Fieldtrip #1 - Vuvulane (Eswatini)

State of the research – Eswatini

The Whose Crisis project team in Eswatini is still awaiting Government updates on restrictions and lockdown extensions (currently poised to end on the 4th of March). Assuming no further restrictions are in place, we are anticipating commencing fieldwork in late March in our first community (Vuvulane), before progressing to the second community (Matsapha) in April. We are still awaiting our equipment order, which will also determine the exact starting dates.

In the meantime, we are reviewing existing secondary data (reports, overviews, etc.) from project partners relating to the pandemic on a national level. We have also been communicating with our selected communities remotely, introducing people to the project and paving the way for open dialogue to better inform the process.

In this blog post, the research team in Eswatini describes their work during pre-fieldwork times and recounts a fieldtrip to the community of Vuvulane. The trip allowed them to get to know the community and better prepare for their research.

 

The relationship with the Vuvulane community has been firmly established through a partnership with the Vuvulane Orphaned and Vulnerable Children Outreach Foundation (VOVCOF) – a grassroots community organisation that have been instrumental in providing assistance and support to the area both pre- and during COVID. Our point of contact at VOVCOF, Khulekani Msweli, is an artist and activist from the Vuvulane community, and has reviewed all the Whose Crisis documentation, providing insightful feedback and advice based on their experience. After several calls and with COVID-19 restrictions allowing for socially distanced meetings, a site visit was required to continue discussions and evaluate the lay of the land. Vuvulane is a 4-hour roundtrip from Mbabane, therefore spending a full day is required to make the most out of the trip.

The RA (Dane) spent a full day in the community discussing some of the possible methods and approaches for the eventual fieldwork, and was joined by team members Sizwe Mabaso and Molefe Joseph for a tour of the community church, soup kitchen, sustainable building project and Mgidza (one of the sub-communities in Vuvulane). The church and gardens have been made available for the project to use as a base of operations (for any socially distanced workshops, interactions or recording sessions) and will greatly assist the logistics of the project.

Vuvulane offers an interesting case study in and of itself, as it has deep ties to land use and human rights issues in Eswatini – the farmers have been at loggerheads with authorities for decades now, and continue living in unstable conditions despite being in the heart of the sugar belt of Eswatini (sugar being our main export and cash crop). There is a deep history of “neglect and avoidance” of the area, and it is anticipated that there will be a lot of hesitation in terms of sharing stories and opinions from community members – but this needs to be overcome as there are “many stories and opinions that desperately need sharing” (as mentioned by Khulekani).

VOCOF have already released reports on their actions in the community during the pandemic, which will help in creating an initial overview of the situation on the ground during the course of 2020-2021. There is a community clinic which can provide insight into health statistics and visits, and a police station that will have records for the entire area. Recent assistance interventions have been noted from the WFP and the UNDP.

"There are a wide variety of societal issues, as well as clear examples of interventions, solutions and assistance mechanisms at play."

The community walk around illustrated how many people in the community are unemployed and “idle” (not working on a weekday), and how social distancing and hygiene measures are very minimal (due to a wide variety of reasons). At the same time there are many individuals tending to their small gardens, looking after children and attending to domestic chores. There was a lot of laughter and general good spirits with everyone who engaged with the team.

The community is yet to record a single case of COVID, though this may be down to a lack of reporting. They feel safe engaging with each other and their neighbours, but wear masks when leaving to town or using public transport. It is Marula season in the Lubumbo region (a fruit used to make traditional alcoholic brews), so there were a lot of fermenting buckets set up, and people brewing/selling/sharing some drinks despite the current alcohol ban (and despite the early hour of the day). Alcohol abuse is a big issue in the area, and we heard several accounts of how influential and powerful some of the illicit alcohol traders have become over the last several months. There have been recent donations of fencing and seedlings, and it has transpired that some people have been selling these donations in order to get money for alcohol (and also food) – something that will no doubt arise in further discussions as part of the research.

All in all, Vuvulane offers an intriguing opportunity to partner with reliable, grassroots partners that have the trust and access to all aspects of the community. There are a wide variety of societal issues, as well as clear examples of interventions, solutions and assistance mechanisms at play. It is a great opportunity for the Whose Crisis project to explore the complex lived experience of community members in the area, and will allow us to better fine-tune our engagements in the second community of Matsapha, where we are yet to establish a firm connection with a target area.


