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 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: https://kfibs.org/forschungsgruppen/regionale-forschungsgruppen/afrika/) 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: https://www.congress.gov/congressional-record/2019/1/22/house-section/article/h976-1?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22NATO%22%5D%7D&s=4&r=1). 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.

* * *

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)

National Solutions to a Global Challenge – Impressions from African Countries (Part 3)

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.

* * *

Starting Point: Opinions from Our Contacts

When it comes to Africa, media coverage is often not particularly differentiated, or so-called experts are presented without questioning their expertise or self-interest. One such example is a German news site that recently interviewed the self-proclaimed philanthropist and billionaire Bill Gates on the subject of COVID-19 and its effects on the African continent. Even though he founded the “Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation” with, amongst others, the aim to improve healthcare globally, it is questionable whether he can be considered an expert in virology or an expert on health issues for an entire continent. The same news report did not feature any policy-maker or scientist from the African continent. For this series of blog articles, however, we wanted to talk with people from African countries and not about them. We did not speak to politicians, but we talked to acquaintances and friends. And as Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated in her famous TED talk, it is not possible to generalise from one lived experience, but it is important to broaden the external view on the African continent and its people. In the following, we want to present the impressions and opinions regarding the political measures taken in the respective countries.

Public Support for Taking Action

Many African countries have taken much more decisive action against coronavirus than other states. Some reasons may be that a few countries are already Ebola-experienced (and therefore know how to deal with viruses) and in addition had enough time to act before COVID-19 reached the continent. At the same time, not all countries reacted in the same way and some countries barely took any action, such as Tanzania. From South Africa, Kamvelihle Mapundu, Mokgeseng Ramaisa and Percival Quina all agreed that the government acted swiftly: Awareness campaigns were launched and borders were closed, and South Africa went under a strict national lockdown (a curfew was implemented, shops and schools were closed), which was partly lifted already in May 2020. In Ethiopia, according to Nolawit Teshome, the government declared a state of emergency: Schools, universities as well as public transportation were closed. Mildred J. Johnson reported similar restrictions for Namibia: Schools were closed slightly earlier, but essential shops remained open under Phase-1 (strict measures under the state of emergency) of the lockdown. At the moment, there is no curfew in Namibia. But social contact is limited and the number of passengers using public transport restricted. Under Phase-1 long-distance travel, for example, was completely forbidden. But this has been relaxed under Phase-2 (the current state). In Benin, there are also regulations on travel and movement, as Michel Agodji let us know. There are local isolations of districts with infected people. Some governments have set up support programmes. In South Africa, for instance, the government has taken measures to support businesses and poor people during the lockdown. From Rosalie Zobo we know about governmental measures in Senegal to support citizens by helping them with their water and electricity bills. Even though many states reacted quickly, they reacted in different ways. What we also observed in our small sample, however, was (as in many other countries around the globe) a relatively high-level of agreement among our interview partners with the measures taken by their governments. Michel thinks that the government has done a good job, even if he initially feared that the measures would not be taken seriously. And Mwansa Mungela also thinks that Zambia tried to protect the people despite the economic challenges for many families.

Porträt Mwansa Mungela, Zambia
Mwansa Mungela, Zambia

“The government response has been multi-sectoral and anchored on ensuring that lives are protected but that the economy also continues to run because most of the Zambian population depends on daily wages for household sustenance.”

Hastings Sichone remarks that it was difficult for governments to react to COVID-19. Percival pointed out the importance of leadership in these times. A question which is worth studying in the future.

Worries About What Is Yet to Come

Nevertheless, our interview partners also raised some critical points: Felix Chabala was not too content with the Zambian government’s actions. According to him, officials underestimated the pandemic and did not implement a sufficiently strict lockdown. Nolawit would like to see stricter law enforcement in Ethiopia. Kamvelihle criticised that despite their lack of training in civilian operations, the military was involved in controlling the curfew in South Africa.

“Which I guess is to be expected when you get soldiers involved in civil matters. They handle people with brute force.”

