What we’re reading on conflict & governance – Covid-19 edition, 24 April

We hope that you’re finding this list helpful in pulling together insightful analysis of the pandemic. Do let us know how you’re using this in the comments below, and if you’re on the hunt for any particular kinds of evidence.

DFID Research & Evidence Division-funded research teams designated with a 🌟.

Infographic of the week

Heather Marquette, On Covid-19 social science can save lives: where do we start? 🌟


The second of a two-part series I wrote for Duncan Green/Oxfam’s ‘From Poverty to Power’ blog. This diagram from part 2 looks at the urgent need for social science research to better understand the social and political impacts of Covid-19/Covid-19 measures in the short/mid/long term, including a blank template you can use to think these through in your own work here. The fantastic graphics were created by Peter Evans and his daughter, Hamsi – a medical school student and artist.


Part 1 is called ‘Using graphics to cut through Covid’s complexity‘ and includes graphics that help cut through the complex nature of the social and political impacts of Covid-19 and Covid-19 measures. This is just one of three images from the blog.

Republic of South Africa


A really helpful and widely praised infographic which sets out the stages to ease lockdown. This was accompanied by more detailed explanation of what this would entail at a press conference this week.

Threads/News/Blogs/Thought pieces/Research

ABC, Fight against malaria could be set back 20 years, WHO warns

The World Health Organization is warning that the battle against malaria in sub-Saharan Africa could be set back by 20 years as countries focus energy and resources on containing the coronavirus.

African Arguments, Covid-19: an open letter from African intellectuals to African leaders

A who’s who of leading African voices calling on leaders to show vision and compassion and take this opportunity to build a shared prosperity. We hear a lot about ‘coalitions of change’ – here’s a potential one, for sure.

Africa Research Institute/Jamie Hitchin, Interview with Omaru Badara Sisay

I’ve read a lot of interesting articles this week, but this is probably my top pick. Omaru Badara Sisay was Director of the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC)’s Situation Room, and this interview shares his reflections on his work for the current crisis. Some hard-hitting messages about short-termism in the UK response, and also NERC’s own learning from failure. This in particular stood out for me:

“It was not lost on us that the districts that were able to contain Ebola first…had been able to do so before NERC was formed. They succeeded by using social structures and networks that were well established in the local community. We very quickly realised that it would be more effective to hand power to the people; we had to decentralise the way NERC operated”.

AV Magazine, Commercial court hears $530 million case via Zoom

A commercial court case has been heard entirely via Zoom for the first time in the UK, with support from event production specialist Sparq. The multi-party proceedings which were also livestreamed on YouTube were brought by the National Bank of Kazakhstan and the Republic of Kazakhstan and involved $530 million worth of assets. Faced with Covid-19 related impediments, barristers instructed by law firm Stewarts secured a prompt continuation of the trial by video conference despite concerns expressed by counsel for the defendants.

BBC, How to cure viral misinformation

Check out this podcast, which tracks one misleading post and provides tips on how we can prevent the spread of misinformation.

BRAC, Rapid perceptions survey on Covid-19 awareness and economic impact

Survey data can be massively informative for policy makers on the efficacy and impact of Covid-19 policy and restriction measures. Here is a good example from Bangladesh. Also worth checking out the great work that Afrobarometer is doing at this time.

Blair Glencorse, Why tackling corruption is crucial to the global coronavirus response

Blair leads the fantastic Accountability Lab, with its famous ‘naming and faming’ approach to anti-corruption. He writes here about the opportunities for corruption coming out of fast-tracking support for Covid-19 interventions without transparency, and makes a case for supporting integrity as well as anti-corruption.

Bloomberg, Lockdowns are helping several African nations flatten the curve

Some interesting examples here from South Africa, Ghana and Mauritius on how a combination of lockdown and testing has contributed in flattening the curve. Again highlighting that there is no ‘one size fits all’ policy.

