Conflict & Resilience Monitor

Africa’s Youth: A Hope for the Future

22 Sep 2021

ACCORD COVID-19 Conflict & Resilience Monitor
Photo: Tim Dennell

In relation to COVID-19 and its impact, particularly in Kenya, what we are seeing is really a manifestation of what is happening throughout the world. We need to use COVID-19 as a huge wakeup call and call on the solidarity of the youth.

There is no such thing as a small task when it comes to peacebuilding, and so all the work that young people are doing, whether it be advocacy, messaging, mobilising, or assisting those that are in distress, every one of those acts are critical to creating sustainable peace in the world.

Every generation has a historic and essential duty, and I believe the younger generation has the historic duty to create the bridge from today’s crisis to tomorrow’s hope @CSDefence_Kenya

Everybody is talking about finding themselves in a critical moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but if one is to look back through the annals of history, we have always had moments of fracture, moments of change, and moments where the world gets an opportunity to hit the reset button, and I think this is one of those moments. This is one of those turning points, and therefore how we emerge out of the current crisis depends on how we envision the future, and the future cannot be the same. I think even as we struggle with the challenges that face us, we must embrace the possibilities.

Crises, such as those in which we find ourselves now, have a rapid onset. They are intense, their impact is large scale, and they are disruptive. We are faced with many crises; the environmental crisis that has become a climate crisis; abandonment of the democratic project and growing populist tendencies across the world; a growing economic crisis in a time of globalisation and rampant unemployment; a security crisis, whether in terms of international crimes, national crimes, cross-border crimes, terrorism, growing violent extremism; and so forth. Thus, these crises have created a situation that disrupts society. Every generation has a historic and essential duty, and I believe the younger generation has the historic duty to create the bridge from today’s crisis to tomorrow’s hope. Our crises threaten peace, the values of inclusion, the aspirations for equity and prosperity but, most importantly, they are threatening humanity, and we have to reconstitute ourselves in a manner that restores this humanity. 

In relation to COVID-19 and its impact, particularly in Kenya, what we are seeing is really a manifestation of what is happening throughout the world. We know we are a young continent where the economy is held together by small and medium enterprises. For example in Kenya, the service industry, which is heavily reliant on tourism, had to shut down, resulting in the loss of jobs. Thereafter came the loss of life, immediate loss of livelihoods, and desperation. The end effect of all of this, of course, was heightened stress and anxiety amongst the people. There was increased migration from the urban areas, as well as a degree of lawlessness brought upon by the stress of not having an income, or ways to support one’s family. We saw crime rates rising in certain specific instances such as gender-based violence and rape. Although, in some instances, the lockdown resulted in the reduction of crime across many urban areas in particular. The health sector was considerably over-stretched, and I think this was a wakeup call for this continent, and for the youth who are in the research industry, particularly looking at the various threats and risks that face our continent. Governments also realised how much money is required for investment into research, especially medical research. 

The debate around the failure of access or inability to access vaccines is a huge debate that speaks to questions of equity, solidarity, human rights, and a common humanity. Fundamentally, it speaks to the need for us to work towards self-sustenance, self-sufficiency, and driving research that is relevant to our needs because we know now that the common variants are determined by the geographic space in which they occur. This then implies that even quality research produced elsewhere might not necessarily be a perfect fit for us on the Continent, and so encouragement of our youth to engage in relevant research that matches our needs is essential for a better recovery. 

We need to use COVID-19 as a huge wakeup call and call on the solidarity of the youth. This is one area that I would really encourage cross continent reflection on what we need to do in terms of promoting research that is relevant to ourselves, and that can be shared across continents. Of course this includes the question of how we create resilient health systems. We saw a situation where even the most developed nations were crippled by the issue of overwhelmed health systems. So how do we craft our systems to be brilliant and resilient? Then we have the question of the psychological wellbeing of our people generally, and the youth specifically. In Kenya, we have observed increased rates of suicide, depression, and other psychological issues, particularly because within the African culture there remains very limited developed systems for support of emotional wellbeing, in the Western sense of the word, and yet our youth have stepped up in terms of popular culture and behaviour. As youth become increasingly Westernised maybe the question to ask is how we can fuse the concepts of the systems of wellbeing within our cultures with the Western world, so that it can help us to reduce situations of stress, rather than moving to the easier and more undesirable conditions of depression and suicide. 

Education systems have been heavily impacted with lockdowns, having a considerable effect on the youth, particularly the gains that we had made in terms of getting and keeping girls in school. The pandemic has eroded these gains and now we have a crisis in Kenya and in other countries. Child and teenage pregnancies have increased due to young girls not being in school. In this case there was no protection at home. Some of the pregnancies were caused by brothers, by fathers, by uncles, and cousins, which raises a number of issues around morality and protection of the girl child. 

There is a sense that the innovation space provided a very good coping mechanism for young people in Kenya, and we saw levels of innovation increase with a number of programmes that were cushioning the youth. The Kenyan Government provided innovative programmes that kept the youth at work, whether it be national hygiene programmes like Kazi Mtaani (loosely translated as jobs in our hood) or adapting cash transfer processes and systems for the purposes of offering social safety nets.  One of the most interesting innovations was the upscaling of the AJIRA Digital Platform where young people have been able to work, study, and innovate from wherever they are. The pandemic has shown us the degree of innovation, even in times of stress, that young people are capable of. What young people have done in the digital space has kept them afloat, and that has generated jobs even for those previously not in employment. The Kenyan Government also carried out a number of other interventions. We suspended listings with credit reference bureaus for all to alleviate some stress for people. We suspended some taxation mechanisms to reduce the pressure on people and businesses. Thus we have shown that even in these times of stress it is very possible to use innovation for a better recovery.

It is possible to create a new hopeful world, and this can be done in terms of the values that we hold dear, the values of solidarity, of promoting co-existence, and platforms for wellness. There is no reason why young people cannot support each other, and there is a lot to be gained from cross-generational learning. Drawing on the positive lessons from the past and creating a bridge to the future is attainable, and we will achieve it.  This is not the first crisis; it is not going to be the last, thus, we need to build better societies, which are more peaceful, equitable and sustainable.

This is an edited text from a statement by Dr Juma during the Pre-Global Peace Day Celebration – African Session, organised by Global Peace, on 15 September 2021

Dr. Monica Juma is the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Kenya. 

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