Even before Covid-19, Uganda was ranked as one of the countries with the highest youth unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Globally Since the onset of the pandemic, more than 70 per cent of youth who study or combine study with work have been adversely affected by the closing of universities, and vocational training centres.
The situation has been even worse for young people living in lower-income countries like Uganda who have less access to the internet, lack study materials, and sometimes, limited space at home.
Young people are uncertain of their future career prospects, with the crisis expected to create more obstacles in the labour market and to lengthen the transition from school to work.
At the beginning of this, week I carried out focus group discussions in one of the hostels around Makerere Kavule. The young people there spoke about the Covid-19 pandemic and the recently instated 42-day partial lockdown.
For many, their aspiration of getting formal jobs has since been replaced by disillusionment . Another group spoke about the increasing number of loans; many young people are borrowing and getting into debt to buy food and other essentials and at the end of the day fail to pay back.
Youth have always had their varying aspirations- shaped by education. And many of these students hoped that good academic grades would get them jobs on merit . Some of them are overwhelmed by the stress of the situation and the difficulty of having to support their families. They have resorted to running away and hiding at friends’ houses.
This has had an impact on their mental well-being. A World Health Organisation (WHO) 2020 report shows that 50 per cent of young people are possibly subject to anxiety or depression, while a further 17 per cent are probably affected by it.
Despite the extreme circumstances, young people are using their energy to mobilise and speak out in the fight against the crisis. According to the WHO, one in four has done some volunteer work during the pandemic.
Ensuring that youth voices are heard is critical to delivering a more inclusive response to the Covid-19 crisis. Giving young people a say in decision making to articulate their needs and ideas improves the effectiveness of policies and programmes and gives youth the chance to participate in their delivery, says the report.
I am calling for urgent, large-scale, and targeted policy responses to protect a whole generation of young people from having their employment prospects permanently scarred by the crisis.
This includes, among other measures, reintegrating into the labour market those who have lost their jobs or who have experienced a reduction in working hours, ensuring youth access to unemployment insurance benefits, and measures to boost their mental health – from psychosocial support to sports activities.
Godfrey Nanyenya, email@example.com