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
Despite its obvious limits and constraints, the African Union (AU) has been doing its utmost to address peace and security challenges in Africa. However, over the past few years, the involvement of external powers has drastically increased at the expense of seeking African solutions to African problems. This trend has deepened during the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent reduction of meetings, field visits and peace initiatives by the AU.
Following the remarkable changes brought on by the peaceful revolution in Sudan in 2019, 2020 was set to be a year during which the country could make great strides in delivering on the aspirations of the Sudanese people for change after 30 years of autocratic rule. The sudden arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic thus fell cruelly at a critical moment, with the country having just embarked on its make-or-break transition towards a civilian-led democracy.
The general situation in the Sahel-Saharan region continues to be of concern to the African Union (AU) and the international community. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is adding an additional element to the multidimensional crisis that the Sahel has already been experiencing for a decade. This is resulting in a negative impact, to say the least, on the actions that were underway in the fight against insecurity and for the promotion of sustainable development.
When the first COVID-19 cases reached the African continent, early estimates painted a dim picture of the impact of the pandemic on the region. Editorialists, public figures and think tanks predicted a widespread outbreak in the face of governments and health systems lacking the capacities to counter it. On 9 March 2020, the first two cases of COVID-19 were announced in Burkina Faso, followed by Niger on 19 March and Mali on 25 March. The outlook for the Sahel was particularly pessimistic. Some predicted that in addition to the human toll, the pandemic would spark the collapse of the Sahelian states.
The Sahel’s stability and prosperity has been seriously challenged in recent years. The prevalence of intercommunal violence, climate change and food insecurity, among other factors, contribute to the region’s instability. These have been further fuelled by additional extenuating factors that include limitations in economic development, poor development in health and human welfare, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic, as a biomedical public health issue, poses a grave threat to health and life. It is most infectious. It causes serious illness. It is also deadly. With no vaccine yet to treat it, COVID-19 continues to pose a serious threat to the rights to health and life of people. Indeed, the governance and socio-economic fallout from COVID19 poses even more serious threat to large number of human and peoples’ rights. How we respond to COVID-19 and its impacts on the basis of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights could prove to be the litmus test for mitigating the grave consequences to the political freedoms and socio-economic rights of people on the continent.
Stigma and misinformation from COVID-19 are such clear and present threats to global health that they are causing as much concern to policymakers as the pandemic itself. These attitudes and behaviours are killing people and causing harm through hate speech, disinformation, discrimination and xenophobia.
The COVID-19 pandemic – as well as the governmental and societal responses to it – feed into, feed off, and trigger pre-existing local, national, and global patterns of inequality and exclusion. Unsurprisingly, these responses have also had generational and gendered manifestations. The profile of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, provides a powerful mirror image of the interconnected structural ‘violence of exclusion’ that young women and men described so powerfully through The Missing Peace: Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security.
The United Nations (UN) is marking its 75th anniversary at a time of great global disruption, as a result of an unprecedented global health crisis with severe economic, social and political impacts. Will we emerge stronger, more inclusive and better equipped to withstand shocks? Or will distrust and isolation grow further?
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), under the leadership of President Félix Tshisekedi, has demonstrated its commitment to regional integration in Central Africa. This commitment has been maintained despite COVID-19, which has not stalled the ongoing Economic Community of Central African States’ (ECCAS) institutional reform process as some may have feared. Instead, not only are the countries of the subregion moving forward with the reform agenda, but they have also adopted a regional response to the pandemic, which addresses its cross-border aspects.
While the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) learnt valuable lessons from the recent Ebola outbreak in the east of the country, the global nature of COVID-19 – which was accompanied by severe movement restrictions, healthcare risks and profound socio-economic shifts – challenged the way we were doing business and required a fundamental shift in our approach.
When Africa surpassed 1 million COVID-19 infections on 7 August 2020, the Great Lakes region1 ranked as the continent’s worst-hit area. Accounting for roughly one third of Africa’s total population, the region reported over 60% of Africa’s confirmed infections (600 000 cases) and more than 50% of its fatalities (11 500 cases). South Africa faced by far the heaviest caseload, followed by Kenya, Sudan and the DRC.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed massive inequalities within our societies and has brought to light the unique burdens that women globally carry. As we respond to the impacts of COVID-19, both in the immediate and long term, we have an unprecedented opportunity to completely redesign our ways of living through innovative and large-scale action that can cater for the magnitude of transforming the African continent. The allocation of response resources should be dually focused on the immediate needs of managing the virus and, simultaneously, on the future, to dismantle the structural and systemic barriers that reinforce inequality and disenfranchisement. We have been presented with the opportunity to reimagine and redesign our society into one that is vibrant and equitable. We must place women at the core of the response and beyond.
Africa’s diplomatic system has adjusted swiftly to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) realities of conducting business. This is visible in the flurry of virtual consultations among decision-makers to chart common ways forward. The high number of African Union (AU)-led consultations over the past few months reflect a deep-seated conviction that collective action is the best way to address Africa’s challenges effectively.
The lockdown-type measures adopted by governments to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has deprived mediators and facilitators of the opportunity to use these important tools to resolve African conflicts and consolidate the implementation of peace agreements. However, we hope for a successful fight against COVID-19 in Africa that will reopen opportunities for mediation in Africa.
There is now an unprecedented opportunity for Europe to begin its journey towards a new contemporary and future shared ethical relationship, and do so not only as good regionalism, but also as an exercise in multilateralism, forging a new approach in its relationship with Africa, this time based on solidarity, one that will include a fundamental re-examination of how unfair trade and existing debt structures are impeding, not only the capacity to respond to COVID-19, but also the necessary transformations which a continent is getting underway, with an African agency that seeks a new form of partnership with its most proximate neighbour, the European Union.
If we do not change the face of politics, if we continue to ignore the lessons of decades of women’s activism, if we continue to spend our resources on weapons rather than on social services, we will have a harder time recovering from this pandemic, preventing the next one, or overcoming the climate crisis. It is an easy choice to make.
Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu provides an overview of the AU COVID-19 Response Fund