COVID-19 has affected all nations in unprecedented ways since its inception, creating a need for the evaluation of its effect on members of the IANRA network. This necessitated the need to hear from them through this series of talks in order to figure out how as a network, we can out-maneuver the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the solutions can be achieved in solidarity and in synergy for effectiveness, hence the importance of the IANRA Khuluma. For this first instalment of IANRA Khuluma, there were more than 6 members organizations representing the many countries in the network, and the dialogue was facilitated by Wole Olaleye from the IANRA Secretariat.
Wole started the dialogue by questioning the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that the organizations and civil society had experienced and how they navigated the challenges.
It was unanimously reported that restrictions to movement due to the pandemic increased the inability to reach out to places where organizations do most of their work. This made it difficult to even identify challenges arising around the country as permits are needed to move around and no large groups.
“The pandemic paralyzed civil society at its core”
Campaigns were put to a halt, leaving core issues such as advocacy and policy lobbying unattended to. Moreover, the sole reliance to the state for information relating to the pandemic caused a lot of confusion in the continent. It emerged with different kinds of issues and caused additional struggles related to misinformation. A load that has since been carried by civil society organizations.
Further, those in the periphery were increasingly marginalized by the pandemic. They did not, and continuously struggle to access connective tools such as bandwidth, data, or even essential gadgets needed to stay connected and sail through the pandemic. They could not access the people with power and voice themselves, furthering the inequalities in the country. Moreover, South Africa’s periphery reportedly faced police brutality during the strict management of the pandemic.
In Zimbabwe, there reportedly was a stark increase in COVID-19 cases which has been a cause for concern. Mobility has also become a point of concern because funds have been affected and so has the impact the organizations can have in the community. With this in mind, the goal of civil society has been to educate people about the pandemic and importance of protective gear. Social media has been a great tool for doing this, particularly for educating and disseminating information in the country.
In Uganda, administering organizational activities and programming became increasingly difficult with the pandemic. Planned system/interfaces with constituents that the organizations work with at community level were put aside (planning, monitoring, reviewing etc.). Adding to its problems, donors did not allow for the payment of salaries in Uganda which massively affected organizational contributions to the communities. Moreover, most of the people in the marginalized communities do not know how to use social media which was a great disadvantage considering the virtual world that was created as a solution to COVID-19.
In Angola however, managed to outmaneuver the detrimental effects. Most of the operational teams were already used to working through technological means such as using GIS mapping for participatory action. This put it at a competitive advantage and continued efficiency during these times.
The Bench Marks Foundation is another organization that managed to sail through. It created channels for people in the community through trainings and have completely gone virtual, even though connectivity remains a problem. The misinformation around COVID-19 affected the marginalized communities more hence the foundation has been giving out accurate information about the pandemic in order to reduce risks to those communities. After 3-month cycles, we have an evaluation of our strategies and see how we can improve on our responses to the community.
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COVID-19 has strained funding support. Now more than ever, collaborations have become the new normal and will be key in civil society spaces beyond the pandemic because it will be like we are building from the bottom again.
“However, will there ever be post-COVID19 or is it going to be part of our lives? The next phase will place social and economic pressure on people as stark inequality levels have been imposed by the pandemic”
We need to re-adjust to this new reality, particularly in the extractive sectors. Funders are focusing on responses to COVID-19 which CSOs need to respond to. There will be a new crisis of poverty post-COVID19, reduced funding, impaired growth of the extractive sector and economic recline. There is a decline in demand for the natural resources especially of mining communities which will result in loss of jobs for those communities and inevitable unemployment – everything is going to change. Proposals are being structured as a response to COVID-19 and not through the values of the organizations and members.
Moving forward, ways in which the Secretariat can best assist member organisations were suggested:
- It will be sharing information that is beneficial to member organisations
- It should continue coordinating the virtual dialogues, updating the network by focusing on news gist on all countries.
- Consistently have a Khuluma monthly to hear constructive discussions on what is happening in the continent and on all other natural resources.
- Members are going to face funding problems, so the network needs to find a solution to cushion this reality for them.
- CSO is the backbone of sustainable development in all countries because of its all-rounded nature
- Channels of communication such as the ones BMF has established need to be consolidated (WhatsApp groups, weekly zoom trainings which keeps people active) and the foundation provides data.