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Webinar report: Adaptive Community Security Programming amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

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Several weeks ago, Saferworld and the Knowledge Platform for Security and the Rule of Law co-hosted a webinar about adaptive community security programming. This webinar was part of KPSRL’s ongoing series on COVID-19 and its relationship to, and effect on, security and the rule of law. 

This webinar had two main speakers, Khirad Kargasov and Mauro Tadiwe, Saferworld’s Tajikistan and South Sudan country managers.  Tajikistan and South Sudan are very different contexts with significant differences in their historical and socio-economical situations, and, as a result, Saferworld’s work in each is focused on different community security and policing aspects.

A general observation that can be made is that security situations have changed due to COVID-19. It has become extremely evident that investing in long-term security relationships is vital to effective security. Situations like the current ongoing pandemic call for strong relationships of trust, that may not always be found between authorities and the people themselves. In these situations, independent organisations like Saferworld can facilitate and be a bridge between what is there, and what people need. 

Another observation that has been made by Saferworld is that across the globe, the security needs of vulnerable and marginalised groups are often not addressed. This is often due to poor leadership but has also increased during the pandemic as security measures and restrictions on movement have left people more vulnerable. An example of this is the surge of domestic violence seen against (mostly) women now that many countries went into full or partial lockdowns and which has been seen in countries like the UK as well as those in conflict contexts.

To continue, Khirad and Mauro spoke about their experiences in Tajikistan and South Sudan. A brief comparison between both countries will follow.


Before COVID-19 hit, Tajikistan has been facing slow reform processes after emerging from Soviet times. As Tajikistan shares a border with Afghanistan, it often faces drugs and violent groups crossing the border. These pose dangers to people in Tajikistan. Unfortunately, Tajikistan is also subject to quite some corruption, and human rights abuse is not uncommon. Besides the aforementioned cross-border conflicts, the country also sees gender imbalance.

Saferworld has found that combining the formal and the informal processes is a better way to be of efficient help during the pandemic. Even though the country did not impose a lockdown, Saferworld has been working from home since March. Tajikistan has many remote communities, that due to the pandemic had to deal with the issue of having little to no face-to-face interaction with Saferworld’s employees. A big challenge was to teach these communities to use Zoom to interact. However, as Tajikistan is a country where the internet is not always ideal, telephone conversations were also used a lot more than before.

The pandemic has also brought Tajikistan something positive, however. As now the remote communities are able to communicate through phone and over the internet, they can actually converse with each other as well. This brings together these communities that had never talked to each other before, but are now all facing a similar situation. 

South Sudan

South Sudan is a different story. It knows a history of over forty years of conflict and war, and has only gained its independence from Sudan in July 2011. No sooner after its independence, South Sudan descended into an internal conflict in December 2013. A peace agreement was signed in 2015 but the agreement did not come into effect until a second peace agreement was signed in 2018. When the pandemic hit, South Sudan was only in the beginning stages of implementing this agreement.

Mauro indicated that due to the pandemic, Saferworld’s priorities in the country have changed. As South Sudan has a nascent government, there is extremely limited capacity of what can be done on a national level. The first goal was to enhance the internet capacities, so that Saferworld could actually continue to do its work. 

Until early this year, Saferworld in South Sudan implemented its programming by bringing communities, civil societies, authorities and other partners together to discuss issues pertaining to community security and peacebuilding. When the pandemic hit South Sudan, Saferworld reduced the number of people that could attend these meetings, in line with Government guidelines. The continuation of the meetings was crucial, though, to the continuation of Saferworld’s work for and with the communities it serves. 

In South Sudan, as there is limited government capacity, Saferworld works together mostly with other partners, fighting to combat human rights abuse, violence, revenge killings, and violence against women; and to foster tolerance, social cohesion and good neighbourliness.

South Sudan also has different communities that do not get along well with each other. However, since COVID-19 became a common enemy, the communities have at times become friendly towards each other. In one location, Saferworld and partner TOCH translated COVID-19 prevention and containment messages into one of the native languages (Dinka) for awareness raising. On hearing the messages in their native language, citizens requested that the programme be extended to neighbouring communities as well.

To conclude, a situation like the current pandemic requires actors like Saferworld to revisit their priorities. What do people need, now? How can we help them? It is important to look at what is practical and most effective. Quick, well-considered shifts in priority and action can, in this way, increase the initially seemingly small benefits of such an extraordinary situation. Due to their long term work with communities Saferworld and its partners have built up trust and relationships that have meant they have been in a positon to fill I some of the gaps and develop initiatives to address the needs created by Covid-19 while still continuing their other work. 

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