Community Organizing & Mobilization in the Covid-19 Pandemic

Brian Geoffrey Chanwat Aug. 10, 2021

Community organizing in recent times has been greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. This is because the disease spreads through the gathering of people in larger numbers in fear of the spread of the disease.

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There have been restrictions to limit the power of people to physically mobilize themselves in their respective communities to address issues that concern them. Online platforms such as social media have become one of the tools in community organizing and mobilization.

Key Principles for Community organizing

World over, community organizing has been one of the ways under which people have united to raise one single voice, usually in advocacy of services, or changing a particular setting that may be affecting them in one way or the other. During such times, people act together for the common good of their communities.

Community organizing runs on key principles such as putting wellbeing, development and progress of people first must be observed at all times to avoid an uprising. These principles may be summed up into the motivation process, conflict and confrontation, and identification of the issue to organize against.

Without such principles, there’s a likelihood that the community organizing may not yield any of the results but rather lead to devastating outcomes, which makes it very important to always observe principles.

Online Mobilization can lead to real-world impact

Unlike organizing which may be laying of strategies, mobilization is the actual identification of like-minded persons who identify with a certain cause and are ready to present views on the injustice thereof.

Lately, online mobilization has gained traction where many people can speak about issues affecting them within their communities. There have been several campaigns against injustices around the country that have seen many public officials exposed and shamed.

Other than politics and governance issues, online mobilization has also raised valuable resources. A clear picture can be painted by applications such as GoFundMe where money is raised to solve health-related issues.

The blessing of the digital space in the pandemic

Technological advancements have emerged with many platforms such as Jitsi, Skype, Webex, BlueJeans, Zoom and with the covid outbreak, these innovations have grown since they are a perfect fit for online organizing and mobilization.

This has shifted the game from the initial deployment of machines to rather building of software and artificial intelligence to bring about positive change. The rise in this technology comes in handy with the current deadly covid-19 where contactless engagements have been encouraged most to prevent the spread.

In less than 2 years since the pandemic started ravaging the world, technology has enabled the normalization of certain unheard practices such as working and studying from home. Human Rights Defenders can make very good use of these new digital tools to advocate for human rights.

Continued digital space challenges

From 2020 when severe restrictions were put in place, many entities adopted work from home which has seen several challenges met especially those to do with the internet.

With the internet challenges, there’s more than what meets the eye. In 2020 alone, several African countries such as Tanzania, Ethiopia, Togo, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Mali shut down the internet. These disruptions come in mostly during the polls and the most affected platforms are social media.

As Uganda went into polls in January 2021, the internet was shut down for close to a week. This undoubtedly explains to us the power of community organizing and mobilization in the digital age.

In East Africa, Uganda’s internet cost is still the highest. Even with the “scrapping of OTT”, another tax has been levied on the internet cost of about 12%. But again, some platforms in Uganda remain unavailable, for instance, Facebook has been off since the beginning of the year when the company shut down accounts of particular individuals in support of the government and retaliation, the whole platform was banned by the government in Uganda. Similarly, in Nigeria, Twitter has also been banned following Twitter’s removal of a tweet by the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, because it violated the platform’s rules. These bans are baseless and are not codified under any of their laws.

Luckily, technology provides an alternative around every challenge. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) became the in thing with almost every user having it to bypass the restrictions on the accessibility of some of these platforms.

This is an encumbrance in the enjoyment of freedoms of all persons who have a place where they freely express themselves, using social media. These targeted bans and other forms of restrictions prohibit community organizing by cutting communication channels between individuals raising issues that affect them in their respective communities.

Way forward on community organization

Human Rights defenders around the world still have a voice and can continue to engage stakeholders on issues affecting them and the people they may represent. Technology has given us a leeway to track and document their various concerns as they address them to the authorities.

  1. Government(s)
  2. The lifting of bans on some platforms like Facebook and Twitter in Uganda and Nigeria respectively.
  3. The cut on prices of internet, for instance, the newly instituted 12% excise duty on internet prices in Uganda.
  4. Fellow HRDS
  5. Positive use of the digital arena in the mobilization against injustices being meted against HRDs worldwide.
  6. Tracking and documenting rights violations across during these tough times and reporting perpetrators to be brought to book.
  7. Advocacy around the shrinking civic space by the state