West Africa is struck by the coronavirus pandemic, as much by the virus itself – with nearly 30 058 confirmed cases and 764 deaths in the twelve countries where Oxfam in West Africa works – as it is also struck by the impacts of measures put in place by governments to prevent the virus from spreading among the most vulnerable populations. Restrictions on movement, closing of borders and markets come at the worst time, during the harvest period, which mobilizes the workforce, especially women and young people.
Many find themselves without work and without income in a context where 66% of the working population in Africa has a vulnerable job - and does not have sufficient resources to live without working daily. And this is happening while the price of food rises and the spaces to sell products become more and more inaccessible.
Youth mobilized against the pandemic
But to cope with the pandemic, West Africa has a major asset: its youth - 76% of West Africans are under 25, making it the youngest population in the world. In times of crisis, several young people have chosen to be part of the solution. In Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Nigeria and Chad, they have mobilized by moving the lines in their own way and embodying the hope of a better tomorrow. We have met them.
Adam is a young Malian activist and one of our Sahel Superheroes. She fights so that the demands of young people are heard, she fights for democracy and the promotion of citizenship.
In response to the coronavirus crisis, Adam supports displaced persons and destitute children through the organization she has created, the Association of Youth for Active Citizenship and Democracy (AJCAD). She distributes hygiene kits (soap, gel, gloves, etc.) and uses web TV and social networks to raise awareness about the disease and hygiene measures to prevent it.
“The virus knows neither rich, poor, young, nor old. It attacks everyone. But there are still people in Mali who don't believe in its existence.”
She also challenges the negative impact of the barrier measures on small traders as well as the absence of accompanying measures to help them cope: “The curfew did not prevent the spread of the virus. Daily habits have not changed, the mosques are always full, "she points out.
Hamzat is an activist who makes it a point to ensure transparency in the use of public funds in Nigeria, which is the least engaged government in the world in the fight against inequalities, according to an Oxfam report published in 2019. The impacts of COVID- 19 only amplify inequalities: “To date, almost 100 million people are poor [in Nigeria] and many of them have been locked down”, he hammers.
“COVID-19 has widened the inequality gap in our society.”
With millions of euros donated by individuals and organizations - including the European Union - to Nigeria to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, Hamzat’s action is all the more necessary. He uses digital tools and social networks to monitor public financial resources: “It is important to document these expenses so that, after COVID-19, citizens have access to audits and hold the government to account. "
Hamzat’s influence extends beyond his country’s borders. The group he created before the pandemic, Follow The Money, brings together 6,000 young people who monitor the use of public financial resources in education, water and sanitation in 7 countries in Africa.
Malika, Burkina Faso
Malika Ouattara, better known as "Malika la Slameuse", is a slam music artist in Burkina Faso. She puts her talent and energy at the service of social causes, not only through her music, but as president of the Slamazone foundation, which she created in March 2019 to put her art to the benefit of the poor. Faced with the coronavirus crisis, Malika readjusted her activities and is now raising awareness on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 with hygienic measures.
“It’s hard to get someone to understand COVID-19 when they’re hungry.”
But the challenges are enormous in the face of this crisis, which is added to a worsening security and humanitarian situation. “We are talking about the disease, the virus, but we must not forget that hunger is a disease itself which perhaps kills much more (…) There is a crisis in the crisis. We have to broaden our goals and focus on several issues at once.”
Salim is a young Chadian activist who fights for digital access for all. A computer scientist and one of our Sahel Superheroes, he is the co-founder of WenakLabs, a youth association that promotes active citizenship and participative democracy through technological innovation and the opening up of public data.
“Misinformation is worse than a pandemic.”
From the start of the pandemic in Chad, he created the "1313" mobile application to raise awareness, inform and combat false information related to COVID-19.
The term "1313" refers to the information line set up by the Ministry of Posts and New Technologies of Chad and with which Salim has established a partnership which has enabled him to integrate the national cell in charge of monitoring and health security. “It is only together, by mobilizing all of us that we can take action against this pandemic and what it is causing to our generation.”
Awal Issa Rachid, Niger
Awal Issa Rachid is a young just graduated doctor who is on the front line of the coronavirus crisis in Niger. He and his young colleagues from the Association of Young Doctors of Niger are still awaiting integration into the public service. However, there is no question of waiting in the face of the rapidly spreading pandemic in the country, with 832 confirmed cases and 46 deaths already.
“It is not loyal for a health worker to hide in such moments when his expertise is sought after more than ever.”
Dr. Rachid takes care of people infected with the coronavirus, including those who are rejected or even marginalized within their community because of the contagious and virulent nature of the disease. And doing this, without a salary and despite minimal protective equipment at the beginning of the crisis, which exposed him to high risks of contamination.
Dr. Rachid derives his motivation from the observation of the degrading health situation in Niger which requires the collective efforts of all: “We must all lead the fight against coronavirus disease. It is our responsibility to fulfill our duty as citizens to assist people in distress.”
These initiatives are just a sample. The dynamism and mutual aid among young people in West Africa are contagious and spread quickly during the crisis, as shown by the COVID-19 community engagement dashboard in the region.
The Africtivists, in particular, continue to defend democratic values, human rights and good governance through digital technology. They are preparing, in partnership with Oxfam, a mapping of youth initiatives linked to COVID-19 in West Africa in order to promote them among the population and to local and regional governance structures, as well as to create a network of exchange and inspiration stimulating the civic engagement of young people.