The COVID-19 pandemic may be with us for a long time. The World Health Organization recently warned that the coronavirus “may never go away” thus signifying the need for countries to adopt a long-term approach in dealing with COVID-19.
The most urgent question confronting many countries is whether to reopen their economies in the wake of the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic. But opinion is divided as to whether this is the right time to do so.
A recent survey by Ipsos across fourteen major economies shows that majority of people are against reopening the economy if the virus is not fully contained. In the United Kingdom and Canada, for instance, 70 percent of the respondents were against immediate reopening with 59 percent holding a similar view in the United States.
However, more people in China (58 percent), Italy (53 percent) and India (51 percent) are for reopening of the economy.
Whatever the case, the fact is, economies across the world have taken a massive hit from COVID-19 with millions of jobs lost and countless businesses shut down. The situation is no different in Kenya with the economy projected to decelerate substantially this year due to the disruptive impact of the disease.
President Uhuru Kenyatta recently underlined the urgency of the matter with the economic stimulus package he unveiled on May 23 to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. There is no doubt that even as the country sustains efforts to contain the coronavirus, there is urgent need to address its harsh economic impact on people and businesses.
But even as we explore options for economic recovery, including easing of social and movement restrictions, we must ensure these do not yield undesirable effects such as increased crime and insecurity.
Most importantly, we have to guard against a potential surge in violent extremism which will only serve to undermine long-term economic recovery.
This is because violent extremism in the form of terrorism has a disruptive effect on economies.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the economic impact of terrorism stood at 0.5 percent of global GDP or about $52 billion in 2016, and $15 billion for Africa.
UNDP also estimates that terrorism cost Kenya’s economy $1.2 billion (Ksh120 billion) in the period between 2006-2016 in terms of destruction of property and human fatalities and injuries.
This is significant damage for a small economy such as ours and considering that these are conservative figures as they do not include costs related to countering terrorism and preventing violent extremist behavior.
The upshot is that a resurgence in violent extremism could undermine Kenya’s post-COVID economic recovery. Hence the need for sustained vigilance at the local and national levels. Even as social restrictions are eased.
Fortunately, there is a robust mechanism in place for preventing and countering violent extremism (PCVE) following the inception of the National Strategy to Combat Violent Extremism (NSCVE) in 2016. One of the key features of the NSCVE is the creation of the County Engagement Forums (CEFs) as a local platform for PCVE activities.
In addition to sustained vigilance, we need to integrate the PCVE mechanism at the local level into the national economic recovery process. For example, CEFs should be at the forefront of addressing economic challenges such as unemployment which tend to fuel the fanatical ideologies of violent extremists.
Working with government and private sector, CEFs should explore economic opportunities especially for women and youth, as doing so provides a long-term buffer against radicalization and recruitment of economically vulnerable groups into violent extremism.
CEFs and other PCVE mechanisms should be aligned with the national economic recovery effort, in particular, identifying vulnerable groups in urgent need of resources to rebuild their livelihoods and economic activities. For example there maybe opportunity to collaborate with CEFs in the implementation of the proposed Kazi Mtaani initiative whilst at the same time focusing on skills development through TVET whose outcome will be the acceleration of job creation for the vulnerable youth.
Of course, restrictions against public gatherings and other social activities have robbed PCVE activities of momentum. In addition, county level engagements have shifted to prioritize COVID-19 response. However, there is still scope to integrate PCVE into national and county economic recovery plans.
While the economic stimulus package unveiled by the president does not directly channel funds into PCVE activities, the national and county governments should allocate resources to mitigate the harsh economic impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable communities.
CEFs should also focus on building resilience of vulnerable communities against extremist elements who seek to instigate violence as a response to social and economic challenges emanating from COVID-19.
There is also need to instill behavior change as an essential part of the ‘new normal’ unfolding in our lives. As we come to terms with a new world unleashed by COVID-19, we must all take greater individual responsibility in rooting out violent extremism from within our borders.
Prioritizing resource allocation in PCVE agenda and integration thereof with Covid-19 pandemic response will reduce or eliminate grievances by vulnerable groups through stabilizing of their economic base and livelihood.
Involving local communities in shaping their economic future is crucial in building a secure and prosperous nation in the post-Covid era.
Mr. Mwachinga is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and a Partner at Viva Africa Consulting LLP. [email protected]