Figure of the week: COVID-19’s impact on conflict

Chadian soldiers during an operation with G5 Sahel and french forces from Barkhane Operation. Tin-Akoff - Burkina Faso - April 2021.Soldats tchadiens lors d une operation avec le G5 Sahel et les forces francaises de l operation Barkhane. Tin-Akoff - Burkina Faso - Avril 2021.

The short-term economic and health impacts of COVID-19 in Africa have been myriad, and policymakers are just beginning to anticipate and prepare for the pandemic’s long-term effects. Recently, another consequence of the pandemic has been under study: How might the pandemic be affecting conflict in the region?

The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) has been monitoring this question since April 2020. In this week’s update, ACCORD continues its examination of geographic areas with a significant number of conflict incidents and their alignment with the number of COVID-19 cases. For example, annual fatalities in Mozambique from conflict between 2019 and 2020 rose from 663 to 1,545. Those fatalities were concentrated in the province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique—which has experienced increased waves of violent insurgency, resulting in the mass movement of people in the area. In this case study, researcher Rui Saraiva finds a correlation between COVID-19 cases and this mass movement of people. However, while the authors suggest that COVID-19 cases and conflict are correlated (Figure 1), according to the researchers, the relationship is not strong enough to be causal.

Figure 1. COVID-19 and conflict

Figure 1. COVID-19 and conflict

Source: African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes. 2021. COVID-19 and Conflict, Issue No: 13/2021 (May), African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, Durban, South Africa.

Conversations about COVID-19 and conflict are not new: In fact, in April of this year, the Armed Conflict Location and Data Project (ACLED) released their “A Year of COVID-19” report, which highlighted various ways that COVID-19 has exacerbated conflict globally. The report particularly highlights that, while political violence declined in 2020 globally, it did not decline in Africa: It actually rose by 4,328 events. The report also states that in the four months immediately following the pandemic, identity militias—militias organized around a collective, common feature like religion or ethnicity, e.g., Boko Haram, al-Shabab—increased their activity by 70 percent. You can read more about these specific relationships in ACLED’s report “A Great and Sudden Change: The Global Political Violence Landscape Before and After the COVID-19 Pandemic.” You can find more of ACCORD’s COVID-19 and conflict updates on their website.