"The community was not her usual boisterous self" - a first glimpse into a Covid-affected rural community in Nigeria

In the past 2 – 3 years, I have had several opportunities to travel to Itagunmodi either to pay a courtesy call on some stakeholders, gather information, or collect data.  Itagunmodi is a rural community located at Atakumosa West Local Government Area, in Osun State in Nigeria, known primarily for the extraction of gold deposit, hence the name City of Gold, albeit the general feature of the community does not depict the name. The road to the community is tarred, curvedly narrow, and descends the hill, making it impassable for two vehicles to drive side by side at the same time.  The trips to this community gave me the pleasure of watching nature at work: the different species of trees and shrubs that dominate both sides of the roads, farmers holding their cutlasses and hoes walking briskly to their farms, and the transporters known as ‘Okada’ (motorcycle) plying the road on high speed while conveying their passengers to the mining sites.  My trips to the community usually take place either early in the morning or in the evening, a period which guarantees that the proposed meeting will take place.

Things had changed within the last couple of months that I last visited. The community was not her usual boisterous self and I wondered what had happened!

Recently, I visited the community in the company of other project members, with the aim of  introducing a new member of the hub to stakeholders in the community, and to collectively inform the traditional ruler of the approaching Whose Crisis Project that will require the participation of members of the community. I assumed that my trip will be similar to the ones I had made in the past years, and I was keen to know how things had been with members of the community during the locked down, and the coping strategies members of the community adopted.

Characteristically, the entrance into the community was always thronged with people, both old and young petty traders selling and hawking, with loud music coming from the various kiosks opened by the roadside. As we drove towards the community, I noticed that the road was not as busy as usual, only two or three Okada riders drove past us. Neither was the entrance of the community clustered as I expected, only a few kiosks were opened when we arrived. Things had changed within the last couple of months that I last visited. The community was not her usual boisterous self and I wondered what had happened!

I wondered why there was a drastic reduction in the populace. We moved slowly towards the house of the community secretary, that is, the right-hand Chief of the community. He was going to act as our host, since the traditional ruler was not available for the meeting. The community secretary was glad to be informed about the Whose Crisis Project and promised to assist any time it starts and to as well relate our message to the traditional ruler.  A closer observation showed that members of the community were not adhering to any of the preventive measures of the COVID-19 virus – no social distancing and no wearing of facemasks! This we plan to investigate further when the Whose Crisis project takes off.


COVID-19 and Rethinking the Unsustainable “Normal”

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director, Sustainable Futures in Africa

Reconsidering Development Pathways: What is the “New Normal”?

“Sustainable Development”, that often overused term in development work, calls us to action to end poverty, protect the environment and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. However, our development pathways have been far from that ideal. With rising inequality, increasing carbon emissions, pollution, wildlife crime, and the exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation, we have continued our immoral growth beyond the carrying capacity of our earth. COVID-19 may be a wake-up call to humanity to stop this self-destruction of our home planet, lest our actions eliminate us as a species.

Reflecting on the status of the world

With the majority of us under lockdown in our homes, this is a good time to pause and look at our lives, our countries’ priorities, global development and the meaning of sustainability. While we have advanced our knowledge about green economic models, good practices for reducing extreme poverty and the use of technologies to promote wellbeing, we still have 700 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. Our consumerism and continued emissions are compromising our chances of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and our global health care inequalities have come to haunt us.

Should we go back to “normal”?

Many of us can’t wait to get back to the same “normal” that got us into this predicament. COVID-19 has revealed that this pathway of unsustainable consumption, growth, ecological degradation and inequality simply cannot continue. In an increasingly interconnected world, the pandemic has taught us that none of us is safe unless all of us are safe. Business-as-usual may not be the “normal” we want to return to.

Economic slowdown may not be all that bad

This is also a good time to reflect on what life looks like when we slow down economic growth. With air travel grinding to a halt and a large number of people working from home, we are seeing the prevalence of digital conferences and meetings taking off, making us wonder why working remotely and meeting locally wasn’t already a norm? With the lockdown, the burning of fossil fuels has dropped, causing air quality to improve significantly, triggering social media posts of beautiful clear skies and views of mountains kilometres away. With humans locked in, animals and birds are courageously stepping out and enjoying their newfound freedom. The earth is healing.

We can work together

All sectors are working hand in hand to tackle this pandemic: funds are flowing from various sources; the private sector which hitherto cared mostly about profits is stepping in and helping the health sector. Governments are realising that spending on key sectors such as health and education is more important. Scientists and doctors are collaborating for the greater good, development partners are giving NGOs flexibility to divert their funding to COVID response, and each of us is checking in on our friends and family. It took this pandemic to ignite our sense of community, to get us to make sacrifices, recognise our priorities, work for a common purpose and cherish solidarity. We now realise that we’re all in this together and we can work together.

