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Indicators, security and sovereignty during COVID-19 in the global south

Nelken, David, Siems, Mathias, Infantino, Marta, Genicot, Nathan, Restrepo Amariles, David and Harrington, John A. ORCID: 2020. Indicators, security and sovereignty during COVID-19 in the global south. EUI LAW, vol. 17. Available at:

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This paper considers the spread of COVID-19 as a telling moment or épreuve in contests over governance in global south states. Two distinct governance modes are engaged in this crisis: 1) indicators/metrics; and 2) securitization. Indicators have been a vehicle for the government of states, particularly in the global south, through the external imposition and internal self-application of standards and benchmarks and through the comparative rankings which ensue therefrom. Securitization refers to the performative calling-into-being of emergencies in the face of existential threats. National sovereignty is at stake in both modes: limited, superintended, and redirected by indicators on the one hand; articulated as originary and untrammelled through securitizing moves on the other. Health has been a key focus for analysts of each. We may hypothesize that COVID-19 is the occasion for an as yet undecided contest between de-spatialized health governmentality and the reassertion of territorial segmentation as the frame for an autochtonously defined national interest, a retreat, it is feared, from Post-Westphalian to Westphalian governance in global health. In what follows, I first sketch an outline of each governance mode, remarking on the application of each to health promotion in the global south. The purchase of this theoretical outline is then tested briefly through a focus on Kenya, and, in particular, its response to COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic, between February and May 2020. Both modes were deployed in political and legal interventions during this period. It is clear that government ministers tended to adopt securitization language, while foreign and civil society actors drew on indicators and related benchmarks to support criticism of state action and inaction.

Item Type: Monograph (UNSPECIFIED)
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: Law
Subjects: K Law > K Law (General)
ISSN: 1725-6739
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 15 January 2021
Date of Acceptance: 4 September 2020
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2023 06:11

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