Even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the youth have for ages been one of the most vulnerable groups of people in society in emerging economies of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. The majority of households in these regions are characterized by generational poverty, exposure to environmental hazards like air pollution, illiteracy, violence, and disempowerment making the youth inevitably excluded from basic opportunities and services.
The outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020 only underlined these challenges pushing these young people on the edge where systemic unemployment, erosion of a decent livelihood, school dropout, and deterioration in their mental well-being became their new normal. The combination of these challenges and low incomes have therefore propelled many young people to cope with domestic abuse, early marriages, and also getting involved in violent activities such as theft, riots, and vandalism just to stay pre-occupied or become socially recognized. In Uganda, a number of youngsters have been arrested in the recent 6 months for the violation of the Covid-19 restrictions and spreading anti-government hate speech on social media, as the country prepared for the January 2021 Presidential elections. These were involved in social media activism campaigns, strikes, and riots on the streets of Kampala and its outskirts opposing the suppression of Robert Kyagulanyi also known as Bobi Wine by the ruling candidate President Yoweri Museveni.
Also, the International Labour Organisation reports that the lockdown, curfew, and other Covid-19 restrictions have sunk over 145 million youths worldwide into extreme poverty. Since many of them are usually employed in the informal sector or occupy lower and underpaying positions in companies’ hierarchies, their disposability easily comes by. In Uganda, the unceasing ban on the operation of bars, concerts, and casinos since March 2020, a year later, has left over 1.5 million people, the majority of who are the youth serving as waitresses, barmen, and deejays unemployed countrywide, which begs the question how are these people surviving?
What needs to be done
Now, the light at the end of the tunnel is that over 269 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide making the post-Covid-19 era something everyone is anticipating. Therefore, governments are once again faced with challenges of forming structures that highly consider the youth in preparation for this era. The legislators have to come up with better inclusion plans to tap into the youths’ potential, by providing them with greater tools and opportunities if these economies are to take off again. On 11th June 2020, Makerere University School of Public Health in partnership with Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC) unveiled the progress of a low-cost medical ventilator (Bulamu Ventilator) in preparation for a situation if the country had reached worst-case scenario with Covid-19 cases. Besides, in any given society, it is the young people that are always at the forefront in responding to crises through their participation in volunteering programs, raising awareness, as well as coming up with innovative solutions.
In the response to conflict and violence, legislators should mend this relationship by willingly giving the youth a seat at the table, not only for an inclusive political space, collaboration, and peacebuilding but also for innovation on how we can prevent crises such as Covid-19 from happening again. The most active collaboration is when young people are involved in the planning, implementation, and monitoring of policies and programs. This can be achieved through internships or fellowship programs. In the recent elections in Uganda, every municipality elected 2 youth Members of Parliament (MPs) whose roles are but not limited to forwarding ideas and concerns of the youth to the people high above in the political hierarchies. This kind of inclusion and representation acts as a tool for young people to be placed at the forefront of the decision-making in the country.
Also, with the help of the legislators, the resilience, creativity, and innovativeness among the youth are yet to change the employment curve upwards especially now that we are looking towards a post-crisis era. Entrepreneurship should be encouraged so that jobs can be retained through designing and rethinking SME support funds initiatives. This can be done by encouraging banks to lend under a chosen set of criteria and guidelines while government and financers consider providing certain risk guarantees or first-loss mechanisms. On 5th March 2021, the Central Bank of Uganda (BOU) issued a report stating that the covid relief measures would be extended for 6 more months with effect from 1st April 2021 to continuously support borrowers still affected by the pandemic. However, BOU is to remain watchful on how this outlook evolves, as the economic environment in the country slowly improves post the pandemic.
The global young population is continuously growing and there is a need to rethink policies that are more inclusive and representative for all demographics if we want long-term prosperity. It is the youth that will be the sole engine for the growth and development of these economies in the long run.
MACLEAN ATUHAIRE is a UGANDAN writer/author whose publications focus on socio-economic issues. She hopes that her writing is impactful and enlightening to the readers thus propelling solutions to the issues. Get in touch with her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AtuhaireMaclea.