Covid-19: a catalyst for change? A political economy and political opportunity analysis of local humanitarian response in South Sudan, Uganda and Bangladesh
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The humanitarian system has been subject to long-standing criticism over its pervasive imbalance of power between international and local humanitarian actors; compromising the effectiveness of humanitarian response. However, the Covid-19 pandemic heightened the reliance on local actors at a systemic scale. This research explores whether Covid-19 has played a role in shifting power to local and national non-governmental organisations (LNNGOs) in three focus countries; South Sudan, Uganda and Bangladesh. It pays particular attention to two forms of power; namely relational power between actors and structural configurations of power. An original analytical framework is employed in conducting the analysis, which combines political economy and political opportunity analysis. Findings and analysis are informed by primary data collected via 20 semi-structured in-depth interviews with local humanitarian organisations across the three countries. This is complemented by two key expert interviews, a survey administered to international humanitarian organisations and analysis of secondary sources. Similarities for explaining key power imbalances in the pre-Covid humanitarian ecosystems are shared between the three countries. These pertain to the sustained treatment of LNNGOs as subordinates through inequitable access to funding and a dominant capacity discourse that ignores comparative advantages of LNNGOs. Findings suggest that the Covid-19 context has significantly improved the latter whilst sustaining imbalances in the former. Furthermore, findings have illustrated that the global pandemic has manifested very differently within the humanitarian contexts. Consequently, it offers different pathways for potential change. Finally, the research explores the perceptions of key humanitarian actors on the significance of Covid-19 for catalysing systemic change. It identifies increased political will and commitment, but limited structural change to date. The research contributes to promoting the importance of locally-rooted initiatives to ensure more sustainable and resilient response is leveraged across the humanitarian-development nexus.