By Ann Fitz-Gerald, BSIA Director

Ethnic conflict has presented challenges for the East African region for many years. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed yet another potential trigger for both ‘inter’ and ‘intra’ state conflict. Recent accounts covering events in countries such as South Africa and Ethiopia have highlighted tensions towards both neighbouring countries as well as the foreign diplomatic and non-governmental communities these regions host. In countries like Ethiopia, where ethnic-based politics are a key factor in the run up to the federal elections scheduled for August 2020, it could be argued that the current global health crisis may lend to new conflict dynamics moving forward. These dynamics could prove both positive and/or negative. More specifically, in the wake of global calls for ‘social distancing’, these dynamics may serve to limit ethnic violence in what many will consider to be the first ever democratic and free elections in the country. On the other hand, and more worryingly, the current pandemic could also ignite new ethnic tensions as a result of its potential spread affecting some groups more than others.

The international community’s response to supporting developing countries during this time of crisis should encourage the promotion of national resilience through societal unity and cohesion.

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