Pandemics such as the Spanish flu, H1N1 swine flu, Lassa fever, yellow fever and Ebola virus disease have had a strong impact on human survival, livelihood and dignity for centuries. The effects of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, since its outbreak in Wuhan, China, have clearly shown how pandemics are much more than a public health issue.
In West Africa, beyond the immediate loss of lives and infections the pandemic has since February 2020 heightened the existing structural vulnerabilities and upended the regional economy. It has exposed the weak health infrastructures in West Africa and exacerbated the social and economic vulnerabilities of people especially women, youth, people with disabilities and displaced populations. Unlike previous pandemics like Lassa fever, cholera, yellow fever and Ebola, COVID-19 has amplified the nexus between public health and human security in greater proportions. It has had significant socio-economic effects and impacted greatly on governance, peace, and security, reversing some of the gains made over the past decades. Measures to contain the spread of the virus by governments across the region have not adequately included human security or gender-centred approaches. The evolving impact of the pandemic and the ad hoc nature of response initiatives has brought to light the limits of the national and regional institutional capacities and mechanisms to provide sustainable responses to pandemic outbreaks.
While the immediate health problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are being researched and discussed widely, the overall impact of the virus on human security in West Africa has not been systematically and comprehensively researched and explored. It is against this background that the first theme of the West Africa Peace and Security Innovation (WAPSI) Forum is focused on understanding the broad range of complex and multi-dimensional challenges induced by the virus in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region.
Moreover, because pandemics like COVID-19 and Ebola are likely to reoccur in the future, it is critical to assess the response mechanisms including the tech-based responses employed by citizens, civil society organisations (CSOs), ECOWAS member states, ECOWAS, and the AU to mitigate the impact of the pandemic to inform future interventions. Particularly, for ECOWAS, the devastating regional impact of the pandemic calls for an interrogation of its institutional capacity to respond to the emerging threats to human security, especially the implementation of the ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework (ECPF) as well as the opportunities that exist to address its institutional weakness.
The upcoming WAPSI Forum will interrogate the findings of the research report compiled by the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) on the outlined theme. These sessions shall explore approaches, and lessons learned from managing regional peace and security matters amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, a cluster of sessions will explore the opportunities for leveraging technology for peacebuilding amid the COVID-19 context. COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformations globally.
While technology alters conflict dynamics and behavior of stakeholders, it can also be leveraged on for peace building interventions in the ECOWAS Region. These sessions are anchored by a report of consultations held from May 2021-September 2021 with stakeholders in the ECOWAS regions and explore the findings further. Areas of inquiry include, digitizing mediation, youth inclusion, early warning and response and countering harmful narratives online.