|Wednesday 03rd of February 2021
The Original Karen | Colonial Nostalgia and Nairobi’s Out of Africa Industry @thedrift_mag @CareyBaraka
After Kenya declared independence from British rule in 1963, there came a flood of renamings. Schools, suburbs, and roads were rechristened in ways that spoke to a new idea of what it meant to be authentically Kenyan.
In Nairobi, “Queens Way” became “Mama Ngina Street,” and roads named after the first four colonial commissioners were redesignated for African leaders: Dedan Kimathi, Muindi Mbingu, Daudi Dabasso Wabera, and Mbiyu Koinange, respectively.
One appellation that escaped the fate of the rest was “Karen” — the name of a Nairobi suburb, presumably christened for the Baroness Karen Blixen, the Danish writer also known as Isak Dinesen.
Karen Estate lies seventeen kilometers west of the city centre and is one of a few Nairobi suburbs where tall jacarandas loom large, straddling long driveways onto huge mansions with plush gardens.
It hosts diplomats, powerful business people, the upper strata of Kenya’s political class, expatriates, and much of Kenya’s privileged white, Asian, and Black populations.
Karen’s contemporary ethos was unintentionally revealed in a New York Times Style story about the suburb’s upscale boutiques in which every single shop-owner and fashion designer mentioned is a white woman, including the Swedish proprietor of a shop called “Bush Princess.”
Karen, we learn, is “home to some of the city’s most intriguing and exclusive places to shop.” The two African women pictured, only one of them named, are both floor staff.
The colonial undertones are even less veiled in a 1985 story in The Washington Post that devoted copious print inches to explaining the pains white homeowners in the “horsey suburb” took to protect their houses and “well-trimmed hedges” from Kenyan robbers.
In Karen today, you can breakfast with the endangered Rothschild giraffes at Giraffe Manor, or adopt an elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. And, of course, you can visit the Karen Blixen Museum, in the house where the baroness once lived.
Karen Blixen, a Danish aristocrat, moved to Kenya at the height of Empire, in 1913, with her new husband, 15,000 Danish crowns, and the intention to start a coffee farm.
It was only later, after she returned to Denmark in 1931, that she gradually found fame as a writer.
Her 1937 memoir, Out of Africa, offers a record of her time in Kenya, detailing her relationships with her lovers, her servants, and the two thousand “Natives” who lived on her farm.
As Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the grand old man of Kenyan letters, later wrote, “As if in compensation for unfulfilled desires and longings, the baroness turned Kenya into a vast erotic dreamland in which her several white lovers appeared as young gods and her Kenyan servants as usable curs and other animals.”
And dreamland she made it. On safari, Blixen’s servants carried bathwater to her on their heads across the plain, and, she writes, “when we outspanned at noon, they constructed a canopy against the sun, made out of spears and blankets, for me to rest under.”
She imagines herself a judge to the Kikuyu squatters, claiming at one point that she looks at her cook “with something of a creator’s eyes.” To Blixen, the Africans existed if not quite at the level of the bush animals, then somewhere just above them.
“The Natives,” she writes, “could withdraw into a world of their own, in a second, like the wild animals which at an abrupt movement from you are gone—simply are not there.” She believed that “the umbilical cord of Nature has, with them, not been quite cut through.”
Deserted by her husband, Karen threw herself into the hedonistic social life available to the European gentry in the colony. When the Duke and Prince of Wales came to visit, she made the local Kikuyu perform a dance in their honor.
She and her lover, British big game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton, oscillated in and out of the “Happy Valley set,” described by Ulf Aschan, the godson of Blixen’s husband, as “relentless in their pursuit to be amused, more often attaining this through drink, drugs, and sex.”
A popular question among British aristocrats at the time was, “Are you married or do you live in Kenya?” None of this appears in Blixen’s memoir, which skips over wild parties in favor of providing lush detail about the landscape and the “Natives.”
In The New York Review of Books, American critic Jane Kramer called Out of Africa “without a doubt the most irresistible prose ever written about East Africa.”
A bestseller, it was selected for the Book-of-the-Month Club, included in the Modern Library series “100 Best Nonfiction Books,” and translated into multiple languages.
Blixen’s name was regularly floated as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
When Ernest Hemingway — a regular hunting partner of Blixen’s husband, Bror — won the prize in 1954, he suggested it should have gone to her instead. (She was reportedly closest in 1961, when she was passed over for Ivo Andrić.)
In 1985, the memoir was adapted into a film directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. The plot, which draws on several additional sources including Blixen’s second memoir, Shadows on the Grass, and Judith Thurman’s biography of Blixen, is primarily focused on Blixen’s romance with Finch-Hatton.
It brought in $227.5 million at the box office and swept the Oscars, winning seven awards including Best Picture and Best Director, and propelling the image of Kenya as a romantic gateway into popular imagination.
The year after the film’s release, Kenya saw a dramatic spike in tourism (from 152,000 visitors to 176,000 in a single year), and the house Blixen once lived in was converted into a museum.
By 1987, the tourism sector had become a tentpole of Kenya’s economy, bringing in approximately $350 million annually. By the end of the decade that figure had grown to $443 million per year, roughly 40 percent of Kenya’s total foreign exchange.
Barack Obama recounted his first visit to Kenya in 1988, writing that he suspected some tourists “came because Kenya, without shame, offered to re-create an age when the lives of whites in forest lands rested comfortably on the backs of the darker races.”
