COVID-19 presents a risk of “further compounding and complicating conflicts and insecurity in [Africa] that will have a lasting impact” in the post-coronavirus era, the Ethiopian Ambassador to South Africa, Dr Shiferaw Teklemariam, has warned.
“There is a clear negative correlation between the two, whereas the more the longevity of the virus in Africa the more overwhelming its implications for peace and security of the continent will be,” Dr Shiferaw said during a virtual conference organised by South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council to celebrate Africa Day.
He said that the limitations caused by COVID-19, such as on cross-border travel and restricted face-to-face interactions, were affecting “negotiators, mediators and parties to many conflicts and peace processes across the continent”.
“The peacebuilding and peace agreement implementation processes that have stalled in Sudan, South Sudan, Libya and Central African Republic are some but a few cases in point.
“Lifting of travel bans, which is not likely to happen soon, has become imperative to resume those peace processes.
“This has gripped the affected population with fear and uncertainty as what will happen in the meantime is unknown.”
Dr Shiferaw said: “On the other hand, there are reports that terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab are trying to leverage the pandemic to increase their influence and capability.
“Arguably, the current response by governments and peacekeeping forces to those organisations is bound to be in short supply as fighting COVID-19 is the paramount objective of governments everywhere.
“This is definitely a negative development that suppresses all the achievements that we have collectively made on this front in the past few years.”
Dr Shiferaw noted that there were a “multitude of sources” of instability in Africa such as a lack of economic opportunities and a “good governance deficit”.
Added to these were weak institutions, the continent’s inability to prevent and minimise conflicts and its “incapacity in mitigating, managing and resolving them”.
The Ambassador called on the AU and regional economic communities to play a more “commanding role” in resolving the continent’s conflicts.
Faced with these “predicaments” Africa must now put in place “mid and long-term humanitarian and economic stimulus and recovery plans…to get our continent back in its feet”, Dr Shiferaw noted.
“Within that context, African governments should prioritise developing social protection and safety net schemes for the most vulnerable in order to share the burden of the poor and thereby ensure that those socio-economic challenges will not lead to exacerbating conflict and insecurity in a ‘poverty-crime-conflict’ vicious cycle.
“In terms of curbing peace and security challenges in the post-COVID-19 era, developing new, innovative and technology-based mechanisms to resume suspended peace talks should be given due consideration as this virus is set to stay with us for quite some time to come.
“Immediate continent-wide ceasefire and cessation of hostilities are also crucial for the well-being of citizens in this era of global pandemic.”
However, Dr Shiferaw said there were some peace and security issues that had been resolved before the outbreak of COVID-19 and as such Africa should learn lessons from these, post-COVID-19.
He referred to the work of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in resolving the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Dr Shiferaw warned against harsh coronavirus lockdown regulations in Africa, which he said would not be “welcomed” for too long by citizens.
Therefore, in dealing with post-COVID-19 peace and security issues, African governments should address the continent’s “vulnerabilities and collective response” to instability and insecurity.
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