(Kamvelihle Mapundu, South Africa)

On economic issues, Kamvelihle is worried about the economic consequences and the perpetuation of dependence on the so-called Global North, the IMF and the World Bank. Not only on a global scale, but also on national levels the economy is severely affected. We have heard that public food distributions would be helpful in Senegal, since the income of many people has plummeted due to curfews and lockdown. South Africa and Namibia are already distributing food, for which one has to queue for a long time in some cases. And for many people it is almost impossible to follow the rules.

Porträt Mildred J. Johnson, Namibia
Mildred J. Johnson, Namibia

“But some things don’t work in the African context, for example, social distancing poses a challenge for people who live in informal settlements.”

 

Especially for the youth and people working in the informal sector, the measures to control COVID-19 could have severe effects. Rosalie fears political unrest as consequences, so governments have already to consider strategies to end the lockdown. As a result, we found out that these possible strategies are controversial at the same time, since the reopening of some economic sectors, and especially religious gatherings, could increase the spread of COVID-19 again.

Porträt Felix Chabala, Zambia
Felix Chabala, Zambia

The churches are opened up as long as social distancing is observed. This is not good because a lot of people will misinterpret that and just behave normally again.”

 

The Take-Home Message from This Little Sample

As we can see, not all African countries reacted in the same way. At the same time, some challenges are the same as for European countries: What is the right balance between lockdowns and gradual liberalization? How to deal with distance working and working from home? What about religious services during the coronavirus pandemic? What would be the consequences of COVID-19 on an economic and a political level?

Yes, it is true, Africa is different from Europe. At the same time yet, African countries differ amongst themselves, and sometimes Europe and Africa have the same questions, but not necessarily the same answers.

 

Porträt Sandra M. Dürr
Sandra M. Dürr (lead author)

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

Porträt Lennart P. Groscurth
Lennart P. Groscurth
Porträt Verena G. Himmelreich
Verena G. Himmelreich
Porträt Miriam Kalkum
Miriam Kalkum

 

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

(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by CDC on Unsplash)

COVID-19 on the African Continent – Voices from Abroad: “How did my world change due to Corona?” (Part 2)

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.

* * *

The Poorest Are Hit Hardest

In many African countries, drastic measures have been taken that influence people’s lives a lot. Even in countries which are not officially on lockdown the population is advised to practice social distancing, reduce their movement to a minimum and only do the most necessary things. But not everyone is able to implement this, as Mildred Johnson from Namibia told us:

Porträt Mildred Johnson
Mildred Johnson, Namibia

Very low-income earners and self-employed people are hit hardest, because they depend on customers to earn a living. For example, street vendors and open market operators in particular struggle now that their source of income has been taken away from them as a result of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.”

The lack of financial reserves among households is one of the main reasons why many governments refrained from ordering complete isolation or tried to mitigate the devastating effects for day labourers with free food supplies from the government, as for example in Senegal. In South Africa, hard initial rules were withdrawn for similar reasons. However, the economic consequences are not the only problem faced by many people in the closure, making it difficult for them to comply with the recommended measures: “For people living in informal settlements, it is a challenge to distance themselves socially. Depending on the house structure, accommodation can be uncomfortable because the corrugated iron gets very hot during the day. They cannot stay inside under such conditions”, Mildred reports.

Porträt Rosalie Zobo
Rosalie Zobo, Senegal

“We do not know how long the situation will last, so it’s difficult to plan spending. In many African countries, unemployment is high and the informal sector occupies a large share of the labour market. As a result, the political decision on confinement and curfews have deprived many households of their income and generated domestic violence. There is a risk of public disorder, especially among the most disadvantaged people, who find themselves in a dilemma between starvation and death by corona.”

Social Distancing and Working from Home

These problems, which make it almost impossible for many people to live in a lockdown for more than a few days, seem to be the main reasons why several African governments have already announced a relaxation of the rules. Nevertheless, social distancing is still advisable for those who can afford it. But staying at home is not without its pitfalls. Mildred herself, who works as an educator, currently lives with her little niece and nephew who require home schooling (home education). Sometimes she finds it difficult to concentrate on work. Like her, Mwansa Mungela from Zambia is also currently working from home. However, he has already noticed how quickly his Internet data bundles are being used up by several online meetings and other joint efforts. These are additional costs not covered by most employers. Although the network is well developed, power failures are commonplace for many people. A problem which many of our contacts have to face. However, Mwansa does not see the new situation purely negative:

Porträt Mwansa Mungela
Mwansa Mungela, Zambia

“My daily routine of catching a bus to work very early in the morning is now suspended and I do not worry about beating the morning traffic. I therefore stay longer in bed and eat more food than I have always done. Since I am usually not very physically tired by the end of every day of working from home, I have adopted the habit of jogging or cycling every evening.”

