Collaborating with Governments During COVID-19

Moderators

  • Gunjan Veda, Movement for Community-Led Development
  • Nelly Mecklenburg, Institute for State Effectiveness

Keynote Speakers

  • Dr. Daisy N. Owomugasho, MCLD East Africa Regional Director
  • Samuel Mutambo, National Program Director for THP Zambia, MCLD Zambia Coordinator
  • Tindi Sitati, Collaboration Learning and Adaptation Officer for Global Communities, Regional Secretary for AFRICOOP Consortium

Introduction

On August 4th, participants across the Movement for Community-Led Development (MCLD) met virtually for the thirteenth Adapting CLD Processes to Continue Through COVID-19 call. Since April 2020, MCLD has hosted these calls in order to discuss the impacts of the ongoing pandemic on communities and organizations, and ways that we can adapt our programming to meet these challenges. The August call focused on the effects of the recent COVID-19 resurgences that have taken place around the world. Breaking from the usual format, this call started with breakout rooms to discuss the nature of the pandemic in their respective countries of operation and residence. 

The discussion continued after the participants left the breakout rooms, where they raised the current needs of communities and organizations. This included more reliable data streams and more work countering vaccine hesitancy. 

After this, the participants heard from our keynote speakers, who shared updates on civil society and government collaboration nearly a year and a half into the pandemic. We had heard from our speakers one year ago, in August 2020, as governments and organizations were exploring the need and options to better coordinate in addressing Covid-19.  In this call, they discussed the ways in which these relationships have helped to address the pandemic, as well as the contexts in which they are most fruitful. 

More details on breakout room discussions and insights from our speakers are below.

Breakout Rooms

The event began with three breakout rooms. Within these groups, participants discussed recent COVID-19 developments in their respective countries.

Breakout Group 1

This group discussed vast differences in COVID-19 trends between Germany, Kenya, Liberia, Uganda, and Zambia. Germany and Kenya are both entering into their fourth waves, while Zambia is in its third wave and Uganda is in its second. Additionally, a combination of low availability and misinformation means that vaccination rates are far lower in the Global South than in Germany. In Zambia, for example, myths have circulated that the vaccine can cause childbirth issues, which discourages people from seeking shots. In response to such rumors, Kenyan leaders are making information more readily available throughout the country and they are publicly endorsing the vaccine, which is slowly reducing hesitancy. In a conversation about future steps, this group discussed the idea of a workshop or training on crisis management in preparation for any future pandemics.

Breakout Group 2

This group discussed COVID-19 trends in Uganda, Nepal, Kenya, Niger, India, Malawi, Zambia, and the Republic of the Congo. With the exception of Uganda and Zambia, most of these countries have been seeing increases in the number of positive cases. In spite of this, vaccine rollouts have been quite slow; these countries are only receiving the vaccine in very small quantities, and many people are unwilling to take the available doses due to misinformation.

Additionally, the participants noted that COVID-19 has adversely affected peoples’ livelihoods, health, and education. These problems have particularly affected the most vulnerable populations, as they typically have less of a safety net.

Breakout Group 3

Discussions of COVID-19 developments within this group focused only on a few countries: Zambia, Malawi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Participants noted that Zambia is experiencing a decrease in the rate of infections, and the country is making reasonable progress in vaccine provision. Malawi is seeing some progress be made through employer vaccine mandates, but rural communities largely lack access to the necessary doses. In the DRC, however, neither the government nor the people believe the vaccine will work, so rollout has been hindered as the country enters its third wave.

Needs of Communities and Organizations

The distinct needs of communities represented across the call included:

  • A regular feed of reliable COVID-19 data pertaining to developments such as the spread of variants and vaccine efficacy which could be relayed to CSOs and communities.
  • Investment in and prioritization of digital technologies to facilitate communication, contact tracing, and data collection and access
  • Access to education and markets for vulnerable populations such as refugees
  • Countering vaccine hesitancy and reopening schools
  • Workshops to better prepare communities for future pandemics

Civil Society and NGOs In Response to COVID-19

Community-Led Policies by Civil Society and NGOs

Our speakers enumerated several effective community-led actions being taken on the ground in response to COVID-19. For example, MCLD East Africa Regional Director Dr. Daisy N. Owomugasho remarked that THP Uganda has established health centers throughout the country to assist in isolation, treatment, and vaccination. Additionally, they have conducted public education campaigns about vaccines and trained local health officials in COVID-19 treatment. Tindi Sitati, Collaboration Learning and Adaptation Officer for Global Communities and Regional Secretary for AFRICOOP Consortium, explained that CSOs have been essential to the distribution of food and healthcare. Additionally, they have worked tirelessly to fill gaps in local COVID-19 research, which have only grown as the pandemic continues.

Civil-Society-Government Cooperation

Our speakers all agreed that collaboration between civil society and national governments has been instrumental in the fight against COVID-19. Dr. Daisy N. Owomugasho credited such collaboration as playing a critical role in limiting the rate of infections. She noted that Ugandan networks of NGOs have been working alongside the country’s official COVID task force in order to disseminate information, treatment, and vaccines to needy communities. Samuel Mutumbo, National Program Director for THP Zambia and MCLD Zambia Coordinator, agreed with this statement, describing how the Zambian government has come to rely on CSOs in its pandemic response. Because CSOs have a greater presence in at-risk communities than the federal government, the Zambian government has benefited from their dissemination of messages and resources at the local level. Overall, the government works with CSOs and NGOs frequently and coordinates their activity in order to best suit the needs of the people. 

Meanwhile, Tindi Sitati described a country with a less successful pandemic response: Kenya. In Kenya, the government did work with CSOs to provide food and healthcare to the most vulnerable. However, in an effort to hold onto additional power, the government has not included CSOs in vaccine distribution. The government is not trusting or enabling CSOs, which has led vaccine rollout to stall and infections to rise.

Optimal Environments for Civil Society

Participants used the information provided by the speakers in order to discuss the optimal conditions for CSOs to operate, particularly in the context of pandemic response. A key takeaway here was that CSOs and NGOs thrive in decentralized countries, particularly if trust has been built between organizations and the various levels of government. However, the government cannot simply be decentralized in name; the local governments must actually have the necessary resources to stay independent. In Kenya, Tindi Sitati pointed out that decentralization has occurred, yet local governments remain extremely reliant on federal funding, which limits their ability to respond to pandemics and work with non-governmental entities.

The government should also have frequent and organized engagement with CSOs and NGOs alike in order to more effectively target their efforts. Samuel Mutumbo remarked that, in Zambia, the government holds a national forum every month where it consults these organizations for advice and directs them to where they can do the most good. 

Conclusion and Next Steps

The meeting concluded with a conversation about how organizations and MCLD can measure the impact of some of the adaptations and innovations that have emerged during the pandemic. We discussed a possible M&E workshop, as well as conducting more targeted research into CSO-government relationships throughout the pandemic.

Key announcements included that the next COVID call will be tentatively held on September 15. MCLD will also be holding Sector Dialogues on Health and WASH on August 17 and 19, respectively. The Spanish launch of the CLD Assessment Tool will be August 18, and the MCLD monthly call will be on August 25.

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