Coronavirus with “Nobody in Charge”

An open reflection on leadership, solidarity, and contemporary regional integration

in Regions and Cohesion
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  • 1 Université du Luxembourg
  • 2 INECOL, Mexico

The Editors’ Note is a space for us to introduce important themes addressed by the articles in each issue of Regions & Cohesion. We will, of course, complete this task. However, before doing so, we take this opportunity to write about our world during the present coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, this crisis has forced most nation-states to close their borders as a necessary public health measure. Travel restrictions are regrettable but comprehensible.

What is less acceptable in our opinion, even though it is understandable, is the rise of policy retreats into nationalism as states and regions should be acting openly with solidarity to confront a crisis that is unprecedented in modern times. Leaders in North America (specifically in Mexico and the United States) initially named the pandemic a “foreign virus” and then focused public discourses on how well-prepared they are (in terms of human-economic resources and infrastructure) for any contingency inside their territories. EU states have bickered over regional economic recovery packages and state contributions to EU coronavirus-related funding. Simply put, when we most need regional leadership and solidarity, it has failed to emerge as politicians have closed borders, waved national flags, and in some cases (most notably in Hungary), utilized the crisis as a means to consolidate executive power and limit democracy. Leadership and solidarity are two underlying themes of many articles published in Regions & Cohesion (including articles in this issue), and they are ideals that have been present in the Consortium for Comparative Research on Regional Integration and Social Cohesion-Social Elevation (RISC-RISE) since its establishment in 2007.

Leadership

According to MacGregor Burns, “leadership rarely rises to the full need for it” (1978, p. 1). If this phrase was not self-evident before the coronavirus pandemic, it is now. It is, of course, easy to criticize the inactivity of elected officials in the midst of crisis. Maybe, however, we expect too much from them. MacGregor Burns notes that “the fundamental crisis underlying mediocrity is intellectual” (1978, p. 2). When in recent times have we publicly addressed leadership and regional integration in intellectual terms?

The literature on regional integration is full of paradigms (Affolderbach et al., 2012; Moore, 2013): old regionalism, new regionalism, open regionalism, closed regionalism, and so on. These frameworks usually focus on four “Ps” of regional integration: purpose, process, power, and profits (Koff, 2020). We discuss regions in terms of their role in the world order, how members project their influence in global affairs through them, and how they have contributed to wealth accumulation.

We do not, however, sufficiently address two “Ps” that used to be the intellectual bases of regionalism: peace and protection (Koff, 2009). Our so-called leaders seem to have forgotten that the modern notion of regional integration aimed to prevent war and provide socioeconomic protection to vulnerable citizens. In fact, the opposite has occurred in most parts of the world, and we are now witnessing a strong backlash against regionalism. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has been replaced by free trade regionalism (the Pacific Alliance). The European Union has been blamed in many member states for not responding to citizens’ needs and was rejected in the United Kingdom during the Brexit referendum. Regional organizations in Africa continue to fight for legitimacy, and regional integration in North America remains an economic exercise that promotes the free movement of goods and services without permitting the free movement of most people living on the continent. The current crisis of regional integration seems to be, above all, a crisis of leadership and ideas.

The coronavirus pandemic has bared all of our socioeconomic and political vulnerabilities. Reduced commitments to welfare have led to overwhelmed health systems. Expanding inequalities have exposed many to economic disaster as quarantines have paralyzed economies. Insufficient public services have made washing hands the most effective way to prevent illness, a challenge in many places. Inadequate responses to conflict and migration have created immense camps where asylum seekers could be decimated by coronavirus. Regional organizations (in association with member states) have contributed to the political construction of vulnerability, and now that a disaster is upon us, they are not positioned to respond with necessary measures. They lack the authority, the legitimacy, and the power to act during this crisis.

This is, of course, a multilayered conundrum. Borrowing from MacGregor Burns, we would argue that regions rarely rise to the need for them. In large part, this is because citizens often view regional organizations as institutions that affect them and rarely as systems in which they are invested actors. When we published our book on leadership (Maganda & Koff, 2009), we noted that there is no leadership without followers. We focused on the need for leadership from below.

