COVID-19 and Conflict: How Armed Groups Are Instrumentalizing the Pandemic

  • DATE / TIME:
    2020•12•10    11:00 - 12:30

    The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges around the world, triggering a global economic downturn, causing large-scale border closures, and placing enormous strains on the systems servicing populations everywhere.

    In many conflict settings, the COVID-19 has created new opportunities for armed groups to expand their influence, undermine state authority, and increase recruitment. Boko Haram has spread misinformation and targeted health workers in the hopes of gaining leverage in northern Nigeria. In Afghanistan, the Taliban has rolled out a large-scale propaganda campaign and has imposed its own quarantine processes, demonstrating its influence and control over large parts of the country. And in Somalia, Al Shabaab has set up COVID-19 treatment cells, criticizing the Somali government for its failures to respond. In some cases, such as Colombia, dissident FARC elements have imposed harsh militarized measures to control the spread of the virus. Criminal groups in Mexico have similarly built up capital by providing pandemic responses in many areas, while white supremacist groups in the United States have sought to weaponize COVID-19.

    This event was a collaboration amongst UN University Centre for Policy Research, the Brookings Institution, and the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at the Overseas Development Institute. The panelists explored the various ways in which armed groups are instrumentalizing the pandemic, how governments have responded, and what specific steps can be taken over the coming period. Each of the panelists has conducted in-depth field research in areas affected by non-state armed groups and will offer evidence-based policy insights and recommendations.


    • Moderator: Adam Day, Director of Programmes, UN University Centre for Policy Research
    • Dr Vanda Felbab-Brown, Director, Initiative on Nonstate Armed Actors, The Brookings Institution
      Nadwa al-Dawsari, Non-Resident Fellow, Middle East Institute, former Yemen Country Director for Center for Civilians in Conflict
    • Dr Ashley Jackson, Co-Director, Centre for the Study of Armed Groups, Overseas Development Institute
    • Dr Siobhan O’Neil, Project Director, Managing Exits from Armed Conflict, UN University Centre for Policy Research

    The panelists each briefly presented their main findings and recommendations, followed by a moderated discussion amongst the audience.