This is one of 38 winning blogs from the 2021 Blog4Dev competition, an annual World Bank Africa writing contest inviting young people to weigh in on a topic critical to their country’s economic development. Blog4Dev winners responded to the question: How can young people work with their governments and civil society organizations to respond to the impact of COVID-19 and build a stronger post-pandemic economic and social system?
The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has had unprecedented effects on countries around the world, and Eswatini, like many other countries, has experienced an unparalleled social and economic crisis. In Eswatini, where more than 70 percent of the country’s workforce is employed by the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) and the informal sector, COVID-19 has posed a major threat to livelihoods and income. While some parts of the world have seized the pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate the pace of digital transformation, maintain business and encourage new ways of connecting, these opportunities have remained out of reach for many EmaSwati due to poor technological infrastructure and expensive internet access.
Eswatini’s technology infrastructure is segregated and disproportionately serves the highest income bracket. This dynamic has widened existing inequalities; those who were already connected have been able to capitalize on new digital opportunities, while those not connected, have remained cut out.
The effects of disconnection are especially scary for the youth. Rapidly advancing digital literacy requirements are creating new barriers to social development. Access to digital technology today can determine who has access to opportunities in the future. If these inequalities are not addressed, social development efforts will continue to be undermined.
Within our current constraints, we can primarily do this by advocating for and supporting efforts that extend the benefits of digital technologies to all EmaSwati. This could be done in the following ways:
- Work with civil society organizations and engage with the government to remove the current price premiums that young people face when trying to access educational and professional opportunities that are available through the internet. We can also teach each other, and increase our familiarity with computer basics.
- mobile phone penetration rate leading the success of mobile technology solutions such as MTN’s Mobile Money, we can leverage the current mobile capacity to solve the time and distance constraints that microbusinesses face. Not only will this help many small businesses expand their customer base, but working with them could improve our professional skills and experience which improves youth employability. . With our high national
- Connect each other with helpful information that empowers us to work towards improving ourselves, our families and communities. This can include academic and professional development advice, tips on social responsiveness and youth entrepreneurship. Today, we are not being taught the skills we need through our formal education. . The COVID-19 pandemic has only proved this as fact. Now it is our responsibility and our response to COVID-19 that will decide whether the global digital acceleration works to accelerate our development effort, or works against it.
Buyelani Msweli is the 2021 Blog4Dev winner from Eswatini. See the full list of 2021 Blog4Dev winners here, and read their blog posts.