Bloomberg, Financial Criminals See Opportunities as Europe Reels from Virus

Bloomberg reports that criminals are increasingly trying to profit from the turmoil unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, posing new challenges to bankers who are expected to continue guarding against illicit financial flows. Austria’s financial regulator became the latest authority to warn of a jump in criminal activity as the drastic changes in working conditions and chaotic markets make it more difficult to maintain control.

Bulama Bukarti & David Crone, Thanks to coronavirus, Boko Haram is making a comeback

A running theme through this week’s reading is the ways in which Covid-19 is potentially strengthening violent non-state actors, including in regions where the state itself is not exactly a paragon of virtue either.

Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, Reimagining Social Movements and Civil Resistance during the Global Pandemic

Carr Centre faculty and fellows outline how social movements and civil resistance can take shape in a time of social distancing, and how these efforts are more important than ever in holding governments accountable.

Catherine Baksi, Coronavirus could permanently alter courts

Writing in The Times, Baksi says that court practices that seemed impossible a month ago are rapidly becoming normal. Covid-19 could change the way in which justice operates for ever, the author concludes. But open justice campaigners have warned that judges and officials must maintain transparency — ensuring the press and public are informed of online hearings and able to observe them.

Catherine O’Rourke, Covid-19 and gender-based violence in conflict: New challenges and persistent problems 🌟

A must-read from the RED-funded Political Settlements Research Programme looking at a number of key findings from PSRP’s research around peace, violence, security and justice, policing and so on, and how these relate to Covid-19.

Daily Nation, Kenya’s labour market not made for pandemic

Good article highlighting that Kenya’s informal workers who propped up the economy, are suddenly struggling to survive. (Melanie Moffat)

Economist, The world after covid-19 – Kevin Rudd on America, China and saving the WHO

Interesting article on the multi-lateral angle – ‘Time for an “M7” group of countries to rescue global institutions’.

Ed Olowo-Okere, Ensuring state continuity during the coronavirus pandemic

Here’s another good blog from the Director of the World Bank’s Governance Global Practice.

Farida Nabourema, Dictators love lockdowns

While there have been a few pieces on lockdown in authoritarian regimes, this piece offers some important reflections from Togo – highlighting what it is like for populations living under dictatorships and whose governments already exercise extensive powers with impunity.

Frances Z Brown & Jarrett Blanc, Coronavirus in conflict zones: a sobering landscape

A must-read from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Covid-19 and conflict, including links through to 12 different case studies from around the world.

GAGE, Lessons from the virtual interview process with young people in Ethiopia under Covid-19 lockdown 🌟

For anyone having to think about how to do qualitative research or evaluations, RED-funded researchers share useful reflections about what they’re doing to carry on research in challenging circumstances.

Gemma Aiolfi, Here today and gone tomorrow? Integrity and anti-corruption in the private sector post Covid-19 🌟

As economic activity resumes, what will be the effects of the pandemic on the health and well-being of corporate integrity standards and anti-corruption compliance? What support will companies need or want in the post-Covid economic reality?

Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, Cape Gangs in Lockdown

Recent news reports suggest that some of Capetown’s most violent criminal gangs have called a truce in order to deliver emergency relief to vulnerable people in their communities. This report from GI-TOC is sceptical about their motivations, as are many community members, it seems.

Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, Contagion and extortion in Central America

Drawing on its local network experts in the region, this brief from GI-TOC sets out a number of ways in which corrupt and criminal practices are adapting to the crisis.

Globe and Mail, The Notorious Nine: These world leaders responded to the coronavirus with denial, duplicity and ineptitude

Globe and Mail’s hall of shame of the leaders they feel have been particularly bad at handling the crisis.

Guardian, Growth in surveillance may be hard to scale back after pandemic, experts say

Several correspondents reporting from around the world raise concerns about the use of Covid-19 surveillance, including whether investment in technology is diverting funding from testing.

Haaretz, Two Thousand Israelis Brave Coronavirus Fears to Protest Assault on Democracy

Powerful images showing protesters maintaining social distancing while protesting against assault on democracy.

