TACOMA, Washington — The Sahel region of Africa consists of a band of nation states south of the Sahara and north of the Sudanese Savannah. Stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea the entire makeup of the region touches parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Sudan.
The region has been inundated with crises since 2012 when a drought brought the belt of states to its knees. Raids from terrorist organizations and political rival factions, contributed to more than 800,000 refugees and asylum seekers fleeing the violence, and nearly 2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout the region.
Over a six-month period in 2019, IDPs in Burkina Faso alone quadrupled. While in November of the same year, flooding displaced even more in Chad.
The disturbing situation has prompted a slew of people and organizations to aid the region, from the United Nations to pop star, Selena Gomez. The region has long been in dire need of basic necessities, like clean water, medicines and food security. And that was years before COVID-19.
Since the introduction of COVID-19 in the Sahel in March of 2020, a brand new crisis has gripped the area. The lack of sanitation and clean water to combat the virus is only exacerbated by floods and raids, making the issue a multi-pronged beast.
Furthermore, organized crime in the region is capitalizing on the pandemic. Counterfeit (or ineffective) drugs/tests, illicit drugs, weaponry and more have crime syndicates in the region enjoying uninterrupted success during the crisis.
COVID-19 in the Sahel case numbers are relatively small, compared to other regions, like the U.S., Latin America and Europe, but the numbers can’t be trusted as accurately. In fact, some Sahel countries’ governments have suppressed accurate reporting. Overall, COVID-19 in the Sahel has placed further pressure on already stretched resources.
The youth of the Sahel aren’t giving up on their future. Across the region, young adults are tackling the virus in unique ways. From finding host homes for IDPs to providing sanitary needs to populations in need, these young citizens, dubbed the “Sahel Superheroes,” have taken. Here are five representatives of Sahel Superheroes:
Malika la Slameuse is a poet and musician from Burkina Faso, who is the founder of Slamzone. The Slamzone Foundation used proceeds to fight poverty. She re-purposed the foundation to promote good hygiene practices in her community.
Salim is a computer scientist in Chad who has created an app (1313) that distinguishes false information from reliable government information as it relates to COVID-19 and security issues in Chad.
Adam is the creator of the Association of Youth for Active Citizenship and Democracy (AJCAD) a group that supports underserved populations like destitute children and disabled people. She distributes soaps and disinfectants along with good practices for hygiene during the pandemic.
Awal Issa Rachid is a doctor from Niger fresh out of medical school. He helps the underserved and has been on the front lines since the beginning of the pandemic.
Hazmat is a young Nigerian activist and founder of Follow the Money, an organization of 6,000 young persons who monitor the use of public funds for education, sanitation and water in seven different African nations.
There are plenty more among the Sahel region, and if anything, the Sahel can count on these young minds to right the wrongs and direct their home countries in a progressive direction of fact-based reasoning, inclusivity, equality and forces for healing COVID-19 in the Sahel.
– Christopher Millard