Nicaragua 2020: A De Facto State of Exception Beyond COVID-19

Porträt Alina M. Ripplinger
Alina M. Ripplinger

The unprecedented scenario of the current pandemic has unmasked vulnerabilities in any country of the world as its consequences are overpassing by far a health emergency. Fragile societies that had been struggling with an inner crisis before the outbreak of COVID-19 are particularly affected and face the risk of a longer lasting democratic and human rights backsliding. The Nicaraguan trajectory reflects this pattern in an alarming way, as in the Central American country the pandemic not only led to a struggle for health. The lack of responsible and democratic leadership and a previous humanitarian emergency converge into a de facto state of exception. In this aggravating context with serious institutional deteriorations, it is increased civic engagement that fosters renewed resources of deliberative participation and crisis management.

The Nicaraguan Answers to the Outbreak of the Coronavirus Pandemic

While emergency strategies have been implemented in most Latin American countries, the Nicaraguan government chose its own path. President Daniel Ortega has not taken up any exceptional power. After the first case of COVID-19 had been noticed in the country in March 2020, the president had been vanished for more than a month before appearing again on April 15 in a TV speech. At the same time, Daniel Ortega’s wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo focused on staging social cohesion and solidarity by calling on to march for “Love in Times of Corona”. Tourism was promoted throughout Easter, sports and music events took place, and even the usage of masks was prohibited temporally to impede panic to rise, as monitored by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights. Albeit some measures of contention as the control of borders and the attention to the uninsured had been realized meanwhile, no further comprehensive responses were formulated.

Risking a Collapse of the Health Service

Facing not only the lack of governmental measures but also an alarming situation of the health system, already in late April 2020 a pronouncement on the COVID-19 pandemic in Nicaragua was signed by more than 600 Nicaraguan health professionals who urged the government to take up a national health plan. By the end of May 2020, the government published a White Paper to defend the absence of governmental response by arguing the national plan was comparable to the Swedish model of non-isolation and orientated towards the needs of the Nicaraguan nation by fulfilling “balance between the pandemic and the economy”. No comments were made on the fragile context. Only some days later, in early June 2020, the collapse of the health system was declared by at least 34 Nicaraguan medical organizations. The respective statement also warned of an unstoppable tide of infections and once again drew attention to the ill-equipped medical community and a dramatically low health system capacity with only around nine hospital beds available per 10.000 people. The figures on cases up to now highly depend on the respective source. By December 30, 2021, comparative considerations suggest that the Nicaraguan Health Ministry confirmed 6.046 cases and 165 deaths, while the Nicaraguan civil society monitored 11.993 accumulated infections and 2.862 deaths. The latter data includes cases of pneumonia deaths and hence COVID-19 suspected victims which are claimed to be hidden in governmental statistics. It follows that “the absence of Information, prevention and medical care with respect to the COVID-19 crisis in Nicaragua” can be considered a “failure of the State of Nicaragua to comply with its obligation under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to respect, protect and fulfill the rights to health and life, among other rights, in the face of the COVID-19 crisis” as it was claimed jointly by Nicaraguan and international civil society actors in August 2020.

Humanitarian Emergency in the Context of Democratic Deficits

The impact of the pandemic anyhow surpasses the crisis in the health sector and aggravates a previously existing political and humanitarian crisis. Back in April 2018, social protests against the increasingly authoritarian government had been met by the latter with massive repression and state violence. Though peace talks, which included all sectors of society, the left-wing populist incumbent Daniel Ortega strategically eliminated possible pathways and sources for a return to democratic normalcy. Since then, a human rights crisis has persisted and transformed into a de facto state of exception based on a sophisticated and systematic repression of society as it was denounced by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. There is a clear lack of the rule of law and accountability; independent media is highly restricted, transparency of government measures is not given; political opponents were prisoned, and arbitrary dismissals shrink the numbers of independent professionals in the areas of health and education. Finally, checks and balances are considerably weak and cannot counteract populist presidentialism in the country. As such Ortega’s forenamed undeclared and therefore illegal, temporal leave was not considered at all in the National Assembly. Furthermore, in the shadows of the current emergency, wide-ranging adaptions in the legal framework – before all the passing of a trio of punitive laws and a law on amnesty – have been taken to further shrink space for democratic and civic participation.

Renewed Civic Engagement and Unity in Alliances

At the same time, both the crisis in 2018 and the current health emergency have created new partnerships between distinct national actors. An example of such is given by the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, which evolved in 2018 as one voice of civil society subsuming diverse movements. It currently calls on the Nicaraguan people to pressure the government for change and lists necessary measures in detail. The Observatorio Ciudadano COVID-19 Nicaragua was set up as an independent source of information on the pandemic and prominently claims respect for the rights to health and life. Furthermore, a working group between leading socio-economic institutions, chambers of commerce and the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) was integrated, inter alia with the aim to provide a governmentally independent fund for the most vulnerable groups in society. In a context of considerable human rights violations, deep structural deficiencies and lacking accountable political leadership, such rising civil society initiatives have the capacity to answer to the current crisis but also to address a democratic vacuum that undoubtedly has been persisting in Nicaragua throughout the last years.

As such, Nicaragua depicts a scenario in which COVID-19 exposes a vulnerable society to immensely high risks due to the lack of comprehensive governmental measures, of democratic ruling and of the respect for human rights. In this context, the rise of new alliances and civil society engagement demonstrates the considerable accumulation of renewed deliberative and democratic efforts that are aware of the potential long-term and multilayered impacts of the current crisis.

By Alina M. Ripplinger

(Hinweis: Der vorliegende Blog-Beitrag gibt nicht zwingend die Meinung des KFIBS e. V. wieder.)

(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash)




Both pictures were taken by Alina M. Ripplinger.

Venezuela in Times of COVID-19: Between Sharpening of the Crisis and Intensification of Authoritarianism

Porträt Stiven Tremaria
Stiven Tremaria

As of 20 March 2021, 150,306 cases of COVID-19 infected people and 1,483 deaths are reported in Venezuela since the beginning of the pandemic one year ago, at least according to official government figures. While there are serious doubts about these figures’ accuracy due to a low testing rate of possible new infections and the absence of independent records, the country has so far remained on the sidelines of the acute wave of infections observable in other Latin American countries. Although this may be good news in a country plunged for the last five years into a deep humanitarian crisis and with a precarious health care system, the cure seems to be worse than the disease. This contribution succinctly addresses the main measures adopted by the Venezuelan government to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the negative consequences it has brought about for the current social and political situation in Venezuela.

As in any country elsewhere in the world, the Venezuelan government has adopted a series of measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 and has also taken actions to alleviate the adverse effects of this global public health crisis. At the start of the pandemic in early March 2020, the Venezuelan government declared a state of emergency, a “social quarantine”, and a temporary curfew as part of the measures to contain the virus transmission. These involved a total restriction on freedom of movement nationwide, close of businesses and state institutions, banning public meetings, and closure of air, land, and sea borders. These measures were later replaced by the so-called 7-7 System, which involves a week of tight lockdown followed by a week of opening of shops, stores, and public institutions under strict sanitary measures, such as the compulsory use of face mask, hand disinfection, and body temperature control. However, all educational institutions – from nurseries to universities – remain closed, and the new school year that began in early October 2020 takes place on an off-site basis.

The Venezuelan government has implemented a system to prevent and monitor possible infection cases through the web-based Plataforma Patria. On this platform, citizens voluntarily report about the presence of symptoms, whether they have had contact with infected people, and what the epidemic situation is like in the sector where they live. Citizens get access to this application through the QR code of their Carnet de la Patria (Homeland Card), a sort of identity card with a mobile wallet to become cash transfers by the government. Through this card, the government has delivered at random to some sectors of the population a series of economic aids or “bonuses” under the following names: “Economic War Bonus”, “Stay Home Bonus”, “United for Life Bonus”, or “Take Care Bonus”, among others. In the ideal scenario that a person has received all these bonuses (for a total budget of around 15 USD), his or her possibility of purchasing the basic food basket for a five-people household (estimated at around 545 USD in December 2020) is still far below the minimum subsistence needs. Meanwhile, the food boxes distributed by the government at subsidized prices – known as CLAP by its Spanish acronym and containing 12 to 15 basic foodstuffs – reach fewer households actually and less frequently, on average every one or two months.

