The School of Humanities and Social Sciences hosts webinar on Human Rights and the COVID-19 pandemic

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By Prof. Henry Wambuii

The School of Humanities and Social Sciences recently hosted Prof. Henry Wambuii, visiting Carnegie Diaspora Fellow from the University of Central Missouri, U.S.A in a public webinar titled “Human Rights and the Covid-19 Pandemic: An Impact Analysis.

The webinar, which was held on Wednesday, July 14, 2021, was initiated by the International Relations Department at USIU-Africa and was moderated by Dr. Njoki Wamae from the IR Department. The event started with opening remarks from Prof. Martin Njoroge, Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and was attended by faculty, staff members and students at USIU-Africa, as well as participants from other academic and non-academic institutions in Kenya.

In his welcoming remarks, the Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Prof. Martin Njoroge, thanked Prof. Wambuii for the timely presentation and noted the relevance of the webinar to the key goal of enhancing both faculty and students research here at USIU-Africa.

Prof. Njoroge further expressed his appreciation for the role that Carnegie Diaspora fellows play at enhancing quality education at USIU-Africa adding that Prof. Wambuii’s presentation was a fitting example of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and indeed the University’s push to achieve the core mandates of teaching and learning.

Prof. Wambuii is a tenured Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Missouri U.S.A. His teaching and research expertise is in the areas of 'international development', 'comparative politics', and 'human rights and democratization in developing countries.'

Recent research has focused on comparative democratization and governance in developing countries. Other research has focused on strategies for poverty alleviation and economic growth and public policy formulation with a special focus on the issues surrounding the response to pandemics and the impact on human rights across the world.

Prof. Wambuii’s webinar presentation focused on the need to set an acceptable balance between the effort to respond effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic while at the same maintaining and promoting human rights protection for all. As noted in the presentation, “Human rights law obliges governments to do some things and prevents the same governments from doing others.”

Prof. Wambuii pointed out emergent political suppression as one of the unfortunate outcomes as many countries grapple with the ongoing pandemic. As noted in the presentation, “in a good number of countries, the pandemic has provided a fitting excuse for undermining democratic institutions, restricting legitimate dissent, going after disfavored people or groups and extending authoritarianism, often with well calculated far-reaching consequences unrelated to the current public health crisis.”

Another aspect of the presentation dealt with the issue of global disparities and resulting vaccine discrimination against less developed countries. A concerning COVID-19 era reality is the unfortunate case of many less developed African, Asian, and Latin American countries facing unsurmountable challenges in obtaining vaccines even as the developed countries enjoy excessive supply of the same. While existing restrictive intellectual property laws are partly to blame for the commodification of essential medicines such as vaccines, existing neocolonial power relations between the developed and developing world continue to disadvantage poorer countries, often resulting into extreme debt and ever rising national inequalities that contribute to human rights violations in among others the right to health and adequate living standards.

In his concluding remarks, Prof. Wambuii made the case that for governments across the world to put together effective public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is need for extensive public involvement to establish trust, as well as the need for governments to recognize the significance of working within established human rights frameworks, complete with guidelines on maintaining and promoting both civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.

Finally, participants in the webinar engaged extensively in a questions and answer session moderated by Dr. Njoki Wamae. The discussion dwelt on important issues of creating public trust and protecting different aspects of human rights, even as different countries mount necessary campaigns and search for fitting responses to the raging pandemic.

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