APSACO Talks: « Covid-19 and security in Africa » Panel 1 Key points : The Security Sector in Africa During and After the Covid-19 Health Crisis

In the context of the Covid-19 crisis that has prevailed in Africa since March, the Policy Center for the New South organizes a special edition of one of its flagship annual events, the Annual Conference on Peace and Security in Africa, named for the occasion APSACO Talks.

This on-line version of the conference, spread over three days, has started today, on September 23rd, with a first panel on « The Security Sector in Africa During and After the Covid-19 Health Crisis », moderated by Badreddine El Harti (Morocco), Principal Security Sector Reform and Rule of Law Adviser, UNDP and Special Adviser to Burkina Faso President.

In his opening remarks, Rachid Houdaigui, Senior Fellow of the Policy Center for the New South, reminded that the think tank has issued since March 2020 more than 2000 publications related to Covid-19. “A pandemic that can act as a trigger for a lasting transformation of the African security, towards more human security while taking into account national regional and continental specificities”.

The first focus was put on Ethiopia by Yonas Adaye Adeto (Ethiopia), Director of the Institute for Peace & Security Studies (IPSS). There, the governement did not choose the strict lockdown path, but insisted on a community-based approach, encouraging a traditional system of food sharing by neighbours. This pragmatic approach has acknowledged the fact that “as people live hand-to-mouth, resilience building initiatives have been encouraged”. The political context stays peculiar with the rescheduling of elections, which has created tensions between the national and regional governements.

Social unrest and repression

The very nature of the threat has changed, according to Giovanni Faleg, responsible for the analysis and research on Sub-Saharan Africa at the European Institute for Security Studes (EUISS). “The current pandemic marks a turning point for international security. It has surpassed the traditional notions of military or national security, and a health crisis is quitessential security threat for the human race”. The pandemic has been accompanied by the rise of extremist politics around the world, Africa included, notably in the Sahel, the Lake Chad and Mozambique, despite the UN call for a global ceasefire. The economic fallout has put stress on some States, with lower budgets for security, travel bans, and a lesser capacity of international assistance. Food security and displaced populations issues can exacerbate social instability, both in urban areas and along the borders. Social unrest, as a response to lockdown measures, has put pressure on the authorities. This might cause States to increase repression and become less democratic than before, notably where the use of police is aimed at containing social movements as seen in Bamako, Abidjan and Ouagadougou. Trust has been breached between populations and authorities because of exactions by the security forces. Covid 19 has boosted already existing fragilities. What is the way forward ? Giovanni Faleg insists on the importance of the African youth, 70 % of the population, that could play as a buffer against the effects of Covid 19. To invest in health and education in cities would be wise for the broad security context”.

Weaker international support for security reforms

The Covid 19 crisis has already had a strong impact on weak or “failed” States, such as the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has explained Saïd Abass Ahamed, director of Thinking Africa. Covid 19 has reinforced the lack of budget for ongoing security reforms projects, since the early 2000’s in the Great Lakes region. The donor fatigue has an impact on the security reform at large, going beyond the army and the police, but also touching the administrative and justice reforms. This is where a solution is needed to the recurrent conflicts occurring in the region. In DRC, where rebellions come back all the time, people are still killed everyday in the Maliema region. This country will have to find its own money to conduct its program. Moreover, there is still a need to open the door on a broad conversation around peace, involving every stakeholders, including the Mai-Mai militia in DRC for instance. This return to a national level of decision may insure a more sustainable effort for peace.

Less coercition, more interaction with the citizens

Situations stay very different in Africa, underlined Dr Khalid Chegraoui, Senior Fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, showing a general weakness of the State, and the absence of effective policies to counter the negative impacts on stability. The Covid 19 crisis has made the task of security more difficult in Africa, with much differences between countries, given the degree of conflict and governance issues preceding the pandemic. The evolution of the pandemic is specific in each country, and the question of the similarity between North Africa and South Africa is to be researched.

Many countries no longer communicate the data on the Covid 19 in Africa. Health systems and strategies are heterogeneous, as well as the profiles of illness, an issue difficult to comment in the absence of research. There is no debate in Africa on the dissemination, and the possible mutations of the virus. It stays very complex for States to manage the crisis, but this human tragedy is also an opportunity for the States to protect rather than impose force, to reconcile and interfere with the population, using the socio-cultural structures, and convince about the effectiveness and legitimacy of the measures taken. The security strategies still lack a regional and continentel dimension, in order to anticipate on the future health crisis and responses. All of us are waiting for other countries and forces to produce vaccines against Covid 19, and we shall pay the price, having gentlemen agreements with certain countries, instead of buying it cheaper from China or Russia.

About the Policy Center for the New South

Launched in 2014 in Rabat with more than 40 experts of both south and north, the Policy Center for the New South (PCNS) is a Moroccan think tank aiming to contribute to the improvement of economic and social public policies that challenge Morocco and the rest of Africa as integral parts of the global South. www.policycenter.ma