Helen Davidson, Critic who called Xi a ‘clown’ over Covid-19 crisis investigated for ‘serious violations’

The Guardian reports that an influential critic of the Chinese Communist party who suggested president Xi Jinping was a “clown” over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak is being investigated for “serious violations of discipline and the law”, according to Chinese anti-corruption authorities.

Human Rights Watch, Protecting Garment Workers During Covid-19 crisis

This important article highlights the short-term measures already in place to protect textile workers in some countries.

James Fairhead and Melissa Leach, One size fits all? Why lockdowns may not be Africa’s best bet 🌟

More compelling evidence on the suitability of lockdowns and other restrictions in Africa. The population pyramids are certainly striking.

James Georgalakis, Why policy networks don’t work (the way we think they do)

James draws lessons from his research on UK policy networks and the Ebola crisis, raising important questions for the Covid-19 response.

Jason Burke, Opportunity or threat? How Islamic extremists are reacting to coronavirus

Something that jumped out at me from this article is how extremist groups across Africa and the Middle East are creating narratives around corrupt and inefficient states. This is a long-standing and effective tactic, and it’s worth paying attention to.

Jay Albanese, You are organised crime

The NCA had a great campaign to try to get UK citizens to understand their role in driving demand for illicit goods, but as far as I know the results weren’t great. This piece from leading researcher Jay Albanese pulls no punches and sets out why we all need to take personal responsibility for the ways in which organised crime gangs are taking advantage of Covid-19 and undermining health efforts. Maybe time to try again?

JDSUPRA, Impact of COVID-19 on White Collar Enforcement

Law Firm Skadden writes that there is anecdotal evidence that some white collar crime law enforcement agencies have slowed their investigations as remote working impacts matter management. Disruptions from remote working will make it difficult for enforcement agencies to embark on new large-scale investigations given potential difficulties in fact finding, particularly with respect to cross-border matters.

Jeremy Allouche and Dienedort Wandji, Responses to Covid-19 must focus on communities and not just past epidemics

In the current global pandemic, there is a lot that can be learned from past epidemics. What is poignantly missing, however, is acknowledgement of local perspectives to disease outbreak and response. Jeremy Allouche and Dienedort Wandji argue we need to better understand how individuals and local communities in Africa and beyond have learnt and developed social, cultural and institutional mechanisms to deal with protracted crises.

Joseph Kimani, The hard nut of cracking who is vulnerable in our communities in the context of Covid-19

Kimani writes about Korogocho in Kenya, where everyone in the informal settlement can be defined as vulnerable and where the community is coming together to spread the word about how to stay safe.

Julia Keseru, Are we asking the right questions? The role of transparency during COVID-19

Interesting discussion of the role of transparency in the crisis.

Kabir Taneja & Raffaello Pantucci, Beware of terrorists offering Covid-19 aid

Yet more analysis about violent non-state actors and Covid-19 interventions.

Katie Metzler, What social science can offer us in a time of Covid-19

Metzler looks at how social science is often left out of Covid-19 interventions, but how social scientists need to take this opportunity to work better across disciplines (‘social science’ isn’t a single discipline, after all, and includes economics, political science, anthropology, demography, human geography, law, psychology, sociology and much more), and to make sure our research is greater than the sum of its parts.

Mail & Guardian, Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

While Nigeria’s healthcare system faces an uphill battle it is ill-equipped to deal with as the reality of Covid-19 bites, the country’s elite, so accustomed to quick jaunts to the UK and elsewhere for their medical needs, are boxed in and reliant on a sector they ignored for years.

Matt Stoller, Covid-19 will mark the end of affluence politics

While this is about the US, it raises important questions about the future role of wealth in politics everywhere, predicting the end of what they call ‘affluence politics’:

‘not the politics of being wealthy, though, but rather the politics of not paying attention to what creates wealth in the first place. That is to say, it’s the politics of ignoring our ability to make and distribute the things people need’.

