Conflict & Resilience Monitor
Feature Articles on COVID-19
During the global crisis ACCORD's analysis will be focus on the impact of the pandemic on conflict potential in Africa
Mediation in situations of civil conflict are never easy. It requires travel, both air and on the ground, sometimes to far off areas where the terrain may not be easy to traverse. It also requires confidential face-to-face discussions and, when momentum towards an agreement is detected, then time becomes a valuable commodity, and shuttling between parties to narrow differences, and edge towards a compromise, becomes vital.
When it comes to climate change, Africa and Europe have one thing in common: countries in both regions are either signatories or parties to the Paris Agreement, which entered into force in 2016. This is not a trivial matter. It means that the 2017 Abidjan AU-EU Summit climate ambitions were based on a firm and approved framework. The EU, Africa’s main trading partner, has demonstrated its ambition to lead the climate transition with its European Green Deal. Africans should commend these policy goals and emulate them as much as possible, while at the same time warning their Northern partners about the possible negative impact of several Green Deal related EU legislations on the continent.
Just a few months ago, many South Sudanese were breathing a sigh of relief, believing that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic had largely passed them by. Today, a virulent second wave is sweeping through the country causing huge harm to people’s health and wellbeing, damaging the already dire economy, and further interrupting the stagnating peace process. The number of cases is headed towards the 10,000 mark and there have been more than 100 deaths, although the true number of people affected by the virus is likely to be much higher given testing is largely limited to travellers and those with symptoms.
Tomorrow, 11 March 2021, marks a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a pandemic. A year ago, the world as we know it and our daily routines were disrupted to an unprecedented extent overnight. In an effort to curb the spread, governments across the world put in place lockdowns, quarantine measures, stay-in-place orders, closed workplaces and education institutions. Almost immediately, it became very clear that although the pandemic was a great equalizer in the sense that no one was immune to the virus, it was also a great destabilizer of many socio-economic and development trajectories and social justice agenda, least of all: our mission for gender equality. In many ways, the pandemic has exposed so many of our shortcomings in our quest for a fairer and more equitable world.
In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region, the pandemic has widened inequalities within, and between Member States. Labour-intensive service sectors such as retail trade, restaurants and hospitality, sports and recreation and transportation have been severely affected by measures to contain the pandemic. Activity within labour-intensive sectors are expected to remain subdued in the short to medium term. The low-skilled, low-wage workers in both formal and informal sectors are least able to withstand an economic shock. A full recovery in the labour market may take a while, worsening income inequalities and increasing poverty.
An African Union Summit held in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic and against growing tensions in parts of the continent
The 34th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Assembly of Heads of State and Government was held virtually due to COVID-19 pandemic from the 6th-7th February 2021. The Summit focussed on Africa’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic; progress in the AU institutional reform and the election of a new Bureau for the AU Commission.
From National Interest to Global Responsibility: Vaccine Nationalism and the World Trade Organisation (WTO)
The 15th of February 2021 will go down in history as the day on which a woman, and an African, was elected for the first time to the important post of Director-General of the WTO. It is a proud day for women all around the world and a proud day for all of us in Africa. However, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had to wait several months for a change in the administration of the United States before there could be consensus on her appointment, despite her having the support of the overwhelming majority of the members of the WTO. This very fact underscores the vital importance of this job at this particular juncture in our world.
The effect of COVID-19 has not been limited to Africa alone. The pandemic first emerged in China, the epicentre, from where it spread to Europe, and then to North and South America. If these regions of the world that have been heavily infected and affected by COVID-19, are able to implement measures to bounce back then we in Africa must do the same by learning from their experience and by devising our own home-grown solutions.
A few months ago, I warned the United Nations Security Council that the world stood on the brink of a hunger pandemic. A toxic combination of conflict, climate change and COVID-19 had threatened to push 270 million people to the brink of starvation. Famine was real. It was a terrifying possibility in up to three dozen countries if we did not continue to act like we had been acting. Fortunately, since then, the world really listened. Donors and leaders all over the world responded; they acted. Countries large and small took extraordinary measures to save the lives of their citizens and support their economies, spending US$17 trillion on fiscal stimulus and central bank support. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the G20 nations threw a lifeline to the poorest nations by suspending debt repayments. That made a huge impact. With our donors’ help, the global humanitarian community launched a huge and unprecedented global fightback against the coronavirus.
