How to ensure that coronavirus doesn’t stop peace efforts in Africa

How to ensure that coronavirus doesn’t stop peace efforts in Africa

Leymah Gbowee, the head of Monrovia’s Women in Peacebuilding Network, stands in front of a sign calling for peaceful elections in Liberia in 2017.
Zoomdosso/AFP via GettyImages

COVID-19 is likely to disrupt ongoing peace processes, worsen existing conflicts and generate new conflicts. But it may also offer opportunities for ceasefires and peace agreements.

The measures taken to contain the spread of the virus are, unfortunately, also affecting the mobility of peacemakers, peacekeepers and peacebuilders.

At least 22 African countries are experiencing political violence. Countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Somalia, Libya, South Sudan, and DR Congo are experiencing high intensity armed conflicts between armed opposition groups and national governments.

There are peacebuilding efforts in most of the countries that are currently experiencing armed conflict and that have recorded cases of COVID-19. These efforts variously involve the support of international donors, nongovernmental organisations and national governments.

The secretary-general of the United Nations recently called for a unilateral ceasefire in ongoing conflicts.
But achieving a multilateral ceasefire might be difficult. Some warring factions will seize the opportunity to gain an advantage. The challenges are immense. The pandemic could worsen the conflict situation and undermine ongoing peacebuilding efforts.

On the other hand disasters can transform conflict dynamics. Research shows that disasters such as COVID-19 can create opportunities for peace in conflict countries. For one, they can undermine the ability of conflict entrepreneurs to access conflict areas. This reduces incidents of violence.

They can also create the conditions necessary for advancing peacebuilding processes in local communities. To achieve this outcome peacebuilders need to engage with local actors.

The impact of the pandemic

Peace processes supported by the international community are designed to involve multiple stakeholders. Even when described as locally led initiatives they are often guided by internationally recruited professionals.

The global response to COVID-19 in the African countries affected by conflict is hampering the movement of international and national peacebuilders. These professionals have been unable to travel to conflict zones. International organisations have placed movement restrictions on their staff. Many of them have returned to their home countries.

At the national level, restrictions have prevented people from congregating and limited their ability to travel.

Peacebuilding requires sustained efforts towards reconciliation and reintegration. Actors must address the impact of conflict and the causes of conflicts. This process often requires physical meetings and events that are designed to bring conflict actors together towards sustainable peace.

Retreating peacebuilding activities during this period portends a great danger for societies affected by violent conflicts. One likely consequence is that non-state armed groups will use the opportunity to expand their frontiers, thus undermining ongoing peace processes.

It also opens up the possibility of increased mortality in the context of violent conflicts. Hence, it is important that stakeholders adopt mechanisms that will sustain peacebuilding efforts in communities affected by violent conflicts during this pandemic.

Local actors are key

In the face of national lockdowns, one way the momentum can be maintained is through existing local authorities, community peace actors and peace committees. These are common across Africa.

Local actors that are embedded in communities can continue to work on sustaining peace processes even when professional peacebuilders are unable to gain access. For any peace process, what is important is that people keep communication open and sustained even during the pandemic.

And international peacebuilders can continue providing support to their local counterparts. This can be through funding to facilitate activities in local communities.

International peacebuilders can also provide remote mentoring and capacity building. There is technological capacity for peacebuilders to receive coaching in the most remote areas affected by conflict in Africa. International peacebuilders should also remain available to brainstorm with nationals when challenges are encountered.

Local peacebuilders can be enlisted to stop the spread of the pandemic through their existing networks and knowledge of community relations to coordinate preventive responses. These resources can also be used to reinforce the expertise of public health workers in local communities.

Local actors involved in peacebuilding already have experience translating complex messages into local languages. This skill is very relevant in the fight against the pandemic in communities.

Desired outcome

With the right information, local conflict actors can be persuaded to accept the UN’s call for a ceasefire. But this won’t happen unless local actors are involved in crafting the right messages.

Empowering local actors will not only sustain peace processes, but also contribute to the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

To sustain peace, we would need to find new ways of working, by meaningfully including national and local capacities for peace.The Conversation

Tarila Marclint Ebiede, Research Fellow, KU Leuven

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Black church leaders urge churchgoers to continue to ‘tele-worship’

Black church leaders urge churchgoers to continue to ‘tele-worship’

The virtual choir of Grace Baptist Church performs ‘I Am Thine,’ which was included in the April 19, 2020, online service from the Mount Vernon, New York, church. Video screengrab

Top officials of seven black Christian denominations have joined civil rights leaders in calling for people to stay home until it is safe in states whose governors are lifting shelter-in-place orders.

“We regard this pandemic as a grave threat to the health and life of our people, and as a threat to the integrity and vitality of the communities we are privileged to serve,” they wrote in a statement released Friday (April 24). “For these reasons, we encourage all Black churches and businesses to remain closed during this critical period.”

The signatories include leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; Church of God in Christ; National Baptist Convention of America, International, Inc.; National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. Inc.; and Progressive National Baptist Convention Inc.

Some of those denominations have tallied or been the subject of reports of COVID-19 deaths among their clergy and members.

“The denominations and independent churches represented in this statement, which comprise a combined membership of more than 25 million people and more than 30,000 congregations, intend to remain closed and to continue to worship virtually, with the same dedication and love that we brought to the church,” they added.