Meredith Rossner & David Tait, Courts are moving to video during coronavirus, but research shows it’s hard to get a fair trial remotely

Concerns are raised that remote criminal hearings might be inherently imbalanced, as Australian courts are rapidly increasing the use of video for other essential hearings,. A study found that if a defendant was isolated in a dock – the normal situation in most courts – he was significantly more likely to be considered guilty, while defendants appearing via video were no more likely to be found guilty than if they were sitting beside their lawyers in court.

Merisa Thompson, Why the gendered political economy of Covid-19 matters

Merisa looks at the ways in which care work has been undervalued in most countries around the world, both paid and unpaid, and how Covid-19 is forcing us to rethink what work we really value as societies.

Modern Ghana, NDC ‘Rejects’ Airbus Probe to focus on Covid-19 fight

Ghanaian opposition rejected a probe into the Airbus bribery scandal in order to focus on the Covid-19 fight.

Monalisa Salib, A systems perspective on coronavirus: If The Wire was about Covid-19, what would the seasons be?

A fun read making a serious point about the need for systems thinking in our response. Filled with spoilers, so don’t read if you’re hoping to finally catch up with The Wire while in lockdown (seriously…do it…).

Paul Wafula, Kenyans want total lockdown that they’re not prepared for

Really illuminating piece making use of survey data that highlights that despite not being prepared nor this strategy being advised in LMICs, Kenyans do want a total lockdown. Particularly important in the context of how politicians are likely to respond as Covid-19 progresses.

OCCRP, The convict & coronavirus: Romania’s million-mask mess

Fraud linked to medical supplies is becoming a huge problem, and this investigation from Romania gives us a glimpse of the opportunities Covid-19 presents for organised criminals, especially those with political and private sector connections.

OCCRP, Crime, Corruption and Coronavirus

OCCRP bring together their coverage of those who try to benefit from border closures, commodity shortages, delayed court proceedings, and other disruptions caused by this global pandemic.

Open Government Partnership, Open Response and Open Recovery

Open Government Partnership has launched an initiative entitled Open Response, Open Recovery which has collected resources with links under the headings ‘Anti-Corruption’, ‘Civic Space’, ‘Data and Digital Governance’, ‘Fiscal Openness’ etc

Politico, Mafia plots post-coronavirus pounce

Politico reports on the danger of criminal organisations capitalising on weaknesses in an economy ravaged by the coronavirus. Strict national lockdowns, police checks and grounded flights have crippled significant revenue streams — including prostitution, drug trafficking and extortion. Already, mafia groups have started to work around the lockdown conditions.

Rebecca Renner, The pandemic is giving people vivid, unusual dreams. Here’s why.

In the same night earlier this week, I had a dream that I was being forced to kiss a scary clown while my husband dreamt that his father was a Roman emperor trying to kill him with a butter knife. Apparently, we’re not alone. This short piece from the National Geographic says that the reason so many of us are having weird dreams is partly because of pandemic-induced anxiety, but also because our day-to-day lives under social distancing are just way too boring to inspire our brains. We’re starting to delve into childhood memories (and fears) and our subconscious to find something more interesting. (My father-in-law is lovely, I swear!)

Reuters, The S11 dormitory: inside Singapore’s coronavirus cluster

The sprawling dormitory complex, home to over 300,000 migrant workers from Bangladesh, India and China, 1,977 of Singapore’s 8,014 cases (at the time of writing). This illuminating piece interviews residents of the complex and raises important considerations for migrant communities during the pandemic.

Reuters, South Africa’s itinerant wastepickers lose livelihood in lockdown

Many of us see these key workers on an almost daily basis – in the context of lockdown what happens to this important service and the workers who perform it?

Rob Gillanders, The links between corruption and the coronavirus

An opinion piece in RTE argues that bribery, embezzlement and nepotism can all serve to distort choices and outcomes away from what is in the public interest in favour of what is good for a narrow group. Corruption, like a virus, does not respect borders, and no country, or community, is immune to its effects. As is usually the case, it is those who were already vulnerable who will pay the highest price, the author concludes.