Three lessons learnt

Three things have become clear since the emergence of COVID-19. First, we are an interconnected world and only if all of us are safe, will each once of us become safe. In that regard, the virus is an equaliser because it does not discriminate. Second, although the virus has impacted every country, regardless of wealth or power, it has also made us realise how unequal our society is. There will be many who will not be able to recover at all or recover as fast as some others. Our global interconnectivity should wake us up to our responsibility for ensuring that each and every country recovers from this shock (not just our own country). We can no longer afford to be selfish, we have to broaden our minds and assume a global identity.

Finally, the unsustainable “normal” that has caused so many challenges to the world is a social construction; that means, we can change it. We, as a society, have been able to come together and make drastic changes to our lives and economy to respond to COVID-19. This proves that it is possible to take action to create a changed future for the better. After the pandemic ends, we must not slip back to the old normal, but consciously strive towards a “new normal” that is more sustainable, climate-proof, equitable, compassionate and humane.

What is your idea of the “new normal”?

How would you envision this “new normal”? Drop your answers/comments below.


Corona

By Tom Ketlogetswe, Thapong Visual Arts Centre, Botswana

 

Your strength is not in doubt
You are stronger than many imagined

Nations are perishing
Locals are hiding in fear

Your strength knows no boundaries
Your sweeping powers are unimaginable

Leaders across the globe shiver
Heroes are neither spared

The poor have no place to hide
The rich are contemplating hiding in cosy closets

You have unleashed your strength
Indeed you have surpassed your immediate predecessors

Copyright: Tom Ketlogetswe 2020


Translation into arts

By Vanessa Duclos and Reagan Kandole

Reagan Kandole, Executive Director of ECOaction, an NGO based in Kampala, Uganda, shares with us how the current worldwide crisis coverage inspired him to translate information into arts – channeling the doubts during the lockdown into creativity. If you want to get in touch with the artist, you can do so here.


A drive to remember: ECOaction at work in the Covid-19 lockdown

By Reagan Kandole, Mia Perry, Vanessa Duclos, Raihana Ferdous and Deepa Pullanikkatil

The Covid 19 pandemic continues to expose the most vulnerable people in Uganda’s communities. As the country transitioned towards a total lockdown, banning public transport, strict regulations on the labor force and only essential services — monitored by the health and security sector — the progress and gains made by community initiatives like ECOaction have been threatened. ECOaction is a non profit organisation that creates income and livelihood opportunities for the most marginalised urban youth and women through innovations in waste management. ECOaction is located in Banda, an unplanned settlement of Kampala City, Uganda. The organisation works with the most vulnerable groups of plastic collectors, mainly elderly women and young adults, and provides them with alternative markets for recycled products. ECOaction also builds the capacity of its beneficiaries around waste management and environmental conservation. One of the main challenges in our community right now is that they are not able to sell any of the plastics they collect to the recycling companies during the lockdown, which means they have no money to pay for food to feed their families.

For most of the women we support, the main source of income is collecting plastics and if they cannot move around to collect and sell these bottles, then they are not able to feed their families. Even with the government’s attempts to distribute food to the most vulnerable, not everyone will be able to access that support and there is an urgent need for more basic supplies to be distributed. Otherwise, there is a risk that many people will die of starvation, malaria, stress and many other diseases”. Reagan Kandole, Executive Director of ECOaction.

The photo story below depicts the journey that ECOaction’s team took, despite public transport bans and distancing policies, to reach out to this community


The Twin COVID-CLIMATE Crisis

By Deepa Pullanikkatil, SFA Co-Director and Chair of Tourism and Economic Recovery Team – Unlocking Climate Finance for COVID response (Eswatini)

Adversity is the mother of progress” Mahatma Gandhi

Our world is facing extreme adversity in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, with severe effects on economies and human wellbeing. Globally, Governments are busy setting up stimulus packages and recovery plans to get the economy back on a growth trajectory post COVID. COVID-19 and economic recovery dominates the global news today. But just a few months ago, the news reports were about Australia being on fire, near record melting of ice in the Arctic, millions of school children striking on the streets and about the extinction rebellion movement gaining momentum. The United Nations has declared that this is the decade of climate action to have a 50% chance to preventing catastrophic climate change by keeping emissions below 1.5degC below pre-industrial levels. Just a few months ago we realized that “our house is on fire”, and 28 countries declared a climate emergency. But today, amidst the attention given to the COVID emergency, the climate emergency seems to have faded away. Today, our priority is to save lives and bring the economy back to life. We will overcome the COVID-19 crisis eventually, but will we overcome the climate crisis?