The denominational officials and faith leaders, including the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson of the Conference of National Black Churches and the Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, joined presidents of the NAACP, the National Urban League and other groups as signatories.

They noted that an April 21 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 20% of the COVID-19 deaths in the United States were of African Americans. In comparison, blacks constitute 13% of the U.S. population.

“Across the country, we see the same disproportionate impact,” they said. “Our families need us. Our communities need us. We must continue to telework wherever possible, and to tele-worship for however long it is necessary to do so.”

The letter comes in the same week the conservative law firm Liberty Counsel has organized a “ReOpen Church Sunday” initiative, encouraging clergy to begin in-person worship again on the weekend of May 3. That Sunday falls in the same week as the annual observance of the National Day of Prayer.

According to The Hill, some governors have never issued stay-at-home orders, others’ mandates are expiring within days, and still, others stated no end date.

Likewise, states have varied widely in their decision to have or not have religious exemptions in their orders about staying at home.

The black church officials and civil rights advocates said they understand some people may believe they need to be involved in public life. The leaders urged those who do to follow precautions about physical distancing and wearing masks.

“We do not take it lightly to encourage members of our communities to defy the orders of state governors,” they added. “But we are compelled by our faith, by our obligation as servants of God, and by our commitment as civil rights leaders, to speak life into our communities. Our sacred duty is to support and advance the life and health of Black people, families, and communities in our country.”

10 Two-Minute Podcast Shorts on Prayer

10 Two-Minute Podcast Shorts on Prayer

It’s hard to relax. We’re in an uncomfortable place right now. The future is unclear. Our leaders are not all stable. And the world economy is in flux. But God. He’s our anchor. His love never changes and we know that when we pray, it helps calm our heavy hearts and anxiety about the uncertainty of it all.  Below you’ll find a compilation of two-minute podcast shorts by Dr. Melvin E. Banks, founder of UMI, on prayer. We’ve pulled them from Dr. Banks’ daily radio program called Daily Direction, which covers a variety of issues and topics. So, turn the ringer off on your phone, find a quiet place, be still, and listen.

More on Prayer

Video Courtesy of THE BEAT by Allen Parr

10 activities for body and mind while social distancing

10 activities for body and mind while social distancing

Video Courtesy of Kids OT Help

Staying busy, positive, and hopeful while you’re at home due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic can help you maintain good mental and physical health.

Much of America is homebound in response to calls for limited travel and social distancing to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.  Even if you can’t get together with friends or enjoy a night at the movies, it’s important to stay physically and mentally active.

“We’re living in unusual times, and it can definitely be a challenge to adjust,” says Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health. “But it’s important to take a step back and look for ways to adapt your lifestyle so that you can stay both physically and mentally well.”

Attitude is everything

Dr. Harmon says a good attitude is essential. Rather than focusing only on the negatives of the situation, try to look at it as an opportunity to refocus, reflect, and revisit old habits. Consider these ideas to keep your mind and body active:

  1. Start a virtual book club. Exercise your mind’s eye by losing yourself in an e-book or audiobook, which can easily be downloaded to your tablet or smartphone. Better yet, create a virtual book club and video chat with friends to discuss what you’ve read.
  2. Learn a foreign language. With travel restrictions forbidding international travel, embark instead on a journey around the world by studying and learning important phrases in a foreign language.
  3. Try backyard birdwatching. Download a bird-watching app and find relaxation in your own backyard by seeing how many birds you can spot. Stay on the lookout while you go for your daily walk through the neighborhood.
  4. Get (or stay) in shape. Exercising outdoors is great therapy. You can enjoy the fresh air and allow the sounds of nature, from singing birds to the wrestling of leaves, to soothe your soul. There’s also plenty of free exercise videos available for tablets and smartphones that require no equipment to achieve a satisfying workout.
  5. Test your cooking skills. Now is a great time to revisit old family recipes and get to know your kitchen better by cooking your own meals. Family members and roommates can take turns making meals for each other.
  6. Video chat with family. If you live alone, you can connect with children and grandchildren with ease thanks to video chatting. Keep your cell phone or tablet charged and check in often with family and friends. Consider making your own videos to share with loved ones so they can see your face and hear your voice when they’re feeling lonely.
  7. Have a puzzle party. For a great way to help families stay occupied, pull out a massive puzzle, and work on it together at the dining room table.
  8. Get crafty. To help you focus on something other than the coronavirus, pick up an old pastime like crocheting, pottery making, or painting. Even coloring books and paint-by-number canvases can help temper your anxieties and result in beautiful works of art that can lift your spirits.
  9. Hike or bike local trails. Go for a hike or a bike ride on local trails (check to make sure they’re open and available for use before you leave home). Make sure to maintain a distance of at least six feet from others if you venture out.
  10. Take on DIY projects. Tackle a home project you’ve been putting off such as cleaning out your closet or the junk drawer, pruning bushes and repotting plants, or redecorating a room in your home using stuff you’ve stored away in your garage or attic.

“Eventually, we will get through this,” Dr. Harmon says. “Try to take this time to focus on yourself and your family, and remember that the sacrifices you are making by following social distancing recommendations are helping to protect yourself, your family members, and our community.”

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