Local women-led organisations (WLO) and women’s rights organisations (WRO) play critically important roles in crisis response, but their efforts often lack both political and financial support. On 16th July, the UN launched an updated Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) for COVID-19. Women’s International Peace Centre took part in this survey led by CAFOD, CARE International UK, ActionAid, Danish Church Aid and Oxfam who partnered with local WLO and WRO partners in Lebanon, Jordan, Bangladesh, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Nigeria, Occupied Palestinian Territories and South Sudan to gather a snap-shot of the Covid19 response to date in terms of access to funding, partnerships and decision-making for WLO/WROs.
The joint policy brief summarises findings and recommendations on direct funding to these groups, indirect funding via international intermediary organisations (including UN agencies and INGOs), their participation in humanitarian coordination processes and post-COVID19 recovery.
With more COVID-19 cases being reported in neighbouring South Sudan and DRC, refugees crossing the porous Uganda borders and more conflict incidences reported by Women Mediators Networks, The Peace Centre extended support to the district COVID-19 response taskforces of Yumbe, Adjumani and Kotido to scale up prevention and response measures. Fuel was provided which enabled the task force to coordinate emergency response activities including the provision of health care services, awareness-raising campaign on preventive measures and individual case management of other emergencies. The Peace Centre is now a member of the Districts COVID 19 response taskforces and participates in the decision-making and coordination structures.
The June 2019 National Transitional Justice Policy provides a framework to guide formal and informal justice processes that address the justice, accountability and reconciliation needs in post-conflict situations with the aim of promoting national reconciliation, peace and justice. Through a 6-month radio campaign, the Peace Centre and partners ICTJ-Uganda, AYINET, RLP, FIDA-Uganda have partnered with TracFM to collect real-time data from citizens using polls on the themes of the Transitional Justice Policy. Through radio talk shows, citizens discussed their conflict experiences, the lingering impact of human rights violations, efforts of different actors and appropriate measures for recovery, reconciliation and redress for victims and war-affected communities moving forward. This was structured to align with the strategic priorities and key cross cutting issues in the policy.
As part of the ongoing campaign, on the 27th of May, 2020, Women’s International Peace Centre working with the ICT J-Uganda and Track FM organized a tweet chat to examine the impact of COVID-19 outbreak, response and containment measures on Transitional Justice efforts as well as how it affects the lives of victims and survivors primarily in Northern Uganda.
The tweetchat was moderated by Rosebell Kagumire, @RosebellK, a Pan African Feminist, and Editor AfricanFeminism.com, a platform that documents narratives and experiences of African women on the continent and in the diaspora.
With a panel of Transitional Justice experts including Teddy Apunyo, a Researcher with more than 15 years’ experience working as a practitioner in humanitarian emergencies and post conflict settings. Bako Patricia, a Lawyer by training who is enthusiastic about criminal justice with an international and national perspective, human rights and international Law. Sarah Kihika Kasande Head of Office -Uganda, International Center for Transitional Justice and an Advocate of Courts of Judicature in Uganda. Nicholas Opiyo a Human Rights Lawyer and the Executive Director of Chapter Four a civil rights organization that provides research, advocacy and outreach services to influence laws, policies and practices in the interest of civil liberties and human rights. And Juliet Were, Deputy Executive Director, The Peace Centre, a Feminist Researcher who has conceptualized and coordinated studies on Governance, Peace and Security; Women’s Health issues in DRC, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi and Nepal.
The tweet chat created awareness about the campaign, shared different views and involved more people in the discussion about Transitional Justice. More than 7,000 social media users were able to interact with the hashtag. Incase you missed this timely discussion you can look it up under #TransitionalJusticeUg
KUNO in cooperation with partners, introduced the KUNO Covid Café. In a bid to discuss Covid-19 crisis and the challenge it is posing to the world in unprecedented ways and how it is influencing our daily lives. The conversation looked at the consequences of the Covid-crisis in the Global South. The speakers in the first episode were:
Helen Kezie-Nwoha, Executive Director of Women’s International Peace Centre, who gave a feminist perspective on the COVID-19 crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, MSF Amsterdam, gave a view on the impact of COVID-19 on MSF operations in the Mediterranean Sea and in the detention centers for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Libya.
Samah Hadid, Oxfam Yemen, discussed the pre-existing humanitarian situation and the COVID-19 crisis in Yemen.
