Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

All protocol duly observed.

On behalf of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, H.E Moussa Faki Mahamat, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to this Virtual Consultative Meeting with African Youth Ministers on COVID-19.

Allow me to express my sincere gratitude to you for honouring our invitation to this meeting. Given the events going on in our continent and in the world today, our discussions today are crucial for our collective response to a common threat to the development of our young citizens of Africa, which we hold central to the continent’s development.

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,

2020 has been an eventful year. The advent of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its attendant impact on our lives, lifestyles and livelihoods is a shared reality for every single individual on the continent. The pandemic has had far-reaching consequences on our already complicated realities. Some of our most challenging issues have been heightened by the impact of the pandemic and its mitigation measures such as lockdowns, school and business closures and travel bans.  Mortality has increased, barriers to access to education and jobs are reinforced, and the strain on our health institutions are intensified. No aspect of life is left untouched. Unemployment and underemployment are rising, and our economies are at real risk. We are also seeing an increase in mental health issues and gender-based violence as a result of mandatory lockdowns.

Africa’s youth population are significantly affected by these challenges. As young people are overwhelmingly likely to be in school or in vulnerable employment, they are particularly susceptible to the collateral damage from lockdowns.  Given systemic bottlenecks Africa faces around internet penetration and structures for virtual working, it is even more challenging for youth to access online education or remote work. As a result, we must prioritize efforts to minimize the impact of the pandemic on our youth. The urgent needs of young people are even more burning in the face of  COVID-19, and we must act accordingly to meet those needs.  

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the African Union Commission, we have put responding to the pandemic front and centre of our ongoing work. Some key response strategies of the Commission include:

  • Establishing a COVID19 Response Fund to raise $420 million to meet economic, humanitarian and health challenges on the continent; and 
  • Developing an Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 Outbreak which aims to Prevent severe illness and death from COVID-19 infection and Minimize social disruption and economic consequences of COVID-19 outbreaks. 

In support of the existing strategies, as well as the relentless efforts of Africa CDC in promoting evidence-based public health practice for surveillance, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and control of COVID-19, AUC through the HRST Department, has developed a robust

. This strategy is targeted at the Member States, partners and young people, to put youth at the centre of the continental response. Harnessing the digital fluency and creativity of our African youth, the three main objectives of our efforts are:

  1. Reducing the health risk of COVID-19 among young people;
  2. Minimizing the impact of COVID-19 and its containment measures on young people;
  3. Mobilizing and engaging young people to be responders to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do we aim to achieve these objectives? We have identified four ways:

  1. Be Safe: A COVID-19 communications campaign to sensitize, share knowledge and self-care practices
  2. Continue Learning:  Providing opportunities, support and capacities for young people to continue learning through non-traditional channels.
  3. Be an Innovator: Provide opportunities for young people to be creative and innovate around COVID-19 challenges.
  4. Be a Responder: Mobilize young people to safely respond to supporting young people and communities to deal with COVID-19.

Since April 2020, some of our key achievements include a social campaign targeted to youth on health and safety; partnering on innovation challenges such as the AfDB Africa Vs Virus Hackathon; implementation of education initiatives such as the HP Be Online; and online engagement and training of young people to be responders, reaching about 50,000 young people across Africa.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In as much as the pandemic presents challenges which threaten our economies and societies, we can also seek opportunities for strengthening our systems to respond to age-old issues. We can view our current realities as an opportunity for us as government and duty bearers to develop the infrastructure and resources which will accelerate the development of our youth, and in turn, our continent.

This is the time for us to concentrate efforts to unlocking the systemic bottlenecks which have inhibited our progress. Digital connectivity is a continental imperative. It is evident to us all that access to the internet is a fundamental right. In our current state, access to online platforms is the difference between a young person who can continue learning and one who is disenfranchised. It is the difference between a young person keeping their job or finding themselves unemployed. We can no longer overlook what has been laid bare by this pandemic- empowering our youth requires a strategic focus on unlocking these bottlenecks.

Last week, our youth came together en masse to discuss how to build back better African economies in the aftermath of COVID-19. What is evident is that they look at countries to renew their commitment and reinforce their actions to accelerate the pace of innovation in Africa. They are calling for digital connectivity, energy and infrastructure as necessary tools for their empowerment as pivotal actors and change-makers. This is the work we need to do to back up all our rhetoric on Africa’s demographic dividend. This is the catalyst for the paradigm shift which we aspire to.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is against this backdrop that we are here today to discuss the urgent actions we need to take, not only to survive this global pandemic but to thrive in its aftermath and beyond. In the next few hours, we will share our experiences, exchange knowledge and highlight our areas for support on the road to recovery. It is my hope that by the end of this conversation, we leave not only with a keen inspiration to deliver for our constituents as they expect of us but also with concrete ideas, solutions and partnerships to produce tangible results.

Thank you very much for your attention and I wish us all fruitful deliberations.