Op-Ed Series – Vol.4 Issue: 5

July 30, 2020

Understanding and Fighting Pandemic in the “Spirit”: Religion and COVID-19 in Nigeria

Abiodun Alao*

In Summary

  • The pandemic’s association with China was derided in some circles, with many Nigerians claiming that it would be like all Chinese goods: “fake quality” and ephemeral.
  • Some Pentecostal Pastors demanded that their congregants should not interpret the absence of physical church to mean the suspension of their payments of tithe and offering.
  • The reaction to COVID-19 was not limited to Christianity alone. When the pandemic was first reported in Nigeria, the largely Muslim North dismissed it as Western propaganda.
  • To many Nigerians, the religion to which they had devoted all their emotional and financial resources could not provide answers or clarity at the most desperate time of need.

A survey once carried out by the BBC World Service depicted Nigeria as the world’s “most religious country”, with more than 90% of those sampled claiming that “they “believed” in God, “prayed” regularly, and were ready to “die” for their religious beliefs. It is thus not surprising that Nigerians turn “spiritual” when confronted with any major problem that baffles their imagination, or retire to fatalism for issues that may merely require deep critical thinking. The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest that has this thrown up a litany of religious responses across the country, and the ways these have manifested may in the future change the attitude of Nigerians to religion. This piece focuses on how religion has come into the ways Nigerians have understood and responded to the Coronavirus outbreak in the country. The need for a write-up of this nature becomes all the more necessary, especially now that religion is playing important roles in the ways many African countries, including Tanzania, Malawi and Burundi, are approaching the COVID-19 pandemic.

Download this file (Op-ed Vol 4 Issue 5.pdf)Op-ed Vol 4 Issue 5[ ]147 kB

Op-Ed Series – Vol.4 Issue: 4

July 24, 2020

Covid-19 and collective remembering in Rwanda: ‘e-Mourning’, ‘e-Commemoration’ and the limits of Technology

Eric Sibomana*

In Summary

  • The COVID-19 crisis has affected Rwanda’s annual genocide commemoration events with a shift from physical to technology-driven commemoration, amongst other changes to the usual schema.
  • While the individual mourner experienced emotional loss, the Rwandan government lacked space to pass on political messages, such as those on the role of the international community in Rwanda’s post-genocide reconstruction.
  • Changes have significant implications for the psychosocial health and the socio-cultural and spiritual wellbeing of Rwandans, which saw toll-free mental health hotlines being made available.
  • The ‘digitization’ of remembrance activities, or ‘E-Commemoration’, exposed the technology gaps between rural and urban areas, implying an accompanying emotional gap among mourners that raises questions about what would constitute inclusive commemoration for such a society when technology becomes essential.

Conventionally, the Republic of Rwanda and the international community commemorate the 1994 genocide annually, and the entire remembrance extends from 7 April to mid- July every year. It is a one-hundred-day duration symbolizing the period that the violence lasted. The 7th to 13th April is a period dedicated to regular commemorative activities, such as a re-burial of newly exhumed victims, visits to memorials and sites of massacres, attendance at lecture sessions in different settings, to name a few. The COVID-19 crisis, however, has affected the commemoration events this year. Adjustments made by the government resulted, for example, in a shift from physical to technology-driven commemoration. This transition exposes the disparity between mourners and mourning and remembering in the rural and urban areas. This ‘memorial gap’ affects individuals and communities and hinders some of the nation’s reconstruction processes.

Download this file (ALC COVID-19_3-4-Eric-Rwanda.pdf)ALC COVID-19_3-4-Eric-Rwanda.pdf[ ]305 kB

Op-Ed Series – Vol.4 Issue: 3

July 17, 2020

South Sudanese Youth Agency in a time of Covid-19

Margaret LoWilla*

In Summary

  • The emerging picture and activities of youth in South Sudan challenges and transcends the uncritical conceptions and imagery of young South Sudanese as a characteristically violent, dangerous and criminal constituency.
  • Although they are precluded from social, economic, cultural and political structures of power, young people continue to create and consolidate spaces to excercise and exhibit their agency.
  • Knowing that a significant population is offline, youth peace activists in South Sudan have painted wall murals depicting COVID-19 preventive measures, including paintings of people wearing facemasks or washing their hands.
  • The COVID-19 crisis is characteristically paradoxical; it exposes the brazen failures of extant formal leadership structures on the one hand, and enables leadership emergence from the least expected constituencies on the other hand.

