Thursday, 19 March 2015

Nigeria's election-winners

Three issues – corruption, jobs and security – have dominated campaigning in what promises to be Nigeria’s closest ever presidential election, on 28 March. All three put President Goodluck Jonathan’s government on the back foot as it faced a resurgent national opposition under former military head of state General Muhammadu Buhari.

The six-week delay in the elections, announced on 7 February, has certainly helped Jonathan. The government claimed that by 17 March its armed forces, aided by Chad and Cameroon, had pushed Boko Haram out of 17 of the 20 local government areas in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states that it controlled at the beginning of the year. Although the fightback has bolstered the government’s military credibility, it is still exposed on jobs and corruption.

Voters across the country – not just in the opposition’s northern heartlands – take seriously claims by the former central bank governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that about US$1 billion a month in oil revenues were not reaching government coffers. Worse for Jonathan, many are attributing fuel shortages, rising unemployment and power cuts to those claimed diversions. That’s why Buhari and the opposition All Progressives Congress have rallied supporters with promises of 'positive change' and a crackdown on malfeasance. Yet the government's ability to spring surprises – such as the recent military turnaround – means the two candidates are going neck and neck into the final straight.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Ebola conference - crisis not yet over

The chaotic conference on the Ebola crisis at the European Union’s Palais d’Egmont in Brussels on 3 March reflected the confused, ad hoc response to the emergency from national governments and international organisations. It wasn’t a fund-raising meeting: that is due in May under United Nations auspices. Neither was it a meeting to draft the regional recovery plan that the finance ministers of the three most affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – say is essential. That is to be hammered out at meetings starting next week in Freetown and then at the Spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington in April.

The World Health Organisation should have led the response but it has no money. Some 75% of its funds come from voluntary contributions and in its 2014/15 budget the WHO has cut allocations for health crises by over half, to $228 million. This followed a $500 mn. cut to its total budget of $4.5 bn. in 2013/14.

Untangling such crossed wires over money and strategy is harder still after reports of the theft of Ebola funds in Sierra Leone, now under investigation by Parliament in Freetown. The governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone announced their goal to reach ‘zero Ebola’ – no new cases – by April, but much work remains to be done. The clearest message from Brussels came from a non-governmental organisation, Médecins sans frontières: the Ebola outbreak is not under control and the crisis is not yet over.