'Africa in the World' Seminar Series: Trust and Trust Making in Africa's Global Connections: COVID-19 Politics and Diplomacy

The AEGIS Collaborative Research Group 'Africa in the World' is happy to invite you to the second part of its Seminar Series 'Trust and Trust Making in Africa's Global Connections': COVID-19 Politics and Diplomacy.

During three sessions divided over the first week of July 2021, we will reflect on trust, distrust and trust making in COVID-19 politics and diplomacy in and towards Africa. It is clear that the current pandemic and the policies designed to counter it, have seen strong expressions of distrust globally. Citizens have questioned the need for strong measures, such as partial and complete lockdowns in their countries, as well as the trustworthiness of vaccines, and the knowledge and actors behind these. Africa is not an exception in this respect. These expressions surfacing so strongly in the current atmosphere of (global) crisis do not stand on their own but point to deeper tendencies of mistrust against governments and other actors of authority, as well as the densification of parallel truths, stimulated by social media and populist politics.

Vaccinations are loaded with meaning as they cross bodily borders and affect people very directly in their (well)being. It seems that such encounters in which people’s survival is directly at stake, questions of trust and mistrust become very important. Who (and which truth) is considered trustworthy, and on what grounds? Whereas a couple of years ago, some observers labelled the sometimes strong distrustful responses in West- and Central Africa to ebola medical teams as primitive answers by un-educated Africans, the current COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that in cases of intense crisis, the emergence of strong feelings of distrust as well as strategies of trust in face of the unknown, appear to be commonly human.

In many African countries, as elsewhere in the world, people have manifested against corona measures of their governments. In several countries, including heralded democracies such as Ghana, there has been evidence that governments have used the pandemic for blocking opposition initiatives and free media. How will these experiences influence further relationships, including processes of trust and mistrust, between African citizens and their governors?

Local processes of trust and distrust in the context of COVID-19 are not only related to local experiences and local relationships with the national level, but are also directly linked to the transnational and global level. The ‘mask diplomacy’ especially towards Africa as led by China, India among others since the beginning of the pandemic not only met with distrust and critical reactions in Africa, but also in the West. Suspicions were raised whether these initiatives were not only meant to support and increase these countries’ interests in Africa (obviously raising further questions as to why the West was so concerned with these initiatives.). So-called vaccine diplomacy, as currently deployed by China, Russia, and India, is a further interesting endeavour in this respect; its results will of course depend on whether these global powers are able to live up to their promises - a challenge that is also faced by the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) programme of the World Health Organization.

At all three levels mentioned in the foregoing (local, national, global), it is not only important to identify feelings of trust and mistrust in relation to COVID-19 interactions and measures, and how COVID-19 may influence trust and distrust in society now and in the future. Processes of trust-making are also important to analyse, including the question how actors who want to be seen as trustworthy, try to ‘signal’ their trustworthiness. These may be international diplomats, government actors, medical doctors, journalists, but also African citizens trying to stand up against COVID-19 measures, and/or local and transnational solidarity initiatives.

In this subseries, we aim to address some of the foregoing and related questions. COVID-19 has once more underscored that our current world is fundamentally interdependent, hence that fighting the pandemic is a global endeavour. In view of this, a focus on the intertwining of local and global processes of trust and distrust from the perspective of Africa appears all the more important.  

Monday 5 July 2021, 4pm-5.30pm (CET): 'COVID-19, Toxic Coloniality, and the Limits of Western Arrogance'

Speaker: Dr Cheikh Thiam (School of International Training, Brattleboro, USA)
This contribution explores the effects of coloniality in the representation of Africa’s experience with COVID-19 and analyzes the limits of toxic coloniality on the West’s engagement with the world and its consequences on its management of the pandemic. The author argues, from a decolonial perspective, that the arrogance constitutive of Western modernity has led to the prediction of the doom’s day for the African continent and limited Euro-America’s ability to take on the COVID-19 challenge, while also nourishing global processes of distrust. He proposes, in consequence, that humility, a basic principle of African ontologies, leading towards a respectful engagement with life and all living things may offer a perennial solution to critical global issues such as the COVID-19.

Tuesday 6 July 2021, 4pm-5.30pm (CET): 'Trust Building in a Two-party System: Covid-19 and Electoral Politics in Ghana'

Speaker: Dr George Bob-Milliar (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana)
How did the lack of trust in formal institutions affect the covid-19 politics in Ghana? Trust in formal and informal institutions is crucial in state-building and serves as a critical fundament for state legitimacy. Despite decades of excessive attention on good governance and more countries holding multiparty elections, many Africans don't trust the state and its institutions. Ghana has an enviable record of conducting peaceful democratic elections and transition of power. Yet, there exists a widespread lack of trust in governments and public institutions in Ghana. This lack of institutional trust signals a crisis of legitimacy of the political system, and it poses a risk of destabilizing the relationship between the state and its citizens. Ghanaians trust religious organizations and traditional authorities more than political parties and public institutions. It is, however, political parties that govern and implement public policy. This talk will examine how the main political parties responded to the covid-19 pandemic in an election year in Ghana. I will argue that trust in political parties is generated through their performance in government. The governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) used its incumbency advantage to build trust and rally the citizens around its core message akin to 'prevention is better than cure.' On the other hand, the main opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), promoted a strategy aimed at creating trust/distrust to mitigate the impact of the frozen political landscape. Ghana emerged as a model in its management of the pandemic and received funds and global praise. Nevertheless, the incumbent party exploited the containment strategy for its electoral campaign.

7 July 2021, 4-5.30pm (CET): 'Trust and Trust Making in COVID-19 Diplomacy and Beyond: An Africa - Central and Eastern Europe Perspective'

Speaker: Prof. István Tarrósy (University of Pécs, Hungary)
The aim of this talk is to widen the horizon of the global connections of countries with Africa, African countries with different parts of the world. Here, the four Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) (of the Visegrad Group), i.e. Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia will be looked at more closely, while a transnational overview of interdependence connected with the pandemic will be offered. After intensive decades of cooperation during the bipolar world, the politico-economic changes of the late 1980s, early 1990s resulted in scarce contacts with African countries until after all these four former Eastern Bloc-countries joined the EU in 2004, and from the 2010s each of them individually, as well as the four of them collectively in the Visegrad Group opened new chapters in their foreign policies about re-engagements across Africa. Rebuilding trust and trustworthiness, therefore, have been playing a role in contemporary CEEC–Africa relations, among which responses to the global pandemic might offer opportunities for more/different interactions. We will deal with both governmental and non-governmental dimensions and actors.

The seminar series will be online and take place via Zoom:

Organising committee:

Mayke Kaag (African Studies Centre Leiden, the Netherlands)

Jean-Frédéric de Hasque (UC Louvain, Belgium)

Abdourahmane Seck (Université Gaston Berger, Saint-Louis, Senegal)

Alena Thiel (University of Halle, Germany)

Contact: Mayke Kaag (kaag@ascleiden.nl)

Read more background information.

Date, time and location

05 July 2021 to 07 July 2021