Governance Implications of Epidemic Disease in Africa

The memo, “Governance Implications of Epidemic Disease in Africa: Updating the Agenda for COVID-19″ was originally posted by the London School of Economics, as part of the Conflict Research Program.

African countries have much experience with epidemics of communicable diseases. Nonetheless, certain aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic are new; for example its impacts on the global economy, and the extreme restrictions on social interaction that are recommended as mitigation measures.

Other aspects of the pandemic are familiar; for example high levels of illness that overwhelm limited health care capacity, a spike in mortality, and the conjuncture of these two elements with a severe economic downturn. 

This memo summarises some of what is known about epidemic disease and governance in Africa based on past experience, and poses questions concerning COVID-19. The principal research resources include the Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa and the HIV/AIDS, Security and Governance Initiative. In this respect it supplements recent surveys on the issue by Crisis Group and the Carnegie Endowment. There have also been extremely alarmist predictions such as that reported from the Quai d’Orsay, that the epidemic will cause African states to collapse, necessitating international interventions. This is not an evidence-based claim. 

The memo then briefly examines:

  • impacts of epidemic disease on state capacity;
  • impacts on social and economic distress (especially food insecurity); then turns to;
  • vicious cycles of interaction between disease, conflict and state failure; and
  • the implications of government responses to epidemics. 

The memo poses questions that should be examined in order to ascertain the probable governance implications of COVID-19 and identifies research gaps.

Alex de Waal is a Research Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and leads the WPF research programs on African Peacemaking and Mass Starvation.

Considered one of the foremost experts on the Horn of Africa, his scholarly work and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, pandemic disease, and conflict and peace-building. His latest book is New Pandemics, Old Politics: Two Hundred Years of War on Disease and its Alternatives. He is also author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine and The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa (Polity Press, 2015) Following a fellowship with the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-06), he worked with the Social Science Research Council as Director of the program on HIV/AIDS and Social Transformation, and led projects on conflict and humanitarian crises in Africa (2006-09). During 2005-06, de Waal was seconded to the African Union mediation team for Darfur and from 2009-11 served as senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009 and is the winner of the 2024 Huxley Award of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Professor de Waal regularly teaches a course on Conflict in Africa at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.  During this course, students should gain a deeper understanding of the nature of contemporary violent conflict in Africa. Students will be expected to master the key theoretical approaches to violence in Africa, and to become familiar with a number of important case studies. The focus is on the origins and nature of violence, rather than policy responses and solutions. The course is inter-disciplinary and involves readings in political science, international relations, and social anthropology, while also touching on economics, environmental studies, and history. 

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