However, the negative balance of the COVID-19 pandemic in Venezuela lies in the fact that it has deepened a pre-existing humanitarian crisis by sharpening the impairment of Venezuelans’ quality of life and fostered the conditions for an intensification of the autocratic character of the Maduro government. On one side, Venezuelans have quarantined under extremely adverse conditions: lack of food reserves, unaffordable medicines and hygiene items, constant irruption or absence of drinking water and electricity supply, restricted or no access to the internet, and severe shortages in the supply of fuel and cooking gas, which has led to people having to cook with wood. Besides, the de facto dollarization of the Venezuelan economy observable during 2020 has adversely affected that sector of the population with no access to foreign currencies (estimated at around 50 percent), which has resulted in a limited capacity to procure food and an increase in malnutrition rates. These harsh living conditions have provoked spontaneous but repeated street demonstrations and roadblocks by citizens, which have been severely repressed by the state security forces through disproportionate use of physical force and even lethal violence.

On the other side, like other authoritarian regimes from other parts of the world have done it so, Nicolás Maduro’s government has deliberately instrumentalized the COVID-19 pandemic for political purposes and the consolidation of his authoritarian rule. The Maduro government’s narrative has not been dealing with the pandemic as a public health emergency but as a national security threat to be defeated by all means, particularly by military and police response. In the framework of the state of emergency in force continuously since 13 March 2020, citizens’ civil liberties have been restricted under national security considerations. The Bolivarian National Police and the National Guard – under the so-called civil-military-police union – have been deployed on the streets to force people to lock in their homes or detain them in case of non-compliance, but also to “hunt criminals and bioterrorists”.

In particular, lethal police violence has soared during 2020 and became more deadly than COVID-19. According to the NGO Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia, the death rate in 2020 due to “resistance to authority” by the police scored 16.2 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants (equivalent to 4,231 persons killed), while four deaths per 100,000 inhabitants occurred due to COVID-19. That is to say, in 2020 the Venezuelan police forces killed four times more people than the pandemic. Likewise, the government’s iron fist in the fight against COVID-19 has also been used against dissenting voices. According to reports from the NGO Human Rights Watch, journalists, health professionals, and opposition figures who have publicly questioned the government’s figures and criticized its policies concerning the pandemic have become victims of harassment and even unlawful detention by state security forces.

In times of COVID-19, a consolidation of the Maduro government’s authoritarian character can also be observed through a hegemonic control of all state institutions by the ruling party. In December 2020, parliamentary elections were held to renew the opposition-controlled National Assembly. These elections were held without the observance of international bio-sanitary protocols to prevent the spread of new COVID-19 infections and were signed by infringements to the principles of electoral fairness and legal irregularities, in particular, the unconstitutional increase by the Electoral Board in the number of deputies from 167 to 277. Despite the lowest official voter turnout (31 percent) in a national election since 1999, the pro-government coalition got 70 percent of the votes and succeeded in obtaining 91 percent of the parliament seats, thus giving Chavismo back the control over the legislature.

To sum up, the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in Venezuela has brought about a sharpening of the pre-existing humanitarian crisis and the intensification of the authoritarian character and repressive rule of the Maduro government. These facts would seem to further diffuse hopes for a short-term change that would improve Venezuelans’ living conditions and restore democratic governance and the rule of law in the country.

By Stiven Tremaria

(Hinweis: Der vorliegende Blog-Beitrag gibt nicht zwingend die Meinung des KFIBS e. V. wieder.)

(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash)



From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.


In Colombia, Humanitarian Action by Security Forces Against COVID-19 Lacks Transparency

Por­t­rät Rafael D. Uribe Neira
Rafael D. Uribe Neira

Colombia, which as of January 5, 2020, had 85,039 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 43,965 deaths related to COVID-19, finds itself trying to strike a balance between protecting its citizens, reactivating the economy, fighting still omnipresent crime and drug trafficking as well as continuing to implement peacebuilding measures following the country’s political conflict. The security forces are part of the state’s toolkit to contain the crisis and their contribution has essentially consisted of supporting quarantine enforcement activities and the provision of humanitarian aid.

The military in Colombia has provided humanitarian aid for a long time, but it does not officially rely on a framework to coordinate civil-military activities to do so. The closest thing resembling such a framework was the Damasco Doctrine, which is aimed at formalizing the support of civilian authorities in emergency situations following NATO standards. To contain the current crisis, the Ministry of Defense (MinDefensa) deployed 87,000 soldiers, policemen and policewomen as well as delivering essential items to vulnerable and isolated communities. In addition, by presidential decree, military recruits must serve three months longer than their actual contracts and the recruitment of new personnel was stopped. The Air Force uses light and medium cargo aircraft to supply food rations and evacuate sick people to hospitals. The Navy delivers humanitarian aid in landing craft originally intended for amphibious operations and troop transport. Finally, the defense industry in Bogotá redirected efforts towards the production of face masks, hospital beds and ventilators. This is a key contribution for areas where the population has lost their livelihoods due to the nation-wide quarantine or where health infrastructure is non-existent.

But pandemics pose a twofold challenge to militaries: They are not prepared to contain highly infectious diseases and soldiers inevitably clash with civilians when they directly participate in humanitarian action. This post elaborates on how these two caveats may undermine Colombian security forces’ legitimacy in times of COVID-19 in a country which struggles to keep their infection numbers low.

First of all, the ability of military actors to contain viruses or, at least, to act without being infected themselves are rather limited. Troops have historically contributed to the spread of infectious diseases, for example in the case of influenza in the United States by domestic troops during World War I, the spread of malaria from Afghanistan into the former USSR by Soviet troops; and more recently, cases of cholera brought by Nepali peacekeepers to Haiti. During the coronavirus crisis, the case of the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt and the destroyer USS Kidd or the reduction of capabilities among European militaries due to COVID-19 highlight the vulnerability of armed forces in the face of infectious disease once more. A fast-spreading virus disables operational readiness, disrupts operations, and transforms highly mobile troops into effective spreaders, because militaries have a hard time following social distancing.

In Colombia, reporting following the troops suggest that troops do not necessarily contribute to containing the spread. By the beginning of April 2020, the national think tank Fundación Ideas para la Paz first warned about the impact the virus could have on the military. One month later, authorities reported one dead soldier and 57 service members infected with COVID-19 in a motorized Army battalion in Nariño province. In the Amazonas province, soldiers sent to restrict the virus spread by reducing the movement of the local population were infected themselves. The security forces at some point made up 11% of the total number of cases registered in the latter departamento. This example and the historical evidence suggest that military responders are, in fact, prone to rise infection numbers.

This is indeed a concerning issue. By June 2020, for instance, COVID-19 numbers in the Amazonas province were among the highest in the nation per millions inhabitants, while the region lacks intensive care units (ICUs) and borders with Brazil, now a country with the third-most cases worldwide. Although Southwestern province Nariño does not compare to Amazonas, it also shares an international border with another particularly hit country: Ecuador (as reported here and here).

Despite the delivery of much needed aid in such a context by the military is publicized and usually enjoys approval even by civilian oversight authorities, the operations of the military are paradoxically difficult to trace. In Nariño, ill soldiers were not isolated, but simply transferred to administrative duties, putting at risk other uniformed personnel and civilians in military bases. The Army, which had not commented on the practice before, declared that the governor of Nariño had not been authorized to reveal the information and that the institution would internally handle the cases. Similarly, in Amazonas the only reliable data on the spread among the troops themselves came from the Amazonian Secretary of Health. In this departamento, the Army and both municipal and regional administrations did not officially share information about the measures to handle the crisis, lest the number of infected and victims in the military. While the Secretary of Health estimated the number of infected soldiers as high as 240, unofficial versions coming from the Army itself, elevated the number to 350 as of May 2020. Making things worse, one soldier faced penal charges and three more are being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office for not adhering to the provisions of social distancing rules.

At the national level, the numbers are also difficult to trace: National authorities barely share data on the number of affected members. By early June 2020, newspapers, based on unofficial sources, claimed that at least 1,200 uniformed people were infected. They also reported the reluctance of the security authorities to provide official numbers on their affected members. One month later, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection – with data provided by MinDefensa – updated the number: 5,701 infected and 11 deceased. Since then, to the best of the author’s knowledge, no new data has been released on this issue.

Now put together the above-mentioned incidents pose the question whether military engagement in humanitarian action, usually legitimate but highly contested, does actually underpin the legitimacy of the security forces in Colombia. The humanitarian action, as it is exerted by the military, might not contribute to stopping infections as desired. On the contrary, it might be helping – in the worst case – to spread it. Therefore, decision makers in Colombia should seriously consider making data coming from the Ministry of Defense publicly available. Transparency is very much needed to assess the efficacy of the military institutions in dealing with pandemics. At its very core, transparency is a key democratic value to which Colombian citizens are entitled. For civilian decision makers and military planners, transparency means building legitimacy in the eyes of the civilian population, especially in rural areas. Otherwise, they may jeopardize – in the short to medium term – the standing of a key actor needed in bringing stability to a very unstable country.

By Rafael D. Uribe Neira

(Hinweis: Der vorliegende Blog-Beitrag gibt nicht zwingend die Meinung des KFIBS e. V. wieder.)

