Covid-19 has worsened problems both for the world and Africa. Sixty per cent of Africa’s population is below the age of 25, which makes it the youngest continent, with a median age of 19. Young people are the continent’s biggest resource, but they have been bruised by the pandemic in more ways than one.
According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation 13.4 per cent of Africa’s workforce between ages 15-24, roughly 16 million people, were facing unemployment in 2019. Even at the best of times, young people are most likely to be the first to lose their jobs or have to turn to low-quality, low-pay, and often unsafe jobs. In 2020, Covid-19 has exacerbated this as young people were laid off and a number of youth start-ups and enterprises collapsed because they could not meet governments’ criteria for receiving economic stimulus packages. In the recovery phase of the pandemic response, start-ups and youth-dominated sectors will require concentrated support in the form of financing to help revive them.
What happens when a lot of young people are unemployed, out of school, and barely managing to survive? We have a few clues. First, reports of petty theft and house breakings have been on the rise. This Covid period has also seen an increase in domestic and gender-based violence at the household level, especially for young couples, and increased sexual abuse of young girls and boys. Second, as young people sought to beat the daily monotony of being young, energetic, out of school, and jobless, we have seen the outright breaking of Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines. This has meant increased law enforcement, increasing arrests of young people, and a decline in respect for rules that try to keep society on an even keel.
According to Unesco, 74 per cent of global students have been affected by the pandemic. Along with many other countries, African education has been greatly affected by Covid-19 as students have been at home since its outbreak early this year. Even though many learning institutions, especially the private ones, transitioned to online teaching and learning, many others in Africa are reluctant to invest in digital learning. One can understand why: Many schools, colleges, and universities simply do not have the infrastructure needed for remote learning. An estimated 89 per cent of learners in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to household computers with another 82 per cent lacking internet access. In some places learning has stopped completely and it is hard to tell if Africa’s educational institutions will open again any time soon.
In addition, chronic poverty means many people do not have the necessary devices to successfully navigate an online classroom, let alone connect to online education. This is one of factors that adds to the difficulty of relying on digital education plans.
First, people who can acquire and use digital platforms for work and learning already have the required education and skills. Outside this group, there is limited education, leaving many unable to get access to digital learning. The need to increase digital literacy and build digital capacity among Africans has revealed itself during this pandemic period. On a positive note, young Africans have been working independently to deepen their digital literacy, often becoming the channels through which others can also receive the skills.
Access to the internet
Africa has some of the most expensive internet costs around the world, making many online webinars and classes for young people practically inaccessible. Even if they could afford an internet connection, many do not have sufficient internet bandwidth to support their participation. There is also the increased cost of trying to study or do business online, or attend webinars. According to Rebecca Enonchong, the founder and CEO of AppsTech, the median of 1GB of data in Africa costs about $7.04, with some countries registering a cost of more than $20 per GB of data. A single Zoom meeting costs approximately 540MB to 1.63 GB of data per hour. As a result, many young Africans are losing out.
Access to electricity
About 600 million people in Africa still don't have access to electricity. Yet reliable and affordable power is an important component for young people who must now work or study from home. Sadly, millions of young people cannot use their laptops or other digital devices due to unreliable and unaffordable power, forcing many to seek alternative sources for charging their devices. Many have been frustrated as a reliable electricity connection allows people to ensure that their days are well used and that they can manage the transition to digital learning and working spaces. It is critical to mention that the Covid-19 period has coincided with disconnection of power for millions of people unable to pay their bills. This means that many children cannot continue their lessons.
Slowed, but not stopped
Despite the pandemic and its impacts, African youth continue to demonstrate resilience, creativity, and the spirit of innovation and enterprise. As we journey towards a post-Covid-19 Africa, it is critical that millions of young Africans are supported with the skills, knowledge, and resources they need to recover from the hard blows of the pandemic. This will not only benefit them personally, it will also build a strong foundation for all of us as we face future crises.
Passy Amayo Ogolla is Programme Manager at the Society for International Development in East Africa.
This article was first published in a pullout in The EastAfrican newspaper on December 5, 2020.