The political moment is now, for taking the right actions for a green recovery path. COVID could be a catalyst for greening the world and thereby averting the climate crisis. Instead of unsustainable industrial expansion, we need to include into recovery plans, environment friendly growth, creation of green jobs and actions to take us on low emissions pathways. This could include greening of investments in critical public sector areas, expanding clean energy, moving away from fossil fuels and polluting practices, encouraging transportation that is less polluting and building sustainable infrastructure. Already some countries have started expanding infrastructure for cyclists, companies have announced more work-from-home options for workers and industries such as the Royal Dutch Shell said they would aim to reduce their emissions to net-zero by 2050.

During the lockdowns we have experienced what it would be like for the world when greenhouse gas emissions drop from reduced industrial activity and reduced traffic with humans under lockdown. Beautiful blue skies, clean air and thriving wildlife were some of the signs of a healing earth that we have seen during the lockdowns. There could be a double win coming out of this twin crisis. Governments can help their economies recover, at the same time help solve the climate crisis and achieve their climate commitments faster.

This is the time to transform our thinking.  This adversity can be turned into an opportunity.


No one is safe until everyone is safe

By Dalton Otim, Research Administrator of the Ugandan hub

 

It’s approximate 5 months now, almost all the countries in the world have focused their attention on the fight against Covid-19 disease caused by Coronavirus. In Africa, particularly in Uganda, its now approximately 3 months since the socio political and economic situation started to be destabilized and affected due to a series of lockdown instituted in phases.

Immediately the first positive patient with Covid-19 was tested, the government swung into action by curtailing personal movements and social gatherings. This was supplemented by a nationwide curfew where people were ordered not to make any movement past 2:00 pm during the lockdown. It is this that made life hard for majority of Ugandans especially those that live in urban areas.

Economically, all businesses not dealing in food stuffs and medicines were ordered to close with immediate effect. All private vehicles were not allowed on the road save for those from institutions which had to be cleared by the minister of transport. It was only big trucks carrying goods from and too neighbouring countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo that were allowed to move freely.  Actually, the truck drivers have turned out to be the big challenge that the country has come to struggle with as they are the ones that are testing positive in most testing centres.

Campaigns on encouraging citizens to keep social distance, thorough hand washing and use of face coverings were run everywhere on radios and televisions. The security forces were deployed everywhere to effect the lockdown and indeed many people who tried to do the contrary were beaten, arrested and jailed.

Lessons learnt by the Ugandan hub members from the lockdown

  1. The government measures put in place to limit the spread of the virus have been largely effective as the country has got no any fatality as of 15th May 2020.
  2. Decentralization of policies can work if given support from the centre. In every district, a task force was created, facilitated and given full authority to make sure that all the new people that come in are tested. This has increased community vigilance. How we wish this is extended to other social challenges facing the communities and households.
  3. Many urban dwellers are not food secure not because there is no food supplies but due to lack of purchasing power to access the food. This is a big crisis that all concerned individuals need to interest themselves in. As someone said “No one is safe until everyone is safe”. So as researchers  and community practitioners we need to initiate and engage in projects that will improve people’s ability to withstand such calamities in the area of food security.
  4. Uganda having gone through previous epidemics such as Ebola and others, it prepared it to quickly respond to Covid-19 as well. Click here for details.

Dr Alex Okot, is in Lira during the lockdown and shares some issues this situation brought for the communities the hub works with in Alebtong district.


COVID-19 Pandemic Realities and Imaginaries

By Dora Nyirenda, Research Administrator, Malawi hub

Waking up in the morning with COVID-19 pandemic you are flooded with messages from various media that hits you in the face creating confusion. The Malawi Government through it’s official pages and legal radio and TV stations talk about scientifically proven ways in-line with World Health Organisation recognised management principles of the pandemic, for example, social distancing, washing of hands frequently, wearing of masks and coughing in the elbow or handkerchiefs and if a person has signs and symptoms of the corona virus infection or exposure, one does not go to the hospital or visit a physician but call a toll-free number so that a person is assisted from where they are. These are straight forward practices to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. These are practices at individual level, at country level, measures include closure of all schools, working from home for non-essential services, working in shifts and only those providing essential servicing report for duties on a regular basis while observing personal hygiene and social distancing.