(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash)



Colombian Ministry of Defense publicity campaign.

Caption: “Our public force arrives to Colombia’s last corner #StayAtHome”

Die Biden-Präsidentschaft und der Nuklearkonflikt mit dem Iran – zurück zu einer „Politik der ausgestreckten Hand“?

Porträt Lisa-Marie Geltinger
Lisa-Marie Geltinger

Am 20. Januar 2021 erfolgte die Amtseinführung des 46. Präsidenten der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Die Zeit der Unberechenbarkeit sowie die teils willkürliche „Wrecking Ball“-Politik Trumps sind offenbar zumindest für die nächsten vier Jahre von der weltpolitischen Bühne verschwunden. Bereits am Tag seiner Inauguration unterzeichnete der neue US-Präsident Biden 17 Präsidialverordnungen (sog. Executive Orders). Die meisten davon setzten vorherige Trump-Beschlüsse größtenteils außer Kraft. Neben der Einführung eines bundesweiten Maskengebots, dem Wiedereintritt in die Weltgesundheitsorganisation (WHO) und in das Pariser Klimaabkommen hob Biden auch den sogenannten Muslim Travel Ban auf. Letzteres untersagte Menschen aus bestimmten muslimischen Ländern die Einreise in die USA. Diese Maßnahme kann immerhin als ein erster wichtiger Schritt in Richtung Wiederannäherung Washingtons an Teheran gewertet werden. Eine außenpolitische Priorität Bidens ist es auch, den USA eine Rückkehr zum „Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action“ (kurz: JCPOA) von „P5+1“ (nach dem unilateralen Ausstieg der USA nunmehr „P4+1“) und Iran zu ermöglichen. Den öffentlichen Bekundungen des neuen US-Präsidenten nach zu urteilen, scheint dieser somit die „Politik der ausgestreckten Hand“ seines Amtsvorgängers Barack H. Obama weitestgehend fortführen zu wollen. Doch was sind die Aussichten für den Wiedereintritt der USA in das „Wiener Atomabkommen“? Viel wichtiger noch: Reicht eine „bloße“ Rückkehr der USA zum JCPOA aus oder haben sich fünf Jahre nach Abschluss des Vertrages die Ausgangsbedingungen für die friedliche Beilegung des Nuklearkonfliktes zwischen Iran und der „P5+1“-Gruppe maßgeblich verändert?

Argumente für und Argumente gegen den JCPOA

Kompromisse im Sinne eines do ut des zählen gemeinhin zum Wesen der Diplomatie. Diesen Anforderungen kommt der JCPOA – abgeschlossen im Juli 2015 nach zwölf Jahren zäher Verhandlungen – zumindest in Fragen der nuklearen Rüstungskontrolle größtenteils nach. Das 150-seitige Vertragswerk stellt zwar keinen optimalen, aber wenigstens einen akzeptablen Lösungsansatz dar. Bereits zum Wahlkampfauftakt 2016 bezeichnete der spätere US-Präsident Donald J. Trump das Atomabkommen jedoch als „den schlechtesten Deal aller Zeiten“ und kündigte es schließlich im Präsidentenamt im Sommer 2018 kurzerhand unilateral auf. Die Gegner des Iran-Nukleardeals beziehen sich in ihrer Kritik überwiegend auf drei zentrale Pfeiler: Zum einen wird die kurze Laufzeit des Vertrages sowie der Ausschluss iranischer Raketensysteme moniert. Zum anderen werfen sie dem Iran vor, mit der finanziellen und militärischen Unterstützung lokaler Milizen (Hisbollah, Hamas u. a.), den „Geist“ des Abkommens verletzt und damit maßgeblich zur Instabilität im Nahen und Mittleren Osten beigetragen zu haben. Die Befürworter des „Wiener Atomabkommens“ hingegen sehen den größten Erfolg der internationalen Übereinkunft in der Entschärfung des Nuklearkonfliktes, womit zugleich und wenigstens zeitweise eine militärische Option gegen das iranische Atomprogramm vom Tisch zu sein schien. Die Zeichen für einen Wiedereintritt stehen zumindest derzeit nicht schlecht. So betonte auch der iranische Präsident Hassan Rohani erst kürzlich in einer Kabinettssitzung, dass er einer US-Rückkehr zum JCPOA offen gegenüberstehe. Der Ball, so betonte der iranische Präsident aber ausdrücklich, läge zurzeit im Feld der USA. Weitere Verhandlungen bzw. eine Rückkehr zum „Wiener Atomdeal“ könnten letztendlich auch an den Ambitionen der neuen US-Regierung, den Vertrag um weitere Themen der Rüstungskontrolle zu erweitern, scheitern. Im Zuge eines gegenseitigen „Gebens und Nehmens“ wird die zentrale Frage bei künftigen Verhandlungen sein, was für den Iran und was für die „P5+1“-Delegation als verhandelbar gilt und was nicht.

Lehren aus der Vergangenheit

Wollen die USA Zugeständnisse des Irans etwa hinsichtlich des Raketenprogramms oder regionaler Einmischungen erreichen, können sie wichtige Lehren aus der Vergangenheit ziehen: In den zwölf Jahren langwieriger Verhandlungsrunden mit dem Iran, die von Phasen der Annäherung und Konfrontation geprägt waren, hat die Obama-Administration mit Abschluss des JCPOA erstens gezeigt, dass grundsätzlich eine gemeinsame Lösung hinsichtlich nuklearer Rüstungskontrolle mit dem Iran möglich ist. Ob der Iran jedoch überhaupt willens ist, sein Raketenprogramm sowie seine regionalen Ambitionen zu verhandeln, wird sich in den nächsten Monaten zeigen. Die Erfolgsaussichten dafür können aber als äußerst gering eingeschätzt werden, bedenkt man etwa das bis heute klare Festhalten des Obersten Religionsführers Ali Chamenei an seiner „roten Linie“, über Themen jenseits des Nuklearprogramms nicht einmal Gesprächen zuzustimmen. Erschwerend kommt hinzu, dass der iranische Außenminister Mohammed Dschawad Sarif erst kürzlich betonte, dass der Wiedereintritt in den JCPOA bereits dann gefährdet sei, wenn die USA gedenken, diesen an neue Bedingungen zu knüpfen bzw. neu zu verhandeln. Dies führt zur zweiten wichtigen Erkenntnis, nämlich dem Nutzen eines langsamen, schrittweisen und bedachten Vorgehens. Sollten die USA auf unrealisierbare Vorbedingungen bestehen, wie es im Rahmen des 12-Punkte-Plans des ehemaligen US-Außenministers Michael R. Pompeo der Fall war, wird dies höchstwahrscheinlich zum Ende des JCPOA und zur weiteren Zuspitzung des Nuklearkonfliktes führen. Daran, Teheran mit einer „Politik des maximalen Drucks“ zu einer Verhaltensänderung zu bewegen, sind zuvor sowohl George W. Bush als auch Donald J. Trump gescheitert. Zudem darf nicht vergessen werden, dass Israel, Saudi-Arabien und die Vereinigten Arabischen Emirate (VAE) entschiedene Gegner des Iran-Nukleardeals sind und den USA eine Rückkehr zum bereits bestehenden Vertragswerk zusätzlich erschweren werden. So fordern sie, den Vorteil der wiederauferlegten unilateralen US-Sanktionen gegen den Iran für künftige Gespräche nutzen zu können, um das Regime in Teheran zu noch mehr Konzessionen zu bewegen. US-Präsident Biden muss daher nicht nur den Kongress der Vereinigten Staaten, sondern auch seine regionalen Partner von einer diplomatischen Lösung überzeugen.