He was struck by Nairobi’s stark racial hierarchies, something he hadn’t anticipated seeing in his father’s homeland.
“In Kenya,” he wrote, “A white man could still walk through Isak Dinesen’s home and imagine romance with a mysterious young baroness.”
The Original Karen | Colonial Nostalgia and Nairobi’s Out of Africa Industry @thedrift_mag @CareyBaraka [continued]
Prior to the violence of colonialism, the 6,000 acres Blixen called her own had belonged to the very “Natives” about whom she rhapsodized in her memoir.
Wanton theft is at the core of colonial Kenya, which the British established as a settlers’ frontier, parceling off land to European adventurers.
The first batch of settlers received their land grants in 1902. It included British aristocrats like Lords Delamere, Hindlip, and Cranworth, who set the gold standard for a gilded countryside hunter lifestyle.
Later, the British government expanded lease offerings and exempted settlers from the land tax, and in 1920, the protectorate officially became a colony.
But coffee and cattle, the colonial industries of choice, were expensive to produce, and Kenya earned a reputation as a “big man’s frontier,” a place where only the extremely wealthy could afford to settle.
The Blixens were part of this wave of settlers. Their land, previously Maasai pastoral country and Gikuyu farmland, became “a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills” — Out of Africa’s famous opening line.
Ngũgĩ calls settlers like the Blixens “parasites in paradise.” He writes, “Kenya, to them, was a huge winter home for aristocrats, which of course meant big-game hunting and living it up on the backs of a million field and domestic slaves.”
With its warm climate and its stunning landscapes, colonial Kenya was an attractive getaway for European aristocrats looking to escape the winter chill, and colonial planners catered to their needs. In his 1902 book, Sir Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of To-Morrow, 1902.
Garden Cities of To-Morrow, the British urban planner Ebenezer Howard had laid out his ideal “garden city,” which combined the best features of urban and rural life.
The parts of Nairobi that were segregated for whites were planned as garden cities, with deliberate care taken, for instance, to plant jacaranda trees en masse.
Meanwhile, Africans were consigned to live in what the architectural historians A. M. Martin and P. M. Bezemer have called “villages on garden city lines.”
Africans were not even allowed to settle permanently within city limits. Their settlements, along with those of the Indian workers brought in by the British as railway builders, were viewed as potential public health threats to Europeans and deliberately placed far from white suburbs.
A 1941 report by the African Housing Board proposed that this housing strategy would teach “Native” residents to observe elementary rules of hygiene.
In white Nairobi, safe from the scourge of non-Europeans, residents could live charmed existences in a green paradise.
It’s an idea — and a marketing strategy — that persists for both tourists and residents: Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s President and the scion of the nation’s richest family, made headlines in December for affirming his commitment to restoring Nairobi’s worldwide reputation as a “Green City in the Sun.”
After the Great Depression, Blixen was forced to leave Kenya and sell her family’s now-bankrupt plantation, Karen Coffee Company (which, confusingly, was either named after Blixen or her cousin).
The buyer, developer Remi Martin, subdivided the land into ten- and twenty-acre plots and kept the name “Karen.”
Heralded by advertisements in the early 1930s as a place for “contentment in retirement,” the new estate boasted such activities as golf, tennis, polo, fishing, and shooting.
“All the Amenities without the Disadvantages of Town,” one advertisement read. Here was the ideal garden city.
I live in Machakos, a county to the east of Nairobi, but I went to college in Nairobi. I recently decided to visit Karen, on the far end of the city.
As a Black Kenyan man, it’s likely that if I were to walk alone in Karen, I’d be questioned and asked for identification. This is not particular to Karen; all the wealthy neighborhoods in Nairobi are rife with physical barriers and security guards who carefully screen visitors.
Before independence, an African was not allowed inside Nairobi without a permit and a kipande (a metal plate worn around the neck detailing basic personal details, fingerprints, and employment history), and in neighborhoods like Karen, discrimination persists against those assumed not to belong.
In light of its sheer expanse and my lingering fear that I’d be stopped, I asked a friend to be my guide. Linda, who is Black and lives in Karen, agreed, and we drove around the suburb, playing tourists in colonial Nairobi, before heading to the museum.
The estate is picturesque: potted plants hang from street signs, and tall croton trees hide old English colonial bungalows.
On one road, a sign announced, “No Horses Allowed Beyond This Point.”
A gate bore a placard reading, “Out of Africa.” As we drove, we talked about the “Karen Cowboys,” a group associated in Nairobi with the Karen Estate.
Perhaps no figure better illuminates the links between contemporary Kenya and its colonial past than the Karen Cowboy. Sometimes also called Kenyan Cowboys, KCs are descendants of European colonialist-settlers, and they, as Linda put it to me, “live in a separate universe.”
KCs are modern-day descendants of the Happy Valley set. Their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents came to Kenya and acquired land as participants in the violence of the British colonial project.
They revel in the settler-colonist aesthetic, keeping horses, dressing in cargo pants and safari boots, and driving old Land Cruisers and Land Rovers.
Families maintain accounts at the Karen Provision Store, and children are sent to posh British-curriculum schools in Nairobi.
Some are cash-poor but asset-rich, with land that has “always” been in their families — frequently this includes luxury tented camps at the Maasai Mara, Kenya’s premier safari destination.
