Dakar to a new international airport that’s being built in Diass, near Diamniadio, and will be finished at the end of next year.

The Diamniadio project has attracted “hundreds of bids” from local and international companies since the plan was approved in 2013, including Germany’s state-owned KFW development bank, which plans to fund a $50 million solar plant in the area, according to Kasse.

Some residents of Diamniadio have expressed concern that they will lose their farmland to investors and real-estate developers.

“There’s a lot of speculation, with people buying the land, but the question is whether they will actually start building,” Sy said. “In itself, it’s a good project. But there’s always the risk they are creating a ghost city.”


African Migrants See Dreams of Reaching Europe Die in Libya

Abdoulaye Kaba never had a chance to cross the Mediterranean to find work as a mason. Trapped in a Libyan jail, he called a Senegalese consulate from a smuggled mobile phone.

“There were days when no water came,” the six-foot 28-year-old said at the airport in Dakar, Senegal, on Feb. 27 after his release from two months in jail in Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city. “We knew that the only solution was to alert the government to our situation.”

Since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya has turned into a battleground for rival militias including Islamic State, the militants that declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. That’s made an already perilous journey for undocumented immigrants seeking to reach the European Union even more hazardous.

Kaba and about 130 others in the jail were flown to Dakar in the largest airlift of migrants to the West African nation since 2011, according to the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration.

Kaba left Senegal Oct. 25 and traveled 17 days through the Sahara desert, crossing Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to reach Libya, where he said he worked as a mason for about a month to fund the voyage to southern Europe. Libyan police arrested him on Dec. 15 for being in the country illegally.

Immigrants Smugglers

Aside from the dangerous sea route, immigrants now face the possibility of being captured by feuding groups before they can make the crossing. Some smugglers have abandoned migrants in Libya or at sea after taking their money. More than 200,000 people from Africa and the Middle East have been repatriated from Libya since 2011, according to the IOM.

The police took Kaba’s documents, some of his clothes and stole his money, Kaba said. Authorities fed five people once a day with food that was meant for three inmates, he said.

Another 270 Senegalese in the prison in northwest Libya started the trip home March 5, taking buses to the Tunisian border, according to the IOM. They may arrive in Senegal next week. More than 130,000 people, mostly from Eritrea and Syria, made the journey across the Mediterranean to Italy last year, according to the Italian government and IOM. About 4 percent were from Senegal.

About 500 Senegalese attempted to cross in to Italy by sea last month, according to the IOM. Only Somalia, Eritrea and Gambia had more citizens attempt the journey.

Worsening Conditions

“The conditions they were living in were very bad,” said Jo-Lind Roberts, the IOM’s director in Senegal, after meeting with repatriated migrants. “Compared to migrants I’ve spoken with six or eight months ago, there’s possibly more fear” about the journey now, she said.

Immigrants use Libya as a transit point because of its proximity to Europe and its porous borders. About 300 have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean, according to the IOM. Last year, 3,000 died in the crossing.

Jamal Zubita, head of Libya’s foreign media office and a leader in Misrata, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phones. Saleh Abu Dabus, an official at the immigration center in Misrata, said by phone that about 800 immigrants are being held in Misrata for being illegally in the country. At least 200 were sent back to Senegal through Tunisia last week, he said.

Fighting between militias in the west in the Libyan capital of Tripoli and in the east in Benghazi has left much of the country of about 7 million people in disarray and without control over government services such as policing and immigration. This has compounded the danger for migrants, Salah al-Din, a spokesman for the Red Cross, said.

Sea Crossing

Egypt warned immigrants this week not to head to Libya for work or as a transit point because of the “proliferation of armed terrorist groups and the imminent dangers,” the Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement. The Islamic State released a video last month where it showed the purported beheading of 21 Coptic Christian workers from Egypt in Libya.

While the economy in Senegal expanded 3.5 percent last year,unemployment is 26 percent, according to the government. More than 100,000 Senegalese have left the nation of 14 million people in the past five years because of a lack of jobs, Sory Kaba, who manages Senegal’s foreign ministry’s program for citizens abroad, said in an interview.

Senegal has a gross domestic product of about $1,000 per capita, below the $4,808 per capita figure in Bulgaria, the lowest of the 28 European Union members, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Norway and the European Union are financing the return of the Senegalese immigrants, which is being coordinated by the governments of Libya, Tunisia and Senegal. The IOM is working to repatriate migrants from Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali, Togo and Sudan from Libya.

At Dakar’s airport, the 130 men clutched white plastic bags with food, toiletries and an envelope of cash from the Senegalese government. Kaba, who made the first calls for help from the Libyan jail, told others not to make the same mistake.

“I would advise them not to go,” he said as he waited to have his papers stamped. “In Libya, there is a lot of aggression.”


Fighting Ebola With Robots And An App Called Jedi

And if and when a robot does roll up to a sick patient, in a place with limited internet penetrationfew smart devices, intermittent power connection, and no other robots to speak of, a place that has suffered terribly while the international community has mobilized, a place where clinics are alternately feared and respected, a place where health care workers have poured sweat and lost lives to serve; when the robot, gleaming of American ability and techno-optimism, broadcasts a human face to a sick person in a bed, that will be a very interesting first.


