Africa’s Youth: We all have a role to play in the Ebola Response

Je suis Fally Ipupa, and the place that I call home is the Democratic Republic of Congo – formerly known as Zaire – the second-largest country by area in Africa. The capital Kinshasa became visible on a global stage after American sports legend Muhammad Ali brought the historic boxing event “Rumble in the Jungle” to D.R. Congo in 1974. Although this was before my time, it is recognized as the greatest sporting event of the 20th century. D.R. Congo is unfortunately also known as ground zero for the first case of Ebola in 1976. Nearly 40 years later, it has survived seven Ebola outbreaks. When new cases emerged in West Africa, it created the worst global health crisis in modern history. I felt immediately concerned by this, and started sharing best practices on social media.

message to Africa youthIn 2015, I was ranked in South Africa’s Mali & Guardian as the most followed pan-African artist from D.R. Congo on Twitter. As a singer and songwriter active on social media, I am able to engage my fans on social issues and play an active role in the Ebola response. In the absence of strong healthcare systems in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the greatest force is young people. Over 60 percent of the population on the continent is under the age of 25, and growth trends indicate that Africa’s children – our children – are the future of humanity.

Throughout the early stages of the outbreak in West Africa, I used social media to send key messages on Ebola prevention and best practices on hand-washing, and reminders to avoid direct contact with sick people. This led to me becoming the face of local campaigns in D.R. Congo and abroad, while I was also already working with rock star Bono’s ONE organization on broader global initiatives. This included Do Agric, It Pays, aimed at holding African leaders accountable for their commitments to poverty reduction by investing in agriculture and promoting agribusiness as a viable employment sector for Africa’s youth.

During the peak of the Ebola crisis in August 2014, I attended President Obama’s inaugural U.S.–Africa Summit in Washington, D.C. and participated in interactive roundtable discussions with Mandela Washington Fellows, also known as the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI). As an artist, I really appreciated having this opportunity to discuss firsthand how I can work more with the youth and contribute to the development of Africa. The candid conversations with YALI fellows were truly inspiring and I left with the desire to do more.

After Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf activated a global humanitarian response in the fall of 2014, I participated in the launch of the ONE organization’s Ebola: Waiting multimedia campaign, which included a video featuring 14 African icons in music. An array of international film stars were also in the line-up, including Thandie Newton, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Will Ferrell and Morgan Freeman. The call to action focused on pressurizing world leaders to quickly make and deliver bold commitments to help end the Ebola epidemic.

Although music and football are embedded in the DNA of African culture, it will take more than the efforts of celebrities – artists, athletes, actors – lending their voices to regional and global campaigns to win the fight against Ebola.

Today the three most affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – are edging closer to the recovery phase. Liberia successfully reached zero cases almost three weeks ago and began its countdown to 42 days without a case, only to have a new patient test positive on Friday. In Sierra Leone, cases seem to be falling at last, with zero new cases recorded on Friday, and two new cases on Monday. In Guinea, numbers are still fluctuating, although there is a general decline. But in the broader regional context, a lot of work still needs to be done around demystifying myths and fears in rural communities, particularly in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Ebola survivors are faced with stigma and many children are now orphans.

As Ebola no longer makes major news headlines, it is ultimately the community ownership and continued social mobilization efforts made by the Liberian, Guinean and Sierra Leonean people that will lead to reaching zero, and staying there. UNICEF, an international partner in the Ebola response, has taken the lead in responding to the multi-sector needs of children and empowering Africa’s youth to become active social mobilizers. The youth are leading door-to-door campaigns in Liberia and Sierra Leone and using innovative social monitoring platforms, such as U-report, available in 11 African countries. These young people are amazing and should get more credit for their hard work and commitment. In response, I champion their volunteerism, bravery and commitment to #KickEbolaOut.

There are many lessons to be learned from the other African nations – such as Uganda and D.R. Congo – that have tackled Ebola. In the meantime, I will continue to make music rooted in rumba that makes global audiences move. I will continue to help locally through my foundation, lending my voice to raise awareness and help support Africa’s most valuable resource: its young men and women.- written by Fally Ipupa

Mariama Keita also contributed to this OpEd. She is a communication and development expert who serves as a consultant and lead voice on Africa’s sustainable development in political, creative and social sectors. As a contributing writer and scholar she has interviewed a roster of African high-level officials and cultural icons.