Youth and post-COVID-19 recovery strategies in Africa and beyond
It is clear that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will have severe global health, social, and economic impact on people and economies. To date, the science and statistics indicate that while the youth and children are not bearing the brunt of the COVID-19, measures to curb the spread of the virus, will impact the youth very severely. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 99 per cent of the children and youth under 18 years worldwide (2.34 billion) is living in one of the 186 countries with some form of movement restrictions in place due to COVID-19. Sixty percent of all children live in one of the 82 countries with full (7%) or partial (53%) lockdown – accounting for 1.4 billion young lives.
Many governments have temporarily closed schools and universities to curb the spread of COVID-19 in academic institutions. This has disrupted the education of more than 1.57 billion (91%) students worldwide. Some of the young people are unlikely going to return school permanently due to the loss of parents’ lives and income. UNICEF records that over 1 billion children and youth are out of school globally, due to the pandemic.
The disparate effect on education across the world – related to the availability of digital infrastructure and equipment in developing countries. In developed countries education for many has continued via e-learning. In most developing countries, this is available to the very few. The lack of access to education for such an extended time will exacerbate inequality for future generations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has catalysed job losses and can be expected to lead to adjustments post-pandemic with further losses. The impact in Africa, which is facing massive demographic shifts, with a so-called youth dividend, will be severe. Over 170 million people will join the continent’s workforce is in the next five years. ‘This youth boom, combined with the sudden disappearance of education and job opportunities, threatens to replace progress with poverty and grievance.’
If left unaddressed, the impact of the COVID-19 on the youth will perpetuate socio-economic problems of the youth, and ultimately undermine development prospects for African countries. Failure to improve the prospects for the youth will expose nations to civil and political unrest, violence, illegal immigration, a rise in drug use and crime.
A global response post-COVID-19 recovery is needed. The impact of COVID-19 can be best addressed through multilateralism and collective response. ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has re-emphasized the importance of a multilateral approach to sustainable development, as well as the importance of combining social, economic and environmental priorities.’ Developing, and especially least-developed countries cannot do this on their own. They will need financial and non-financial assistance from development partners and development financial institutions. These partners will need to work with a range of domestic stakeholders – government, private sector, and civil society – and the youth has to play and important role to shape their future. Policies that are forward-looking reducing the damages caused by COVID-19 and resilient to future crises.
The youth should be at the centre of the post-COVID-19 recovery plans. Sectors like tourism, agribusiness, information and communication technology, and other services show potential for large scale productivity growth and job creation. Young people are already stepping up as entrepreneurs in these sectors. They need access to capital to start and grow businesses. Innovative financial and loan instruments which move beyond the current predominant asset-based collateral requirements for access to finance. Young people should also be given other business-related support from both the public and private sectors. Education or vocational training can equip young people with the skills necessary for future jobs and economies. Enhancing education in areas related to the demands of the digital economy, improves the quality of the workforce and enterprise.
We are starting to see innovative public-private partnerships (PPPs) to develop a COVID-19 vaccine or related pharmaceutical products that offer lessons in creating shared value. For example, Germany, France, Italy and Netherlands formed an Inclusive Vaccine Alliance to negotiate with potential developers and manufacturers for the COVID-19 vaccine, and want to involve the European Commission in the negotiations. These governments have signed an agreement with AstraZeneca – a British pharmaceutical firm – to supply hundreds of million doses of its potential COVID-19 vaccines to the EU. Public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organisations through initiatives such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) are ‘working together to accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and enable equitable access to these vaccines for people during outbreaks.’ Creating shared value across stakeholders, should also bridge the social divides and actively engage the youth.
Universities and postgraduate can contribute meaningfully to research and development, innovation and the development of medical products. For instance, South African universities are collaborating to develop the Sars-CoV-2 strain (University of the Western Cape and Stellenbosch University) and producing antigens and antibodies required for rapid diagnostic COVID-19 test kits (University of Cape Town).
PPPs can also be leveraged to address many challenges of the youth, not only during COVID-19 but beyond the pandemic. COVID-19 is accelerating the transition to digital economies. Therefore, PPPs should aim to address challenges or provide opportunities for the youth in a digital 21st economy. PPPs can assist to create opportunities in productive services and digital technologies. The MultiChoice Group has recently partnered with Youth Employment Service to create 500 jobs for South African youth. Amazon has recently created new 3000 permanent and seasonal full-time work from home (virtual) jobs in South Africa, which require someone with home electronic or internet support, and digital capabilities to support the company’s customer enquiries.
Companies can help through learnerships, graduate and internship programmes. Educated youth with the necessary skills (ICT and digital skills) and some experience is a vital contributor to a growing and sustainable economy. Graduate unemployment has become prevalent in many African countries – companies can provide a step-up for new graduates through learnerships and internships. Having some experience a big difference in the labour market.
Development partners and development financial institutions should provide necessary resources to achieve the work towards post-COVID-19 recovery plans. International organisations can strengthen and support cooperation to promote youth development, through joint advocacy or initiatives. For example, UNICEF launched a Global Agenda for Action to protect vulnerable children from harm. The Agenda has six pillars: keep children healthy and safe; reach vulnerable children with water, sanitation, and hygiene; keep children learning; support families to cover their needs and care for their children; protect children from violence, exploitation, and abuse; and protect refugees and migrants, children and those affected by conflict. Implementing the pillars of this agenda could make a big difference to the lives of many children and young people. Governments should be active in implementing these initiatives. Leaving such initiatives to civil society is abdicating a fundamental responsibility to children and youth.
Governments should actively seek to partner with and support youth initiatives across the economy. We need to recognise the enormous potential of Africa’s youth – they have an important role to play in Africa’s post-COVID-19 recovery.
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