BBC Tech Tent: Keeping clinical data in an Ebola ward

Google and Facebook come under attack from European politicians. Is Europe's love affair with US tech over? Not everyone who starts a tech firm makes millions and changes the world. We attend a funeral for startups. And how do you gather medical data from an Ebola treatment room? Plus, the Indian smartphone app for calling an auto-rickshaw that promises faster and cheaper rides.


Ebola Deeply: Analysis: How Ready is Mali for Ebola?

When the nurse took my temperature at the border town of Kouremale – where Mali meets Guinea – the infrared gun registered 100.4 F. She was recording temperatures next to names in a book of every person crossing into Mali from Guinea. Minutes later, the Malian president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, would pass through, and I was reading fever.

“Funteni be,” I joked in Bambara. It's hot. I looked around at the many soldiers and customs officers wearing white masks. “Yes,” the nurse said, smiling and waving me off, “it is hot.”


Mali's double whammy

At the mosque where the imam’s body had been washed, a team of workers in full biohazard garb were cleaning the site with chlorine bleach disinfectant on November 14th; according to a local man, it was the first time it had been cleaned. People walked in and out, and children ran about. A teenager who commanded a huge group of onlookers asked what was going on, “you think there is Ebola here?” As your correspondent drove away, a large group of little children chased after the car chanting “Ebola! Ebola!"

    Read More

    This is what it’s like inside an Ebola testing lab in Mali

    BAMAKO, Mali—I was talking to Yaya Sarro, a molecular biologist at the National Laboratory, when the biological samples from the newest possible Ebola case arrived for diagnosis. It was six days after Mali’s first patient, a two-year old girl who had taken a long bus ride from Guinea with her grandmother and sister, tested positive for Ebola. She died on Oct. 24, 600 km northwest of the capital in Kayes. Now Malians, hospital staff, contact tracers, the ministry of health, a few journalists and a coalition of international partners were anxiously waiting for the next case to appear. Eighty-five people were under surveillance, mostly in Kayes, but some in the capital. Families were in isolation.

    Read More

    Cookies, caches and cows

    OUSMANE sweats under a tin roof as he thumbs through a Chinese smartphone that he is selling at the technology market in Bamako, Mali. Words in French, Mali’s official language, scroll down the screen. “A ka nyi?” (Is it good?) a customer asks him in Bambara, Mali’s most widely used tongue.
    Read More

    What Amazon, Uber, and iTunes might look like if they were invented in Mali

    Take what’s available, add a layer. Solve an immediate problem because the bigger ones may never be fixed. This is the way most things work (or inch by) in Mali: be it a potholed road that’s filled with crushed rock monthly rather than paved, or a freelance ultrasound machine that arrives on the back of a scooter to provide imaging for obstetrics clinics. Renaud Gaudin, who is French but leads Bamako’s only tech co-working space, Jokkolabs, said, “we’ve never been this far [towards] creating actual businesses from scratch”. It’s an improvement, at least, where there couldn’t be more room.

    Read More

    Ebola: That others may live

    IT IS a solemn custom in science to mark the names of collaborators who pass away during the course of an article's publication with a superscript no different than that indicating their academic affiliation. Very rare indeed is the case that five names on a single report should share that mark. Such a report was published in Science this week. It demonstrates the astonishing speed at which genetic sequencing can now be carried out. At the same time, the fact that Ebola claimed five of its authors is testament to the deadliness of the paper's subject.

    Read More

    Ebola: How did it get there?

    The most striking thing about the present outbreak, says Andrew Townsend Peterson, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Kansas who is interested in modelling the spread of Ebola, is that it seems to involve the Zaire strain of the disease, the deadliest of the five subtypes of Ebola known to medicine. But Zaire—the name for the country now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo—is a long way from Guinea, where the first cases seem to have arisen in December 2013. How did the virus cross that distance One possibility, according to a paper published on July 31st in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, by Dr Daniel Bausch and Lara Scwarz, of McGill University, is that it didn't.

    Read More

    Algeria's missing flight AH5017

    TWO French fighter jets screamed across northern Mali on Thursday not in pursuit of terrorists, but on a far more tragic sortie. At 1.50am Air Algeria AH5017 disappeared, possibly over the country. The plane was an MD-83, carrying 116 people from Oaugadougou, Burkina Faso to Algiers. Onboard were passengers from France, Burkina Faso, Lebanon and elsewhere, and a Spanish crew. Its pilots were apparently told to alter course to avoid bad weather before contact with the flight was lost. Algeria has sent a C-130 aircraft and Mali is also looking, but the French military lead the search.

    Read More

    The rebels are back

    A Malian colonel reached by phone apparently near Kidal claimed that "morale is high" among his troops. After the fighting, parts of the army are said to have surrendered their guns and sought shelter in the international base. All sides, including the rebels, have called for a ceasefire.

    Read More