Our culture in Africa shapes our identity. We proudly refer to ourselves as Africans. This sense of pride emanates from our very rich cultural and social norms. All over the world people have cultures that they cherish and inform their beliefs, norms and social practices. As Africans, our lives are built around our communities and our social networks which constitute our families, friends and neighbours. But most importantly, we have cultures around sickness and death and our traditional forms of healing and dealing with mental health. In Africa people and our shared culture are inextricable.
This paper highlights how the responses to COVID19 by African governments are eroding our cultural and social norms and by implication our identity as Africans, which are critical for addressing trauma impact of COVID-19. It suggests that responses to COVID-19 in Africa should factor in cultural practices and norms, including mental health and wellbeing to reduce vulnerabilities and ensure sustainable post COVID-19 development. In today’s world and with the expansion of science, pandemics are no strange occurrence, as such how do we prepare African societies to face them while protecting norms intrinsically linked to our identity. Publications abound on the socio-economic, peace and security impact of COVID-19, however, the anthropological and psychological impacts have not received much attention.
African culture around sickness and death is found in activities such as cooking, visiting, praying, collective mourning, and burial ceremonies among others. Traditionally we live communal lives, we show care, we share pain and have different ways of supporting our communities in sickness and death. In our cultures for example when a member of the community dies, we all converge to cry, sympathize and plan the funeral. For the bereaved, burial ceremonies include staying together and crying collectively as families, friends and the entire community gather to bury the dead. In some culture family, members will wear white or black for a specified period. Communities quickly make stay over plans, sometimes up to two weeks to ensure the immediate family are not left alone in pain. If they need to talk, they have someone to talk to and cry if they need to cry. This way of living has helped heal trauma and ensure mental wellbeing is given attention. Very few people will seek medical support to deal with trauma from loss. Even though mental health services are available, we still lack enough mental health service providers and awareness for communities to seek such services. So for many Africans, response to trauma resulting from pain and loss is collective and supported by our socialization.
Not long ago, the Ebola outbreak in parts of Africa led to turmoil in community settings of the countries affected. Most communities in these countries are still healing the trauma created by Ebola and the exclusion associated with treatment and death of Ebola victims and their families. One of the challenges with controlling Ebola was families taking their dead loved ones for burial. A common factor among the countries most hit by Ebola (Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, CAR, DRC) is the fact that they were conflict-prone countries with already fragile community fabric due to prolonged turmoil and displacements. The COVID-19 pandemic in contrast now affects all countries many of which have comparably intact social fabric. Given the longer-term risks for countries and the reality of a global recession triggered by the pandemic, social distancing becomes a strategy of unprecedented magnitude. A pandemic like COVID-19 is threatening known concepts like community of care, trauma management, stigmatisation and psychosocial support.
While social distancing and States taking responsibility for burying the dead are acceptable as a preventive measure, we need to reflect on how to close the gap created by this new practice to collective healing in our African culture. A major aspect that is missing right now in the response to COVID-19 is mental health and wellbeing of survivors during and after the pandemic. With the huge number of deaths being experienced and how the bereaved have experienced loss, the trauma associated with the current response need to be evaluated and properly planned to prevent more damages. Families need to be supported to practice acceptable forms of burials that will help with closure and healing from loss. A conversation with communities is required so that the decision making around this is inclusive and sensitive to the different cultures in Africa.
Our experience working and responding to conflict and humanitarian situations reveal that mental health is never on the agenda of actors on the frontline of ensuring safety and care for the population, in this case, the world. COVID-19 like war is creating immerse psychological human suffering that is leading to trauma. Many communities are prone to social gathering in different ways, many people are separated from families and many have died all of which lead to trauma. The response to COVID-19 in Africa should be based on the realities of African societies. African Governments need to develop robust cultural sensitive trauma healing programmes during and in the aftermath of COVID-19 that will support communities to heal. Trauma awareness-raising needs to be intensified in order to protect our communities and reduce vulnerabilities without eroding our societal value systems.
 Helen Kezie-Nwoha, Executive Director at the Women’s International Peace Centre, Kampala, Uganda
 Angeline Nkwenkam Nguedjeu, Peace and Development Advisor at the United Nations Office f the Resident Coordinator, Congo Brazzaville.