Robbie Macpherson & Paul t’ Hart, Leading in a crisis: using adaptive leadership to shape the Covid-19 crisis

I love Ron Heifetz’s research on adaptive leadership, and this article draws on this to look at lessons for leaders across different stages of the Covid-19 response. They make an important distinction between exercising authority and exercising leadership, and how leadership – not authority – is what will get us through the hard times to come,

Robert Castillo, African migration to China may never be the same again

An under analysed topic that is well worth our consideration – particularly the use of surveillance technology.

Robert Muggah, David Steven & Liv Torres, We urgently need major cooperation on global security in the Covid-19 era

While a lot of analysis looks at security challenges at the national or regional level, this article pulls in a range of examples to look at how global security is being threatened and sets out a five-step plan to try to deal with this.

Rosemary Morgan & Sara E Davies, How gender norms play out in the Covid-19 response

The authors look at a range of country contexts to show how gender norms are being made visible in the ways in government approaches. The Malaysian government, for example, only allowed the ‘head of household’ to go grocery shopping, leading to some very funny tweets from wives about the ridiculous things their inexperienced husbands brought home with them. Behind stories like this though, lie repressive gender norms.

Sam Earle, Seizing the unexpected opportunities of Covid-19

A compelling call to rethink active citizenship for the sake of society and democracy:

‘it may help to keeping reminding ourselves of why this matters: because such opportunities for reimagining society are rare, and because we owe it to those who have died to emerge from this crisis in better shape’.

Sam Hickey, Tim Kelsall and David Hulme, The Politics of Responding to Covid 19 in developing countries PART 1 (PART 2 HERE🌟

One of the main lessons of the past two decades of political economy analysis is that development interventions must ‘fit’ with their political economy context and existing set of state capabilities. So far, there are worrying signs of ‘isomorphic mimicry’, with many developing countries simply adopting the same lockdown approach as most OECD countries, despite concerns that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach may have lethal consequences. The ESID team critically explore what a more politically-attuned response might look like, arguing that one that takes seriously ‘Context’, ‘Capacity’ and ‘Coalitions’ is critical to the politics of inclusive development.

Sarah Chayes, Look out, corruption ahead

Drawing on some of her research on corruption in countries like Afghanistan and Guatemala, Sarah instead looks at the US where she sees some troubling parallels.

Saskia Brechenmacher, Thomas Carothers, Richard Youngs, Civil Society and the Coronavirus: Dynamism despite disruption

The authors argue that the current surge in civic organising provides an opportunity to highlight the vital role of civil society in sustaining vibrant and healthy communities and democracy. International supporters of civil society should step up their efforts to bolster emerging local initiatives, amplify civil society voices in pandemic responses, and throw their weight behind efforts to pre-empt further government restrictions on democratic rights.

Sophie Neiman, Coronavirus and authoritarianism

While not unique to African leaders, Neiman catalogues a range of worrying actions by leaders including in countries that have been stable for some time.

Stefan Dercon, No regret policies for the Covid-19 crisis in developing countries

Given the massive uncertainty surrounding how COVID-19 will play out in terms of health outcomes as well as economic and social outcomes, policymaking is as hard as it can possibly be. Measures that are sensible at the time they are taken may prove highly costly and ineffective in retrospect. No-regret policies are those that are worth doing now regardless of which scenario actually plays out. This note identifies nine interrelated actions in where developing countries could be proactive and three key lessons for low-regret decision-making under extreme uncertainty.

Stewarts, Coronavirus – the practical implications of Covid-19 on civil litigation

Law firm Stewarts consider the practical impact of the coronavirus pandemic on case management, as well as on the preparation for and attendance at hearings. The two-part article looks at extensions of time, adjournment, stay and other practical considerations, as well as the practical implications for telephone hearings, virtual trials, and applications without hearings.

The Local, Coronavirus: Germany caught up in multi-million-euro mask fraud scheme

The Local reports that North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state and one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, paid €14.7 million for some 10 million masks in March only to discover they did not exist, according to prosecutors. The managing director of two distribution companies raised the alarm after realising he had been tricked.