Many have a wealth of information about the country of Kenya and can speak Swahili, but keep themselves isolated from the Kenyan population.
As Susan, a British-born white woman who moved to Karen in the 1970s to marry an African man, explained, KCs are characterized by their ‘cowboy lifestyle.’
“They go on safari, go drinking, go riding, have fun,” she said. “That’s what’s important to them.”
One of the more publicly recognizable avatars of KC culture was Tom Cholmondeley, the Nairobi-born, Eton-educated great-grandson of Lord Delamere, one of colonial Kenya’s earliest British settlers and “progenitor of Kenya’s most famous white family.”
Cholmondeley was convicted in 2009 of killing stonemason Robert Njoya on his family’s 50,000-acre ranch.
Njoya was the second Kenyan man Cholmondeley had shot and killed in as many years, claiming self-defense against potential robbery and poaching.
His girlfriend Sally Dudmesh, a British jewelry designer and member of the “hard-partying expat set,” visited him regularly during his nearly four-year stint in prison.
“For me, it really feels like I’ve been in prison,” she complained to the Evening Standard.
“I’m really suffering. This is beyond what a human being can tolerate.”
In fact, Dudmesh lives at The Ngong Dairy, the house in Karen that was used as Blixen’s in the film Out of Africa.
As she once said in an interview, to her, Kenya represents “a sort of wildness, a spirit of adventure. There’s an incredible freedom and scope to Africa that you don’t find in England.”
The post-mortem, says the former president suffered from voter perception that he wasn’t honest or trustworthy and that he was crushed by disapproval of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic @YahooNews
Law & Politics
The post-mortem, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO, says the former president suffered from voter perception that he wasn’t honest or trustworthy and that he was crushed by disapproval of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
And while Trump spread baseless accusations of ballot-stuffing in heavily Black cities, the report notes that he was done in by hemorrhaging support from white voters.
The 27-page report, which was written by Trump chief pollster Tony Fabrizio, shows how Trump advisers were privately reckoning with his loss even as the former president and many of his supporters engaged in a conspiracy theory-fueled effort to overturn the election.
The autopsy was completed in December 2020 and distributed to Trump’s top political advisers just before President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
It is unclear if Trump has seen the report.
The findings are based on an analysis of exit polling in 10 states. Five of them — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — are states that Trump lost after winning them in 2016.
The other five — Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas — are states that Trump won in both elections.
The report zeroes in on an array of demographics where Trump suffered decisive reversals in 2020, including among white seniors, the same group that helped to propel him to the White House.
The autopsy says that Trump saw the “greatest erosion with white voters, particularly white men,” and that he “lost ground with almost every age group.”
In the five states that flipped to Biden, Trump’s biggest drop-off was among voters aged 18-29 and 65 and older.
Suburbanites — who bolted from Trump after 2016 — also played a major role.
The report says that the former president suffered a “double-digit erosion” with “White College educated voters across the board.”
The picture of the election presented in the report is widely shared by political professionals in both parties, if not by Trump and his legions of his supporters.
Trump never offered a concession to Biden, and up until his final days in office, he clung to the debunked idea that the election had been stolen.
Fabrizio declined to comment on the post-mortem. A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump’s personal behavior, the autopsy makes clear, contributed to his defeat.
“Biden had a clear edge over POTUS on being seen as honest & trustworthy,” Fabrizio writes.
Trump’s response to the pandemic was also critical. The autopsy says that coronavirus registered as the top issue among voters, and that Biden won those voters by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.
A majority registered disapproval of Trump’s handling of the virus.
Most voters said they prioritized battling the coronavirus over reopening the economy, even as the president put a firm emphasis on the latter.
And roughly 75 percent of voters — most of whom favored Biden — said they favored public mask-wearing mandates.
The report also indirectly raises questions about the reelection campaign’s decision to pause advertising on TV over the summer and save resources until the fall.
According to the findings, nearly 9-in-10 voters had made up their minds about whom to support by the final month of the race.
Fabrizio isn’t the only Trump adviser who has presented a post-mortem since Nov. 3. John McLaughlin, another Trump pollster, published a report on the conservative Newsmax website the week after the election.
Meanwhile, advisers to former Vice President Mike Pence brought in multiple pollsters to brief him on their conclusions after the election, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
Among the takeaways was that Trump was gaining during the final weeks of the race and that his rallies had helped propel Republicans running in House and Senate races.
But the pollsters also made clear that while there was substantial support for Trump’s policies, there was widespread exhaustion with the president.
Within Trump’s inner circle, Fabrizio had long espoused the belief that Trump needed to prioritize the pandemic in order to win reelection.
Last summer, he penned a 79-page memo arguing that Trump needed to focus first on dealing with the pandemic rather than reopening the economy and recommending, among other things, that he should have been encouraging people to wear masks rather than mocking the practice.
Post Election Exit Poll Analysis 10 Key Target States Prepared by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates @Politico
Law & Politics
Racially, POTUS suffered his greatest erosion with White voters, particularly White Men in both state groups.
However, he made double digit gains with Hispanics in both groups, while his performance among Blacks was virtually the same as 2016.
Worse was the double-digit erosion he suffered with White College educated voters across the board.
Voters who did not vote in ’16 but voted in ’20 accounted for roughly 1-in-6 voters and they broke markedly for Biden, especially in the “Flipped” states.
