This is one of 38 winning blogs from the 2021 Blog4Dev competition, the World Bank Africa annual 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?
On March 26, 2020, Tanzania reported its first case of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Since then, the government has adopted a rather maverick way of countering the health crisis. But one thing that is for certain is that the country has not been spared from the drastic downturn in economic activity ushered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Bank estimates the Tanzanian economy to grow by just 2 percent in 2020, as compared to the stellar nearly 6 percent growth rate achieved in 2019. Another thing that is for certain is that young people will be hardest hit by the effects of the pandemic – lockdowns and travel restrictions have impacted every aspect of their lives from education to work and even leisure. Many have been rendered jobless as employers adjust to the new realities leading to record numbers of young working-class people sliding back into poverty.
For a stronger post-pandemic economic system, the government needs to employ viable strategies to protect jobs and micro, small, and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs), particularly in hard hit sectors of the economy such as tourism and aviation. Also, the question of what post-pandemic work will look like is one that we should all be pondering. Will it be fully remote, office-based, or a hybrid of the two? Young people should tap into their creative genius to come up with solutions that support whatever the answer is to this question.
As the saying goes, never waste a good crisis. Government and CSOs alike should work with innovation hubs to support and nurture start-ups in areas such as the gig economy, e-commerce, mobile payments, e-conferencing, and so on. It pains me that so far, no formidable homegrown platforms have emerged to challenge the existing players in those fields. Is it a failure of young people to step up to the task, or is it a lack of government support to the few that have stepped up?
On the social aspect, local technology providers should also work to ensure people continue to access quality, reliable, and affordable health and education services. Although various efforts have already been made to digitize education and access to it, there remains a massive digital divide between urban and rural populations. Very few students and schools can boast of being tech savvy enough to conduct distance learning. School closures and distance learning carry the risk of increasing the already high school dropout rates. On health, youth should use available platforms to demand the government to provide essential health care to people at risk, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing health complications. Healthcare start-ups, information dissemination, and amplifying the call for free COVID-19 testing and universal health coverage are some of the things that young people can do.
In conclusion, while much needs to be done to rebuild the economic and social systems, the government cannot do it alone.
Raphael Kambamwene is the 2021 Blog4Dev winner from Tanzania. See the full list of 2021 Blog4Dev winners here, and read their blog posts.