Responding to COVID-19: Voices from Local Peacebuilders

Responding to COVID-19: Voices from Local Peacebuilders

The spread of the novel COVID-19 virus in more than 135 countries has drastically disrupted people’s ways of life and has paralyzed world economies—exerting formidable pressures on governments and healthcare systems struggling to curb the daily increases of new cases. Italy, Spain, Iran, and the US are still the most hit by the pandemic. The alarming death rates in these three countries have sent a warning signal to countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia,  where a combination of prolonged armed conflicts, bad governance, and  inadequate healthcare systems predispose certain nations for much more devastating effects of the pandemic. However, despite the precariousness in these contexts, local peacebuilders are stepping up to support the already overstrained healthcare providers and are redefining responsive new ways to do peacebuilding in their communities. In order to foster sharing of experiences and learning among local peacebuilders on the frontlines of preventing further spread of COVID-19, on March 28, 2020 Conducive Space for Peace, in collaboration with Peacemaker 360 and in coordination with Peace Direct and Humanity United, launched a series of online consultations whose recommendations will feed into a joint report to share with relevant international actors and donor institutions that may support local peacebuilding in this uncertain time.

The main panelists included Michelle Belfor, a youth peacebuilder from Suriname working on a UN-supported sensitization awareness campaign against Covid-19; El Hadj Djitteye, a Malian peacebuilder working on counter extremism projects in the Sahel Region; and Gatwal Gatkuoth, a South Sudanese peacebuilder advocating for the rights of South Sudanese in refugee settlements in Uganda. The first discussion, which has since been viewed over 7000 times, saw a significant participation of peacebuilding actors tuning from different countries and who enriched the conversations with insightful perspectives and observations from their own contexts and/or professions.  The panel discussion was moderated by Christian Cito Cirhigiri, a Congolese peacebuilder and Program Adviser at Conducive Space for Peace. This blog post summarizes nine of the main takeaways from this first live call and additional off-the-call conversations with other local peacebuilders:

#1 Peacebuilding should adapt to global public health concerns: Panelists and online contributors emphasized the need to redefine and repurpose peacebuilding activities in line with sensitization campaigns and mass education efforts seeking to address disinformation. Furthermore, peacebuildiers need to be central in consultations on responses to ensure COVID-19 interventions are as conflict sensitive as possible. To prepare for future outbreaks in conflict contexts, peacebuilding as a field of study and practice should inextricably interact with Public Health. As local peacebuilders are already operating in the nexus between development, humanitarian aid, and peacebuilding concerns and are working close to communities, they are well-placed to advance cross-sectoral collaborations.

#2 Peacebuilding funding should focus increasingly on COVID-19 interventions: Additional funding to Covid-19 interventions at community level is needed to supplement peacebuilding interventions. If funding is shifted from PB interventions, the importance of this is undermined – and in the aftermath of this crisis, it will be more important than ever.   

#3 Digital and online platforms that foster experience sharing among  local peacebuilders are mostly important in times of crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. As people move to home-based working lifestyles to curb the virus spread, virtual interactions remain the only way to stay connected among peacebuilders. Participants also encouraged this livestreaming initiative as it helped build a sense of communtiy and solidarity with one another. However, still many local peacebuilders lack access to virtual communication and even power to charge their phones.

#4 Resource inequalities: One of the effects of the pandemic is that it has further highlighted existing resource inequalities between the Global North and the Global South. The lack of adequate medical equipment in most countries in the Global South is a huge liability in this crisis. A campaign of resource redistribution in terms of medical assistance & equipment would help poor countries withstand the pandemic. Furthermore, as people engulf in panic-buying and prices of basic commodities skyrocket, the pandemic has exacerbated in-country inequalities.

#5 Disrupted peacebuilding partnerships have intensified vulnerability of marginalized communities. With the spread of the pandemic, several international peacebuilding actors have put a hold on in-country programs and cancelled activities to prevent the spread of the virus. On the downside, some needed peacebuilding interventions with marginalized communities may be affected. It is important for ensure minimum support to these interventions to save lives.

#6 High risks for contamination faced by displaced populations in already congested refugee settlements around the world (Syria, Uganda, South Sudan).  These communities are faced with urgent needs for humanitarian assistance, and both peacebuilding funding and programs should pay particular attention to these groups.

#7 Corona-related violence: In order to enforce social distancing, Police in Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda have resorted to violence, leading to fears of the legitimization of the wrongful use of force against potential political opponents. Furthermore, the protection of local peacebuilders who might have been targeted by oppressive regimes prior to the pandemic is critical as they [local peacebuilders] may equally be easy targets of corona- related violence. 

#8 Mental health and COVID-19: At a time like this, mental health concerns tend to be relegated to the bottom of priorities of local peacebuilders responding to COVID-19. However, it is critical for local peacebuilders to develop support systems and strike a healthy balance to care for their own needs and their families. Futhermore, while social distancing is highly recommended to stop the spread of the virus, it has also been a huge challenge for communities closely connected—leading to a deep sense of loneliness. Local peacebuilders face the important responsibility of sustaining resilience and hope in their communities. 

#9 Collective call to action by local peacebuilders and international actors to respond to the pandemic: Acknowledging that no country, no organization alone can help address the overwhelming challenges  facing local peacebuilding in times like this, panelists proposed the idea of  a joint call to action to involve as many willing peacebuildng actors and donor organizations to act quickly and together in support of local peacebuilders on the frontlines of stopping the pandemic.

As we look forward to the upcoming streaming scheduled on April 4th at 3pm CET, we also invite you to join the dialogue and to share your experiences responding to COVID-19. As a result of the pandemic, there is no doubt that the field of peacebuilding is bracing for its next phase of development and the long term implications of this shift to local peacebuilding are yet to be known. The dialogue continues.

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