Coronavirus (CV) was the top issue in both state groups – more so in “Flipped” states – and Biden carried those voters nearly 3 to 1. The economy ranked second and POTUS crushed Biden with those voters by a 6 to 1 or better margin.
In 2016, Trump won Independents by double digits in both the Flipped and Held groupings. They shifted against him significantly in 2020.
09-NOV-2020 :: the Political decapitation of President Trump by the [not so] ''Sleepy'' Joe Biden
Law & Politics
The demise of the Reality TV Star turned seriously vaudeville with Mr. Giulani mounting the last stand from the Four Seasons Total Landscaping next to Fantasy Island Adult Books across the street from the Delaware Valley Cremation Center.
Some Folks seem convinced that the Prophet of Populism Donald J. Trump is going to lead his 70m Disciples into some major 5th generational chess moves but surely just as likely is an Unfolding psychological breakdown played out in front of our eyes on TV like Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of Salesman
“You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away - a man is not a piece of fruit.”
“If personal meaning, in this cheer leader society, lies in success, then failure must threaten identity itself.”
I’m tired to the death. The flute has faded away. He sits on the bed beside her, a little numb. I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t make it, Linda.
Counterintuitively, The Trump Vladislav Surkov Talking Points which of course always feature George Soros are strangely ineffective and a little like a receding tide.
“My take on Trump is that he is an inevitable creation of this unreal normal world,” Adam Curtis says.
“Politics has become a pantomime or vaudeville in that it creates waves of anger rather than argument. Maybe people like Trump are successful simply because they fuel that anger, in the echo chambers of the internet.”
Sage warned No 10 over South African Covid variant weeks ago @thetimes
Government scientists had warned that only mandatory hotel quarantine for all travellers would prevent new coronavirus strains from arriving in the country before it emerged that the South African variant was spreading in Britain.
Boris Johnson announced limited hotel quarantine measures last week for travellers from 30 “high-risk” countries in an attempt to stop them from spreading potentially “vaccine-busting” new strains.
The Times can disclose, however, that Downing Street had been advised by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) a week earlier that “geographically targeted travel bans” would not be enough to stop the arrival of new strains.
The scientists said that the only way to “get close” to stopping them was either by closing the borders completely or introducing mandatory quarantine measures for everyone entering Britain.
Patel and Matt Hancock, the health secretary, both argued for the closure of the borders last week but were overruled by Johnson.
The government has yet to set out a time frame for the introduction of targeted quarantine arrangements.
At least 11 cases of the South African variant of coronavirus have been detected in Britain that are not linked to international travel, and public health officials believe that there are hundreds more around the country.
Professor Sir Mark Walport, former chief scientific adviser to the government, told Times Radio:
“I’m concerned about the South African variant — it is more transmissible and the evidence is that the vaccine protects against it slightly less well — but the answer is that the current vaccine still work pretty well against this variant.”
“No intervention, other than a complete, pre-emptive closure of borders, or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival in designated facilities, irrespective of testing history, can get close to fully preventing the importation of new cases or new variants,” the minutes say.
“Reactive, geographically targeted travel bans cannot be relied upon to stop importation of new variants due to the lag between the emergence and identification of variants of concern, as well as the potential for indirect travel via a third country.”
Hancock has previously said that other countries may fail to spot new variants.
Patel argued last week for closure of the borders while preparations were made for the quarantining of all travellers.
Instead Johnson announced that hotel quarantine would be limited to 30 high-risk countries amid warnings by the travel industry that a blanket approach would be “catastrophic”.
Thomas-Symonds said before the debate: “The British people demand we protect our borders — we must act now.”
The Sputnik V Vaccine and Russia’s Race to Immunity @NewYorker
One morning last August, Vladimir Putin, isolated at his Presidential residence in the forest outside Moscow, held a videoconference with his Cabinet. The ministers’ faces, stern yet deferential, populated a large screen in front of Putin’s desk—the Kremlin’s version of a pandemic Zoom call.
The proceedings were broadcast on state television, and had the wooden quality of reality TV. The meeting’s ostensible agenda was the government’s preparations for the school year ahead, but the real news came in Putin’s opening remarks, when he revealed that Russia had granted approval to Sputnik V, the country’s first vaccine against covid-19.
The vaccine, Putin noted, is “quite effective, helps develop immunity, and has gone through all the necessary trials.”
In fact, Russian scientists hadn’t published any data from their Phase I and Phase II trials, which test a vaccine’s safety and potential for efficacy among a limited number of volunteers, and hadn’t even started Phase III, which tests the vaccine in a much larger group of volunteers, using a placebo as a control.
Still, Sputnik V had already begun to make its way through Russian society. In the Cabinet meeting, Putin mentioned that one of his daughters had been vaccinated. She’d had a slight fever afterward, he reported, but it had passed in a day or two.
“She’s feeling well,” he said. An influential cultural figure who received the vaccine in August told me that he had “heard about it from people who pay attention and are careful.”
He went on, “It felt a bit adventurous, but, the way the pandemic was going, I thought I’d give it a try.”
The vaccine’s name was the brainchild of Kirill Dmitriev, the director of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (R.D.I.F.), the sovereign wealth fund that is the vaccine’s chief lobbyist and financial backer.
In speaking about Sputnik V, Dmitriev did not shy away from the history of superpower rivalry that the name evoked. (The “V” stands for “vaccine.”)
