Africa: AU Special Envoy Urges Africa's Youth to Use COVID-19 Crisis to Unleash Their Innovation

The COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery offer Africa's youth opportunities to come up with innovations across different sectors, and create much-needed jobs, according to African Union (AU) Special Envoy Ms. Okonjo-Iweala.

"We can choose to look at the crisis differently by asking: What are the opportunities that can come out of the crisis for young people, given that unemployment is a big problem on the continent?" posed Ms. Okonjo-Iweala during a continental online discussion on 13 May.

"Some people have invented digital trackers for tracking the pandemic ... and there are all sorts of apps and technologies that are being deployed by, say Nigeria CDC, to monitor COVID-19."

The Virtual Consultation Series on COVID-19: Youth Unemployment and Economic Recovery was hosted on 13 May by the AU's Youth Envoy Ms. Aya Chebbi. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala is one of the African Union (AU) Special Envoys appointed to mobilize international support for Africa's efforts to address the COVID-19 economic fallout.

According to the World Bank, youth account for 60% of Africa's jobless, and according to the AU Envoy, African countries need to engage the youth in all sectors of the economy to enhance efficiency in doing business. Agriculture, she emphasized, remains one of the sectors on the continent with a comparative advantage, "and we need young people to think about how the continent is going to feed itself."

Ms. Okonjo-Iweala challenged the youth to come up with innovative technologies for better food storage in the face of major post-harvest losses. In sub-Saharan Africa, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics point to 40 per cent of post-harvest losses and food waste due to problems ranging from spillage to lack of proper post-harvest storage.

"Here is where young people need to come up with mind-blowing innovations as to how we can store food better," she said. But these technological innovations must be accompanied with proper infrastructure, including laying cables for broadband or accessing satellite links.

Call for transparency

Participants in the online discussion expressed the need for governments to be transparent and accountable in how they use both domestic resources and foreign aid provided to fight the pandemic. "We need to be sure that the money given is put to correct use, rather than just incurring debt [and the money] going into people's pockets," said Admire Mutimurefu of Zimbabwe.

Ms. Okonjo-Iweala asked the youth to participate in initiatives geared towards tracking Africa's expenditure, such as working with civil society organizations to demand to know what governments are spending. They could also devise means to track and monitor the funds. "The continent is yours, you are 60% of the population. Be active in demanding transparency from your leaders. Innovate, innovate, innovate. This is the moment," she asserted.

Likewise, technology experts like Shikoh Gitau are describing the COVID-19 period as Africa's stunning moment of technological advancement, "especially now with our borders closed."

"We only have ourselves to rely on, and therefore, we as the youth have to come up with solutions to our problems," says Ms. Gitau, who is a member of Kenya's COVID-19 Advisory Committee.

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