The New Daily Routine

Yet not everyone can work from home. For example, Deodatha Agricola from Tanzania still goes to work every day. In Tanzania there is no official lockdown but people are taking extra caution. Daily income activities are still possible, but the Tanzanian government advises to voluntarily slow down the movement, avoiding large crowds and limiting their time in public places as much as possible.

Porträt Deodatha Agricola
Deodatha Agricola, Tanzania

“If you go and work as normal you have to be very careful and wash your hands, sanitize as much as you can and now we also wear masks. In the beginning, some people were still ignoring because there was this notion that it is a disease of people who travel by planes. Now it has come to their senses that even people who travel in normal public transport like the Daladalas (minibuses) can get infected and that it is not connected to your job but transmitted through all human contacts and even within families. This makes people more careful. And people now know how to wash hands: Everywhere in front of shops there is a buck of water with soap and hand sanitizer, and people are doing and practicing how they are told.”

Also from other countries we were told that many take the warnings and recommendations seriously. Since face masks are often expensive, some of our interview partners told us that many people currently sew masks themselves. Among other things, colourful local fabrics such as kangas and chitenges are used.

Porträt Helen Gondwe
Helen Gondwe made her own mask from traditional fabrics (Zambia).

People Should Take It More Seriously

Not everyone is aware of the situation yet and not everyone is already provided with breathing protection: Nolawit Teshome from Ethiopia wishes, just like Mildred, that her fellow human beings would adhere more to social distancing and wear face masks. Nolawit reports that her residential area in Addis Ababa is (still) very crowded and almost all shops are open, which is why she and her husband are currently refraining from going for walks with their daughter. And when they go out, they only do so with a mask and hand disinfectant in their luggage. Like Nolawit, many are worried about their relatives, especially those who belong to risk groups. The news about so many deaths in the so-called Global North is a cause of great concern to many. Nolawit says: “I am now gradually realizing that I can only do what I can and leave the rest to God.”

The Bright Side of Corona

Some of our interview partners told us that the increased time at home can bring the families closer together again, as people now spend more time at home. They finally find the peace to exchange and understand what is happening in the lives of others. However, people outside of their own household are also interested in each other: Mildred observes a great solidarity among the people in Namibia. She tells us that many individuals and businesses are donating food and sanitizers to the needy. In many places, masks are being sewn and distributed, especially to those who otherwise could not afford any.

“There are other things that now have a different significance in life. You are happy for your own health and for what you have.”

(Hastings Sichone, Zambia)

And one learns to appreciate new things like Deodatha who can enjoy riding in Daladalas for the first time because now traffic is calm and there is plenty of space in the minibuses; or Mwansa who is glad that he is no longer stuck in the morning traffic and therefore can sleep a little bit longer.

Porträt Miriam Kalkum
Miriam Kalkum (lead author)

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

 

Porträt Lennart P. Groscurth
Lennart P. Groscurth
Porträt Verena G. Himmelreich
Verena G. Himmelreich
Porträt Sandra M. Dürr
Sandra M. Dürr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

(Bildnachweis für Bild mit den selbst genähten Chitenge-Masken aus Sambia: Fotobestand der KFIBS-Forschungsgruppe „Afrika“)

(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by CDC on Unsplash)

COVID-19 on the African Continent – Voices from Abroad

Porträt Miriam Kalkum
Miriam Kalkum
Porträt Sandra M. Dürr
Sandra M. Dürr
Porträt Verena G. Himmelreich
Verena G. Himmelreich
Porträt Lennart P. Groscurth
Lennart P. Groscurth

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.