The coronavirus pandemic and its implications for regions and cohesion are a call to revisit this discussion. Harlan Cleveland, renowned scholar, diplomat, and internationalist, defined leadership as “bringing people together to make something different happen” (Cleveland, 1989). We need a new vision for regional integration that promotes well-being and reduces socio-ecological vulnerability, and this can only emerge with citizen investment. In the RISC-RISE consortium, we have forwarded this vision through a commitment to “resilience regionalism,” which must represent, above all, a different intellectual approach to regional integration addressing underlying vulnerabilities in a meaningful way so that the most vulnerable socio-ecological sectors of our society become the priority for region-building strategies.

To achieve this, we need to address the aforementioned leadership crisis, but we should not look to those who have failed to act (or acted badly) during the coronavirus pandemic. Followers no more, we need to become citizen leaders of regions. Cleveland (2002) provided us with a blueprint. He claimed: (1) nobody is in charge; therefore, (2) everybody has a chance to be in charge; (3) most people will not pursue this; and (4) those who do so can be considered “leaders.” Only when citizens invest in regional integration will regional organizations address our vulnerabilities.

While nobody could have predicted the arrival of a global pandemic in 2020, crises are regular occurrences in global affairs, and they prey on vulnerabilities that cross policy sectors and affect all regions. Cleveland recognized this is 1963 when he wrote: “crises are normal, tensions can be promising and complexity is fun.” He was a committed generalist who understood the vital importance of connections in crisis response (Cleveland, 1963). Instead of simplifying the world, he embraced complexity and promoted a global system of cooperation as the only appropriate response. Likewise, resilience regionalism must include an integrated approach to vulnerability that incorporates a commitment to regional and international solidarity.

Solidarity

Social vulnerability entails the understanding that the well-being of a society is dependent on the amount of social risk among its weakest members. Consequently, solidarity is a vital tool for bringing solutions to vulnerability scenarios. Amidst the negativity generated by the coronavirus crisis, positive examples of solidarity have also emerged, including political commitments to an important international norm: access to clean and safe water for all. Water solidarity has become an important theme during the coronavirus crisis and an example of good governance in action.

The WHO firmly insists that washing our hands frequently with soap and water is the first basic measure of protection against Covid-19. But not all of us have access to continuous—and potable—water in order to correctly and extensively wash our hands several times a day. UNICEF still indicates that around three billion people, approximately 40% of the world's population, do not have basic facilities to wash their hands with soap and water, putting them at serious risk of coronavirus contagion. Developing regions are the most affected as they have the highest percentages of people living without access to water for handwashing (on average: 63% in sub-Saharan Africa; 22% in Central and Southern Asia; 22% in East Asia) (ONU Noticias, 2020). Therefore, these regions are most vulnerable to coronavirus.

The current pandemic and the constant reminders to use water to combat the spread of the virus highlights the urgency, today more than ever, to collectively address the world's water crisis. The human right to water should no longer be simply a conceptual debate. Its ethical foundation (water for all) should be a basis for regional resilience. Numerous examples of water solidarity have emerged during the current crisis.

In Europe, Italy, France, and Spain have prohibited water companies from cutting off service to customers who cannot pay their bills, and they have officially suspended—at least until April 30—the payment of basic services, such as water, gas, and electricity, in either the most affected municipalities (Italy) or in the whole country (France and Spain) as a measure of economic support for citizens and companies. At the end of March, in Latin America, El Salvador officially suspended water payments and guaranteed the supply of potable water for the entire population, among other basic services, such as electricity and gas. Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Africa have similarly declared that water and electricity will be free of charge to their citizens for the coming months.

