Covid-19 and its Security Implications in African Context
COVID19, as stated by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. This pandemic has caused 177,775 deaths as at 22nd April 2020 with more people being infected each day. COVID19 hit Africa at the time when it was not readily prepared for it and it has had so many implications on this continent. Africa is a continent where the people are closely knitted together, especially in West Africa. They depend on everyone for everything, hugging and being close shows they care. This makes it difficult for them to adhere to the measures put in place to make sure that the disease is prevented. When the pandemic hit Africa, African Union started to track these cases and provided information that could help prevent the spread of the virus. They also posted every country’s hotlines services on their website to make sure that citizens know the appropriate channel to forward their concerns to. A virtual ECOWAS Extraordinary Summit was organised on 23rd April 2020 for West African leaders to share how each country is combating the COVID-19 and to find appropriate measures to combat the virus.
The Ghana Report stated that South Africa and Ghana are leading the African nations in the testing of the coronavirus. As at 21st April 2020, African Union Member States (52) reported 23,505 COVID-19 cases. Central Africa had 1,912cases, 75 deaths and 384 recoveries, Eastern Africa recorded 2,542 cases, 56 deaths and 590 recoveries, Northern Africa also had 10,052 cases, 817 deaths and 2,326 recoveries, Southern Africa recorded 3,525 cases, 70 deaths and 969 recoveries and lastly Western Africa recorded 5,474 cases, 140 deaths and 1,564 recoveries (Africa CDC). These cases have been wakeup calls for African countries that they are finding measures that are specifically tailored to their country and not doing exactly what others are doing or have done.
COVID19 has had many implications on Africa, ranging from deaths to unemployment etc but its security implications on Africa if not taken into consideration can cause bigger issues after the pandemic wave has passed. These security issues are:
Firstly, the tension between the civilians and armed forces increased. When the COVID19 cases in Africa started to increase, governments started to put measures in place to make sure that citizens are protected from this pandemic. Some of these measures are the total and partial lockdown, deploying the armed forces, closing all boarders and quarantining all citizens and foreigners who just got into the countries during the time the pandemic started to heighten (Fletcher& Rouget 2020). In breaking these laws, it created tension between the civilians and the armed forces. The armed forces were deployed to make sure that citizens were adhering to the measures put in place. Some citizens decided to break these laws just because they were curious and also because staying home prevented them from making ends meet. Some armed forces in order to protect the citizens resulted in harsh treatment to keep the citizens in line. There were cases of police brutality happening in Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Kenya as a means to keep people off the streets (Mugabi 2020). In most cases citizens mostly youths retaliated back and this caused people to get hurt and disrupt the peace of certain communities during that period. When citizens are harshly treated by the armed forces, the perception of the armed forces as a threat to their security forces citizens to take the law into their hands and make things worse to prove a point. Luckily, in these cases, the governments were able to address these issues before it got out of hand. This proved that security threats to a nation can be from within when a country is in crisis. In as much as we do not adhere to warnings, the armed forces should have found other alternatives to make sure those citizens stay safe and protected.
Also, there was the spreading of disinformation. This is a situation where malicious actors could spread false information on the extent to which countries are impacted by the virus or attempt to take advantage of the evolving a highly uncertain situation. This can be exaggerating the number of the people who had contracted the virus, deaths, and the response to it and assigning blame to its origin (Munro 2020). In Ghana for instance, on 13th April 2020, during the lockdown we had the numbers fluctuating in a day on social media where there was 1064 total confirmed cases when in actual fact it was 566 totals confirmed cases (Africa Press Office 2020) and it caused a lot of panic among the citizens. This disinformation also caused stigmatization of the people who were infected and foreigners already living in the country. Citizens started to treat foreigners differently accusing them of bringing the virus into their countries since the first cases African countries confirmed were imported, but now there have been cases of local transmission in at least 14 countries. Ghana first confirmed cases were both individuals who had returned to Ghana from Norway and Turkey (Ghana Health Services 2020).
Africa of course, is far from the only region of the world where the coronavirus crisis is triggering racism and social tension. The attacks in Africa are unique only in that they are targeting groups that are usually seen as privileged or relatively affluent. In Ethiopia, there were growing reports of violence against foreigners. The US embassy in Ethiopia issued a warning describing a ‘rise in the anti-foreigner sentiment’ and the number of incidents of harassment and assault of foreigners in Ethiopia, directly related to COVID 19. Reports indicated that some residents have begun calling foreigners ‘corona’, while others are attacking foreigners on social media by publishing photos of them and linking them to the coronavirus (York 2020). The spreading of disinformation if not filtered properly can be a security risk for African countries. Some African Governments were able to address some of this disinformation like videos of police brutality that had been in the past but was resurfacing during the lockdown in their nations address.
Thirdly, the closing of the borders created limited contacts between countries. International relations depend on both formal and informal international in-person contacts. This enables leaders to sit and talk out issues that need to be dealt with. Even though this pandemic created an avenue where everything could be done online, there are certain issues that when dealt with in-person assures other parties that, they are not being taken for granted. As the pandemic continues each day, more high-level meetings will be impacted and issues concerning security will be affected. Security issues are not one to be taken lightly as there is a need to increase security in African countries during this period. African countries are known for sending their armed forces to peacekeeping missions, with COVID19 cases growing each day, leaders would not want to send their armed forces to places where there is a high risk of the peacekeepers getting the virus.
With a focus on the COVID- 19 outbreak, other issues are also being neglected. Issues such as the Malian conflict, the Kenyan conflict etc. These security issues have been put on hold to focus on preventing the spread of the coronavirus. The attention being given to the pandemic could be an opportunity for actors with malicious intentions to make headway or at the very least slow momentum in terms of other issues, while attention is diverted elsewhere (Munro 2020) The African Union should be able to closely monitor conflicts during this period to make sure it doesn’t escalate to a point where nothing can be done about it. An example would be an attack targeting critical COVID-19-related infrastructure or services.
In conclusion, whiles focusing on COVID-19 and its immediate implication on the economy and citizens, we should also consider the security aspects of this pandemic and work on them before it escalates to a point where we won’t be able to. Security is very important in international relations hence; African countries should pay attention to the security implications and address them as they arise.
Written by Yaa Dufa Asare-Bediako
About the Author: Yaa Dufa is a Ghanaian and a Peace and Security analyst. Studying Gender, Peace and Security at Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre.
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