SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA – EAST AFRICA: Covid-19, Domestic Unrest and Ethnic Violence


Across East Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic is compounding a variety of underlying threats and creating a more volatile environment.

While the region’s governments have adopted a range of approaches to containing or managing the virus, there are several common themes in their risk environments.

The most pressing of these is food insecurity, a key factor in the growing potential for unrest and ethnic violence. This is being driven by unprecedented locust swarms and rising prices due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Moreover, the falling availability of international aid in the wake of the pandemic, along with existing debts, will prevent governments providing the requisite level of assistance to populations facing increasing economic strain.

In Kenya, flooding, locusts and rising import costs are all impacting the availability and price of food. Violence in rural areas is increasingly likely as a result and cities are unlikely to escape without serious protests.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Ethiopia has struggled to contain ethnic violence over the last two years, a task made all the harder by the delay of general elections due in August. Localised violence and deteriorating relations between local and federal government seem certain in the coming months.

Uganda‘s increasingly unpopular President Yoweri Museveni risks inflaming ethnic tensions by favouring certain groups in aid distribution. Moreover, his inclination to delay next year’s election may draw a violent response from Kampala’s youth.

In Tanzania, the government of John Magafuli has essentially opted not to try and contain the viral outbreak. While this may alleviate some economic pain, the potential for public criticism, especially ahead of elections in October, will act as a catalyst for violence.

Businesses are therefore facing a period of mounting uncertainty, with agribusiness, tourism and construction likely to experience lasting downturns. Physical threats to staff, assets and overland travel will grow as the year progresses.  

This report examines the potential for domestic unrest and ethnic violence across key markets in East Africa in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. It addresses the following information requirements:
  • What underlying factors are driving instability?
  • How have these been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic?
  • Where are is the pandemic compounding ethnic tensions?
  • What will the implications be for business operations in the region?
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