Authors Lisa Dicker and Danae Paterson of “Covid-19 and Conflicts: The Health of Peace Processes During a Pandemic” spoke with HNMCP to dig more deeply into the article’s findings, provide a behind-the-scenes look into how they translated real-time developments into broader questions and learnings, and share an update on where these peace processes stand eight months into the pandemic. To read the full interview, click here.
HNMCP: Let’s rewind back to spring 2020. You both were working for a non-governmental organization that works in advising peace negotiations and post-conflict transitions—what inspired you to write “COVID-19 and Conflicts: The Health of Peace Processes During a Pandemic”?
Lisa Dicker (LD): The field of peace negotiations relies on extensive travel of the parties, mediators, and advisors. From 2018 to early 2020, a major component of my work portfolio was advising parties involved in Sudan’s civilian revolution and democratic transition, and advising delegations to the Sudanese Peace Process. So I spent a lot of time going back and forth to locations like Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Paris, France; and Juba, South Sudan. On March 12, 2020, I woke up at around 6am in Juba, South Sudan, to prepare for another day of peace negotiations for Sudan. When I looked at my phone and saw over a hundred texts, WhatsApps, and calls, my first thought was, “It is so kind of everyone to reach out on my birthday!” But, I quickly realized that instead, the United States had announced the start of flight and entry restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and borders were rapidly closing around the world. I was in transit back to Washington, D.C. by that afternoon, and the flights and airports were filled with internationals traveling home as countries locked down. Seemingly overnight the landscape of the peace processes changed, and for me this article was born out of being on my flights home thinking, “Well, we are all going to have to innovate.”
Danae Paterson (DP): In a broadly similar vein, the first week of March I was in Amman, Jordan, meeting with various stakeholders and mediators in the context of ceasefire and peace agreement negotiations for Yemen and laying out plans for the next several months of work. I didn’t realize on my flight home that it was going to be the last time I would be inside a meeting room of any kind for more than half a year, let alone one on the other side of a transatlantic flight that gathered together advisers and mediators from three or four global regions. However, this also gave me an interesting seat by which to observe the quick pivot of many actors involved in the Yemeni negotiations to preserving as much momentum as possible, and identifying creative (if challenging) options for moving forward despite these barriers. Sitting side-by-side with my work on the Syrian context, whose mediation team responded to the pandemic very differently, it became apparent that there were highly differentiated responses to similar (though far from identical) travel conditions, and this certainly caught my attention and sparked curiosity about where we might find ourselves in these diverse peace processes—which were starting at very different points in their negotiating framework as well, I should be sure to emphasize—as the world continued to stagger forward in its pandemic response.