As he told CNN in late July, referring to the world’s first satellite, launched by the U.S.S.R. in 1957, “Americans were surprised when they heard Sputnik’s beeping. It’s the same with this vaccine. Russia will have got there first.”
Russian officials, including Mikhail Murashko, the country’s health minister, called Sputnik V “the first vaccine against the novel coronavirus infection.”
A news anchor on Rossiya-1 proclaimed, “Just like sixty-plus years ago, headlines around the world again feature the Russian word ‘Sputnik.’
” The Russian vaccine represented, the anchor said, a “turning point in the fight against the pandemic.”
Putin praised the scientists responsible: “We owe our gratitude to those who have taken this first, very important step for Russia and the entire world.”
Sputnik V was developed at the Gamaleya Institute, in Moscow. Before the pandemic, the institute did not have a particularly high profile.
Gamaleya scientists had produced vaccines for Ebola and mers (the respiratory illness, similar to covid-19, that emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012), but neither had been widely employed or authorized for use outside Russia.
With little public data about Sputnik V, the question arose: Was it a scientific breakthrough or the dubious result of a rushed process?
In the past, it has taken years, even decades, to bring new vaccines to market. Attenuated vaccines, such as those for measles, mumps, and rubella, involve weakening a virus to non-dangerous strength; inactivated vaccines, as in most flu shots, render it inert.
Developing such vaccines is a tricky process of trial and error.
Research into mRNA vaccines—which, in contrast to traditional vaccines, are synthetic, carrying a portion of a virus’s genetic code—began in the nineteen-nineties.
Though the mRNA technology was unproved until last year, it was also tantalizingly simple, akin to programming a script of computer software.
Moderna, a pharmaceutical company founded in 2010 with a focus on mRNA, created its vaccine prototype during a weekend in January, 2020.
In mid-March, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, working with the German company BioNTech, came up with twenty contenders for a vaccine; by early April, they had been whittled down to four.
Sputnik V—like several other covid-19 vaccines, developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, in the United Kingdom; CanSino Biologics, in China; and Johnson & Johnson, in the United States—is what is known as a vector vaccine.
This type of vaccine is much newer than the attenuated or inactivated kind but has a longer track record than the mRNA variety.
In the nineties, scientists began exploring the use of disabled viruses as “vectors,” or carriers for implanting genetic material into human cells.
Early experiments focussed on therapies for hemophilia and cystic fibrosis, among other genetic diseases.
Soon, pharmaceutical companies and scientific centers around the world began looking into the potential application of the technology for vaccines.
As Konstantin Chumakov, a Russian-American virologist who is an adviser to the World Health Organization and a member of the Global Virus Network, an international coalition that tracks viral pathogens, explained, the vector is “a Trojan horse to go in and deliver whatever you want.”
At the time of Sputnik V’s approval, Moderna and Pfizer were months away from announcing the results of their Phase III trials or filing for F.D.A. authorization to begin wide-scale vaccination programs.
Scientific experts expressed concern at the speed with which the Russian vaccine had been registered for public use.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told an ABC News correspondent, “I hope that the Russians have actually definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective. I seriously doubt that they’ve done that.
Scientists around the world were speaking of a spirit of unprecedented collaboration, but an undercurrent of international competition was hard to ignore.
As Putin crowed about Sputnik V, President Trump promised an American vaccine as early as the fall.
China’s position as a credible global power appeared to hinge on its role in helping the world emerge from a pandemic that began inside its borders.
Meanwhile, the U.K. and the European Union, awaiting a final Brexit agreement, pursued divergent vaccination strategies.
“Sadly, vaccine development was politicized everywhere, not only in Russia,” Chumakov told me. “Everyone wants to be first.”
The Sputnik V Vaccine and Russia’s Race to Immunity @NewYorker [continued]
The Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology started out as a privately held facility, in the nineteenth century, and, after the Bolshevik Revolution, was taken over by the state.
It is named for Nikolay Gamaleya, a physician who apprenticed under Louis Pasteur and led the newly formed Soviet government’s campaign to inoculate citizens against smallpox.
From the street, the institute looks like any other administrative facility in Moscow, with a brick wall ringing the perimeter and an unmarked steel door, beyond which lie several unassuming two- and three-story buildings.
A row of memorial plaques for renowned Russian scientists on the façade of the main building offers the only clue as to what happens inside.
When I visited one afternoon in December, I found a world that I had almost stopped being able to picture.
People strolled from one office to another, pausing to chat; almost no one wore a mask.
In the spring, just as the pandemic was making landfall in Russia, researchers had come up with their prototype vaccine and started administering it to themselves; by the time I made it to the institute, most of its twelve hundred employees had been vaccinated.
The head of the team that developed Sputnik V is Denis Logunov, a forty-two-year-old microbiologist with a fuzzy beard, the shoulders of a defensive lineman, and the demeanor of a researcher who would prefer to busy himself with experiments rather than to boast of the results.
He and I walked across the snow-mottled campus of the institute to his laboratory, where he had overseen the development of the vaccines for Ebola and mers, in addition to Sputnik V.
There, we put on lab coats and disposable plastic covers for our shoes. A sign on the door read “Caution! Biological Hazard!”
In 2014, after the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, Logunov and other Gamaleya scientists had set out to create a vector vaccine using a modified form of the human adenovirus, which causes the common cold.
That year, Chumakov, the virologist from the Global Virus Network, visited Logunov and his team, and was impressed.
