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Coronavirus – Africa: Be bold, seek answers to Africa’s challenges, Vera Songwe tells continent’s youth

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, June 11, 2020/ — The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Ms. Vera Songwe, on Tuesday urged African youth to be bold and seek solutions to some of the challenges affecting the continent.

In remarks at the end of a Virtual Youth Policy Consultation on the coronavirus and Building Back Better with Young Africans, Ms. Songwe sought to inspire and support the young leaders into action.

“We need the voices of the youth at the decision-making table when we talk about policy. Be leaders, be bold but with humility and help bring youth-driven solutions to the continent’s problems,” she told the youth in the meeting organised by the ECA, the African Union Commission (AUC) and Generation Unlimited.

Ms. Songwe told the youth to organise themselves to become a formidable voice that cannot be ignored by the continent’s leaders; and develop their own solutions to problems affecting Africa.

“You have to ensure that as we go forward your voices will always be heard and begin to create momentum that can create change. That is your power. If we cannot use it collectively then we lose it,” she said, adding the one thing that COVID-19 had done was show the world how innovative Africa’s youth were.

“We know that the only thing that has survived COVID-19 is the internet. Every business that was forward thinking and had their business online, is doing well. And those who did not have their business online are suffering. What we do not want to do is to go backwards. We want to go forward.”

Added Ms. Songwe to the youth: “Own the internet because it is the future, because it is the present. We cannot afford to just have our leaders say yes we are going to reform.”

She said Africa’s leaders need to walk the talk and open up their telecomm sectors. This, she said, would ensure access to the internet is broadened; costs to access internet will be reduced with more players in the field; and enable the expansion of the broadband network.

“In a period where governments need resources, this is the time for them to open-up and give more licences and ensure that we can crash the prices of internet access. Why do we still have in many countries one or two providers when we could have six,” Ms. Songwe asked.

Quoting an earlier presentation on youth employment in Africa, Ms. Songwe said the continent was losing $78 billion in potential revenue annually because most of its youth were out of employment, especially in the 15-34 age group, which represents 34 percent of the continent’s population.

“During this COVID-19 crisis we are asking the rest of the world to give Africa a $100 billion in stimulus. If you all were working we would have a lot more resources that we need,” she said.

“We are not a continent that can afford to lose $79 billion a year so we need to find some way of harnessing ourselves, harnessing the amazing innovation in this continent’s youth and ensure that we triple the $79 billion and meet the Decade of Action and Agenda 2063 as we do that.”

Earlier, Mr. Bakarry Dosso, Chief of the ECA’s Demographic Dynamics for Development Center in the West Africa Sub-Regional Office, presented on the Impacts of COVID-19 on African Youth and urged governments to fully exploit the potential of the demographic dividend by increasing investments in health, education, infrastructure and in the future of work.

“The voices, and contribution of African youth are critical in shaping the narrative for building back better Africa’s economic and social fabrics,” he said, adding fostering of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology to transform challenges of COVID-19 into opportunities was key.

For his part, Generation Unlimited Director, Mr. Roberto Benes, spoke on investing with and for young people in Africa.

He said GU’s Global Youth Engagement Action Plan was creating opportunities for young people, especially the marginalized and disadvantaged to design solutions with potential to scale in education, training, employment, entrepreneurship and empowerment.

“Let’s work hand in hand to build back better with young Africans,” Mr. Benes said.

Ms. Prudence Ngwenya, Head of the AUC’s Youth and Education Division, spoke about the AU’s Youth Sector Response to COVID-19.

She said despite all the challenges, young Africans were taking responsibility towards solving the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve turned lockdown limitations into opportunities to reach duty bearers and young people alike for behavior change, policy interventions and action at country level, said Ms. Ngwenya.

The meeting highlighted the specific challenges faced by young Africans from the pandemic and its mitigation measures; showcased efforts by young people to respond to different aspects of today’s reality within the pandemic; and dealt with the themes of education, innovation, employment, health, and meaningful civic and community engagement.

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