In other countries, subnational actors are implementing similar actions. For example, in Mexico the governor of Yucatan state recently announced that its government will pay 100% of the costs of drinking water and garbage collection services for two months as well as 50% of the fee on all electricity bills. In Colombia some departments are working for the re- establishment and guarantee of water resources for their inhabitants. Water solidarity is expanding globally as documented at the following website: https://www.iagua.es/noticias/redaccion-iagua/directo-ultima-hora-coronavirus-sector-agua. These examples show that many governments do recognize the need to respond rapidly and decisively to vulnerability and risk. Hopefully, this vision can provide the basis for new forms of regional integration based on resilience.

Regions & Cohesion 10 (2)

As previously stated, these values are present in the collection of articles presented in this issue. First, we are proud and honored to publish Dudziro Nhengu's article on “The health of migrants as a global peace and security agenda,” which was awarded the Robert VH Dover Prize for best paper at the 2019 RISC-RISE international conference. This contribution is especially timely because it examines public health within the framework of gender and migration, highlighting transnational challenges that national systems have yet to address. The award is named after Robert Dover, professor at the Universidad de Antioquia, who passed away in December 2018. Robert was a member of this journal's editorial board and coordinator of RISC-RISE's working group on Civil Society, Vulnerable Populations, and State Policies of Health and Well-being. He was a leader who dedicated his work to promoting human dignity. Robert did not just study people. He saw them, he engaged them, he cared about them. Robert personified the leadership and solidarity previously described.

The second and third articles focus on national borders, governance, and quality of life. The first, by James Gerber, focuses on international public goods and common pool resources of the US–Mexico border region. It compares the relative incomes of border cities with interior municipalities in their respective countries. It investigates why Mexican border towns and cities are relatively wealthier than those in the interior whereas US border towns and cities are relatively poorer than those in the interior of that country.

The contribution by Elisabetta Nadalutti directly addresses numerous themes raised earlier. This article examines cross-border cooperation in Europe and contends that citizens are “consumers” of border integration processes, which are driven by local elites. She proposes an ethical framework for cross-border governance based on values that promote citizen-based and citizen-focused cross-border relations.

The final academic article in this issue, by Maritel Yanes Pérez, Luis Roberto Canto Valdés, and Dora Elia Ramos Muñoz, studies homicide victims in Mexico through the lens of gender. As past articles in Regions & Cohesion have shown (see Arce, 2014; Limas Hernández, 2014; Ravelo Blancas & Querales Mendoza, 2016), this is a major issue in the country, and this study contributes empirical analysis aimed at informing new homicide prevention strategies.

Finally, the Leadership Forum publishes Dr. Anthony Turton's perspectives on human mobility, borders, and inclusive societies, which were presented during his keynote address to the 2019 RISC-RISE Consortium's international conference. Dr. Turton's contribution presents his analysis of transformations in modern South Africa through the narrative of his own life experiences. Dr. Turton has been a national security expert, a water scholar, and an observer of border policies, human mobility, and social integration. This article incorporates Dr. Turton's broad scientific knowledge with personal viewpoints derived from lived experiences. The RISC-RISE Consortium thanks him for sharing both his knowledge and his story.

We close this editors’ note with a sincere expression of gratitude and solidarity for our colleagues at Berghahn Journals. Their professionalism under the trying Covid-19 circumstances in New York has been exemplary. While present health circumstances keep us distant as individuals, we hope that they bring us closer together as people. Thank you Team Berghahn!

The Editors

References

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    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Arce, A. (2014). Entrevista a la Sra. Evangelina Arce, activista social y madre de Silvia Arce, desaparecida en Ciudad Juárez en 1998. Regions and Cohesion 4(3), 9097.

    • Crossref
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    • Export Citation
  • Cleveland, H. (1963). Crisis diplomacy. Foreign Affairs 41(4), 638649.

  • Cleveland, H. (1989). Harlan Cleveland's seven leadership propositions. Christian Science Monitor. https://www.csmonitor.com/1989/0901/d2cle.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cleveland, H. (2002). Nobody in charge. New York: Wiley & Sons.