* * *

“The coronavirus is sweeping over mankind.” This is the beginning of a song that was released on 25 March 2020 by the Ugandan musician and politician Bobi Wine. Under the hashtag #DontGoViral, the song which then went viral itself, calls on people not to take COVID-19 lightly. It raises awareness of the disease which, according to the African Union, has to date caused the death of about 2.290 people in Africa (as of 11 May 2020).

Compared to the coronavirus death toll in single European countries such as Germany (7.417), African countries have thus only been lightly touched by the disease so far. Common narratives dominated by official sources, media and expert opinions suggest that the worst for the continent is yet to come. Referring to weak health systems and insufficient capacities in hospitals, epidemiologists have raised concerns about African states’ ability to cope with the virus. In a broader sense, COVID-19 may also lead to food shortages in regions already affected by crisis or droughts. In East Africa, for example, livelihoods of millions of people are currently threatened by a severe locust invasion. Moreover, a lack of remittances due to the global economic recession could exacerbate pressure for the most vulnerable. By contrast, the relatively young population in Africa and the experience already gained from other epidemics such as Ebola could be assets in the fight against the spread of the disease.

With the containment measures, many people around the world are currently sharing the same experiences: The renunciation of cultural activities has become a necessity and the avoidance of personal contact with vulnerable family members a gesture of love. For some, working from home has become normal, whereas many have lost their jobs. In this sense, the current crisis could have some positive effects in bringing the world population closer together. At the same time, the coronavirus has also led to the closing of borders and to xenophobia, forcing people to leave their homes. Faced with this ambiguity, we were curious about the personal stories linked to the exceptional times we are witnessing.

As the KFIBS Africa Research Unit, we asked different people in various contexts how their lives have changed individually, how they perceive the respective national measures and through which media they receive their information and updates. We were also interested in what way the coronavirus affects women and men differently. Besides revealing interesting insights into different perspectives, the project also gave us the very much appreciated opportunity to reconnect and exchange with acquaintances and friends. On this blog, we will present our findings in a series of articles, each with a different focus.

On behalf of KFIBS and all readers, we would like to thank all interview partners who shared their views and gave their consent to publish this blog. Thank you very much for your time and openness!

Among others, the following persons were involved: Mokgeseng Ramaisa (from South Africa), Kamvelihle Mapundo (from South Africa), Percival Quina (queer man from South Africa and graduate in “International Relations”), Michel Agodji (research assistant from Benin), Mildred Johnson (researcher from Namibia), Nolawit Teshome (lady from Ethiopia), Felix Chabala (student from Zambia), Hastings Sichone (Zambian lawyer), Mwansa Mungela (international development practitioner from Zambia), Deodatha Agricola (environmental science and management officer from Tanzania, Rosalie Zobo (Ivorian political analyst living in Senegal) as well as Adnan Mohamed (Ghanaian migrant in Libya).

The above-mentioned personal descriptions in brackets were chosen by our interview partners themselves. Please note that all opinions expressed in this blog are purely personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the majority or of the authors. Like ourselves, most of our interview partners enjoyed the privilege of higher education and therefore cannot be considered representative for regions or nations.

By Miriam Kalkum, Sandra M. Dürr, Verena G. Himmelreich and Lennart P. Groscurth

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

 

(Bildnachweis für Beitragsbild: Photo by CDC on Unsplash)

Ecuador: Between COVID-19 and a Deficient Political-Economic Structure

Porträt Anderson Argothy Almeida, PhD
Anderson Argothy Almeida, PhD
Porträt Jakob Schwörer
Jakob Schwörer

According to official data from worldometers.info – based on information from government institutions and daily reports released by local authorities – among all Southern American countries infection rate (per million inhabitants) is highest in Ecuador (as of April 26, 2020). In general, official numbers should be suspected especially because they strongly depend on the amount of conducted tests: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay carry out considerably fewer tests than Ecuador (in relation to population size). Yet data regarding the share of positive tested people on the total amount of the tested population suggests that infections are widespread in Ecuador compared to other Southern American countries but also in comparison to strongly affected countries, such as Italy and the US. An analysis conducted by the New York Times concludes that the death toll is 15 times higher than officially reported suggesting that Ecuador is suffering one of the worst outbreaks in the world. The spread of the coronavirus overloads public services and capacities of hospitals are exhausted, especially in the country’s largest city Guayaquil, where dead bodies are lining the streets. The country was on lockdown by the government on March 12. However, government officials recently decided to “relax” quarantine by May the 4th and get public life back on track despite the current dramatic situation. In what follows we offer a specific interpretation of the government’s decision to restart economic and social activity assuming that economic pressure groups have a particular strong effect on political decision-making in Ecuador.

