The health, economic and social effects of COVID-19 in Africa and around the world have been unprecedented. In this series, young Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora share their views on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How are young people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 is affecting many young people in various ways including health, education and socio-economic impact. The reality of young people on the continent even before the pandemic is that African economies generate only 3 million formal jobs annually for an estimated 12 million youth entering the workforce every year. Besides, approximately 60% of jobs in Africa are considered vulnerable which means African youth are in the informal sector. Therefore, during these lockdowns and homestays, African youth who hustle and survive on insecure jobs will now be unemployed.
The spread of the pandemic in Africa is also likely to affect young people’s mental health which could lead to depression and anxiety. In addition, this situation could increase the rate of gender-based violence towards girls including child marriage and being locked down with their abusers.
What role can young people play in prevention, response, and transformation in combating COVID-19 in Africa?
Youth are central to fighting coronavirus. Young people are leading carriers of the virus and so bear the most responsibility to heed and thoroughly comply with the scientific advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and experts.
Young Africans should put their energy, dynamism and innovation in the fight to end the pandemic and many are already doing so. We see many youth working on the frontline; some are producing hand sanitisers, distributing them door to door, and raising awareness; others started crowdfunding platforms, distributing food packages, masks, and other gear to the most vulnerable in their communities. We also see youth artists creating informational songs and music videos as well as tech gurus developing apps and useful websites.
We need the youth to join forces and mobilise massively around these concrete actions to serve their communities and become an integral part of their governments’ national response plans. This includes young professionals and scientists who should be part of the scientific conversation in developing the vaccine as well. Ministries of health should work with young people who are doing the work on the ground. This is the time to show Africa’s leadership to the world while leveraging a youthful creative population.
This is not only a health crisis but also a governance crisis in Africa. Post COVID-19, young people should be central to the reforms of service delivery architecture including improvement of health infrastructures and dealing with other pandemics. That’s why at the African Union (AU), we launched the African Youth Charter Hustlers initiative, an opportunity for youth-led accountability and advocacy for the effective implementation and monitoring of the Youth Charter to transform our government institutions to deliver for the citizens, basic services and a life with dignity.
How can we strengthen innovative communication tools between institutions and the local community both online and offline to help tackle COVID-19?
Before the lockdowns, the youth were in the streets in different capitals across the continent, challenging the status quo and protesting bad governance, and this has been ongoing since 2010. Now many are not collaborating because they do not trust governments or political discourse. We ran a poll in one of our webinars asking; are you confident the spread of coronavirus is under control in your country? 270 out of 423 participants said no or not sure and only 153 said yes.
So, in order to address the communication challenge, building trust and collaboration between governments and citizens is crucial to fight the pandemic. In the spirit of co-leadership, ministries of communication should work with youth campaigners and tech gurus who know exactly how to get the message across to their peers, but can also help our traditional bureaucratic institutions to digitise and build capacity for our governments.
However, we know that 70% of Africa is offline and we need traditional leaders, chiefs, religious leaders and pop stars to help transmit key messages around hand washing and social distancing in remote areas. In the long term, the private sector holds the responsibility to close the digital divide.
What lessons and best practice can African countries learn from each other and Ebola response to help slow the spread of COVID-19?
Some key lessons from the Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016 that killed more than 11,000 in West Africa alone, are as follows; we need to invest in tracing and testing, mobilise resources for wide expansion of testing kits, as well as separate the incident response from the regular healthcare facilities, and build tent hospitals as sites for people with symptoms related to the virus. During the Ebola outbreak, isolation was also used to break the transmission chain while ensuring door to door distribution of essentials such as food, access to electricity and water and support for small and medium size businesses.
We currently see many examples of innovative solutions and best practices and African leadership in the response to this pandemic such as, $1 testing kit and $60 ventilator made in Senegal;. In Ghana, drones are used to reduce the exposure of medical workers and fundraising through the President and the cabinet took a 33% pay cut. In some other countries public servants have also donated their salaries. In Rwanda, flying drones have been used to keep residents in rural areas informed of coronavirus lockdown measures. In Tunisia, police robots were deployed on lockdown patrol.
On a continental level, Africa is the only continent that has a Joint Continental Strategic Plan for COVID-19 through the AU, as well as an Africa Taskforce for Novel Coronavirus.
I also believe that Africa should turn the current COVID-19 pandemic into an opportunity for productive transformation and accelerate the implementation of the Continental Free Trade Area to achieve industrialisation, diversify and transform our economies and raw materials locally.
We also need to continue exercising African solidarity because we cannot be safe if all of us are not safe.
What have you been doing in your role as the African Union Youth Envoy to help combat COVID-19?
Since 23 March , we pioneered a project of Virtual AU Youth Consultations Series on COVID-19 for African Youth Collective Response in collaboration with Africa CDC. This is a series of online conversations, convened with over 300 youth leaders from 40 countries throughout 12 consultations. These discussions enable youth groups, activists, feminists and leaders to be briefed on continental response, learn from each other, share best practices, and come up with action plans on how to support their affected communities.
I then started hosting a live weekly webinar version of the consultations for a capacity of over 1000 participants with decision makers to bring young people closer to the AU. Guests included Africa CDC Director, Dr John Nkengasong; Chairperson of African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Dr. Solomon Ayele Dersso and AU Commissioner of Social Affairs, H.E. Amira Elfadil Mohammed Elfadil .
As a result of these consultations, we have identified pan-African youth networks to form a multi-stakeholders advocacy group. Recently, we launched the African Youth Front on Coronavirus to support the implementation of the African Continental Strategy. The Youth Front will be an AU framework that reports to the Steering Committee of Africa Taskforce and engages wider youth constituency in decision-making, having a seat at the table to contribute youth-led solutions and co-lead Africa’s response to the pandemic.
Because we need more young people in governance in Africa to handle crises like COVID-19, from 5 May we have been convening a series of African Youth In Public Service workshops with a continental workshop then national conversations. These discussions bring together policymakers, experts, practitioners and the youngest trailblazers in public service on the continent to discuss how to advance greater youth inclusion in governance, and build a community of peer learning and best practices and hopefully attract more youth in governments, parliaments and politics.