2021 : A Year of Fighting Inequality in West Africa

In Ouagadougou, people marched for climate justice as COP26 was taking place in Glasgow. Credit: Gery Barbot/ Oxfam

The year 2021 is ending with its share of challenges for the people of West Africa. But there is still hope, thanks to a youth that is mobilising and fighting for a more just and equal society.

The year 2021 is ending with its share of challenges for the people of West Africa : insecurity, climate change, the food crisis, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of commitment from governments to reduce inequality which has widened the gap between the richest people and the rest of the population.

But there is still hope, thanks to a youth that is mobilising and fighting for a more just and equal society. Young people and women have a new vision of their society; one in which the rights of all must be respected. This year, Oxfam in West Africa worked with more than 3.2 million people and in synergy with nearly 500 partners on the journey towards a brighter future. Here are some of the key highlights of the year.

Young people rallied to fight the Covid-19 pandemic

The Africtivists mapped out the initiatives of more than a hundred young people in West Africa who have found innovative ways to curb the spread of the disease, whether it is by raising awareness and fighting misinformation related to the coronavirus; installing sanitary equipments or other innovations to slow down the spread of the virus and assist the the infected people. Young people are showing that they want to be part of the solution. And knowing that 64% of the West African population is under 24 years old, the question was raised with our partners Africtivists: what are we waiting for to trust the youth?

We continued working together for a more equal Sahel

Oxfam has always made the fight against inequalities in the world its priority. And to carry out the mission of ensuring justice and equality for all, Oxfam in West Africa has decided to expand the community of the Sahel's Superheroes. In 2019, we went to meet 9 young activists in Niger, Chad and Mali. They used their talents, expertise and time to help the most marginalised people, to inform citizens about their rights and to put inequalities at the heart of electoral discussions. This year, we wanted to highlight the work of 3 activists in Burkina Faso: Malika La Slamazone, Issaka and Cynthia, young Burkinabes committed to fighting for a more equal Sahel.

There is also an urgent need to respond to the big return of austerity measures, which could trigger the worst inequality crisis in decades. In October we published our 2021 Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index  for West Africa (CRII), which alerts about the planned budget cuts of $26.8 billion over the next five years in a region that is also the least committed to reducing inequality in Africa.

When it comes to inequality, the extractive sector in West Africa is not doing very well. Women and benefit less from the gains of extractive projects, which jeopardise their livelihoods, health and safety and deteriorate their status within households and communities. But since April 2021, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has adopted a charter on gender inclusion in the extractive sector. This represents a major step towards addressing the current inequality in terms of rights in this field across West African countries.

We Fought for Climate Justice

Compared to other regions in the world, West Africa is exceptionally vulnerable to climate change. Conflicts and climate change have led to the emergence of a water supply problem. Irregular rainfalls, droughts and severe flooding increase the need for drinking water for people and livestock. In Burkina Faso, the security situation in the north has led to people fleeing to urban centers, exacerbating the problem of drinking water supply that is already present due to climate change. We worked with photojournalists, Samuel Turpin and Eric Ouedraogo as they produced the excellent audio documentary "Burkina Faso: when water runs out".

Top this all of with the economic impacts of the pandemic (rising prices, closure of markets and borders) and we are now witnessing in the Sahel one of the fastest growing food crises in the world with a staggering 67% increase in food insecurity. To put a face on this alarming situation, we went to meet 5 mothers who are fighting the hunger virus on a daily basis, including Achta in Chad:  

To tackle the problem of hunger and the lack of water, Oxfam and its partners have distributed food, and facilitated access to drinking water and sanitation facilities. This is the case in the Central African Republic, where a gravity-fed drinking water system has been installed in the town of Batangafo, transforming the lives of people who can now obtain 15 to 19 litres of water per day, compared to 7 litres previously.

Our fight for climate justice culminated in an emotional moment, the #WorldClimateMarch, which mobilized hundreds of young people in 10 countries across the region to tell decision-makers at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow that the time for promises is over and that they must take strong actions to protect the planet and its people.

This is how we wrap up a year full of challenges but also filled with  hope. The journey towards social justice in West Africa is possible with the involvement of all. The road ahead is long, but together we can get there.