On the back of what has been a difficult year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 witnessed global school closures for the most part, with an estimated 1.3 billion learners compelled to study at home where possible. 

We look ahead to 2021 with concern, knowing that around 11 Million young girls will potentially not return to the classroom as schools prepare to reopen, unless drastic measures are taken to ensure their education is not cut short.

We also know that a lot of children are being forced into child labour due to pressures on their families to survive on account of the hardships inflicted by this pandemic. At this rate, all the gains we have made in the fights against child labour will be rolled back.

The combined impact of Covid-19 on the education of girls and marginalized children pushes the world to the brink of losing an entire generation.

It is commendable that the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has unanimously adopted a resolution declaring 2021 as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. We will be joining hands with the 100 Million Campaign and Children’s Rights Champion, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi to fulfill the mission of ensuring all children are FREE, SAFE and EDUCATED.

In a sense, I believe we will look back one day and be grateful that the stark vulnerabilities and inequities in our education and social systems have been brutally exposed by the constraints imposed by Covid-19.

But it did not have to take the Covid-19 to bring world leaders to see this obvious truth.

Last year, through the power of solidarity, we worked together with our colleagues from other Continents under the coordination of the 100 million campaign to demand that a fair share of the Covid-19 recovery funds be allocated to those left furthest behind and those truly in need of the funds.

In 2021, under the auspices of the Global Student Forum (GSF), we will stand together with our compatriots from all over the world to demand accountability from our governments on various issues. We have come to realize the issues that confront us are common, regardless of our geographical differences.

I want to use this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to all our national student unions for the direct interventions they have contributed to their governments’ efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, we will continue to stand with you in solidarity.

It is equally important to acknowledge that some African Governments took extra-ordinary measures to alleviate the impact of the pandemic on the poor and the marginalized. We remember fondly the decision of His Majesty Mohammed VI, King of the Kingdom of Morocco, to give active and essential Covid-related health assistance to other African countries to aid the continental efforts to address the pandemic. We commend these efforts and ask others to follow this example.

Last year, we stood against dictatorial and authoritarian tendencies in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, China, amongst others, and we demanded the release of our colleague, Patrick Zaki, who is still being unlawfully detained by the Government of Egypt for his Human Rights activities. 

Our history as the All-Africa Students Union is rich with several instances where we have stood united to oppose authoritarian regimes. We fiercely fought the apartheid regime together with our colleagues in South Africa,

We stood with our colleagues in the Soweto Uprising and consequently named June 16 as African Student’s Day. In 2021, as far as students’ rights and human rights in general are concerned, we will continue to relentlessly defend those rights at all times.

I am happy to announce the decision of the Government of Cape Verde to reduce tuition fees by 50% for the 2021 academic year following demands by our fellow students in Cape Verde with our support. We will be keen to see other African Governments follow this example.