“I have no questions about their professional qualities and abilities,” he told me. “They are certainly not worse than any of the many other people involved in vaccine development.”
In the summer of 2017, the Gamaleya scientists sent two thousand doses of the vaccine to Guinea for a Phase III trial.
By then, the country’s epidemic had largely petered out, so it wasn’t possible to gauge its efficacy in a clinical setting as planned.
All the same, Putin claimed that the Gamaleya vaccine had “proved to be the most effective in the world.”
(It was approved in Russia, but it has yet to be licensed by an international regulatory body. An Ebola vaccine developed by Merck was approved by the W.H.O. in 2019, and one by Johnson & Johnson won the European Commission’s market authorization last July.)
In 2018, Gamaleya developed a vaccine for mers, but that outbreak also subsided, and the vaccine prototype did not reach a Phase III trial or feature in scientific journals abroad.
As Ilya Yasny, the head of scientific research at Inbio Ventures, an investment fund in Moscow, put it, describing the two earlier would-be successes of the institute’s scientists, “We have to take them at their word.”
I spoke with Alexander Gintsburg, who has been the director of the Gamaleya Institute since 1997, in his wood-panelled office on campus, and he, too, cited the success of the Ebola and mers vaccines.
Gintsburg is sixty-nine years old, with wire-framed glasses and an almost cherubic smile, and he exudes a grandfatherly pride in the work carried out at the institute.
The Ebola vaccine, he said, had been more than ninety per cent effective. When I asked him how he could be sure, he replied that the effectiveness of any vaccine could be assessed not only by collecting epidemiological data but also by looking for antibodies.
This is not always the case: several prototype vaccines, including one for H.I.V., have produced antibodies without protecting against infection.
Logunov recalled reading about the new virus in China at the end of 2019, but it wasn’t until mid-February, 2020, when he took part in a two-day W.H.O. forum in Geneva on covid-19, that he understood the scale of the crisis.
“That’s when I knew the world wasn’t going to cope,” he said.
The Gamaleya scientists’ familiarity with adenovirus vectors allowed them to move quickly. Logunov, who worked with some sixty researchers at Gamaleya on the covid-19 vaccine, told me, “We didn’t face the question of which approach to use.”
Discussing the strengths of the adenovirus platform, he said, “I would compare it to a rocket. This launch vehicle can deliver satellites, equipment, people—it carries whatever cargo you give it.”
Logunov rejected the suggestion that his team’s vector-based method was particularly pioneering, positioning his own laboratory and Sputnik V as part of the global scientific mainstream.
“This is not a story of some great breakthrough but, rather, of reaching for a quick solution while a pandemic unfolds,” he said.
At Gamaleya, I also paid a visit to the laboratory of Vladimir Gushchin, who oversaw the sequencing of the virus’s genetic code.
Chinese scientists had published the sars-CoV-2 genome sequence last January, but the Gamaleya researchers needed their own live viral strain in order to create an infectious model of the pathogen for their experiments.
Gushchin described how, for several days in March, he and others from his lab had searched for a usable sample of the virus, rushing back and forth between Gamaleya and a hospital in Kommunarka, on the outskirts of Moscow, which had been designated early on to treat covid-19 patients—mostly travellers who had contracted the virus in Europe.
The strain they eventually used to test Sputnik V came from a Russian citizen who was known to have been in Rome on March 15th.
He was already sick when he landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, and was swiftly taken to Kommunarka for treatment. Gushchin and his team picked up the patient’s swab on March 17th.
When I walked through Gushchin’s lab, he showed me the genetic sequencer that had been used to map the original sample, a plastic box not much larger than a laser printer.
“We understood that this was very valuable material,” Gushchin told me, “but also that there was so much we didn’t know—how to cultivate the virus, what its life span might be, how likely you are to be infected while working with it.”
The main complication in using an adenovirus vector is the possibility that the patient might already have—or might develop, after the first of two consecutive inoculations—immunity to the vector.
If a person’s body recognizes the vector as a foreign object that needs to be destroyed, it will reject the genetic cargo as well, rendering the vaccine less effective.
Manufacturers have found ways around these issues in their covid-19 vaccines. Johnson & Johnson uses adenovirus-26, a rare variant of cold virus to which most recipients would be unlikely to mount a robust immune response.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine uses an adenovirus strain that infects chimpanzees, and to which humans presumably do not have preëxisting immunity.
The researchers at Gamaleya decided to use two separate vectors, as they had done with their Ebola and mers vaccines.
In the first dose, the vector would be adenovirus-26; for the second shot, which is meant to help induce long-lasting immunity by activating T cells, they chose adenovirus-5, a more common strain.
Jerome Kim, the director of the International Vaccine Institute, told me that the two-vector approach, known to scientists as “heterologous prime boosting,” is grounded in sound theory.
“It’s a way to confuse the immune system so that it focusses on the covid-19 protein,” he said. But, he added, “we need to see the data before we can say whether this particular vaccine is ready for prime time.”
Chumakov expressed similar reservations, saying that, until the long-term efficacy of the various vectors has been proved, the arguments for and against each approach remain “entirely theoretical, and thus equally valid or bogus.”
In assembling the vaccine, Gamaleya’s scientists used an enzyme to stitch together the vectors’ DNA and the gene that codes for the spike protein of sars-CoV-2.
