Whose crisis?: The global COVID-19 crisis from the perspective of communities in Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: College of Social Sciences


The COVID-19 pandemic may prove to be the most documented global pandemic in history. However, the voices of this pandemic are dominated by those generated in the North by an overwhelming minority of wealthy and powerful authors, reflecting on a crisis that, while impacting the whole world, is experienced in vastly different ways. Coupled with this, the responses in governance and frontline action have been led by the North. This project addresses this imbalance of representation and positions our Southern partners centrally as agents of change within the volatile environment of the COVID-19 crisis.

Quickly referred to as the "rich man's disease" in resource poor contexts of Africa; the adoption of Northern responses to COVID-19 in terms of restricted mobilities and trade, the closure of schools, and an emphasis on testing and treating COVID-19 is putting additional and critical pressure on already overburdened social, economic and health systems. This project addresses the intersection and connection of these two realities: representation and response. The "Whose Crisis?" project will create a platform (the SFA COVID-19 Global Voices Hub) and a pathway for understanding and exchange for societal, health, economic, government and public stakeholders, to inform responsive action.

Our research asks: (1) What are the lived experiences of, perspectives on, and responses to, COVID-19 in vulnerable communities in sub-Saharan Africa?; (2) How can perspectives be shared in participatory and collaborative ways to mobilise Northern and Southern expertise, resources, and engagement?; and (3) What can be achieved when the voices of under-represented and under-served communities in Africa are amplified, in terms of Global Health in a pandemic context?

COVID-19 may not present the same risk to life in Africa as many other health risks faced there every year, but it is one that has opened a new shaft of light and level of attention onto what is understood as 'global health'. COVID-19 is highlighting existing inequalities and making very clear the bio-social nature of disease (Gibbon et al 2020) wherein biological vulnerabilities are created through socio-economic inequalities. There is an urgent need to bridge this complexity and reflect the global diversity of human experience and more a balanced understanding of this pandemic.

Although frontline health care is a priority, attempts to meet the health challenges of pandemics exist within a fragile ecosystem, particularly in the Global South. A lack of contextual, faith, traditional, and cultural understanding, involvement of local communities or recognition of national priorities can negatively affect health interventions and outcomes that will arise from COVID-19, and thus distort health policy, governance and research in related fields (e.g. the current widespread imposition of "lockdown" policies).

The research design consists of a preparation phase (1) to adequately support this research in a time of especially fragile infrastructures and community wellbeing. This is followed by phases of community based and participatory fieldwork (2) and co-curation and dissemination (3) of voices, stories, and lived experiences. Genuine engagement, innovative methods, and sophisticated communications will combine to ethically attend to the current situation as well as prepare for what's next. Thus, this project is built on long standing partnerships, agility, and rapid knowledge transfer afforded by the existing Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) network.

This research needs to happen now, as decisions, perspectives, and opportunities are being made and missed every week as the global condition shifts. The implications of ignoring cultural perspectives and missing the opportunities to learn from all, will lead to further inequity, misdirected policies, misallocated resources, increased dominance of certain viewpoints and increased ignorance of the plurality of our experiences.


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Title Whose Crisis 
Description Introduction video to the Whose Crisis project 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact This video, which was shared across platforms, has reached a wider audience and help creating momentum around the Whose Crisis project 
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrC8J60imV0
Description A series of virtual participatory analysis workshops (that included colleagues from across the five research teams) were run to discuss the data and engage in collaborative thematic analytical processes. At the time of writing, there are five main areas of learning (which we describe as themes) that have emerged from the data. These relate to: Gender-related inequities and injustice; Work and livelihoods; Social, cultural, and emotional change; Youth and children; Faith, spirituality, and religion; Understandings, beliefs, and knowledge of the pandemic. Each theme represents an area of critical impact of the pandemic in the participating communities. In many cases there are commonalities across communities' experience (e.g., the increased vulnerability of women and girls as unwanted pregnancies and domestic violence has increased), while in other areas,
the impacts have been experienced very differently (e.g., some communities have experienced significant disruption to their ability to enact cultural and social practices, whereas others have prioritised this above fears of COVID-19 transmission).

