Author: Raphael Obonyo, Public Policy Analyst
As COVID-19 (coronavirus) continues to wreak havoc around the world experts predict that African countries could be hardest hit. But African youth are not sitting idly by waiting for the worst to come; throughout the continent, they are hard at work providing solutions to help reduce the spread of the virus, and address the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic,
It is encouraging to see young people across Africa leading the way in the fight against coronavirus, and stepping up to help their communities. They know the future depends on their actions.
Indeed, youth represent energy, creativity and innovation and should be beacons of hope that can support the community at all times especially in times of such crisis. Through individual acts and collective action, young people are reclaiming power in the face of this pandemic and the powerlessness it makes us all feel. Youth-led civil society and movements are acting on an unprecedented scale. Youth are mobilizing communities to protect themselves, and supporting governments and health workers together.
Isaac ‘Kaka’ Muasa of Mathare Environmental One Stop in Kenya has teamed up with the UN-Habitat, the Norwegian Embassy and the Canadian High Commission to support residents of Mathare slums to stop spread of coronavirus in the poor neighborhood. The group has begun a hand-washing program meant to protect Mathare residents from COVID-19. As a result of the initiative, children and young people make up the majority of the people who are washing their hands.
What would be the situation when COVID-19 strikes in the urban slums of Nairobi or other low-income areas? This is scary to even imagine. That is why Emmie Kemper, through Miss Koch Kenya not-for-profit youth empowerment organization, is leading young people in her neighborhood to support the most vulnerable in the sprawling slums of Korogocho. They have supported hundreds of families whose livelihoods have been disrupted.
In Cameroon, Achalake Christian, the coordinator of Local Youth Corner, has launched the “One Person, One Sanitizer” operation to prevent the spread of coronavirus, especially among the poor. He’s working with young people to produce and distribute free, homemade hand sanitizers using World Health Organization standards. He has teamed up with people of goodwill, the coalition of youth civil society organizations, medical doctors, pharmacists and a laboratory scientist.
Sibongumusa Zuma is causing waves with his humanitarian action in South Africa. Across the country, street hawkers have been prohibited from trading during the national lockdown. It is hard for everyone but for the street vendors it’s harder. To help ease the impact, he has organized young people to donate groceries to street hawkers. Zuma says that as young people, they cannot sit down and fold their arms knowing very well that there are people who used to make a living by selling food on the street, whose businesses are closing due to the lockdown.
In Botswana, Pretty Thogo is coordinating a platform that brings the World Bank Africa Youth Transforming Africa initiative and the Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa are organizing regular roundtables for youth to discuss development, and spark some youth-grown solutions to influence policymaking in Africa. During its first online roundtable in April, the initiative featured medical and communications experts, and helped young Africans to learn more about COVID-19 and how to identify trusted sources of information.
Similarly, with the leadership of Immy Mulekatete and Dr. Joseph Ryarasa Nkurunziza, Youth Voices Rwanda is hosting Twitter and Facebook live discussions for youth on impact of COVID-19 had in their communities and the role they can play in containing its spread.
Then there is James Smart and Kizito Gamba in Nairobi, who are leading a team of young journalists under Tazama World Media. They are putting their lives on the line to bring out compelling stories on the effect of coronavirus among the extreme poor in South Africa, and detailing why quick, robust and well-thought responses are required.
Governments should put in place measures and mechanisms to facilitate coordinated, organized and impactful youth engagement in the fight against coronavirus. Most importantly, young people must realize that they have a critical part in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic – knowing that the spread of the virus is a threat to people, livelihoods and development and stability.
Youth should work with governments and diverse partners to stop transmission of the virus and to keep everyone safe and take measures that will bolster the fight against the pandemic.
As Doug Ragan, a UN-Habitat’s Child and Youth specialist has said and it is true, youth are Africa’s greatest asset and the future of the continent depends on them.