WEST AFRICA PEACE AND SECURITY INNOVATION (WAPSI) FORUM
“Impact of COVID-19 on the ECOWAS Peace and Security Agenda – rethinking regional peacebuilding”
BY DR. MOHAMED IBN CHAMBAS
FORMER SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE UN SECRETARY-GENERAL AND HEAD OF UNOWAS
9TH MARCH 2022
Your Excellency Mahamat Saleh Annadif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNOWAS
Your Excellency Jean Claude Kassi Brou, President of the ECOWAS Commission
Excellency, Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Federal Republic of Nigeria
Your Excellency Ambassador Bankole Adeoye, the African Union Commissioner of Political Affairs, Peace and Security
Excellency Cécile Tassin-Pelzer, Head of the EU Delegation to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States
Your Excellency Birgitt Ory, Embassador, the Federal Republic of Germany in Nigeria
Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Esteemed Directors and Colleagues of the ECOWAS Commission
Distinguished Participants, Friends of the Media
It is a great honor for me to join you today at this maiden edition of the West Africa Peace and Security Innovation Forum (WAPSI). I am indeed delighted to join the eminent colleagues to share our thoughts on this pandemic that shook the world and basically impacted our ways of life.
Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
My keynote address is going to be a brief one. I would like to share with you some perspectives inspired from the WAPSI report which constitutes a key working document of this forum and which will be launched today.
I would mainly call your attention to the COVID-19 pandemic and the related myriad of challenges that confronted the world and most especially our region. I will also attempt to bring our attention to the need to rethink our strategies and policies to the realities that COVID-19 exposed our region to irrespective of the resilience we showed with regard to fatalities.
Since its outbreak in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, the COVID-19 disease spread all over the globe, and our region was not spared. The pandemic affected all sectors and various groups within the society, especially the most vulnerable. We all witnessed the negative impact on the world economies and all levels of our societies. And despite being primarily regarded as a global public health crisis, COVID-19 has also had a significant effect on peace and security especially in our region.
The research WAPSI report which will be presented and launched shortly, clearly establishes that the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the nexus between public health and human security. That beyond the public health challenges, it also aggravated the existing security concerns and socioeconomic vulnerabilities of ECOWAS citizens, particularly women, girls, people with disabilities, and displaced people.
The spread of COVID-19 drastically disrupted our ways of life. This impact was mostly felt in fragile context where a combination of prolonged armed conflict, bad governance, and inadequate healthcare systems have predisposed Member States for much more devastating effects of the pandemic.
The restrictions on public gatherings have shrinked the civic space for engagement and advocacy towards meaningful participations of both the old and the young in the political life, precisely in the 2020 and 2021 general elections in some ECOWAS member states. Many electoral bodies and Civil Society Organizations and voters had due to the COVID-19 health protocols, to rely on digital voting education making it difficult for the rural citizens with no access to traditional or social media to get the necessary education for their informed and full participation in the elections. COVID-19 contributed to low voters turn out in some countries along with other insecurity challenges.
Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Permit me to reiterate these points which again the WAPSI report aptly elucidated. We are all aware how COVID-19 exposed and aggravated the undeniable weaknesses in the health systems and the infrastructural deficits and capacity gaps in managing large-scale health and humanitarian emergencies. These deficits in health infrastructures and human resources sadly hindered access to primary healthcare and the partial neglect of other pre-existing health threats including malaria, yellow fever, cholera, and meningitis. The pandemic therefore reawakened the national consciousness of African nations to rethink our developmental agenda to build close the gaps quickly to enhance our resilience to shocks such as the likes of Covid-19 pandemics.
The unfortunate resultant effects of the pandemic on socio-economic life and on peace and security are the reasons the United Nations, other global and regional organizations and governments are working together to ensure that humanity provides a more efficient and effective collective response to the multi-faceted challenges.
As countries continue with the deployment of vaccines to tackle COVID-19, coupled with the gradual relaxation of the protocols, what is certain for the foreseeable future is that we may continue to experience the impact of the pandemic on our socio-economic lives.
The WAPSI forum will mean one thing to the people of West Africa: A united front to engage all stakeholders be they civil society actors, policy makers, community leaders, the youth political groups and the media and many others. Through this forum, we want to be able to highlight strategies that will contribute to addressing youth unemployment by creating sustainable jobs and providing economic incentives to support young entrepreneurs in the small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as those in the informal sector.
Through this forum we want to be able to engage in long-term strategic reflections on how to significantly reduce the chronic external food dependency by providing support to the local production, and processing of food products to improve food security and nutrition systems which become essential in moments as experienced during this pandemic.
Through the forum, we need to rethink strategies that will help to form a robust security presence maintained in the volatile and conflict-prone areas of the West Africa space in order to address violent extremism and organized crimes. In this vein, it will be good to see a reinforcing operational capacity of national defense and security forces especially in the Sahel region and the Lake Chad Basin.
It is my hope Honorable Colleagues, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen that when we come out with recommendations from this Forum, our continental and regional institutions with the support of civil society and the citizenry would also prioritize disaster preparedness and management in the implementation of the ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework (ECPF), the Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, and the other regional protocols on peace and security.
As we marked the International Women’s Day, we stand in solidarity with our women to “break the bias”. As we take this commendable step today, I call upon all men of good will in our region, to make this initiative count.
I thank you all and wish fruitful deliberations.