Africa’s Young People Innovate in the Face of COVID-19

The crippling socio-economic and emotional toll of the pandemic has been countered by an inspired, energetic, and resilient youth who have organised, volunteered, and used their generation’s knowledge of technology and global networks to ‘bounce back better.

ACCORD COVID-19 Conflict & Resilience Monitor
Photo: Paul Kagame/Flickr

Despite bearing the brunt of the non-health implications of COVID-19, young people in Africa have shown great resilience, inventiveness, and inclination to do whatever necessary to recover better from the pandemic. Indeed, young Africans have leveraged the media, traditional and contemporary alike, to raise awareness and garner support for efforts which will bring an end to the pandemic and its negative influences. 

This pandemic has had a devastating and long-lasting effect, that stretches far beyond the health and medical implications, but it has also provided Africa’s young people with the opportunity to rewrite the narrative @KEEN110997

The crippling socio-economic and emotional toll of the pandemic has been countered by an inspired, energetic, and resilient youth who have organised, volunteered, and used their generation’s knowledge of technology and global networks to ‘bounce back better.’ 

Africa is currently home to 1.3 billion youth, a population expected to grow to 2 billion by 2040. These youth require resources, services, and social safety nets that will allow them to further the African development agenda. However, Africa also suffers the burden of under-resourced health-care systems coupled with a general limited capability of some governments to provide basic services for their citizens such as housing, sanitation, and education, leading to the citizens’ general marginalisation and the desperation of millions of young people seeking opportunities, in particular. COVID-19 has exacerbated this condition, raising the concern of a ‘lockdown generation’, which is a generation characterised by higher youth unemployment, poverty, and discontent. 

What is most encouraging is how youth have reacted to the crisis which faces them, electing to innovate and use their spaces and platforms to educate others, and mitigate against the residual or non-clinical effects of the pandemic. A survey conducted by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2020 has shown that, for the youth, the COVID-19 health crisis ranks behind a multitude of more complex and substantial structural concerns such as economic insecurity, inadequate and inflexible health systems, the threat to democracy and the need to redress the current economic model. More than three quarters of respondents (79%) in the study cited economic instability as one of their more major concerns. Unemployment is the second main concern for two thirds (66%) of respondents. Many respondents believe that governments have become too preoccupied with prevention measures and are not paying enough attention to the necessary economic and social mitigation measures, or the measures required to recover better, to create a more just, equitable and sustainable world than before the pandemic. What is clear is that young Africans are energised and inspired to use this moment of fracture as an opportunity to amend the current policies and their accompanying ills. A large majority (84%) feel that this crisis provides such an opportunity, thus engaging themselves in volunteer community initiatives, and using various platforms to innovate mitigation methods and educational programmes. 

From the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, and many more African countries, young people have developed and pioneered different information sharing initiatives and platforms to educate others on protection and mitigation measures against COVID-19 and to halt the dissemination of misinformation. In Kivu, Eastern DRC, young leaders from civil society have mobilised and enlisted young volunteers to visit public areas such as markets, town squares, and businesses and go door-to-door distributing informational pamphlets on how to curb the spread of the virus. In Burkina Faso, the National Youth Council established Battalion 2020 against COVID-19, a training programme focused on building capacity in the fields of health, sanitation, and social measures. Thus far, the initiative has resulted in 1,500 young Burkinabes volunteering to work in various communities across the country. In Nigeria, young people are running a volunteer driven Slum and Rural Health Initiative that has produced ‘Stop Covid-19’ infographics in more than sixty local African languages to spread accurate information about the pandemic, and to dispel misinformation at a community level in languages understood by the people of that community. 

Social media has been the most powerful platform for the youth to drive their initiatives, social media influencers, musicians, poets, painters, social and political activists, and television and sports celebrities are making use of their wide followings and talents to have these concerted messages reach millions of people. In Mozambique, a popular music band GranMah released Lava as tuas Mãos which translates to wash your hands, a video illustrating the appropriate handwashing techniques and alternatives to handshakes. The Ndlovu Youth Choir from South Africa composed, performed, and filmed a musical rendition of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) COVID-19 safety advice, featuring translations in various South African languages. In South Sudan, #DefyHateNow developed and launched a digital community platform of youth from multiple facets of life who have come together to combat misinformation and raise awareness on COVID-19 prevention mechanisms.

What is most encouraging is how youth have reacted to the crisis which faces them, electing to innovate and use their spaces and platforms to educate others @KEEN110997

Beyond social media and information sharing driven initiatives, youth led innovation during COVID-19 has been admirable. In Kenya, we saw the creation of Stowelink, a youth-led digital enterprise which collects and disseminates current, accurate information about COVID-19 in English, Kiswahili, and Amharic. Further, in an effort to combat fake news on social media and quell panic, two young graduates in South Africa established the Coronapp – a tool that consolidates information flow about the pandemic. This is not dissimilar to the Community Mutual Aid Crisis Response online platform created by a young Cameroonian entrepreneur with the intention of connecting people in need of assistance to service providers and community volunteers who may assist them. Most admirable has been the inclination of youth to volunteer their time, expertise, and energy to their communities. Young entrepreneurs have raised money to set up several handwashing stations in multiple countries, such as in Kibera, Kenya. In Cameroon, a cohort of young people have created the One Person One Hand Sanitiser initiative. This initiative has resulted in the production and dispensing of over 10,000 bottles of homemade hand sanitiser to communities in need. So successful was this youth led initiative that it has now garnered the full support of the Cameroonian Ministry of Youth Affairs and the Ministry of Health.

This pandemic has had a devastating and long-lasting effect, that stretches far beyond the health and medical implications, but it has also provided Africa’s young people with the opportunity to rewrite the narrative, by addressing the entrenched socio-economic ills which have been laid bare by COVID-19. The countless youth led initiatives at continental, national, and local levels is not spontaneous but rather speaks to young people’s inclination to create a better post-pandemic world. 

Keenan Govender is a Programme Officer in ACCORD’s Research Department.

ACCORD recognizes its longstanding partnerships with the European Union, and the Governments of Canada, Finland, Ireland, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, UK, and USA.

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