The term ‘African youth’ has been and continues to be mis-characterised by connotations of violent and disruptive tendencies. The picture of young people who are inherently entangled in different forms of political violence is often overhyped and it overshadows their commendable contributions to peace, security, and development in society. Worse still are those who come from contexts of protracted conflict like South Sudan, where the chequered political-security history blurs the potential and actual contributions of its vibrant, young population to peace and development. During the vicissitude wrought by COVID-19, however, the overlooked and underestimated youth of South Sudan have emerged as innovators and self-empowered political actors. Young South Sudanese are creating new ways of spreading awareness and sensitising the population about the virus, including protective measures. They are also engaging the transitional government on pending state issues (peace process). This op-ed x-rays the initiatives by the Junub Open Space and Ana Taban in response to the COVID-19 outbreak as examples of youth innovations in South Sudan.

Op-Ed Series – Vol.4 Issue: 2

July 10, 2020

Covid-19, ‘Sinophobia’ and African Citizens’ Voice in China-Africa Relations

Alexandra Lukamba*, Kundai Mtasa** and Nyawira Wahito***

In Summary

  • COVID-19 with or without pre-existing tensions, exposes the tenuous underbelly of China-Africa relations; the acrimony at the level of citizen-to-citizen relations, versus the cosy government-to-government interactions.
  • Chinese national are perceived rightly or wrongly, to be part of the grand theft and exploitation of natural resources and business opportunities belonging to Africans.
  • It is not impossible that Chinese monopoly of development projects such as infrastructures and technology, in Africa imbues some Chinese nationals, quite wrongly, with a sense of a ‘Civilization Mission’ in Africa.
  • The ‘Sinophobia’ in some parts of Africa signpost underlying discontent of African nationals towards their national government and their perceived Chinese collaborators.

COVID-19 is indeed a global ‘game-changer’ in that it has transformed social interactions, economic fundamentals and political processes. Africa is no exception; COVID-19 and the mitigation strategies adopted by governments have diluted or even threatened social capital and communal living in Africa. National lockdowns, quarantine measures, social distancing and bans on large gatherings have vitiated social bonds. Epidemiological measures requiring people to retreat to their inner homes and increased individualism have impacted intra- and inter-group relations, including across national and international boundaries. Reports of COVID-19 suspicions, stereotyping, stigmatisation and alleged racism are commonplace, not least Chinese-Africans reciprocal recriminations. Clearly, COVID-19 with or without pre-existing tensions, exposes the tenuous underbelly of China-Africa relations; the acrimony at the level of citizen-to-citizen relations, versus the cosy government-to-government interactions.

Op-Ed Series – Vol.4 Issue: 1

July 02, 2020

From Crisis to Opportunity: Covid-19 and Innovation in Africa

Chimwemwe A. Fabiano* 

In Summary

  • The neo-colonial habit of looking outward to the Global North for ideas and solutions may prove to be more devastating for the African populace than the COVID-19 pandemic itself.
  • Given the existing resource and infrastructural opportunities and constraints in Africa, AU member states must collaborate to harness indigenous innovations across the continent.
  • Leading innovation is not business as usual. It is not déjà vu. The leader’s role is to unleash individual innovative talents and harness all those diverse talents to yield a useful and cohesive result.  
  • The role of the African States, RECs, and AU in facilitating the emergence and nurturing of talents and the exchange of ideas will be crucial in the process of co-creating sustainable solutions and innovations.

Out of necessity, Africans - like many other people across the world - have responded to the COVID-19 crisis in innovative ways. From Malawi  to Kenya to Senegal; students, engineers, university research teams, ICT and health professionals, entrepreneurs, artists and young people, have developed innovations to help prevent, treat and manage COVID-19. If it is nurtured, this innovative spirit has the potential to transform Africa’s socio-economic and security landscape. Given the existing resource and infrastructural opportunities and constraints in Africa, this piece makes the case for deliberate and concerted efforts to support and nurture innovation across Africa going forward.


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