BY Nicoline Nwenushi Wazeh| May 2020
The outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a groundbreaking new normal in my work and lifestyle. Working from home through webinars as zoom meetings has become the new normal. Coming from Cameroon, a country trapped in a cascading crisis overshadowed and compounded by the corona virus pandemic, we have to diversify our peace building activities to include the fight against COVID-19. Using limited and already strained resources from prevailing socio-political, economic and social crises typified by the Boko Haram violent Extremism and Anglophone crises plaguing the country since 2014 and 2016 respectively, women have been at the forefront providing lifesaving information and resources to the vulnerable grass-root masses to prevent them from the spread of the deadly corona virus.
We have been engaging at continental level and appealing for the need to mainstream gender in COVID-19 response action plans at country level to apprehend into all plans the unique impact on women and other vulnerable groups. How the global health crisis disproportionately affects women and intersects with disabilities, old age, refugees, internal displacement and others has been a call for concern in our advocacy work. Telecommuting (aka working from home) due to the outbreak of the global pandemic and the need to avoid public gathering, respecting physical distancing, regularly washing of hands, wearing of mask and other measures has led to an increase in networking and addressing issues more from a continental perspective considering how the global corona virus outbreak has revealed our shared humanity and common vulnerability on the one hand; and, how the leadership style and quality in most of our countries have fiddled with trivialities, personal political and economic gains while health and other lifesaving facilities and infrastructures are unaccommodating.
We have added to our peace building advocacy, recovery and relief activities; training on the production of homemade hydro-alcoholic hand sanitizers, production and distribution of homemade masks, provision of buckets to fetch water and soap for the regular washing of hands.
We expected COVID-19 to calmed the use of the guns by the parties in conflict but, alas, a call by the UNSG to “to stop conflict to concentrate on fighting the spread of the corona virus”, received varied responses from the parties. Within the non-state armed groups (NSAGs), the Southern Cameroons Defense Force (SOCADEF) declared that, they will observe a 14 days cease fire from March 29 to April 12 “in order to permit international humanitarian preparation for the COVID-19 prevention”, arguing that "the people of Amazonian are ill-prepared to face a major pandemic." The statement also said SOCADEF would stop fighting while maintaining "combat readiness"; while the other fraction, the Amazonian Governing Council (AGC) which controls the Amazonian Defense Forces (ADF), one of the largest armed groups waging an insurgency against the Cameroonian military rejected the declaration claiming that “To permit such unilateral action will be to provide Cameroon unhindered access to everywhere in our towns and villages”. On its part, the Cameroon government simply ignored the call and fighting targeting and killing civilians is ongoing in the restive regions overshadowed and compounded by the global corona virus pandemic. We have expected a positive respond to this call from all sides to ease the suffering of this population and to give us access to these unruly areas to collect more in-depth information.
From an economic perspective, COVID-19 and the lock down measures have devastating effects on the women’s economic empowerment projects that we were running hitherto. Our inability to sell three thousand (3000) broiler chickens in our Integrated Agricultural Training Center (IATC) has caused us damages worth some $2000 and a risk for the Microfinance institution to forfeit our assets used as collateral to obtain the loan. This equally mean that the women who were beneficiaries of this project and had gained a certain degree of financial independence and security from gender-based violence have lost their livelihood activities and will have to strive to start all over again.
Life has been surrounded by the fear of the unknown, worrying about contracting the illness or any of my family members contracting it; family finances have dwindled, and food supplies depleted by the days. Closure of schools, lock down and working from home have meant reuniting my entire family and spending 24 hours together for the past two months. My children have been through a tough time struggling with puberty amidst armed conflicts which have seriously restrained their movement and leisure for the past 3 years and now worsened by the corona virus pandemic. No schools, no friends visiting and no idea when life will return to normalcy has not been easy for the children. If being in confinement for the past two months has not been easy, it has been particularly rough for these teenage children whose social life has suddenly been stripped away first by armed conflicts which sent them fleeing from their schools of choice since November 2016, and today the COVID-19 which has completely deprived them of schooling. Electricity and connectivity is still a luxury in my country and most of these children have not been able to participate in the few online classes going on within the country. Some of my children are completely withdrawn, spending entire days in their rooms, lack of Appetite and strange behaviors while others suffer from gormandizing and uncontrolled eating. They follow, news, know both global and national statistics and the need for distancing but have no clue when this is going to end.