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?
The African Youth Networks Movement (AYNM) has been hosting regional calls with youth network leads to understand their realities during this COVID-19 period and aspirations post the pandemic. What we are learning is that youth across Africa have been economically and socially impacted by the pandemic. A huge portion of the youth demographic are unemployed and rely on informal modes of income generation and the adverse effect of national lockdowns has cut the lines for generating income.
Secondly, access to education has been flagged as an issue, as highlighted in the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s 2019 Forum report, more than 60% of African citizens have no access to internet. This means that alternatives to learning offered online are not accessible to them and many will fall through the cracks if initiatives in increasing education financing are not prioritised post-COVID.
There has also been a lot of misinformation regarding the pandemic; a big challenge is posed by language barriers and some youth networks in the movement are starting to create avenues to surpass literacy issues, especially in the remote communities. Lastly, we cannot underestimate the mental health implications posed by this crisis, some people are experiencing anxieties and depression about the current situation and what the future holds considering the issues mentioned above i.e. loss of income, access to education. The crisis has seriously brought to light the underlying issues that have been prevalent in our societies; they are now in full view since we are all in a reflective stage with limited capacities to move as we did before.
What role can young people play in prevention, response, and transformation in combating COVID-19 in Africa?
Young people have the agency to advocate, capacity to innovate and room to learn. At AYNM, we are documenting some initiatives led by youth networks; Tshanduko Innovation Youth Network (TIYN) leaders are going around communities educating people on prevention methods. I believe if we all do our part in sharing accurate knowledge and information within our networks that will go a long way in flattening the curve.
Social media has been effective in documenting efforts and building collective action around COVID-19. Our goal as a movement is to build a unified voice that facilitates young people to co-create their vision post-COVID, and platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter have been effective in diffusing barriers. African youth are stepping up to show that they are indeed consequential leaders, prepared to serve others ahead of themselves.
This has been reflected by some innovations we have taken note of; Yiya Engineering Solutions, in Uganda is a team of young innovators who are working on recycling plastic material to 3D print personal protective equipment (PPE) for rural health care providers. This is the true face of transformation, because in the post-COVID narrative we need to redesign what youth inclusion and participation looks like. If we are to carry the baton, we need to learn how to manage future crises utilising the power of intergenerational platforms and knowing that there is so much to learn from the older generations. Therefore, we are happy to be part of the African Union (AU) African Youth Front which will co-lead Africa’s response to the pandemic, as well as support the implementation of The African Continental Strategic Plan for COVID-19 Pandemic.
What lessons and best practice can African countries learn from each other and Ebola response to help slow the spread of COVID-19?
This is an excellent question. If we are to ever achieve a united Africa or some of the goals outlined in Agenda 2063, we need to work together in times like this. No one country has absolute knowledge on what is going on and the more we share best practises and lessons learned, the quicker we can flatten the curve.
Cabo Verde has set up one-off cash payments to workers in the informal sector, and further support to the most vulnerable families across the country. South Africa has the largest stimulus package aimed at reviving the economy. Senegal can teach the rest of Africa on how we can do more with less. They are developing effective testing methods such as the $1 test kits and 3D printed ventilators which cost $60 vs. $16,000 market price. This has resulted in a small number of fatalities and record recovery rate in Africa (as of 27 Apr 2020). Countries such Sierra Leonne and Liberia who previously tackled the Ebola crisis have established knowledge systems on epidemics and demonstrated this through quicker measures e.g. lockdowns and concrete messaging.
The pandemic offers us a chance to contextualise this crisis and reflect on national realities, vulnerabilities, and priorities. This level of awareness allows our leaders to focus on what is important and the most appropriate solutions. At this time, we are dealing with speculations because our leaders have not unified their voices on where we are and what we need now and in the post-COVID future. I hope that once the storm passes, we do not get too comfortable and forget that effective communication and planning are essential to us moving forward.
How has your country responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?
I am not currently in my home country Zimbabwe, but I have been communicating with family daily. Zimbabwe is a tricky situation. I read in an article, and a statement by a Zimbabwean public health specialist which succinctly captures the situation, “How are ordinary people who don’t have access to sufficient quantities of water expected to wash their hands several times a day?”
The economic situation has made it very tough for all stakeholders to buy into the measures implemented. Zimbabwe has been going through a severe economic crisis for the past two decades or more. The government recently got a USD $7million loan from the World Bank and we are quite sceptical if we can even use some of the funds to feed people. With an economy that has 96% of youth in the informal sector, a lockdown impedes on income generation which is why I believe they eased a lot of restrictions. What would be the priority now, given that people are moving more is to upscale investments in PPE for all, make cheap test kits accessible and have clear and concrete messaging on COVID-19. A subset heavily impacted by the pandemic is the Zimbabwean diaspora mostly in South Africa and Botswana, which surpasses an estimate of 3 million people because a significant portion are not documented in their host countries. This has left them very vulnerable because they work in the informal sectors and do not qualify for social grants. This shows that effective immigration policies must also be prioritised in tackling the effects of the pandemic.