Maßnahmen und Erfolgsaussichten für eine Rückkehr zum JCPOA

Für eine Entspannung der aktuell zugespitzten Lage zwischen Teheran und Washington gilt es als Erstes, Schritte der Deeskalation einzuleiten. Trumps Politik des „maximalen Drucks“ für weitere Konzessionen seitens des Irans zu nutzen, würde nicht nur die Glaubwürdigkeit der USA weiter beschädigen und einen zunehmenden Vertrauensverlust nach sich ziehen, sondern auch gleichzeitig das Risiko einer militärischen Eskalation weiter erhöhen. Dies ist auch vor dem Hintergrund zu betrachten, dass sich Biden mehrmals entschieden gegen eine solche strategische Vorgehensweise ausgesprochen hat. Ein erster wichtiger Deeskalationsschritt war die Aufhebung des Muslim Travel Ban. Ein zentrales Schlüsselelement betrifft darüber hinaus die US-Sanktionspolitik. Das Sanktionsregime gegen den Iran ist hoch komplex, umfassend und wirkt zugleich sektorübergreifend. Für die Biden-Administration wäre es an dieser Stelle aber sinnvoll, zumindest die Sanktionen aufzuheben, die dem Iran den Zugang zu humanitären Hilfen zur Bekämpfung der COVID-19-Pandemie versperren. Im Gegenzug müsste sich der Iran jedoch dazu bereit erklären, seinen Verpflichtungen gemäß den Vertragsauflagen des JCPOA wieder vollständig nachzukommen. Außerdem erscheint es zweckmäßig, einen Weg zu finden, künftigen Vertragsverletzungen vorzubeugen. Neben dem „Snap Back“-Mechanismus, der bei Vertragsbrüchen seitens des Irans die Wiedereinsetzung aller vorherigen Sanktionen vorsieht, ist im JCPOA ein unilateraler Ausstieg seitens einer der „P5+1“-Vertragsparteien nicht geregelt. Die Einführung einer Exit- bzw. Wiedereintrittsklausel könnte hier Abhilfe schaffen. Sollten diese ersten Deeskalationsmaßnahmen erfolgreich sein, können womöglich parallel zu den Nuklearverhandlungen diplomatische Schritte eingeleitet werden, die auch die regionalen Aktivitäten des Irans in den Blick nehmen. Insbesondere die USA sollten sich aber vorab darüber klar werden, welche Rolle sie künftig in der Region noch spielen wollen. Hier gilt es, strategisch zu eruieren, wie sich langfristig die Beziehungen zwischen dem Iran und den USA gestalten sollen. Im Rahmen weiterführender diplomatischer Gespräche mit dem Iran sollten darüber hinaus auch die regionalen Partner wie Saudi-Arabien, Israel und die VAE mit einbezogen werden.

Von Lisa-Marie Geltinger

(Hinweis: Der vorliegende Blog-Beitrag gibt nicht zwingend die Meinung des KFIBS e. V. wieder.)


(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash)

Familiar Wine in New Bottles: What Security and Transatlantic Agenda to Expect from a Biden Presidency

Porträt Dr. Aylin Matlé
Dr. Aylin Matlé

The way many commentators and politicians in the political West are hailing the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee in the U.S.’s bid for the White House, Joe Biden, reminds one of similar praises in 2008. Back then, the Democrat’s name on the presidential ballot was Barack Obama – the promises of salvation after eight years of President George W. Bush at the helm of the United States were akin to the hopes especially European’s are pinning on a Biden administration in the election year of 2020. A reality check of these overblown hopes and expectations is in order lest European allies are disillusioned by what they are actually in for. While it does not come as a surprise that Biden’s elaborations about his possible foreign and security agenda bear heavy similarities to Obama, who he served as Vice President for eight years, an arch of continuity between the incumbent Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger cannot be ignored.

Factors Uniting, Factors Dividing Trump and Biden

For the sake of clarity, outlining the features uniting the first Trump and a possible Biden administration ought to be divided between a strategic and a policy level. Irrespective of their starkly differing modes of communication as well as divergent narratives to justify their (prospective) actions, both have in common that they want and in Trump’s case have striven for a relative U.S. retreat from the world stage. The current U.S. president has made clear from the beginning of his time in the Oval Office (as a matter of fact much earlier than even running for president) that he views the system of alliances and international organizations mainly predominantly established by the United States after World War II as disadvantages to Washington. According to Trump, the United States have been exploited by their allies and partners for decades. Thus, he concludes, Washington ought to stop picking up the (financial) slack pertaining to the provision of security for countries that have long been in a position to defend themselves. This argument is directed primarily though not exclusively at European allies. Biden arrives at a similar conclusion, i.e. that allies and partners ought to contribute more to (transatlantic) burden-sharing – a demand, by the way, that has been voiced even prior to the erection of NATO. Not least of all, the president he served, Barack Obama, left office voicing his dissatisfaction with European allies’ free-riding attitudes and actions, specifically in connection with their performance during NATO’s air campaign over Libya in 2011. Parsing Biden’s comments on his administration’s prospective foreign and security guidelines, his is an agenda steeped in multilateral thinking. Striving to shift some of the U.S.’s current responsibilities to allies and partners is akin to Trump’s demands in terms of burden-sharing – at least in spirit. Examining the current administration’s policy level, one can arrive at the conclusion that Biden’s aspirations are not far off from what Trump has been working towards during the past four years. From a relative retreat from the Middle East – already begun during the Obama administration – through to a tough stance on China, Biden’s hitherto know foreign and security policy objectives resemble those the current U.S. administration has been implementing. The outlined similarities on a strategic as well as policy level should not belie differences separating Trump and his challenger though. The most obvious contrast between the two relates to their respective modes of communication and rhetoric: While the current U.S. president notoriously speaks (or rather tweets) like an elephant in a china shop, Biden masters the art of diplomatic and thus respectful parlance. His decades of experience in the public sphere and eye have trained him in striking the right chord when dealing with friends and allies without shying away from being blunt. While some might discount the significance of a politician’s rhetoric by pointing out that actions speak louder than words, the nature of one’s communication should be taken into consideration – especially in the context of a decades-old alliance such as NATO. After all, communicating openly and in a responsible fashion with one’s allies instead of blurting out unilateral decisions without prior consultation instills trust and reliability on part of partner nations. Especially in the context of NATO’s deterrence and defense posture, the importance of credibility should not be underestimated. Constantly questioning the purpose and make-up of the Atlantic Alliance while hailing NATO’s opponents in public as Trump has been doing since his first election campaign in 2016, diminishes the U.S.’s credibility as a reliable partner. The very opponents Trump praises – including Russia’s Putin – are watching him essentially doing their biding, i.e. driving a wedge into NATO. In so doing, the current U.S. president is providing friends and foes alike with doubt about whether or not Washington would come to an ally’s aid if push came to shove.

What a Biden Presidency Will Likely Deliver – and What Not

A Biden presidency surely would be able to and interested in calming down tensions that Trump has been given rise to in transatlantic relations during his first tenure. Treating allies as allies and not foes would certainly help American partners on the other side of the Atlantic to regain trust in Washington’s reliability – equally, opponents of NATO might stop doubting the U.S.’s steadfastness, too. That being said, European allies should not expect a Biden administration to lead the partnership back to the status quo ante – whatever exactly that is supposed to mean anyhow in light of Barack Obama’s scolding of allies. While it is safe to assume that under a Biden presidency, the transatlantic relationship would be instilled with a semblance of normalcy once more, the overarching trend of the United States being less interested in assuming the role of a policeman regionally as well as globally is very unlikely. Instead, it can be expected that Biden will continue what Obamas has started and Trump has perpetuated in deeds if not in words. It is understandable that European allies are yearning for more stability and predictably which Biden surely would deliver. Yet, they should not expect the dawn of an age in which they can continue to take a back seat in sharing the transatlantic burden.

By Dr. Aylin Matlé

(Hinweis: Der vorliegende Blog-Beitrag gibt nicht zwingend die Meinung des KFIBS e. V. wieder.)


(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by visuals on Unsplash)

Good News from Countries around the Global South in Times of COVID-19

“What the world needs now are better stories.” (Jurriaan Kamp, 2006)

There is so much uncertainty and concern surrounding the novel coronavirus. However, despite the challenges caused by COVID-19 particularly in the Global South, people also see positive changes in their communities. We asked people from nine different countries to tell us their stories of hope of which the following is an account.

Solidarity for Farmers in India, Mexico and Sierra Leone

Food is one of our most fundamental needs. And while some of us crave for our favourite restaurant to reopen again after the lockdown, others do not know how to get something to eat. In times of COVID-19, food supply has become a major challenge for governments, communities and families. Especially in the Global South, smallholder farmers have difficulties selling their products due to lockdowns when several markets have been closed or are subjected to restrictions and supply chains broke down. Nevertheless, there is also good news: Some farmers got creative and created projects that might continue with and after the coronavirus pandemic and could change food supply chains in the future.

In the state of Maharashtra in India, for example, the farmers of Satara introduced a new community model of farm-to-market supply, which turned out to be a lucrative business model: Thanks to a supportive local administration that issued permits very quickly, the farmers now form their own community, avoiding the hassle that often comes with middlemen. Their success has encouraged them to plan to expand the project beyond the coronavirus crisis, altering the connection farmers and the sale of their produce.

Another creative way to tackle the challenges was found by Kolping Veracruz, an organisation that is part of the Kolping-Society of Mexico. The campaign “Consume locally and healthy” is an initiative created in the Veracruz Regional Association of Kolping. Its aim is to use social media to motivate people to buy the products of small producers, to promote the services of small entrepreneurs and to create alternatives for the sensitisation and activation of solidarity-based economy against the background of this difficult health and economic crisis. The campaign has connected with faces of the farmers and they will have the chance to talk about their life realities, which have changed due to COVID-19. With the virtual campaign, a market through Facebook and WhatsApp has been created. It has reached more than 1,500 people and generated over 500 interactions. Producers reported that they have received orders on a local level but also from a supra-regional level, which helps them to sell in this lockdown economy.

