Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc and reverse the gains made in creating resilient and sustainable social-economic systems supporting young people’s lives, livelihoods and businesses.
For instance, the International Labour Organisation shows that one in six young people aged 18-29 stopped working (about 17.4 percent) because they were laid-off or due to the closure of the businesses they worked for. In Uganda, the majority of the youth are unemployed, while those in school are facing interruptions in acquiring quality education due to intermittent school closures.
Forced to stay at home to curb the spread of the coronavirus and with a limited ability of some households to afford online education, the pandemic is worsening the chances of keeping youth with a constructive mindset. Further, girls are more vulnerable and turning into child mothers and the youth are now more likely to contract COVID-19, especially with the tracing of COVID-19 variants from South Africa, Nigeria, India and the United Kingdom in Uganda. In addition, the containment measures have deprived many youths of continuity of their aspirations and dreams.
Therefore, the passiveness of the youth needs reactivation to increase youth-centred initiatives in reducing the impact of COVID-19 while leveraging their large population. Notably, the youthful stage is akin to exploration and adventure, thus, associated with high risks of multiplying the prevalence of COVID-19 due to youth-related habits.
However, if situated as active agents of COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) to support the Ministry of Health and the National COVID-19 Task Force, the youth will be empowered to increase the reach of government measures across and within their communities.
Moreover, decisions made by the political leaders to contain the pandemic have excluded the youth, yet the majority are affected by these measures, especially the lockdown. Nonetheless, the pain of contracting COVID-19 coupled with inappropriate information to all Ugandans in their respective local languages has expounded on the importance of youth as channels of information and reinvigorating their observable challenges as possible solutions to activate their sense of contribution. Youth can actively contribute to building resilient communities through volunteerism, voicing out other youth challenges, innovating to overcome pains caused by the COVID-19 shock on businesses and managing continued learning.
While leaders in Uganda have perceived lockdowns and restrictive measures as the best alternative to managing the spread of the virus, the role of youth in reducing the impact of COVID-19 is equally important.
Therefore, looking ahead, the government and civil society organisations (CSOs) can work better with youth to respond to the pandemic and build communities that are more resilient against the negative impact of COVID-19. This is possible if, first, young people are consistently and deliberately consulted and involved in the design and implementation of interventions targeting them. COVID-19 tested the commitment to enhance youth participation in development interventions because earlier responses to the pandemic were abrupt and involved limited engagement with young people.
Consequently, some of the interventions were irrelevant, inadequate and the progress towards enhancing youth participation was sabotaged by the short-termism of the responses to the pandemic. To address this, governments and CSOs need to involve youth in the constituted task forces (like the National COVID-19 Task Force) during emergencies to guide efforts to address challenges facing young people.
Secondly, the leaders need to strengthen the existing youth-government and youth-CSOs partnerships that emphasise active participation of youth in joint planning, coordination and implementation of targeted interventions. This will address the duplication of interventions, enhance the comprehensiveness of planning and eliminate gaps in service provision to young people.
Consequently, this will enable both state and non-state actors collaborating with the youth to leverage the unique knowledge and skills, experience and funding that each actor can provide. It is important to clearly define the roles of each actor in the COVID-19 management programmes to facilitate coordination and provide leadership in guaranteeing youth engagement. Further, developing monitoring and evaluation frameworks for the partnerships will facilitate monitoring performance and achievement of objectives connected to boosting youth initiatives in addressing COVID-19 impacts in their communities.
Third, strengthen youth groups and youth representatives’ capacity in different political, social and economic positions. Such efforts should focus on building critical thinking, problem-assessment, problem-solving and negotiation skills in the COVID-19 era to enable youth to engage with the government and CSOs actively. Also, the youth groups and youth leaders will effectively execute their roles by focusing on the mobilisation of young people to participate in development programmes, seek accountability and analysing the challenges that young people and youth organisations face during and after the pandemic.
Efforts to strengthen young people’s participation in building communities resilient to COVID-19 effects, promoting government SOPs, developing community-specific innovations to address the health needs matter since they are crucial for sustaining inclusive and transformative interventions targeting youth in managing epidemiological challenges.
These efforts shall ensure that all actors (i) share the same vision for activating the youth groups and young people to take on responsibilities and (ii) have clearly defined roles and duties to facilitate greater coordination and cooperation in national-wide initiatives to address the consequences of COVID-19 in Uganda.
Featured picture credit: Hiretheyouth.org