  • Iagua. (2020). En directo: última hora del coronavirus en el sector del agua. https://www.iagua.es/noticias/redaccion-iagua/directo-ultima-hora-coronavirus-sector-agua.

    • Export Citation
  • Koff, H. (2009). Social cohesion in Europe and the Americas. Brussels: PIE-Peter Lang.

  • Koff, H. (2020). Coronavirus with nobody in charge: An open moment for an aspiring generalist's reflection on leadership and regional integration. RISC-RISE Facebook blog. https://www.facebook.com/notes/risc_rise_consortium/coronavirus-with-nobody-in-charge-an-open-moment-for-an-aspiring-generalists-ref/501693000497431/.

    • Export Citation
  • Limas Hernandez, A. (2014). (In)seguridad humana, violencia feminicida, democracia y capital. Regions and Cohesion 4(3), 7589.

  • MacGregor Burns, J. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper Collins.

  • Maganda, C., & Koff, H. (2009). Perspectivas comparativas del liderazgo. RISC 2008. Brussels: Peter Lang.

  • Moore, C., ed. (2013). Regional Integration and Social Cohesion: Perspectives from the Developing World. Brussels: Peter Lang.

  • ONU Noticias. (2020). Tres mil millones de personas no tienen como lavarse las manos para protegerse del coronavirus. https://news.un.org/es/story/2020/03/1471171.

    • Export Citation
  • Ravelo Blancas, P., & Querales Mendoza, M. (2016). Acciones de las mujeres contra la violencia feminicida en Ciudad Juárez, México. Regions and Cohesion 6(2), 85109.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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Regions and Cohesion

Regiones y Cohesión / Régions et Cohésion

  • Affolderbach, J., Du Bry, T., Gonzalez, O., & Parra, C. (2012). Reinforcing governance: Perspectives on development, poverty and global crises. RISC 2010. Brussels: Peter Lang.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Arce, A. (2014). Entrevista a la Sra. Evangelina Arce, activista social y madre de Silvia Arce, desaparecida en Ciudad Juárez en 1998. Regions and Cohesion 4(3), 9097.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cleveland, H. (1963). Crisis diplomacy. Foreign Affairs 41(4), 638649.

  • Cleveland, H. (1989). Harlan Cleveland's seven leadership propositions. Christian Science Monitor. https://www.csmonitor.com/1989/0901/d2cle.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cleveland, H. (2002). Nobody in charge. New York: Wiley & Sons.

  • Iagua. (2020). En directo: última hora del coronavirus en el sector del agua. https://www.iagua.es/noticias/redaccion-iagua/directo-ultima-hora-coronavirus-sector-agua.

    • Export Citation
  • Koff, H. (2009). Social cohesion in Europe and the Americas. Brussels: PIE-Peter Lang.

  • Koff, H. (2020). Coronavirus with nobody in charge: An open moment for an aspiring generalist's reflection on leadership and regional integration. RISC-RISE Facebook blog. https://www.facebook.com/notes/risc_rise_consortium/coronavirus-with-nobody-in-charge-an-open-moment-for-an-aspiring-generalists-ref/501693000497431/.

    • Export Citation
  • Limas Hernandez, A. (2014). (In)seguridad humana, violencia feminicida, democracia y capital. Regions and Cohesion 4(3), 7589.

  • MacGregor Burns, J. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper Collins.

  • Maganda, C., & Koff, H. (2009). Perspectivas comparativas del liderazgo. RISC 2008. Brussels: Peter Lang.

  • Moore, C., ed. (2013). Regional Integration and Social Cohesion: Perspectives from the Developing World. Brussels: Peter Lang.

  • ONU Noticias. (2020). Tres mil millones de personas no tienen como lavarse las manos para protegerse del coronavirus. https://news.un.org/es/story/2020/03/1471171.

    • Export Citation
  • Ravelo Blancas, P., & Querales Mendoza, M. (2016). Acciones de las mujeres contra la violencia feminicida en Ciudad Juárez, México. Regions and Cohesion 6(2), 85109.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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