A Brief Description of Ecuador’s Social and Economic Decline

Starting with the social and economic situation before the outbreak of the crisis, official data suggests a rather positive image at first glance: Regarding the official unemployment rate, this was below 5% in December 2019 according to data from INEC. Yet underemployment and inadequate employment (“overemployment”) increased near to 60% in the last three years: Six out of ten Ecuadorians either do not have enough work to earn a sufficient income or are not fully paid for the work they do. Accordingly, poverty is also an issue in Ecuador: If we take income as a yardstick, 25% of the population lives in poverty and 8.9% is extremely poor, which means that they live on less than 1.59 USD per day. Additionally, the government’s economic policy of structural adjustment – demanded by the International Monetary Fund in return for further credits – left more than 55.000 public sector workers unemployed and restricted public investment. Regarding the latter, the public health budget was reduced by 500 million USD within 2019. The real income of public workers has been reduced through extraordinary contributions. The salary of private workers also decreased due to new taxes and the rise of new on-demand applications, such as Uber and Netflix, pressuring competing “traditional” businesses to reduce salaries. Even private investments could not stimulate the economy since they often consist of sending profits to tax havens.

Dismissals, loss of income and precarious work led to less consumption by Ecuadorian families and an aggregate demand crisis affecting the macroeconomic stability of the country. The coronavirus pandemic caused further negative developments for the country: the appreciation of the dollar, which reduced competitiveness for Ecuadorian exports, the drop in the price of oil in February 2020 (the export of petroleum is still one of Ecuador’s most important source of income), the decrease in transfers of money from Ecuadorian citizens living abroad and the contraction of the world economy.

Business-Friendly Policies and Relaxing Lockdown Measures

Traditionally, the power and influence of large commercial groups (importers/exporters) and financiers is considered particularly strong in Ecuador. Respective trade associations, such as the chambers of commerce, usually attempt to influence policy and decision makers with varying success over the last decades. The current government seems to be particularly prone to collaborate with large business groups. Especially the current Minister of Economy, Richard Martinez, formerly president of the National Federation of Chambers of Industries, is seen as business-friendly. During the COVID-19 pandemic, political decision makers are accused by trade unions and the CONAIE federation of indigenous nations of protecting the large industrial and financial companies while neglecting the social sector. For example, this is illustrated by the fact that the government organised 324 million USD to pay obligations for debt bonds during the crisis instead of investing it in public health contradicting even recommendations formulated by international organisations, such as the World Bank.

Since mid-April 2020, the executive has submitted a bill named “humanitarian aid” to the National Assembly. Among others, it includes further reductions of the salary of public servants and – even more alarming from the perspective of the lower classes – the “flexibilisation” of labour allowing contracts of mutual agreement between employers and workers ignoring the statutory minimum wage. This measure might further precarise the conditions of workers due to a high demand for regular jobs in the country paving the way to a “race to the bottom”. Furthermore, on April 28, the Ministry of Labour published a resolution which does not consider COVID-19 as an occupational disease: Workers are now forced to work under any form of working conditions and can be dismissed in case of sick leave.

If we now take a closer look at the decision to allow economic and public life to resume from May 2020 onwards, despite the fact that Ecuador is affected by the coronavirus harder than most other countries, this can be interpreted as a reaction to increased pressure from powerful economic groups and a business-friendly orientation of the ruling politicians. Yet it is evident that the government itself has an interest in opening society in the face of decreasing tax revenue, the lowest level of international reserves since 2005 and the absence of financial support promised by international organisations (e.g. World Bank, International Monetary Fund). Thus the need to reactivate public life is obvious. But in the face of the current situation, it seems also a risky undertaking. Economies might recover but the victims of COVID-19 do not.

By Anderson Argothy Almeida, PhD and Jakob Schwörer

(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)