Coronavirus, armed conflict and children: African youth leaders urge support for UN ceasefire call.

Young African leaders are calling on governments and militias to agree to the global ceasefire proposal initiated on March 23 by the UN Secretary-General.

In a detailed statement Armed conflict, corona virus pandemic and a ceasefire: Impact on children in Africa, Divina Maloum, co-winner with Greta Thunberg of the influential 2019 International Children’s Peace Prize, outlines the impact of armed conflict on children and on public health systems in Africa, and the dire humanitarian consequences if governments and militias continue fighting rather than cooperating to prevent spread of the coronavirus and mitigate its impact on public health and the economy.

‘Healthcare systems across Africa could collapse under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic since conflict-hit regions have many hospitals that have already been damaged and the basics such as clean water and soap necessary to fight the virus are in short supply due to armed conflict,’ says Divina. ‘In northern Mali, 93 % of Health care facilities have already been destroyed [by armed conflict]. And in many countries, as the people flee fighting in some areas, the population of many towns has doubled. Refugees and others displaced by violent conflict are doubly vulnerable to the impact of corona virus.’

Divina, who is founder of Children for Peace and works closely with the African Network of Young Leaders for Peace and Sustainable Development (ANYL4PSD), says that ‘The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. The global ceasefire is absolutely essential for an effective response to the crisis in areas of conflict. War doesn’t make any sense when we have an epidemic that affects us all.’

However, she also says that the global ceasefire is ‘a value in itself. War doesn’t make sense in any circumstances’ and that youth are particularly impacted by armed conflict.

‘As a result of increasing levels of violence and insecurity, many children and students across the African continent are no longer able to attend school or university, undermining their quality of life both now and in the future. Indeed, the phenomenon is disproportionately impacting the youth.’

‘ Marginalised from political processes, lacking in viable employment options and suffering from an increasing sense of desperation, the youth are easy targets for radicalised recruiters who lure or coerce boys and girls and young men and women with a diverse mix of religious narratives, financial incentives, a glimmer of hope, and often, with violence. The ceasefire should be an opportunity to re-envision each government as that puts upholding basic human rights at its core, and, in doing so, better protects national and international security.

Divina and ANYL4PSD welcome the UN Special Envoys appointed by the Secretary-General to conflict zones to follow up on the ceasefire appeal, but notes that they need more support in order to be successful.

In Cameroon (where Divina lives), so far only a separatist militia called Southern Cameroons Defence Forces (Socadef) is to heed the UN’s call for a global ceasefire. The members of this militia said they will down their weapons for a fortnight so people can be tested for coronavirus. But there is no indication that one of the biggest rebel group – Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) – is to follow suit and declare a ceasefire. In Libya rockets pummeled Tripoli despite ceasefire pleas.’

‘The call of the UN Secretary General should be supported by governments, civil society, faith based organizations, international organizations and private sector locally, regionally and internationally. It should be supported by regional and sub regional organizations. African Union should take position.

Other support for the ceasefire

Meanwhile, the ceasefire call has also been supported by Kehkashan Basu, the 2016 winner of the International Children’s Peace Prize, who also points out the importance of this for children.

“Children are among the most vulnerable sections of civil society and have been the innocent victims of war and extremism globally and especially in Africa,” says Kehkashan, who serves as Youth Ambassador for the World Future Council. “With dwindling resources and investments , the opportunities for education and healthcare, that are so critical for the development of children, are under tremendous strain pushing them further into poverty with the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to be the literal death knell.”

“If ever there was a time for peace it is now. If we are to achieve the SDG targets, we have to stop immediately further investment in weapons of mass destruction, declare unilateral ceasefires in all conflict zones and focus all our resources in development that benefits the current and future generations.” 

The ceasefire has also been supported in principle by Pope Francis (Pope supports UN call for global ceasefire), and was immediately supported 53 governments.

The Guardian reports that eleven countries locked in long-term conflicts have now responded to the UN call for a worldwide ceasefire, and the number of supporting countries in total has risen to 70. However, the UN Secretary-General notes that “there was still a distance between declarations and deeds in many countries”. He has asked his special envoys across the globe to redouble their efforts to persuade combatants to lower their guns to allow humanitarian workers to combat the coronavirus.

Global petition to support the ceasefire

A global petition supporting the ceasefire has already gained over 1.6 million endorsers. Click here to add your support.

Move the Nuclear Weapons Money – to assist Covid-19 pandemic

Divina and Children for Peace are also participating in the Move the Nuclear Weapons Money campaign calling for cuts in nuclear weapons budgets to support public health, peace and sustainable development.

‘The coronavirus pandemic is sweeping around the world, undermining public health, curtailing personal freedoms and causing havoc on countries economies,’ says Emmanuelle Foyet, Deputy-Coordinator of Children for Peace. ‘The future of millions of children and their family is in danger. Government must shift the resources from the nukes and the military to public health and the economy.’

‘When the power of love shall be greater than the power of nuclear arms, man shall have another name who is God,’ says Divina.