In Sierra Leone, where complete lockdowns and curfews are frequent, food prices have risen due to the restricted possibilities for farmers to sell their products. Rice is one of the country’s staple foods and is often cooked with a stew based on palm oil. Close to the capital Freetown lives a farmer, who, after years of work on a palm oil plantation, had stocked many litters for later supply. Unable to sell his stock during the current crisis, as many people are lacking money to buy food, he decided to give out half of his palm oil for free in order to stabilize and reduce the high market price.

Also pastoralist communities and communities in rural settings are suffering from the lack of food supply at local markets in Kenya. Therefore, the organisation IMPACT (short for: Indigenous Movement for Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation) continues to respond to COVID-19 by distributing assorted food packages to vulnerable families from across 12 different villages in Samburu East Sub-County. In total, 350 needy households were targeted cutting across the 12 villages in which 2,100 people benefited directly. Nyarwai Sapuru, who is among these direct beneficiaries, lives alone with her three grandchildren after their mother passed away. Nyarwai says that “it has been really hard” caring for the children during these tough times. In the past, it was normal for them to have only one meal a day, but “now I am assured that my grandchildren and I will have something to eat for the next coming days,” she exclaims with delight.

Raising Awareness on Public Health and Job Creations due to COVID-19 in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Malawi

Washing hands and living in a clean environment is very important for the fight against the coronavirus. Especially in settings where there is no running water, a simple task like washing hands can become a challenge. When the virus reached Burkina Faso, for example, there was not only a lack of toilet paper in some places, but also one of an entire infrastructure: In the province of Sanguie, there are no resuscitation facilities, hardly any testing facilities and an extremely patchy hygiene system. In response to a call for help from the mayor of Reo, the capital of the province, the German association “Mudawane Wape Yila”, founded by a Burkinabé and which has been working with people for a better future for three years, organised a fundraising campaign. Within one week they collected €1,500. The money was used to buy not only hygiene materials, such as face masks and hand guards, but also food for people to survive the quarantine. This example shows how ready people are to help even without knowing each other.

With the aim for cleaner cities and disinfect streets to fight the virus, there are also other positive effects: In bigger cities in Ghana, gutters are very narrow and full of plastics that hinder water from flowing. This makes a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes that could then increasingly spread malaria. In the course of fighting the coronavirus, a lot of gutters have been cleaned by the city authorities in Accra, the capital of Ghana, which has helped significantly in decreasing malaria infections. Gabriel Kumalebo states: “From my personal viewpoint, I think because of the coronavirus, cleanliness is ensured in recent times because the environment is clean and we no longer experience stuff like malaria.”

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and there, too, the virus has led to job increases in certain sectors. Although a lot of people lost their jobs, new opportunities have come up: Health personnel that have been trained some years ago, but were not employed due to the underfunded health system, have now been asked to come back to work.

How COVID-19 Unites Families and Neighbours in Liberia, Mexico, Colombia and Panama

Some people struggle more than others due to the coronavirus. Especially in low-income countries, governments can often not provide enough support, and it becomes more important for families and neighbours to help each other. Several stories highlight how effective responses can be found in seeking shared responsibility and solidarity. In Liberia, a country that suffered from Ebola a few years ago, “COVID-19 has built relationships that were dying”, says Joe Lelee Sloan. A lot of people leave their villages and families behind to work in cities and those who stay in the cities with their families, spend a lot of time at work or commuting. People are now asked to stay at home and have returned to their villages and families. Thus, the virus is bringing many families back together and they now spend more time with each other. Also in the cities directly, kids see their parents more often and they can actually kiss them goodnight and feel the happiness in their homes.

These positive effects are not only happening in families but also in neighbourhoods. For example, a group of volunteers in a village in Mexico has been blocking two roads leading to the village for weeks now and prevented outsiders from coming in. They stand there day and night, and everybody who wants to enter the village needs proof of living there. As a result, the village has no reported cases of coronavirus infections.

Another positive effect is the distribution of food and small need items in neighbourhoods. In Antioquia, a department in North Western Colombia, a sign was placed in a public area saying: “I count on you, you count on me, if you need, take, if you have leftovers, donate”, serving as a reminder for solidarity and neighbourhood assistance.

However, not in every country it has even been possible to go out and get food from around the neighbourhood. Panama, for instance, has very strict regulations on the periods of time when people are allowed to go out. A lot of security guards face the problem of finding grocery stores closed once they are done with their shift. Many of them have children and need to bring food home for them, too. So a group of neighbours in Panama City got together and started to buy food baskets for people working late shifts in the security sector every two weeks.

There are a lot of uncertainties due to COVID-19, but still there is hope, there is joy and people are finding creative ways to tackle new challenges and uncertainties. Communities around the world stand together to support each other. There will be a “new normal” after COVID-19 and we hope that these acts of solidarity and mutual support will be part of it.

Porträt Samantha Ruppel
Samantha Ruppel
Porträt Alena Sander
Alena Sander

The team of authors, Samantha Ruppel and Alena Sander, would like to thank everybody who contributed to this article. Also many thanks to the members of the KFIBS Africa Research Unit (see: for their review process.


(Hinweis: Der vorliegende Blog-Beitrag gibt nicht zwingend die Meinung des KFIBS e. V. wieder.)

(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash)

Keine „Normalität“ in Sicht: Gründe, weshalb die transatlantischen Spannungen weiter zunehmen werden – mit oder ohne Trump

Porträt Anna Hardage
Anna Hardage

Die Ausgangssituation

Immer wieder beschuldigen die Europäer den US-Präsidenten Donald J. Trump für Missstände in den transatlantischen Beziehungen. Seine politischen Richtlinien, sein Kommunikationsstil und sein persönliches Temperament kommen in Europa nicht gut an, was dazu geführt hat, dass eine intensive Debatte über die außenpolitische Ausrichtung der USA und über die damit verbundenen Folgen für die internationale Politik ausgelöst wurde. „America first“, sein politisches Leitmotiv, das die Gesamtheit seiner Außenpolitik bislang prägt, löst Ungewissheit und Unsicherheit in den transatlantischen Beziehungen aus. Auf beiden Seiten des Atlantiks wird erneut über die „Krise der transatlantischen Beziehungen“ und über die „Krise des Westens“ diskutiert.

Wo die Europäer richtig- und wo sie falschliegen

Die Europäer liegen nicht ganz daneben: Präsident Trump bleibt seiner Wählerschaft treu mit dem Aufkündigen oder der Neuverhandlung internationaler Vereinbarungen, welche – aus Sicht seiner Regierung – der US-Wirtschaft schaden. Dies stellt allerdings die von den USA etablierte liberale Weltordnung auf den Kopf und verursacht neue Interessenkonflikte zwischen den USA und der Europäischen Union (EU). Die US-Regierung verfolgt eine eher protektionistisch geprägte Außenpolitik (was im Übrigen in der Tradition amerikanischer Außenpolitik häufig vorkommt) – und die EU versucht, mit anderen globalen Partnern zu retten, was noch an internationalen Verträgen zu retten ist. Ein Beispiel ist das Atomabkommen mit dem Iran, aus welchem Trump im Jahr 2018 ausgetreten ist. Die jüngsten Spannungen am Persischen Golf zwischen den USA und der Islamischen Republik Iran verstärken die ohnehin schon vorhandene Belastung zwischen den transatlantischen Partnern zusätzlich. Die EU wird in eine verzwickte Lage gebracht, da sie versucht, die Beziehungen zu beiden Akteuren aufrechtzuerhalten und die Gültigkeit des Abkommens zu bewahren.

Dabei liegen die Europäer mit ihrer Einschätzung der Situation nicht ganz richtig: Spannungen in den transatlantischen Beziehungen gehen weiter zurück als das Jahr 2017. Und obwohl das Wahlergebnis von 2016 zweifelsohne eine deutliche Zäsur darstellt, sind einige Streitfragen bereits vor Jahrzehnten in den Vordergrund gerückt. Divergente Politikvorstellungen und militärische Vorgehensweisen auf beiden Seiten des Atlantiks riefen beispielsweise eine heftige Auseinandersetzung zwischen den transatlantischen Partnern hervor, wenn man den Irakkrieg 2003 in Betracht zieht – und das unter dem damaligen US-Präsidenten George W. Bush. Unter Präsident Barack H. Obama waren hingegen vor allem Verteidigungsausgaben der große Streitpunkt. Nun hoffen die Europäer auf eine Rückkehr zum „Normalbetrieb“ nach der US-Präsidentschaftswahl 2020 – für den Fall, dass Trump nicht wiedergewählt wird. Aber was ist schon der „Normalbetrieb“? Und wann soll dieser jemals existiert haben? Ein neuer amerikanischer Präsident würde wahrscheinlich die Spannungen mildern, ob durch mehr Engagement in der NATO oder mithilfe neuer Denkanstöße in der Klimapolitik und Diplomatie. Allerdings existieren dabei einige zugrunde liegende Probleme, die ohne korrektive Maßnahmen, Dialog und Diskurs die transatlantischen Beziehungen weiter belasten würden, egal wer letztlich im „Oval Office“ des Weißen Hauses sitzt.

