Why youth face rough terrain in post-Covid world

A group of college students spending time together on campus at the university yard. [Getty Images]

Kenya is one of the countries that put in place sound plans to help the youths recover from the negative effects of Covid-19, a new study has shown.

However, most the sub-Saharan countries have excluded young people from priority-setting conversations with current or planned economic support policies not being designed with youth accessibility in mind according to a rapid study by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), a non-governmental organisation (NGO).

The authors undertook a deep-dive analysis of the recovery plans for Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa.

The decision by the Kenyan government to offer free internet, mentor 500 youth entrepreneurs, and provide funds to various youth empowerment organisations is an exemplary actionable youth inclusion plan in Africa.

Dr Erick Yegon, a senior associate director at ICRW said policies by most African countries that could potentially benefit youth, such as loans or grants to small or medium enterprises, did not include mechanisms to help youth become recipients of such programmes.

However, a few notable exceptions were documented.

“Youth interviewees from deep-dive countries expressed strong optimism in the digital future as an avenue for youth employment,” explained Yegon.

“However, they also reported that existing and emerging investments in the country’s digital infrastructure are neither adequate nor responsive to their needs or the needs of other marginalised groups.”The major finding of the study is how the pandemic has left behind damaging and enduring legacies among the youths, including job losses, food insecurity, disruptions in education and training, socio-economic shocks, drive towards crime, and difficulty finding decent jobs. 

The study titled, “Youth Inclusion in Covid-19 Economic Recovery Plans: A mapping and Analysis of National and Regional Processes in sub-Saharan Africa,” identifies the state and trajectory of economic recovery from the pandemic for African youth as of July 2021. While most of the youths interviewed were optimistic about finding employment in technology or digital opportunities, they also noted the underdevelopment of the digital infrastructure which could not suit their needs.

The authors insist that the Covid-19 responsive developments in the infrastructure are not what the youth need to start or expand their businesses or grow their ICT skills. “Investments to promote distance learning appear to have primarily benefited those youths who were already at advantage before the pandemic through ownership of feature phones or computers,” added Yegon.

Nonetheless, Yegon said, these gaps in planning for the youth provide an opportunity for a more active focus on youth inclusion in the design of recovery measures.

“Evidence from the study indicates a need for more targeted attention to the interests and needs of the youth by policymakers and programme implementers in the region,” said Yegon.

“It is important to require agencies developing or implementing new Covid-19 relief measures to include at minimum one youth accountability metric.” 

For example, countries can make it mandatory that a minimum proportion of recipients be youth and or women.

The rapid review and interviews with policymakers described investments in the digital future, yet the youth — those most likely to leverage mobile marketplaces or emerging web-based platforms — are not being consulted via any formal processes that we could identify.

But Kenya’s economic stimulus and investment measures, although they did not necessarily target youth, the authors found were likely to benefit them. Expectedly, most of the recovery programmes and policies, around 38 per cent, were rolled out by the State at a time when the private sector was subdued by the pandemic.

Some of the economic relief packages took the form of government-led efforts to promote, protect, and create employment, particularly for vulnerable groups, including young people and women.

Sectors such as tourism and small medium enterprises (SMEs), which were hit hard by the pandemic, also benefited from government support as well as agriculture which provided a safety net for millions of Kenyans affected by the pandemic.

Governments also increased direct cash transfers and offered tax relief to businesses and individuals and deferred payments for utilities. In Kenya, banks offered loan repayment holidays to borrowers negatively impacted by the pandemic.

Poor backgrounds

The government also increased transfers to women and older persons even as it launched Kazi Mtaani, a programme where youths from poor backgrounds are given labour-intensive jobs for a daily paycheck.

Other economic packages, the report noted, included macroeconomic stabilisation and stimulus packages, debt relief measures, or national healthcare strengthening by multilateral funders such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In Kenya, the youths were the hardest hit by the pandemic. Of the 1.7 million workers that lost their jobs between April and June when the country implemented containment measures to curb the spread of the pandemic, 61.7 per cent, or 1.03 million were young people aged between 20 and 34 years, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed. Because of the critical role that the education sector holds in rebooting the country’s economy from the damage of Covid-19, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration rolled out a stimulus package that was supposed to seep into almost every sector of the economy and help the youths in the process.

In the Post Covid-19 Economic Recovery Strategy, Treasury said the prolonged closure of learning institutions had exposed children to social isolation and stigma, child labour, drug and substance abuse, early marriage and other forms of abuse.

But the response against Covid-19 in Africa has not been youth-friendly, according to the report. Youth reported limited participation and involvement in the development of recovery programmes in their countries. Moreover, few country recovery programmes specifically targeted youth, and those that did ignore differences between youth populations.

Most of the youths said they did not directly benefit from governmental pandemic measures or knew someone who did. “In some countries, NGO and private sector recovery interventions were reported as better planned and delivered,” reads part of the report.

Some government actions, such as the decision by Nigeria’s government to ban Twitter and large commercial borrowing for the public, only worsened the plight of the youth.

The ban on Twitter contributed to an economic loss of over $300 million (Sh35.6 billion) in four months. Many youths, the study found, expected more investment in digital infrastructure but felt little was done.

Unfortunately, the opinions of the youth are also not being sought or valued in policy formulation processes. “They further cited lack of trust on government follow-through regarding their participation or access to recovery resources.”

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