News & Media / COVID-19 in Africa: How have young people responded?

COVID-19 in Africa: How have young people responded?

24 September, 2020

The spread of COVID-19 in South Sudan continues to have an unprecedented impact on the health, economy, and social lives of citizens. It has placed added pressure on already limited services and exacerbated issues that the young country, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has been struggling to address. Its full impact is yet hard to measure but what is clear is that its effects will linger for quite some time even when a vaccine is found.

The management of the virus in the country was under the High-Level Task Force on COVID-19 chaired by the President H.E. Salva Kiir Mayardit. This task force coordinated and communicated to citizens the measures to mitigate the spread of the disease, informed by guidelines issued by the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health. These measures included a curfew, a ban on social gatherings, and the closure of all points of entry into the country, schools, and non-essential businesses, among others. However, commentators argued that the sweeping plan lacked coherence and the necessary risk analysis to develop an all-round plan that fits the South Sudanese context. 

How have young people responded? 

As documented in the recent Mo Ibrahim report COVID-19 in Africa: What does it mean for young people? youth are currently central in the fight against the coronavirus. In South Sudan, they have planned, mobilised and organised responses including raising awareness, provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) materials, lobbying government, community support and volunteering. I will highlight a few such notable actions. 

The #Anataban is no stranger to mass action, this community of creatives launched a campaign called #WogifCorona tapping into their talents to help raise awareness through arts. It should be recalled South Sudan is one of the countries in the world with the lowest literacy rate at 27%. So, through painting murals on strategic streets, recording poetry in local dialects, the group broke barriers quickly conveying the then urgently needed containment messages. 

While initially there was fear that the pandemic would hinder local organising, that could not stop a group of women activists in Juba from marching to the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social welfare to deliver a petition demanding justice and an end to impunity for sexual violence. This was triggered by the brutal gang rape of an 8-year-old girl in Juba days before. Such action underpinned that justice could not wait to be served.  

Recognising access to information is essential before, during and after a crisis, a consortium of youth founded the Blue Messenger Bicycle, the blue painted bicycles are mounted with megaphones and amplifiers to broadcast COVID-19 prerecorded prevention messages. Volunteers then ride to different neighborhoods of the city which are often hard to reach by cars due to poor roads to disseminate the messages. 

Research Institutions such as the Institute of Social Policy and Research carried out research and analysis providing evidence-based input to the discourse on COVID-19 in the country. Also, through its policy forum lobbied the government for a policy shift in the management of the crisis. It published a policy brief “Examining Government Effective, Accountable and Transparent Utilization of Resources on the COVID-19 Response in South Sudan”. This paper examines the extent to which government has effectively utilised resources on the COVID-19 pandemic. It further assessed what mechanisms are in place to ensure accountability and transparency in managing the COVID-19 crisis funds.

The COVID-19 inspired local creativity includes a number of youth and women’s initiatives making masks out of African fabric and liquid soap to supply the growing demand for these items. One of the country’s Vice Presidents, Rebecca Nyandeng turned her facility into a space to facilitate mass sewing of masks for the public.

In East Africa, leaders virtually gathered under the auspices of the African Youth Networks Movement (AYNM) to discuss the impact of COVID-19 in their localities. Among the topics discussed were the measures that governments of respective countries have taken in response to the pandemic and how it has affected the lives and livelihoods of the youth in the region. It prominently emerged that youth were actively engaged in the fight against COVID-19. 

There is no doubt that young people despite being the most disadvantaged and affected by the pandemic in South Sudan remain seized to fight on notwithstanding a growing fatigue with the containment measures which have greatly undermined their way of life. Nevertheless, they have embraced the new challenges and are positioning themselves to be at the centre of the planning and shaping the post COVID-19 future.

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