Zankapfel Verteidigungsausgaben im Nordatlantikpakt

Das Thema „Verteidigung“ ist schon immer kontrovers im transatlantischen Kontext gewesen, deshalb auch die bereits erwähnte Debatte über die Verteidigungsausgaben im Rahmen der NATO. Die Auseinandersetzung erreichte einen ihrer Höhepunkte in Obamas Amtszeit, als der ehemalige US-Präsident kommentierte: „Free riders aggravate me.“ Donald Trump verschärfte die Spannungen erneut, als er meinte, dass die NATO „obsolet“ sei. Obwohl die europäischen NATO-Partner langsam ihren finanziellen Beitrag steigern, ist die Summe nicht annährend so hoch wie die US-Ausgaben. Dabei geht es nicht nur um die so oft zitierten „zwei Prozent“ vom Bruttoinlandsprodukt für Verteidigung, welche die meisten europäischen NATO-Staaten ohnehin nicht ausgeben, sondern auch um Militärgüter wie z. B. Satelliten oder Transportkapazitäten, die ausschließlich die USA in ausreichendem Maße der Atlantischen Allianz zur Verfügung stellen. Für die Europäer ist es wichtig zu wissen, dass es nach wie vor im Interesse der USA liegt, in der NATO zu bleiben, und dass Trump allein nicht aus dem Bündnis austreten kann. Er bräuchte die Unterstützung der amerikanischen Legislative, die eindeutig für die NATO ist (s. NATO Support Act; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 13, House of Representatives – January 22, 2019, abrufbar unter: Es geht den Amerikanern lediglich darum, dass die europäischen Partner ihren Beitrag leisten, insbesondere dann, wenn es sich um ihre eigene Sicherheit handelt. Eine Diskussion mit allen Beteiligten über die Zukunft der Allianz ist dringend notwendig, wenn das Bündnis weiterhin funktionsfähig bleiben soll.

Richtiger Umgang mit China und alternatives europäisches Denken

Ferner steht die Frage, wie die NATO-Partner mit China umzugehen haben auch noch im Mittelpunkt des transatlantischen Diskurses. Die Volksrepublik China hat sich wirtschaftlich wie politisch zu einer großen Herausforderung für Europa und die USA entwickelt. China etabliert ein sehr mächtiges Gegenmodell zum „Westen“ bzw. zu westlichen Werten wie Demokratie, Weltoffenheit und Rechtsstaatlichkeit. Das Land gilt aus Sicht der USA und in geringerem Maße aus EU-Perspektive inzwischen als eine der größten Gefahren auf wirtschaftlichem Gebiet. In der Nationalen Sicherheitsstrategie der US-Regierung firmiert China seit 2017 als „long-term strategic competitor“, und laut der EU-Kommission gilt China als „Systemrivale“. In der Londoner Erklärung der NATO vom Dezember 2019 wurde von den Herausforderungen, aber auch von den Chancen gesprochen, die sich aus Chinas Einfluss und der internationalen Politik Chinas ergeben. Die USA und die EU müssen zusammenarbeiten und mit einem gemeinsamen Plan agieren, um die negativen Auswirkungen der Politik Chinas effektiv einzudämmen, sodass die liberale Weltordnung nicht länger untergraben wird.

Der letzte Punkt ist der Vertrauensverlust: Selbst wenn „Normalität“ zurückkehrt und die Beziehungen relativ stabil sind, wissen die Europäer nur zu gut, dass alles vom nachfolgenden amerikanischen Präsidenten wieder rückgängig gemacht werden könnte. Die USA sind weniger stark als noch im 20. Jahrhundert und weniger einflussreich. Die EU kann sich ihrerseits auf andere Partner verlassen und damit ihre Abhängigkeit von der US-Regierung reduzieren.

Was getan werden könnte

Die zuvor erwähnte Diskussion um die „Krise der transatlantischen Beziehungen“ ist ein wichtiger Schritt in die richtige Richtung, um die aktuellen Probleme noch besser zu verstehen. Und zu behaupten, Trump sei die Ursache der Probleme, wäre ein Irrtum – er ist vielmehr das Ergebnis. Ökonomisch betrachtet könnten die Partner einen Freihandelsvertrag unterschreiben (verbunden mit einem gemeinsamen China-Plan), um globale Standards aufrechtzuerhalten. Politisch und militärisch betrachtet wären gemeinsame Strategien für bestimmte Regionen oder Staaten wie Russland oder Syrien von Vorteil. Am wichtigsten ist, dass beide Partner die Kooperation aufrechterhalten möchten – und der Dialog weiterhin bestehen bleibt, egal wer im „Oval Office“ sitzt. Die Bereitschaft, mit Trump – trotz aller Dissonanzen – zusammenzuarbeiten und nicht bloß bis zur US-Wahl 2020 auf einen möglichen Machtwechsel zu warten, muss unbedingt vorhanden sein. Diese Zeit kann sogar als Chance betrachtet werden, das transatlantische Verhältnis neu zu bestimmen.

Von Anna Hardage

(Hinweis: Der vorliegende Blog-Beitrag gibt nicht zwingend die Meinung des KFIBS e. V. wieder.)


(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by visuals on Unsplash)

Coronavirus and More Reasons to Fight for Gender Equality: COVID-19 Measures and the Impact on Women and Girls (Part 6)

For this article we talked to both women and men from Uganda, Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa.* It aims to show the width in which girls and women are affected during the COVID-19 pandemic and how this relates to gender. Based on how the people we talked to – mostly good friends and old acquaintances – perceive the situation around them, the article touches upon aspects that apply globally in similar ways. However, the focus lies on how women (and girls) feel the effects differently due to the particular circumstances and lockdown measures in their countries. For example, the ban of public transportation with little private car, motorbike or bicycle ownership, the criminalization of sex work and other economic structures embedded in weak social security systems, the tabooization of sex education and teenage pregnancies, and gender norms in general. While the challenges are saddening, there is hope for new windows of opportunity to keep the fight for gender equality going. Yes, it is indeed complex, but people can learn to understand part of the struggle, especially those who have not experienced it themselves.

*Photos, names and titles were used according to their own wishes.

* * *

At Home: Care Work and Gender-Based Violence

Generally speaking, women are affected differently by the pandemic than men in several ways. Needless to say, in many countries in the world the amount of care work, mostly performed by women, has increased with schools being closed and kids staying home. Yet, there are many facets to how people experience such changes. Leah Mushi, a journalist from Tanzania, describes how “increased pressure for working women to deliver at work and again to fulfill […] duties at home […] can cause stress and anxiety”. In her view “men don’t do the same […], some help their families but again, they are not expected to do it every day”. Mwansa Mungela from Zambia, on the other hand, shares how similar pressure can be felt as a man.

For Zambia […], men are culturally considered to be stronger than women. Hence during the days of quarantine, men have largely been expected to go out and do the shopping or any other tasks outside the home […]. One cashier in Shoprite [a big chain store company] told me that during the days of quarantine it is men who were seen shopping more.” – Mwansa Mungela, Zambia

In addition, he sees a higher financial burden falling on men as ‘heads of the house’, since they are more often employed than women and generally earn more, whereas women “are considered as caregivers hence they stay home with the children”. This, however, clearly also underlines gender inequality in terms of lower economic opportunities and gender pay gaps that have existed for many years before the COVID-19 outbreak. Furthermore, it leaves the situation of single mothers or female-run households unaddressed. To that Percival Quina from South Africa adds: “In rural communities so many households are run by women. They are the breadwinners of the family. The socio-economic impact of COVID-19 is devastating to these female-run households.” He states: “Last week [19th April 2020] I saw an interesting statistic released by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) that 54.7% of the infected are female (male – 44.8%). […] Although this isn’t a big difference, it is quite interesting given that so many women in South Africa perform home-based care work.” – Percival Quina, South Africa

These numbers oppose Mwansa’s initial impression from Zambia that there might be a link between women staying at home and a reduced risk of infection. A study about Ebola has shown that there is moreover reason to worry about the increased risk and incidences of domestic violence, both against women and children. Mwansa adds to this perspective that “the surge in cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) that was recently reported by […] a local [Zambian] NGO, could be attributed to the economic and social stress that has been brought upon men (being the common GBV perpetrators) by the restrictions on movements”. This can neither serve as an excuse nor as an explanation for violence against women and girls. It rather shows the unequal distribution of power which needs to be addressed. Furthermore, Maria Alesi, a feminist from Uganda, highlights that women face increased sexual harassment and exploitation also outside their own household with some men asking for sex in exchange for food. Women were also an easy target for police brutality when selling food in the streets to make a living at the beginning of the lockdown when food relief was not yet available. Although men feel the violence stemming from the militarization of the lockdown process too, which goes to the extent of people claiming that it has killed more people than COVID-19, there is another aspect coming in for women as Maria explains: “Work initially took women out of the private sphere into the public. This process is now reversing, and women are pushed back to staying at home, thereby losing opportunities for income generation and independence.”

