‘Covid has created some other opportunities’: Cautious optimism among young African graduates navigating life in a time of pandemic

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Author(s): Alude Mahali, Sharlene Swartz & Angelina Wilson Fadiji

To cite this article: Mahali, A., Swartz, S. & Fadiji, A. W. (2021). “‘Covid has created some other opportunities’: Cautious optimism among young African graduates navigating life in a time of pandemic”, Youth Voice Journal, ISSN (online): 2969.

Categories: Paper, Youth Voice Journal



This paper reports on the various impacts the Coronavirus pandemic has had on a cohort of recent African university graduates currently enrolled in a longitudinal cohort study and interviewed in June 2020. The study follows a cohort of 122 young graduates over five years and interviews them annually. This paper reports on the first year of these interviews and focuses on their response to the question, “how has Covid affected your life and plans? development. The paper offers insights into the vigilant and expectant experiences of these young graduates located in multiple countries on the African continent and abroad. We briefly discuss their agile, adaptive and agential reaction to the pandemic as a moment to aspire, act and seek opportunity. Cautiously optimistic, these graduates describe the various navigational capacities or contextual formative abilities that they have adopted to course correct in the wake of a global pandemic.  The idea of navigational capacities acknowledges that adversity, change, and movement are a constant feature of the landscape of youth in Africa. Thus, developing flexible capacities – rather than hard skills, strategies of oppositional resistance, rigid assets, or only adaptive resilience – is a more helpful goal for youth. The COVID-19 pandemic is a completely new social, political and economic context in which African youth live. While still in an experimental stage, the idea of navigational capacities, appears to offer promise beyond that of other youth development frameworks that put resistance, resources  or resilience at its centre, frameworks that rely on young people’s innate ability to endure ongoing adversity. All three approaches to youth development—assets, resilience and resistance—emerged from the Global North. They engage insufficiently with the structural conditions and systems that suffocate young people’s ability to flourish. In the absence of family resources, national safety nets, and individual exceptionalism, these approaches have limited use for the Global South. This paper applies the notion of navigational capacities to the way in which they experience the Covid pandemic, and shows how these youth have taken advantage of the opportunities that Covid has created for growth and survival in the areas of entrepreneurial ventures, new work and study opportunities, as well as in their personal and relational worlds.

Keywords: COVID-19, navigational capacities, agency, African youth, African graduates

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