Tom Keatinge, Reforming the response to financial crime: making the most of a crisis

A growing number of researchers are writing about the opportunities to fix some entrenched problems, and Keatinge looks at ways we can avoid squandering this opportunity to tackle financial crime.

U4, The costs of corruption during humanitarian crises, and mitigation strategies for development agencies

Recommendations pulled together by the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre at our request on non-sector-specific actions donors can take on corruption during the COVID19 response.

USAID, Covid-19: Democracy, human rights and governance issues and potential USAID responses

This will resonate with members of the TWP Community of Practice, I’m sure:

‘While we cannot guess the long-term impacts of this disruption in all sectors of USAID work, the DRG Center’s Political Economy Analysis (PEA) framework can help identify opportunities, mitigate threats, and maximize the effectiveness of programming now and in the future. Recognizing the urgency of the current context, DRG Center can leverage its experience supporting missions with a range of rapid PEA approaches while also developing a foundation for longer term learning’.

Valentina di Donato & Tim Lister, The Mafia is poised to exploit coronavirus, and not just in Italy

A fascinating look at the complexity of mafia business models and how these are adapting to Covid-19, drawing on interviews with many leading organised crime scholars and the famed journalist and anti-Mafia activist Roberto Saviano.

V-DEM, Autocratisation by decree: states of emergency and democratic decline

The authors find that democracies are 75 percent more likely to erode under a state of emergency. This evidence strongly suggests that states of emergency circumvent democratic processes in ways that might inspire democratic decline.

Vincenzo Scalia, Lootings in Palermo: Cosa Nostra after coronavirus

While mafia groups may do business globally, territorial governance is vital for their business model. Covid-19 is limiting Cosa Nostra’s access to public expenditure, and while looting is ‘underclass’ behaviour, it’s a way to demonstrate ongoing control over territory until those opportunities open up again. It’s an important reminder of organised crime’s adaptability wherever it may be.

Wilson Pritchard, To help respond to Covld-19, African governments should prioritise taxing the rich 🌟

Analysis from the RED-funded International Centre for Tax & Development making the case for African governments de-emphasising tax relief, placing greater priority on raising revenue from rich individuals (something I’ve suggested will need to happen everywhere, but without the richness of ICTD’s research behind me).

World Bank, The impact of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) on global poverty: Why Sub-Saharan Africa might be the region hardest hit

Covid-19 is likely to cause the first increase in global poverty since 1998, pushing 49 million people into extreme poverty in 2020. Though Sub-Saharan Africa so far has been hit relatively less by the virus from a health perspective, World Bank projections suggest that it will be the region hardest hit in terms of increased extreme poverty. The blog explains these projections.

Youth Co Lab and UNDP, COVID-19 policy responses for those small enough to fail

This article reviews the type of policy responses that can help to mitigate the impacts of the crisis on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, the self-employed and their households – with examples from Asia Pacific.

Ziad Ghisn, How economic sanctions negatively affect the health sector in Syria: a case study of the pharmaceutical industry 🌟

A report from the RED-funded Conflict Research Programme looking at how existing non-health sector sanctions in Syria is making the Covid-19 situation worse.

Useful sites & twitter threads curating content to follow

CGD, Coronavirus preparedness & response

CIPE, Corruption & Cofid-19 resources

ECPR Standing Group on Organised Crime, Controcorrente (dedicated Covid-19 blog series)

GI-TOC, Covid Crime Watch

Global Voices, Covid-19: Global voices for a pandemic

ICNL, COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker (Will Taylor)

IDS, Covid-19: the social science response to the pandemic 🌟

Jorge Mantilla (UC-Chicago), Twitter thread curating pieces on Covid-19, conflict and crime

K4D, Covid-19 Resource Hub 🌟

Political Settlements Research Programme, Conflict, development and Covid-19 resources 🌟

The Syllabus, The politics of Covid-19 readings

Various, Crowd-sourced cross-disciplinary coronavirus syllabus


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