The Less Visible: Teenage Pregnancies and Sex Work

There are also less visible forms of how lockdown measures hit women and girls harder than men and boys. Firstly, sex workers, for instance, are criminalized in many countries. In Uganda, they struggled to claim food distributed by the Government to people whose income was affected by the lockdown, because sex work is illegal. Aside from losing income, sex workers in Uganda are also at risk of contracting the virus, given that many cross-border cargo truck drivers, who make up a significant portion of their clients, have tested positive for it. Due to these circumstances, “sex workers in some border districts were thrown out of their houses […], and there have been cases of arbitrary arrests”, Maria reports. Secondly, different stories suggest that teenage pregnancies are on the rise. Although teenage pregnancies cannot exclusively be attributed to coronavirus lockdowns, a rise in numbers could possibly be explained by girls lacking protection from increased risk of sexual abuse when staying at home and schools being closed as well as by aggravated access to contraceptives and sex education. In Uganda, NBS reports that pregnant girls are expected to miss school next term. In Tanzania, it is even ruled by law that pregnant girls may not go back to school at all. Considering that only a few girls might generally be able to afford or find someone to take care of the baby and continue with their education, the impact of pregnancy and raising a child might be much greater for the majority of them with regard to their socio-economic and educational status than one missed school term.

Multiple Crises: Health, Economic and Governance Issues – the Example of Uganda

Poverty is feminized and the face of poverty is women.” – Maria Alesi, Uganda

In many African and also non-African countries, challenges in connection to the coronavirus cannot be seen independently from other concerning issues like underfunded health systems, lacking social protection and climate change. In addition to the pandemic, some consequences of climate change, namely flooding, mudslides and a surge in natural disasters exacerbate socio-economic conditions. Maria alerts that Lake Victoria is at its highest water level ever. COVID-19, thus, intensifies the problems that people have been facing now and before the pandemic. This again affects women in particular ways. Regarding health, Maria elaborates how the majority of frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19 are women. Also across the globe, nurses are mainly female. Maria, additionally, narrates how at the beginning of the lockdown, which included a ban on public transportation, pregnant women due to give birth died on their way to the hospital because of lacking transport and unreasonable implementation of the given directives. Economically, Maria sees several female dominated sectors like flower farms, cloth manufacturing, housekeeping, and services in restaurants and hotels like cleaning, etc. to be affected. She describes how in a bid to provide for physical distancing, some people had to leave the markets and only food vendors were allowed to stay. This disproportionately affected women since they make up the majority of market vendors. Those who stayed were, furthermore, asked to sleep in the markets to reduce unnecessary travel, a directive which again raises health and safety concerns. She adds that when jobs are lost, more women tend to get laid off, even though trade unions try to fight for reduced working hours, shifts and pay rations to adjust to economic difficulties arising from containing the pandemic. In the education sector, school enrollment and attendance of girls especially may drop post-pandemic due to increased poverty rates from the above-mentioned economic difficulties, teenage pregnancies and need for extra supportApart from reduced interest rates implemented by the Bank of Uganda to make loans cheaper, not much has been done in providing the necessary economic stimulus packages for recovery, and the recently announced national budget sounds to Maria “as if we didn’t have a lockdown”. Hopes for more money getting allocated to the social sectors stay unfulfilled and the question of how to deal with an increased debt burden remains. Maria thinks that governments often look at short-term results, hence a long-term improvement in quantity and quality of education, for example, might still take a while.

Hope for Opportunities and Outlook

On the downside, multiple burdens make the mobilization of women to fight for their rights more difficult. On the upside, Maria believes that this can be “a great time for women to rethink the work that they bring into the space”. The coronavirus increases vulnerabilities, but instead of focusing on COVID-19 alone we should look at tackling important political issues in a joint manner. The current global pandemic reminds us once more to rethink how gender roles and norms are distributed and how equal opportunities benefit the common good of societies. It emphasizes the need to address gender inequalities, both in the specific ways as it unfolds regionally and in the shared struggle worldwide.

Porträt Verena G. Himmelreich
Verena G. Himmelreich (lead author)

This article was written by Verena G. Himmelreich with the active support of Miriam Kalkum, Sandra M. Dürr, Lennart P. Groscurth, Alena Sander and Samantha Ruppel.

Porträt Miriam Kalkum
Miriam Kalkum
Porträt Sandra M. Dürr
Sandra M. Dürr
Porträt Lennart P. Groscurth
Lennart P. Groscurth
Porträt Alena Sander
Alena Sander
Porträt Samantha Ruppel
Samantha Ruppel

(Hinweis: Der vorliegende Blog-Beitrag gibt nicht zwingend die Meinung des KFIBS e. V. wieder.)

(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by CDC on Unsplash)

Kenyans Helping Kenyans – Solidarity and Nairobi’s Informal Sector in Times of COVID-19 (Part 5)

Governments across Africa have taken measures to contain the outbreak of COVID-19. The current flood of information is mainly dominated by official sources, media and expert opinions. But how do Africans see the current situation? What do they know about the coronavirus and how are their lives affected? As the KFIBS Africa Research Unit, we were curious to hear the personal stories. This series of blog entries presents answers from people from different countries to questions about personal changes in life, political reactions and their sources of information. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to these articles.

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It has been more than three months now that the world seems to have completely shut down. This is also true for many African countries, such as Kenya, where the government took measures after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed on 12th March 2020. Based on the idea of physical distancing, these measures include the closure of schools and universities, prohibiting all types of public gathering, a nation-wide curfew from 7:00 pm to 5:00 am, containment in several urban areas, travel restrictions, encouraging working from home and imposing hygiene measures.

While the measures taken by the Kenyan government do not seem to differ much from those European governments have implemented, the economic crisis that followed hit the country particularly hard. It put especially vulnerable and poor households, who often fully depend on self-employment and informal wage, on the edge of survival.

COVID-19 and the Challenges for Kenya’s Informal Sector

The informal sector is a section of the economy that englobes jobs which are not recognized as normal income sources and on which income taxes are not paid. Around 80% of the active population in Kenya works in the informal sector which is often characterized by little or no job security, no pension, insurance or health insurance scheme, as well as low wages and the difficulty to make savings. Without any safety net, informal workers are therefore extremely vulnerable to economic crises and human rights violations.

While many informal workers have lost their jobs, as working from home is particularly difficult for those who work in fields where their physical labour is needed outside the household, those who continue to work outside also face great challenges. For example, travel restrictions for public transportation have led to longer travels when workers have to cover the distance from their home to their workplace by foot, making it difficult for some to respect the curfew. Caretakers, mostly women, who have taken their children to informal day care facilities during the day before, are now struggling to organize for childcare, as the centres have closed down. Many informal workers also lack masks and hand sanitizer, and thus risk an infection with COVID-19 themselves while not having a health insurance.

Workers of the informal sector, who own a private business, are also affected: as others have lost their source of income, demand in many sectors is decreasing. At the same time, due to the closure of borders with neighbouring countries, supply chains have been interrupted, resulting in an increase for the price of certain goods.

Even though the Kenyan government has announced a number of fiscal and social insurance measures to cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus, the informal sector will most probably not benefit from these directly. Kenyan informal workers are thus in need of alternative solutions and depend on initiatives of local solidarity.

A New Wave of Kenyan Solidarity

Sometimes great difficulties lead to great initiatives – such as in Kibera, one of Nairobi’s biggest slums, where many inhabitants work in the informal sector. Here, community members walk around weekly, loaded with food baskets and essentials such as soap or washing powder for those in need. In order to finance the products that the volunteers distribute, the organizers of the initiative went online. They started a Facebook group and a GoFundMe campaign in order to raise enough money to buy the much needed food supplies. As of today, they have already raised more than 15.000$ and were able to provide more than 500 food baskets to families in March and April 2020. But also other initiatives in Kibera are trying to help out. There are a lot of small business owners that are trying to give the little they have to the ones that are in need. For example, Chrisantus Oyiera, a young food business entrepreneur, just started his business before COVID-19. Now he is helping out about 20 people on a regular basis:

“I always feel that humanity comes above everything else. It hurts when the Kenyan government shuts down clubs, hotels and other major businesses and leaves millions of the Kenyans jobless and hopeless without food. I just can’t sleep nor eat while someone starves within my watch. That’s why I try to feed those I can reach out for.”