However, the social media is awash with additional information that at best brings disarray to the normal procedures. Here we see the entrance of confusion, misinformation and muddying the clear waters of the pandemic if at all the pandemic is of clear water. Messages like taking hydroxychloroquine or aspirin as medicine, boiling garlic together with lemons and drinking the juice and boiling neem leaf together with pawpaw leaf, lime orange, garlic, ginger, guava, mango leaves and lemon grass, drinking the solution three times per day, are available in various media  spoiling the broth just like too many cooks doFor example, see one of the messages below;

One incident that caught my mind happened in a public minibus in which one passenger whispered boldly that ‘just sniffing raw onion you will be cured from corona virus,’ he said this whilst holding a raw onion in his hand. Are all these messages that have been roaming around really about managing and reducing the number of deaths or increased registered cases due to COVID-19 or an addition to the mess about the pandemic?

The Malawi Communications and Regulatory Authority through the Malawi Computer Emergency Response Team warned citizens against sharing fake news about corona virus on different social media platforms, that the public is, advised to refrain from committing these acts. But does it have the tooth and capacity to intervene? Because on the ground, the messages keep on coming.

All hope is not lost. Citizens are informed to use trusted sources like Government websites for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19. Radio and TV stations in Malawi are broadcasting ways of preventing the spreading of corona virus. In addition, many artists and singers have performed songs educating citizens about the virus and one of our SFA partner Art and Global Health Centre Africa’s’ (ArtGlo) Make Art for Sustainable Action Youth Squad members developed a song, and video called TipeweCorona (prevent Corona), using artistic styles they believe will appeal to their peers to share information on COVID 19. Held a dance challenge on social media for youth to share dances to the song, giving a fun, creative way to engage. More info is at https://www.artgloafrica.org/our-stories


COVID-19: Impact on Women in Rural Communities

By Kyauta Giwa and Grace Awosanmi, Nigeria Hub

 

Ever since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic around the globe and in Nigeria in February 2020, the effect of the different measures has taken its toll on the survival and livelihood of the rural population. Farming and small-scale businesses, which is largely dominated by women in agrarian and rural communities, have not been exempted from its effects. A large percentage of these women are not educated, and they earn their living through homestead farming/gardening or petty trading. Many of these women who survive on daily sales were shut out of business for weeks. The restriction of movement caused an increase in the cost of living and the prices of goods and essential services, thereby affecting household incomes. Moreover, the women who engage in daily subsistence businesses have found the situation especially difficult. Considering they cannot carry out their business activity as usual, they face a serious threat and a huge economic challenge to their survival and that of their families.

 

The women that are involved in small scale farming produce food for immediate consumption and sell the remainder to help meet their families’ other needs. Rural women are known for transporting goods and farm produce on trucks and pick-up vans when accompanying their goods to the various local markets. The closure of the interstate borders and the stay at home directives issued in the country affected the movement of farm produce from one part of the country to another, leading to an increase in the prices of staple food items. Most people have complained that their food produce is getting spoilt. Despite the lockdown, these women have still found ways of getting their goods to different neighbouring markets. They usually transport their farm produce to the market in groups by hiring vehicles and each person must accompany her produce, which does not permit adherence to physical distancing and thereby exposes them to the pandemic. Sales at the market during at this period were stated to be general low.

 

For rural children, the means of getting an education during this period has been impossible. Most rural women are household heads, and most of them do not own internet enabled phones and therefore cannot afford data for internet connectivity to engage their children on online educational programs. Some of the children run errands or hawk petty wares, wander around or are at the mercy of the neighbours or elders within the communities during the lockdown. Information on the spread of the disease by the Centre for Disease Control was not relayed in local languages, thereby making it difficult for these women to access credible information. Most women lack access to basic information about preventive measures to ensure personal hygiene, thereby exposing them to infection. Poor responses have been seen in most rural areas where people do not believe in the outbreak of the disease and act ignorantly.

 

The low cost of living in rural communities makes it difficult for people to be able to afford hand sanitizer. Most people have never used hand sanitizer before, so many have resorted to producing homemade hand sanitizers using chemical products within their reach. These homemade sanitizers might be unsafe to use, or inefficient. The government should empower and protect the rural women and children in this time of coronavirus by ensuring that they are included in targeted information concerning COVID-19. They should also ensure the inclusion of the agricultural produce by the women in the palliative package as good source of income.