Since the negotiations for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) were launched in Johannesburg in 2015, remarkable progress has been achieved – largely because of the political will and commitment of the Assembly of Heads of States and Government of the African Union (AU) to ensure that Africa takes concrete steps towards the creation of an integrated market.
The contributions at the 14th Extra-Ordinary Summit on Silencing the Guns served to reaffirm the commitment of the current leadership of the continent to the moral and political duty given to us by our forebears to achieve an Africa free of conflict. The summit was able to answer some critical questions on the actions we must now take to advance this responsibility, including in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is no getting around it: the COVID-19 crisis will hit Africa’s people particularly hard. Even if the infection rate remains low, the socio-economic devastation is already being felt. Access to clean water supplies and basic health services remain a challenge throughout the continent, making the containment measures taken by most countries all the more challenging. Beyond the immediate health concerns, the pandemic is triggering a global economic slowdown, which will severely hamper Africa’s development ambitions and curtail a successful two decades of macro-economic improvements and social gains.
The African Union Heads of State and Government had marked the year 2020 with the theme “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”. As a flagship project of Agenda 2063, Silencing the Guns by 2020 was adopted in 2013 during the Organisation of African Unity/African Union 50th Commemorative Anniversary Summit of African Heads of State. The vision of the 2013 Solemn Declaration was to achieve the goal of a conflict-free Africa, to make peace a reality for all our people and to rid the continent of wars and civil conflicts.
COVID-19 exacerbating existing security, social and livelihood challenges in the Lake Chad Basin region
The Lake Chad Basin is faced with a multidimensional crisis, largely as a result of a complex combination of factors that include terrorist activities, extreme poverty and a changing climate. The combination of these factors has triggered significant insecurity and the displacement of populations. The area has grown into one of the most complicated humanitarian emergencies in the world, with threats to the livelihoods of over 45 million inhabitants. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region has therefore exacerbated existing challenges, making an already dire situation worse. The pandemic has significantly heightened the economic needs in the region and has presented serious challenges to the livelihoods of people in this region. These factors feed into conflict triggers, which contribute to further instability in the Lake Chad Basin.
Some of the key words in the unprecedented era of the COVID-19 pandemic are disruption, damage, change, adaptation, recovery and resilience. Against the background of these words, what is clear is that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the status quo as we knew it. In this change, the pandemic has also challenged the interdependence of economies, leading to the disruption of global and regional supply chains. Some of the countries’ early responses to the pandemic were increased protectionist measures, especially with regard to the supply of personal protective equipment.
What will governance and public service be like post COVID-19? We will not and should not revert to “business as usual” after this crisis. We should draw on the maxim from the United Nations (UN) 2030 agenda – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to “leave no one behind” in achieving a more sustainable, equitable, inclusive and secure/peaceful future. We should start a dialogue about the current and future implications of COVID-19 on governance and public service.
COVID-19 has been quite a challenge to the world. It has made us question so many of the things we took for granted. It has changed the outlook and stereotypes we had about the world and humanity. For example, nobody imagined that with the current developments in technology and medicine, a pandemic could bring the world to its knees like this one has. COVID-19 has also questioned the impression we in Africa had that pandemics kill so many of our people, because of our lack of resources in terms of knowledge and facilities. This pandemic has shown that the world realities are more complex than we thought we know and we have mastered.
During events to commemorate 75 years since the formation of the United Nations (UN), Secretary-General António Guterres repeated his earlier call to world leaders to achieve a global ceasefire. In this call, the UNSG correctly stated that it is “time for a stepped-up push for peace to achieve a global ceasefire”, because we are all confronted by “one common enemy: COVID-19”. Indeed, in a year that is so significant in many ways, there has never been such a crucial moment in our lifetime to build, consolidate and sustain peace.