(Chrisantus Oyiera, Nairobi, Kenya)

The “Karen Crusaders Touch Rugby”, a Kenyan group of rugby players, also founded an initiative called “Strengthening the Vulnerable” in order to feed the most vulnerable in Nairobi, that is street families, pregnant women, children, elderly and homeless people in general. Having started out with a group of 30 people, they now reach up to 170 people in need per day and have already supported more than 1800 people with food. Due to a national curfew from 7:00 pm to 5:00 am some families that live on the streets cannot access town, where they normally buy food. The team meets up daily in Lang’ata to cook and deliver the food.

“I have always wanted to make a change in this world but lacked capacity, or so I thought until I came across the phrase ‘extraordinary things are done by ordinary people who have vision, passion and determination’. I stopped making excuses and started with what I had at my disposal and now we are here with a capacity to feed over 500 people and more per day. Everyone is infected or affected in one way or the other: We are just trying to bridge the gap, we are just trying to strengthen the vulnerable.”

(Victor Andanje, Nairobi, Kenya)

The rugby players and their team do not only donate food, but also much needed facemasks, clothes, shoes, blankets and sanitary towels financed by themselves, families and friends. After weeks of hard work, they are now even cooperating with Kenya’s official COVID-19 Emergency Response Team, an arm of the government.

The founders of Yoga Heart Kenya, who run a yoga studio in Nairobi and grew up in the slum of Kangemi (Nairobi), have now turned their attention to supporting communities in the two slums of Kangemi and Kibagare. Their support reaches from installing handwashing stations to the distribution of basic food necessities. They also give yoga classes to fundraise for their campaigns.

While many Kenyans, who work in the informal sector, lost their jobs, others continue to work – such as many security guards in the country’s capital. Because shifts often stretch from the early morning hours until the evening, and the government imposed a strict curfew between 7:00 pm and 5:00 am, many of them cannot reach a supermarket before it closes and thus have to go home to their families empty-handed. Therefore, some neighbourhoods in which the guards work have decided to collect money and do the grocery shopping for them.

Nick has been keeping our houses safe for the past years, now it’s our time to give back and make sure his family is save even during the current crisis”, one of the neighbours, who supports their guards, explains.

Altering the Image of the Poor

Kenya is often portrayed as a country depending on foreign aid and investments. However, the current global crisis has resulted in a variety of new solidary acts initiated by Kenyans for Kenyans. Although this is not a particularly new trend, and many Kenyans have always supported others, COVID-19 has motivated people who have not done so before to help out and support others on the one hand, and led to new initiatives on the other hand. While this seems to be a global trend, and we were able to observe similar patterns in other countries, we find it particularly important to also hear about solidarity initiatives from Sub-Saharan Africa. We believe that sharing encouraging news from communities and places that are usually reduced to their vulnerability in European media during such troubling times, may alter the image of the “helpless poor” and show another reality of solidarity, self-empowerment and innovation.

Porträt Alena Sander
Alena Sander
Porträt Samantha Ruppel
Samantha Ruppel

This article was written by Samantha Ruppel and Alena Sander.

(Hinweis: Der vorliegende Blog-Beitrag gibt nicht zwingend die Meinung des KFIBS e. V. wieder.)

(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by CDC on Unsplash)

A Plethora of Available Sources: Where Do I Get My Information from? (Part 4)

Governments across Africa have taken measures to contain the outbreak of COVID-19. The current flood of information is mainly dominated by official sources, media and expert opinions. But how do Africans see the current situation? What do they know about the coronavirus and how are their lives affected? As the KFIBS Africa Research Unit, we were curious to hear the personal stories. This series of blog entries presents answers from people from different countries to questions about personal changes in life, political reactions and their sources of information. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to these articles.

* * *

Traditional and New Sources

COVID-19 has become an omnipresent issue that currently dominates all types of media and information channels. This is true for the modern sources of information like social media and news sites, as well as more traditional ones such as newspapers and radio. When asked about their personal sources of information, our interview partners cited a whole variety, as for example, Nolawit Teshome from Ethiopia did:

“I get information about the virus from official Facebook pages of institutions like the WHO and the local Ministry of Health. Also, I watch local and international news channels like France 24 or Al Jazeera.”

(Nolawit Teshome, Ethiopia)

Most of our interview partners have access to the internet and are young and well-educated. As a recent study from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in South Africa suggests, this could be the reason why they referred to the same types of sources, although from different platforms. However, and maybe more surprisingly, also those from rural areas and less educated people seem to have access to the news, as Kamvelihle Mapundu from South Africa told us:

My grandparents live in the rural areas and they are not formally educated. I was worried that they would not understand what was happening, but when I’d call to check up on them, they showed understanding and they told me that they heard on the radio what COVID-19 was all about and what they needed to do. I feel like things also spread via word of mouth, you know?

(Kamvelihle Mapundo, South Africa)

This enables people to follow the updates on the virus and its consequences. Given the health risks related to COVID-19, especially for the elderly and people living in very remote areas, this is good news. Nevertheless, the uncontrolled spread of information can also blur the line between serious concerns and unjustified hysteria.

Awareness Campaigns Against Fake News

Crisis and uncertainty naturally inspire imagination and catalyze wide-ranging and rapidly changing misinformation narratives. In some West African countries, such as Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, this happened already during the Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016. Now again, some have claimed that Africans have a genetic immunity to the disease, which infectious disease specialists have then denied. The misinformation narratives on the coronavirus also include doubtful healing methods and have related the virus to mysterious technologies like 5G, as one of our interview partners reports. Moreover, certain faith leaders with large amounts of followers tend to oversimplify complex matters when telling that the only thing to do against the spread of COVID-19 is praying. The transmission of fake news seems to be particularly problematic in social media and closed chat rooms, as Mokgeseng Ramaisa from South Africa points out:

Porträt Mokgeseng Ramaisa
Mokgeseng Ramaisa, South Africa

I think we have a definite information problem, especially false news about COVID-19 spreading on WhatsApp groups. I see a lot of this amongst my parents’ generation. There is a lot of objective information going around but is often overshadowed by false and subjective news.



Part of the solution against the spread of false information could be private and governmental awareness campaigns that rely on scientific evidence. In some countries, for example, health ministries and network providers have sent messages directly to their citizens to give advice and update people on political measures taken. With an estimated 1000 to 2000 languages on the African continent, one difficulty in making these awareness campaigns accessible to the people is linked to translation. However, as Felix Chabala from Zambia told us, musicians have accepted this challenge and came up with songs in local languages to inform people about coronavirus. In South Africa too, the Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize made an effort and translated his speech in isiZulu, as we learned from Kamvelihle. Deodatha Agricola from Tanzania adds on this:

Porträt Deodatha Agricola
Deodatha Agricola, Tanzania

The government is communicating through the ministry of health. They have formed different committees; some are moving around to areas where they know there are many people that may not speak English. They speak the language they will understand and deliver the information.


Flood of Information

As we have seen, it may be difficult to find the right sources among the plethora of available information relating to COVID-19. In some respect, we all depend on the judgement of experts and sometimes need to trust official advice we cannot prove ourselves. At the same time, rumors and conspiracy theories may have dangerous consequences by spreading misleading information. To avoid confusion, we therefore all need to find the right balance between blind trust and a critical view, as Rosalie Zobo told us:

Porträt Rosalie Zobo
Rosalie Zobo, Senegal

To sensitize friends and acquaintances on how to deal with the coronavirus, I shared my knowledge and expressed criticism about unaudited statements. When I share previously unknown information, I add that people should look on it with a distance. On LinkedIn I also called on people to rely on information from the state and the WHO.




Porträt Lennart P. Groscurth
Lennart P. Groscurth (lead author)

This article was written by Lennart P. Groscurth with the active support of Sandra M. Dürr, Verena G. Himmelreich, Miriam Kalkum and Samantha Ruppel.

Porträt Sandra M. Dürr
Sandra M. Dürr
Porträt Verena G. Himmelreich
Verena G. Himmelreich
Porträt Miriam Kalkum
Miriam Kalkum
Porträt Samantha Ruppel
Samantha Ruppel

(Hinweis: Der vorliegende Blog-Beitrag gibt nicht zwingend die Meinung des KFIBS e. V. wieder.)

(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by CDC on Unsplash)