In Nigeria, avoiding a shot could mean going to jail

As Bill Gates unveiled his plan this week to rid the world of polio, health officials in the northern Nigerian state of Kano announced their own assault on the disease. "The government will henceforth arrest and prosecute any parent that refuses to allow health workers to vaccinate his child against child-killer diseases, particularly polio," said a health ministry official.

This news, which was announced at the outset of the government's four-day vaccination campaign targeting six million children, marks a shift in government policy toward immunization programs in the north of the country. Nigeria's polio vaccination program stalled for more than a year after Muslim leaders raised doubts over the inoculations' safety in the summer of 2003 -- resulting in bans issued by some northern state governments. One leader went so far as to claim that the vaccine was "being used for the purpose of depopulating developing countries, and especially Muslim countries." Other rumors claimed that the vaccines were contaminated with HIV and caused infertility in Muslim girls.

Although it ended in 2004, the immunization ban led to a resurgence of polio outbreaks within previously polio-free regions of Nigeria, as well as in surrounding countries.

This time around, Kano officials aren't taking any chances on noncompliant communities. Officials, who have not yet detailed the punishment or fines that would meet unwilling parents, clearly mean business: The mandate extends even to medical workers, who will be held responsible for reporting unwilling parents.

The recent vaccination effort in Kano comes after UNICEF Deputy Representative Jacques Boyer's recent visit to the capital city, during which he highlighted the challenges of eradicating polio in Nigeria, one of only four nations where polio is endemic. Boyer pointed out that while Nigerian polio cases dropped dramatically -- from 338 in 2009 to 21 in 2010 -- there has been a recent rise, with 20 cases reported in the last six months.

A July 2011 report by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partially attributed this rise to distraction brought on by the recent national elections. While the report's authors praised Nigeria's government for "showing greater commitment to eradicating polio," they also noted that Kano failed to meet indicators of progress and "remains a smouldering risk that could yet undermine the whole eradication effort." With of the weight of polio eradication hanging over them, officials had better hope the threat of imprisonment does the trick.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images


German official blames China for Somalia’s famine

With east Africa in the grip of famine after its worst drought in 60 years, Germany's Africa policy coordinator has fingered an unlikely culprit: China. Agence France-Presse reports:

Guenter Nooke told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau it was clear that "this catastrophe is also man-made".

"In the case of Ethiopia there is a suspicion that the large-scale land purchases by foreign companies, or states such as China which want to carry out industrial agriculture there, are very attractive for a small (African) elite," he said.

"It would be of more use to the broader population if the government focused its efforts on building up its own farming system."

He said that the Chinese investments were focused on farming for export which he said can lead to "major social conflicts in Africa when small farmers have their land und thus their livelihoods taken away."

Today, a written statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry vehemently denied the allegations. "China has never had plans to buy land overseas, and China has never purchased land in Africa," the statement said, adding that Nooke's claims stemmed from "ulterior motives." The Foreign Ministry also announced today that it would provide $14 million in emergency food assistance to the Horn of Africa.

Beijing's protestations aside, Chinese investment in African farmland has ratcheted up significantly in recent years, as the government seeks to quell concerns about long-term food security. One estimate puts the number of Chinese farm workers in Africa at 1 million. Meanwhile, the Atlantic quotes a June 2009 report in the Chinese weekly Economic Observer that describes how Beijing "was planning to rent and buy land abroad" to deal with "increasing pressure on food security."

That said, it's worth noting that China is far from the only foreign investor with major land holdings in Africa today. Private and public investors from India, the United States, and the petrostates of the Middle East, to name a few, have taken their piece of the African land grab, which brought 15 to 20 million hectares of the continent under foreign investment between 2006 and mid-2009. By way of comparison, that's equal to the size of all the farmland in France. If Nooke is right about the connection between foreign investment and famine, seems like there's plenty of blame to go around.

Oli Scarff/Getty Images