Chair: Martin Gill

Panellists:
Ona Ekhomu – Chairman at Trans-World Security in Lagos (Nigeria)
Roger Warwick – Subject Matter Expert at ISO and CEO Pyramid Temi Group (Italy)
Col Samrendra Mohan Kumar – Co-founder & MD at MitKat Advisory (India)

Key points

Roger Warwick quoting from a 1665 source shows how pandemics have always being associated with unrest and violence, and governments have always been poor at responding. He interestingly notes that a distinct feature of the current problem is that the disaffected are ‘the new poor’; people who are not accustomed to such adversity and have not developed the necessary survival techniques. This group has been created by factors such as businesses going bankrupt, some have been closed down by governments because of Covid; before that they were doing well. Those groups who are disaffected are sometimes being infiltrated by extremists and of course the ‘new poor’ are not accustomed to dealing with them and that adds fuel to the fire. In the past security was about defending good people from the bad, but now it is about protecting good people from good people. But Roger emphasises this is a social problem, there is little security people can do, other than look after the mental health of those on the frontline and seek to improve its overall response. He is critical of governments in this crisis, particularly in the developed world, for focussing more on opinion polls than getting the response right. He issues a stark warning, ‘I can’t see a way out’.

Col Samrendra Mohan Kumar sets the context for interpreting the social risk of unrest, naming the global health crisis, geopolitical issue of a world in recession, and an economic crisis. In India is the latter is more acute, as people have to choose between getting ill or going hungry; they take a chance often as a result of pressure from family members. He laments the global level lack of cooperation and discusses the ways in which the pandemic is exposing poor governance across much of the world and weak leadership from some of the world’s heads of state. And it is in a crisis governments develop their social contract with people, where they develop trust and many have failed. He points to the countries offering a good reference as those led by women and suggests this fact alone was influential in why they handled the crisis better; less arrogance and less of a macho stance. He notes that unrest is not just a result of Covid, the year before was characterised by a range of protests from race to climate change. In terms of response, you will hear Sam trace historical events and point to the need for governments to build trust, share knowledge/information, manage their supply chains and crucially improve the quality of politics; leaders need to make their cases to their people and do that well.

As Ona Ekhomu notes, emphasising an observation made last week, Africa has had a glancing blow from Covid; the incidence rate has been relatively low certainly compared to Europe and the US for example. There was lockdown in Nigeria at the start but the doom that was widely forecast for Africa did not materialise. That said, there have been riots variously involving youth, and gangs. The key driver has been poverty and hunger amongst massive job losses. Not all protests are Covid related. Ona notes a recent protest by youth where the driver was police brutality which has a wider appeal which many youths identify with. Ona points to the quality of governance in Nigeria, and you will hear him discussing what this means. He relicts on the lack of preparation to the crisis, the shortage of PPE, the lack of isolations centres, poor communication, governments did not take the opportunity to show competence early enough. One other point that is not much discussed, in answer to a question Ona made an interesting point about the role of jihadis during lockdown; it meant they could move around and attack more targets more easily. Herein rests the danger of not analysing all the consequences of actions fully.

This webinar covered much ground. Pandemics and unrest are intrinsically linked; history shows us that. So too that just when they are needed to show leadership many governments don’t. This has proved to be the case. The panel place a lot of emphasis on good governance, on effective leadership, on building trust, on communicating effectively, on sharing expertise, on understanding the balance between the health crisis and the economic one, and in recognising that most often the security sector is a minor player. That said, it has a duty to strive to improve, and in doing that well the sector would be setting an important and much needed example.

Martin Gill
26th November 2020