As data analysis and knowledge exchange is underway, two broad results characterise the emerging findings: (1) The plurality of perspectives and experiences of the global pandemic illustrating the disconnect between 'universal' approaches to global health in this time and 'local' realities; and (2) The knowledge, power, and capacity of locally driven, culturally responsive collaborations to influence behaviour, health protection, and sustainability.
Exploitation Route We are currently developing community resources and policy briefs, with these in place we hope to enable policy influencers and policy makers to take forward new insights into decision making for community support in pandemic and public health contexts. In addition, community resources will support awareness and education in relation to the intersections between local and global health.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://www.whosecrisis.org/
Description Our findings are only recently being clarified and shared, but significantly we have recently applied for additional Impact Acceleration funds to support returning to communities and stakeholders to ensure the appropriate generation of community resources and policy briefs. However, even prior to this work, the project has supported the development of strong ethical partnerships between researchers and community members; it has provided communities (10 across 5 countries) with community and individual supports including PPE (face masks, etc.), community development opportunities (e.g., fora, communications, public events); it has shifted the perspective of the general public who have been exposed to new perspectives and experiences through public events, website, social media, and community engagement practices; and it has provided open access data to expose realities and perspectives of the pandemic that are otherwise hidden.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Title Whose Crisis? Covid 19 explored through arts and cultural practices of African communities 
Description The "Whose Crisis?" project is in response to a continually evolving global health pandemic. In this context, the dominant discourses have been generated in the North, overwhelmingly by a minority of wealthy and powerful authors, reflecting narrowly on a crisis that, while impacting the whole world, is experienced in vastly different ways. The data contained in this depository includes a curated selection of that which was generated in this project, designed to reflect the lived experiences of, perspectives on, and responses to, COVID-19 in vulnerable communities across sub-Saharan Africa. The project has been carried out by large team of collaborators who prioritise the lived experiences, customs, and needs of the communities engaged through a culturally responsive and arts-based research approach. The data made available has been selected from the full data set by members of each country team. The excluded data includes that which includes highly sensitive material, or that which a participant has requested to exclude. For the purposes of data curation, participatory data analysis was carried out to determine broad thematic areas within which to classify the raw data. All data in the depository has been organised by a) country and b) medium (i.e. video or image. All data is therefore searchable by those categories. Within each file, the material will be identified in terms of the nature of the content, (i.e. a song, an interview, etc.). Themes include (but are not limited to): 1. Gender-related inequities and injustice; 2. Work and livelihoods; 3. Social, cultural and emotional change; 4. Youth and children; 5. Faith, spirituality, and religion; 6. Understandings, beliefs, knowledge of the pandemic. Further information, selected data, and updated outputs are available via the project website: https://www.whosecrisis.org/ 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact We are currently in the process of using this data to develop community resources and policy briefs 
URL http://researchdata.gla.ac.uk/1196/
Description Research Assistants & stakeholders becoming SF Global Network members 
Organisation Makerere University
Country Uganda 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The project contracted research assistants in Uganda, via Makerere University, and a research assistant and a research administrator in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) via the University of Eswatini. These 4 people received trainings on participatory methodologies & project management. They also participated in a career development workshop offered by one of the research advisor based at the University of Glasgow.
Collaborator Contribution The research assistants and the research administrator allowed the research teams to access knowledge that would have otherwise been difficult to access, considering the various local languages the communities we worked with spoke.
Impact Multidisciplinary partnership: Education, Natural Sciences, Arts Outputs: Global voices hub - www.whosecrisis.org (and multiple associated blog posts) Journal Article: Perry, M., Armstrong, D.M., Chinkonda, B.E., Kagolobya, R., Lekoko, R.N. and Ajibade, G.O., 2021. Whose Crisis? COVID-19 Explored through Arts and Cultural Practices of African Communities. Journal of Open Humanities Data, 7, p.29. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/johd.52 Research Data set (Open Access): Perry, M. , Duclos, V., Kambalu, E., Currie, A., Loose, E., Modise, O. M., Lekoko, R., Mmeko, G., Ketlogetswe, T., Mabaso, S., Joseph, M., Ndlela, T., Mathendele Amstrong, D., Moyo, B., Nyirenda, D., Chikonda, B., Paul, S., Ajayi, S., Adjibade, S., Awosanmi, G., Babatunde, F., Abiodun, D., Tofunmi Ajibade, E., Okot, A., Aganyira, K., Kagolobya, R., Otim, D. J., Alanyo, P., Byekwaso, J., Kandole, R., Muwanika, V., Sharp, J., Robinson, J. , Keith, N. and Strachan, Z. (2021) Whose Crisis? Covid 19 explored through arts and cultural practices of African communities. [Data Collection] Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrC8J60imV0 Public Event during the ESRC Research Council's Festival of Social Sciences: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUUU78T4Qsg Outcomes: the research assistants became SF Global Network members due to their involvement in the Whose Crisis project.
Start Year 2020
Description ESRC Research Council's Festival of Social Sciences - Whose Crisis public event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Whose Crisis project participated to the 2020 ESRC Festival of Social Sciences (FoSS) which took place online from Nov 7th to 15th 2020.

Although COVID-19 is a health issue, the crisis is far more than a health crisis. It is a social and cultural one that is currently poorly understood and minimally represented in the context of the Global South. The Whose Crisis? event showcased and explored the essential social science expertise and insights required to provide critical insights to the complex nature and sustainable pathways to recovery of this pandemic. In this way, the social sciences are positioned to inform and contribute to more equitable global responses including those related to health, policy, economics, and education. Decisions, perspectives, and opportunities are being made and missed every week as the global condition shifts. It is possible that the peak of the pandemic is yet to happen in Africa and the unintended consequences of an unchecked monolithic Northern narration of this global issue will be devastating to already vulnerable populations. This social science event contributed to an international project that is an important part of the re-balancing of knowledges and perspectives.

In a Webinar, project members from Eswatini, Botswana, Malawi, Nigeria Uganda and the UK facilitated conversations around the plural perspectives on and experiences of the current COVID-19 crisis.

62 attendees participated to the event and gained better understanding of the multiple lived experience of the pandemic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUUU78T4Qsg