Gambia fumes over Guinea's failure to say 'thank you' for Ebola grant, as Conakry youth protest new clinic

Jammeh's government lauds Liberia for acknowledging contribution, and says Guinea took a "bizarre attitude". Ebola has brought out some strange things

THE Gambia rebuked Guinea on Thursday over its “bizarre attitude” to diplomacy, accusing its near neighbour of refusing to say thank you for a $500,000 donation to its Ebola response.

The government said in a statement the cash, sent in September, had been acknowledged with gratitude by Guinea’s central bank while the government had remained silent.

“This bizarre attitude on the side of the government of Guinea is unfortunate and regrettable,” the statement said.

“Whereas the highest authorities of Sierra Leone, another sister country that received the same timely gesture of African solidarity by President Yahya Jammeh, have acknowledged receipt of the funds with gratitude, the Guinean government is yet to do so.”

The Ebola outbreak ravaging Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has claimed 6,070 lives, according to the latest WHO update, with health authorities in Conakry having registered more than 1,300 of them.

Gambia to get apology

The Guinean minister for international cooperation, Moustapha Koutoubou Sanoh, told AFP his country would apologise to the Gambia.

“The government will not hesitate to rectify this, Guinea and the Gambia are brother countries and nothing should call this brotherhood into question,” he told AFP.

The Gambia, criticised for closing its borders to people coming from Ebola-hit countries at the height of the epidemic, hasn’t registered any Ebola cases.

The tiny west African nation, which is flanked on both sides by Senegal, has a chequered recent diplomatic record.

Jammeh, who has ruled the country since 1994 and is always seen in billowing white robes, brooks no criticism, ruling the smallest country on the African mainland with an iron fist and an aura of mysticism.

In 2007 he booted out a UN envoy for questioning his cure for AIDS.

Three years later, the European Union, the country’s top aid donor, cancelled 22 million euros ($27 million) in budget support for Banjul because of concerns over human rights and governance issues.

In August 2012, Jammeh came under fire for sending nine prisoners to the firing squad. He eventually backed down from a mass execution of the rest of those on death row.

In October last year the Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth and then accused the United States and former colonial power Britain of leading a “shameless campaign of lying” about its human rights record.

The country has hit the headlines this year for blocking a UN investigation into torture and extrajudicial executions and severing dialogue with the EU over laws punishing “aggravated homosexuality” with life sentences.

But Jammeh’s ire is not the only headache Guinea has to deal with in its battle against Ebola.

No to Ebola treatment centre

In its capital Conakry, dozens of youths staged an angry protest against a new Ebola treatment centre on Thursday, halting the launch of the construction project, according to an AFP reporter on the scene.

Prime Minister Mohamed Said Fofana was about to lay the symbolic first stone for the clinic when a crowd appeared, chanting slogans in Susu, a local language.  “We do not want Ebola in our neighbourhood! We fear Ebola! Do not pollute our environment,” they shouted.

Guinean officials tried to talk down the ringleaders as the gathered dignitaries left, but the protesters escalated their demonstration, wrecking a gazebo, and scattering chairs and sound equipment. 

Representatives from medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders, which was slated to run the centre, were evacuated along with a few remaining dignitaries. A source from the charity said it would take advice from the government before deciding whether to proceed with the project. 

Wild conspiracy theories

Health authorities in Conakry have registered more than 1,300 Ebola deaths. The Red Cross and Red Crescent said Tuesday suspicion among locals across the region remained a major hurdle in battling the outbreak, with volunteers frequently encountering hostility. 

Foreign aid workers delivering medical assistance in already difficult conditions have frequently been confronted with wild theories placing them at the centre of a global conspiracy to harvest the blood and organs of black Africans.  

The enmity has at times escalated into serious unrest, with treatment centres in Guinea and Liberia raided by mobs shouting that Ebola was a fiction invented by “white governments”. The violence reached a gruesome nadir when three journalists working as part of an Ebola outreach team were murdered by villagers in southern Guinea in September.

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