In less than two weeks, and even before Moscow went into lockdown, a prototype vaccine was ready.
Logunov showed me his laboratory’s vivarium, a small room with dozens of plastic cages of live mice stacked nearly to the ceiling.
In March, researchers vaccinated mice and analyzed their blood for an immune response. Next came hamsters and guinea pigs, followed by macaques and marmosets. All produced high levels of antibodies, and the vaccinated animals did not become ill.
In April, Logunov and a number of his colleagues in the lab administered the vaccine to themselves.
“When you are a researcher, you are effectively going into the red zone,” he said. “You simply need to protect yourself.”
He went on, “It was also thrilling to have the chance to test your technology, to see how it performs in battle.”
When I spoke to Gintsburg, he told me that he had given the vaccine not only to himself and to many of his employees but also to his wife, his daughter, and his granddaughter. I asked whether he felt that he was taking a gamble.
“Without excitement, it’s impossible to work, to create,” he said. “As a scientist, you should always have the desire to learn, to find things out.”
On April 20th, in a videoconference, Putin told his Cabinet that he would “like to hear about progress on a vaccine against the virus,” taking care to note “the colossal responsibility for the outcome that its developers must shoulder.”
Gintsburg was among the scientists on the call, and he informed Putin of the vaccine created at Gamaleya, which had undergone the first round of animal testing, producing the antibodies necessary to “defend against rather high doses of covid-19.”
Putin was impressed. “What you’ve told me is very important, and very interesting,” he said.
Dubai Closes Bars, Limits Activities After Virus Cases Spike @business @AP
Dubai announced Monday it would close all bars and pubs for the entire month of February and limit other activities after a spike in coronavirus cases followed New Year's Eve celebrations that drew visitors from around the world.
The sheikhdom also ordered restaurants and cafes to close by 1 a.m., as well as instituted crowd limits on cinemas, hotels, malls and other destinations.
The decision comes after Dubai insisted as recently as last week that “we can confidently say the current situation is under control.”
That was as coronavirus testing facilities and hospitals came under pressure from 17 straight days of record reported daily coronavirus figures across the wider United Arab Emirates.
The announcement from the government's Dubai Media Office blamed “a marked increase in the number of violations of precautionary measures” for the decision made by the city-state's hereditary rulers.
“The measures seek to further enhance efforts to combat COVID-19, and protect the health and safety of all citizens, residents and visitors,” the statement said.
Dubai, known for its long-haul carrier Emirates, the world’s tallest building and its beaches and bars, in July became one of the first travel destinations to describe itself as open for business.
The move staunched the bleeding of its crucial tourism and real estate sectors after lockdowns and curfews cratered its economy.
As tourism restarted, daily reported coronavirus case numbers slowly grew but mostly remained stable through the fall.
But then came New Year’s Eve — a major draw for travelers from countries otherwise shut down over the virus who partied without face masks in bars and on yachts.
In recent days, countries have blamed Dubai for imported coronavirus cases, including variants feared to be faster spreading.
As daily reported coronavirus cases neared 4,000, Dubai fired the head of its government health agency without explanation.
It stopped live entertainment at bars, halted nonessential surgeries, limited wedding sizes and ordered gyms to increase space between those working out.
It also now requires coronavirus testing for all those flying into its airport.
Questioned about hospital capacity after earlier shutting down a field hospital, Dubai on Sunday announced it established two dedicated centers to treat coronavirus patients.
On Monday, lines remained long at coronavirus testing facilities in the emirate, with one major hospital telling patients some results only would come after 72 hours.
The UAE had pinned its hopes on mass vaccinations, with Abu Dhabi distributing a Chinese vaccine by Sinopharm and Dubai offering Pfizer-BioNTech’s inoculation.
The UAE says it has given over 3.4 million doses so far, ranking it among the top countries in the world.
While the restrictions likely will affect Dubai's vital tourism sector, countries already have taken a hard line on travel to the emirate.
The United Kingdom, a major tourism source for the UAE, already has stopped flights to the country over concerns about coronavirus variants there.
Dubai also urged the public to report those violating coronavirus rules to the police.
Tigray opposition parties assert 50,000-plus civilian deaths @washingtonpost
A trio of opposition parties in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region estimates that more than 50,000 civilians have been killed in the three-month conflict, and they urge the international community to intervene before a “humanitarian disaster of biblical proportion will become a gruesome reality.”
The statement posted Tuesday does not say where the estimate comes from, and the parties could not immediately be reached. Communication links remain challenging in much of the region, making it difficult to verify claims by any side.
No official death toll has emerged since the fighting began in early November between Ethiopian and allied forces and those of the Tigray region who dominated the government for almost three decades before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018. Each side now views the other as illegitimate.
The opposition parties say the international community should ensure the immediate withdrawal of fighters including soldiers from neighboring Eritrea, who witnesses say are supporting Ethiopian forces.
The parties also urge an independent investigation into the conflict, dialogue, more humanitarian aid and media access to “cover what is happening.”
Civilians throughout Tigray, a region of some 6 million people, have been dying from targeted attacks, crossfire, disease and lack of resources, according to witnesses.
Even some of the new administrators appointed by Abiy’s government have warned that people are dying of starvation as vast areas beyond main roads and towns still cannot be reached.
The opposition parties assert that the hunger is man-made as cattle have been killed and raided, crops burned and homes looted and destroyed.
