A masked seller and buyer in Kenya

COVID-19 and mobility, conflict and development in the Horn of Africa: REF briefing paper

Louisa Brain, Hassan Adow, Jama Musse Jama, Farah Manji, Michael Owiso, Fekadu Adugna Tufa, Mahad Wasuge

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID‐19 a pandemic on 11 March 2020 and the first cases in the Horn of Africa (HoA) were confirmed later that month. However, even before the virus reached the region its wider effects were being felt (Lawler 2020). In June 2020 as the crisis expands, and Africa confirms more than 100,000 cases, life in the region is changing significantly in a context of uncertainty.

On the one hand, with 1.5 per cent of global reported COVID‐19 cases and 0.1 per cent of deaths, Africa is reported as the ‘least affected region globally’ (The Lancet 2020). On the other hand, COVID‐19 brings to Africa, and specifically for the purposes of this paper to the Horn of Africa, a new set of risks to health, economic dynamics and food security. It also overlaps with the region’s existing complex crises and risks, including locust invasions, disruptive and unpredictable climate patterns and events, pre‐existing economic vulnerability, youth unemployment, food insecurity, and a high prevalence of underlying health conditions (Regional Desert Locust Alliance 2020; Majid and Hammond 2020). In the absence of an appropriate and robust response, there is a risk that the medical services in African countries will be overwhelmed by the pandemic, the safety nets of the population will be eroded, and livelihoods will be seriously compromised.

COVID‐19 risks add to other risks including the forthcoming rainy seasons. During the ‘gu rainy season in Somalia, assistance needs for the 2.6 million displaced persons are expected to surge (IOM 2020b). Djibouti faced flash flooding in April – May; UN Djibouti reported that from flooding on 20– 21 April 2020 alone ‘estimates indicate that some 18,000 households (approximately 110,000 per‐ sons) were somewhat affected across Djibouti city and its suburb of Balbala’ and that there were at least eight deaths (UN Djibouti 2020a). In South Sudan, COVID‐19 places additional strain on the country’s delicate peace process and also – as in other parts of the region – raises concerns about increased gender‐based violence for displaced women and girls (Mednick 2020). Ethiopia, too, faces political challenges: the National Election Board of Ethiopia postponed the 2020 election indefinitely citing the COVID‐19 health emergency, raising tensions, with Tigray Regional State vowing to unilaterally undertake elections as scheduled. Rebel fighting continues in eight of 21 zones in Oromia Regional State, where access to healthcare is already severely limited, particularly in rural areas (Bader 2020). Somalia’s 2020–2021 elections may also be affected.

While much has been said about COVID‐19 as a leveller – disregarding borders, race, and class – its unfolding in the HoA, as elsewhere, illustrates the way it overlaps with and exacerbates existing political and social inequalities to generate impacts that are felt unevenly.

The purpose of this briefing paper is to bring together emerging information and analyses on COVID‐ 19 in the HoA, with a particular focus on how these relate to mobility, conflict and development. We consider the social and economic dimensions of the pandemic, recognising that these are likely to be as significant, if not more so, in most countries than the virus itself. While the health sector response in each country is important, it is therefore outside of the scope of this briefing paper. Given the rapidly changing situation, and to ensure this briefing remains relevant after the date of publication, we focus on forward‐looking analysis and recommend a number of emerging themes that require further research or consideration for policy and programming. This briefing was produced under considerable time pressure and, therefore, while researchers from across the region were invited to contribute, not all were available to participate at short notice and as a result the report’s coverage is uneven. Efforts have been made to indicate the date and source of statistics given, but all data precedes 8 June 2020. Because there are many different statistics circulating and due to the challenges of obtaining accurate and complete data, figures of case numbers, deaths, etc. should be taken as low estimates. The table in section 1.1 provides a snapshot of government measures in place in the region at the time of writing; however is not intended to be a comprehensive information source, and given the rapidly changing situation, up-to-date information should be sought from sources such as the WHO, IOM, UN agencies and government announcements.

