Who will lead the response to Covid-19 in areas of the Sahel where there is no functioning state? This policy brief uses lessons learned from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa to show how traditional authorities can help respond to Covid-19. In Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the position, legitimacy, and role of traditional authorities was instrumental to stem, control, and handle Ebola in their communities. They contributed to credible communication, managed rumours and marshalled bottom-up solutions where official recommendations were impracticable.
This policy brief explores the conditions under which traditional authorities in northern Mali and western Niger may play a similar role. It finds that the existing role of traditional authorities in the Sahel is likely to be reinforced. This means that some are well placed to respond to Covid-19 (particularly those who already assume a mediating role) but others find themselves in a very difficult position as they are under pressure from armed groups or lack local legitimacy. Policy-makers should consider traditional authorities as a key resource in the response to Covid-19, but also consider carefully who can play such a role and who cannot.
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