The statement was signed by the Tigray Independence Party, the National Congress of Great Tigray and Salsay Weyane Tigray.
Their statement accuses Ethiopia’s government of “using hunger as a weapon to subdue Tigray since it has been obstructing international efforts for humanitarian assistance.” E
thiopia’s government, however, has asserted that aid is being delivered and nearly 1.5 million people have been reached.
The United Nations and others have pressed for more humanitarian access and a solution to a complicated system of clearances with a variety of authorities, including ones on the ground.
“In 40 years (as) a humanitarian, I’ve rarely seen an aid response so impeded,” the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, tweeted on Monday.
U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi after a visit to Tigray told reporters on Monday that the situation is “extremely grave.”
He said his team had heard a “very strong appeal” from appointed authorities in Tigray and Ethiopian ministries for more international help, and he pointed out that the U.N. works in “northern Syria, in Yemen, in areas of high insecurity.”
The Tigray region hosted 96,000 refugees from Eritrea before the fighting, and Grandi said he had spoken to some who were caught in the crossfire and then resorted to “eating leaves” after being cut off from support for several weeks.
Others were forcibly returned to Eritrea by Eritrean forces, he said. It was not clear how many.
Two of the refugees’ four camps remain inaccessible, and “most likely there is no refugee presence here anymore,” he said.
Citing satellite imagery, the U.K.-based DX Open Network nonprofit this week reported further destruction at the Hitsats and Shimelba camps in recent weeks by unnamed armed groups, with humanitarian facilities among those targeted.
Up to 20,000 of the refugees have been “dispersed” into areas where humanitarian workers don’t have access, Grandi said.
The U.N. refugee chief also called for an independent, transparent investigation into alleged abuses. “The situation is very complex,” he said. “There has been a lot of crossfire, a lot of violations on all sides,” including Tigray-allied fighters.
“The obvious question is who’s next,” said @RenCap chief economist @RencapMan @Reuters
In sub-Saharan Africa, interest payments suck up close to 50% of government revenues for Ghana and around 30% for Nigeria and Angola, S&P Global calculates.
Zambia, Mozambique, Republic of Congo and Angola have all seen their debt burdens soar above 100% of GDP, while Morgan Stanley is flagging concerns about Cameroon, Kenya, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Laos and the Maldives.
“The obvious question is who’s next,” said Renaissance Capital chief economist Charles Robertson.
Many countries had seen debt already rise in the run-up to the pandemic, but the economic fallout, shrinking GDP and a sharp rise in borrowing costs hit especially riskier borrowers hard.
COVID-19 saw average government debt in EMEA emerging markets soar to 63.5% of GDP compared to 51.8% in 2019.
There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to a debt overhaul, however.
Vanguard’s Eisinger hopes that policymakers will push to re-profile Eurobonds rather than inflict full-scale losses or “haircuts” as they are known.
Aberdeen’s Daly hopes value recovery instruments - linked to future revenue streams or growth - could be part of the mix.
And some hope countries will just keep paying, judging that keeping their hard-earned access to borrowing markets will be more beneficial in the long term than instant debt relief.
“If you sign up to DSSI and try to push through similar terms on your private debt, you risk your reputation with debt markets,” said GMO sovereign analyst Carl Ross, who was heavily involved in last year’s Argentina and Ecuador restructurings.
Turning To Africa Spinning Top
The real challenge is the Economic Emergency.
The latest Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa projects economic activity in the region to decline by 3.0% in 2020 and recover by 3.1% in 2021. @IMFNews
The IMF is so bright eyed and bushy tailed and I want some of whatever Pills they are popping.
They fancied themselves free, wrote Camus, ―and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.
In this respect, our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words, they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences.
A pestilence isn't a thing made to man's measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away.
But it doesn't always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they have taken no precautions
Naira Drops Even as Nigeria Swoops on Exporters for More Dollars @markets
Nigeria’s currency weakened even after authorities threatened to cut the banking services of exporters who fail to repatriate their dollars.
The naira declined more against the dollar than any other African currency on Tuesday in the wake of the central bank’s Jan. 31 deadline for exporters to bring home money made abroad.
The move was aimed at alleviating a scarcity of foreign-currency in Africa’s biggest economy that’s hindering the operations of businesses and deterring investors.
Demand for foreign exchange is just too overwhelming for any additional inflows from exporters to make a difference, said Michael Famoroti, the chief economist for Stears Data in Lagos.
“There is still underlining pressure. That’s what the reality is.”
Lower oil prices and an economy reeling from the shock of the coronavirus is causing foreign-currency inflows to dry up in Africa’s largest producer of the commodity.
The central bank is seeking to avoid another devaluation of the naira through a complicated multi-tiered foreign-exchange system, and has also halted foreign-exchange supplies to food and fertilizer imports and ordered lenders to terminate customers who fail to repatriate earnings.
The naira dropped as much as 3.4% to 394.08 per dollar before paring losses to 386 by 5:38 p.m. in Lagos.
It was changing hands at 480 on the parallel market, compared with 470 on Jan. 4, according to abokifx.com, a website that collates parallel market data.
Steers Data estimates the naira will depreciate to 430 per dollar on the spot market this year, Famoroti said.
The difference between the unofficial market rate and the spot value encourages companies to skirt official channels when converting currencies so they get more naira to spend locally, said Ayodeji Ebo, an analyst at Greenwich Merchant Bank.