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Although Africa has recorded fewer than 2% of COVID-19 cases worldwide (World Health Organization, 2023), the pandemic has had severe socioeconomic and governance effects on the continent, affecting individuals, organisations, and governments (Josephson, Kilic, & Michler, 2021; Ozili, 2022). The restrictive measures employed to contain the virus have shown that COVID-19 is not just a health crisis; it has had direct negative impacts on economic, social, and political life, including increases in poverty, food insecurity, socioeconomic disparities, social upheaval, and authoritarianism (Adam, Henstridge, & Lee, 2020; Ayanlade & Radeny, 2020; Bargain & Aminjonov, 2021; Thomson & Ip, 2020).

Meanwhile, Africa remains the most conflict-affected continent, with 56 conflicts recorded in 2021 and about 30% of the population living in conflict zones (UNDP, 2022). It is also the continent that consistently experiences the highest levels of lethal state repression (Uppsala Conflict Data Program, 2021). Furthermore, the African continent has experienced substantial increases in communicable diseases since 2010, which has placed additional burdens on health systems (UNDP, 2022).

Insecurity has been exacerbated by three global threats that have been gaining momentum in recent years, namely climate change, the digital divide, and inequality, all of which hamper the realisation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Africa has been severely affected by warming temperatures, rising sea levels, and, in some countries, extreme weather events such as floods (as in Mozambique, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of Congo) and droughts (as in Angola, Ethiopia, and Somalia) (World Meteorological Association, 2020). In Africa, only 33% of the population use the Internet (compared to the global average of 63%), only 41% have active mobile phone subscriptions (compared to the global rate of 83%), and the cost of mobile data is close to four times the global average (International Telecommunication Union, 2021). Finally, Africa is the continent with the highest level of income inequality, mainly due to historical and structural economic factors such as the prominence of the extractive sector, the relatively small size of the formal economy, and the widespread practice of subsistence agriculture (Bigsten, 2016).

These challenges present complex and interconnected threats to the lives, livelihoods, and dignity of people and communities in Africa. Responses to these threats require the synergistic use of the combined capacities of state institutions, civic actors, the private sector, and local communities. These are exactly the situations where the concept of human security can prove relevant, as it has great potential for improving our understanding of how interconnected threats across various dimensions are endangering people and communities and for helping us identify solutions that can protect the most vulnerable in society.

In response to the multiple challenges that COVID-19 has presented, as well as risks that predate the pandemic, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, 2022) issued a special report on human security in February 2022. Arguing that risks associated with planetary pressures such as climate change and biodiversity loss are overlayed on inequalities in human development, the report demonstrates how the concept of human security can help us understand these challenges and frame responses to them. In its Agenda 2063, the African Union (2013) has committed to establishing an African Human Security Index (AHSI) as a long-term development initiative.

As part of efforts to broaden and deepen the conversation on human security in Africa, JICA partnered with Afrobarometer on a research project to bring the views and experiences of African citizens into the discourse. This policy paper focuses on human security dynamics and developments in five African countries that the project prioritised (Angola, Gabon, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tunisia) as well as one country where relevant survey questions were piloted (Namibia), and explores the following questions:

●  What is the state of human security, and what are the key threats to it in these six countries?

●  How have COVID-19 and government responses to the pandemic impacted the elements of human security?

●  What policy measures are needed to enhance human security in Africa from the perspective of ordinary people?

Guy Lamb

Guy Lamb is the programme lead of the BA (International Studies) programme in the Department of Political Science at Stellenbosch University.