Table 1 Snapshot of COVID-19 in the Horn of Africa (as of 8 June 2020)

 First recorded caseCases re‐ ported (WHO 2020)Borders closed to people enteringMeasures in place
Djibouti18 March4,169YesLockdown including closure of schools, places of worship and public transport announced on 23 March. Lockdown measures have been incrementally lifted since 17 May (UN Djibouti 2020b)
Eritrea21 March41YesStay at home guideline effective 2 April for 21 days (since extended), including closure of schools and non-essential businesses, movement between provinces restricted (Eritrea Ministry of Information 2020)
Ethiopia13 March2,020YesNo lockdown, but restrictions on group gatherings, inter-regional movement, schools closed and elections postponed, state of emergency declared, mandatory facemask, compulsory 14‐day quarantine for those coming from abroad, Ethiopian Airlines continuing some flights (Pilling 2020). On 26 May, Minister of Peace Muferiat Kamil declared that the Government of Ethio‐ pia would tighten control measures
Kenya12 March2,767YesAir travel suspended, public gatherings banned, nation‐wide curfew from 9pm to 4am, schools to remain closed until September, mandatory facemasks. On 16 May borders closed with Somalia and Kenya, though informal border crossings continue. Movement into and out of Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera restricted, but previous restrictions within Eastleigh, Old Town in Mombasa and Kwale and Kilifi lifted in 6 June announcement (Mbewa 2020; BBC 2020a; Government of Kenya 2020)
Somalia/ Somaliland16 March2,289YesNational preparedness plan launched by the Federal Government of Somalia in March (Federal Government of Somalia 2020), National Committee for Preparedness and Prevention of COVID‐19 convened in Somaliland, as well as the Armed Forces Coordination Committee. International flights suspended from 18 March 2020 (Ali 2020) apart from Ethiopian Airlines to Hargeisa, and domestic flights also suspended, compulsory 14‐day self-isolation for those arriving from high‐risk countries prior to suspension of flights. Mogadishu placed under curfew on 15 April between 8pm and 5am, learning institutions closed, qat import, trade and consumption banned
South Sudan5 April1,317YesInitial restrictions included the suspension of interna‐ tional flights, closure of land borders, restrictions on in‐ ternal movement on local taxis and boda bodas (motor‐ cycle taxis), closure of non‐essential shops, and a night time curfew, however most of the restrictions were not implemented. In a statement on 7 May, President Salva Kir relaxed most of the restrictions (curfew time short‐ ened, restaurants and bars to re‐open, boda boda transport to resume, internal travels to resume) (Wudu and Aurelio 2020)
Sudan13 March6,081YesBan on public gatherings. Schools and universities have been closed but there are plans to reopen in June (Webb 2020). The public administration and the private sector have reduced staff presence in offices and, as of 11 April, international commercial flights have been stopped. However there has been no lockdown or strict controls at land borders where commercial traffic continues. President Magufuli has emphasised the importance of maintaining economic life, but he has also encouraged citizens into mass prayers. He also put into question the validity of testing kits and results.
Tanzania16 March509NoBan on public gatherings. Schools and universities have been closed but there are plans to reopen in June (Webb 2020). The public administration and the private sector have reduced staff presence in offices and, as of 11 April, international commercial flights have been stopped. However there has been no lockdown or strict controls at land borders where commercial traffic continues. President Magufuli has emphasised the importance of maintaining economic life, but he has also encouraged citizens into mass prayers. He also put into question the validity of testing kits and results.
Uganda21 March745YesLockdown since 31 March, with educational institutions closed, mass gatherings and public and private transportation suspended. On 2 June, President Yoweri Museveni announced updates to restrictions: public transport operators to resume at half capacity (motorcycle taxis still cannot carry passengers), shopping malls to reopen if able to observe social distancing, government distribution of face masks to begin this month and those without should stay at home. Dusk‐to‐dawn curfew ex‐ tended for 3 weeks, and churches, mosques, bars, night‐ clubs and gyms to remain closed for 21 days (BBC 2020b)

1.1        Methodology and organisation of the report

This report draws on contributions by researchers based in Kenya, Somalia/Somaliland and Ethiopia, and from the Research and Evidence Facility (REF). We have attempted to provide coverage across the region; however, the focus of analysis does reflect the locations of the contributing researchers. Given the nature of lockdowns limiting movement and the feasibility of fieldwork, and the short time frame for preparing this briefing, the authors relied on desk‐based research, drawing from online media sources, information from NGOs, governments and international institutions such as the UN and World Bank, as well as academic research and commentary.

The report is organised into sections examining key cross‐cutting impacts of COVID‐19 in the region over time, including immediate responses such as lockdowns and restrictions on movement; impacts on conflict dynamics and protection challenges; public information and trust; border and periphery sites; remittances and diaspora; and the gendered dynamics of the pandemic. In the final section, we examine priorities for policy and programming, and considerations for future research.

You will need a PDF reader such as Adobe Acrobat (downloadable from Adobe) to view PDF file(s).

Image source: World Bank / Sambrian Mbaabu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *