Hans Eiskonen via UNSPLASH

Brief update on COVID-19 in Africa

Africa has observed relatively low case fatality rates from coronavirus so far. Most countries report fewer than 6% of diagnosed cases resulting in death, compared to European countries like Italy, Spain and the Netherlands with 12-14% fatality rates. However, basic health and mortality data across Africa is generally poor. In Ghana and Kenya, for example, more than half of deaths go unrecorded, and low levels of testing overall suggests that more cases may be undetected. Health workers have been disproportionately affected by the virus. Not only does this decrease the labour capacity of already constrained healthcare systems during this critical time, but sending front line workers into the field unprotected raises multiple issues around ethics and inclusion.

The lockdowns have bought the region time in terms of the virus, but the huge economic effects of the crisis are forcing decision makers to look for safe and effective exit strategies. It is important that approaches are heterogeneous (based on the local capacity to handle a spike in cases), gradual (considering which sectors are most conducive to lockdowns or most at risk from relaxing them) and multilateral. Debates so far have suggested that exit strategies should focus on employment and livelihoods, with SMEs being a key vector for revitalisation, and that the potential of technology should be maximised in order to ramp up testing, tracing and treating and to support e-commerce and remote learning.

Evidence during emergencies:

Last week, a 3ie webinar on evidence during emergencies revealed a contradiction between the need for immediate and accurate data and the information overload. Over 17,000 COVID papers have been published, over one fifth of these in the past week alone, and yet decision makers are struggling to understand the full implications of their choices. The current crisis highlights existing challenges to the evidence infrastructure, including duplication, misinformation, funding and transparency. It emphasises the need for stronger coordination of knowledge, including better matching between producers and seekers of knowledge, which reinforces the role of knowledge brokers and networks in managing development, including during emergencies.

The webinar discussed the value of sharing and combining existing data sources for new innovative purposes and for enabling more immediate program adjustments. ‘Safe evidence generation’ using mobile phones and satellites can avoid going house to house and putting frontline workers in danger. It also attributed the visibly vast and rapid response to the investments made over the past 15 years in the ‘evidence to policy’ movement, such as methodological innovations, big data, knowledge brokering, and mobile data collection, with all of this coming together in a very specific context.


Youth employment and entrepreneurship during and after COVID-19

Young people in Africa (±15-35 years old) are among those that are and will be hit hardest by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. Already before the current health pandemic and related recession, this group was confronted with the challenge of obtaining quality education and decent work. COVID-19-related shocks to the labour market are expected to further wipe out 19–22 million jobs and significantly reduce earnings for the self-employed in Africa, and will likely impact the quantity and quality of jobs available for young people. Moreover, missed learning opportunities caused by the pandemic may lead to significant and persistent earning losses for young people in the long-term. There is an urgent need to create new jobs in addition to maintaining existing ones, and to support and strengthen programs for skills development among Africa’s youth.

The private sector was, and will continue to be, the key to addressing the youth employment crisis in Africa. Private sector development (PSD) interventions seek to improve firm performance and increase labour productivity in firms. But PSD interventions alone do not automatically create the (better-quality) jobs needed for youth in Africa. A balance must be found between creating short-term jobs by tackling underemployment in vulnerable firms and sectors, and creating better-quality jobs in high-potential growth firms and large firms.

In this special edition news item

As part of a series on COVID-19 and inclusive development in Africa, INCLUDE shares evidence on how current disruptions, particularly in labour markets and education systems, impact different groups of youth in terms of skills, entrepreneurship and employment. We focus on how interventions to cushion the impacts of COVID-19 could affect socioeconomic inequalities among Africa’s youth population, and on what can be done to support the poorest and most vulnerable in terms of opportunities and livelihoods.

We particularly ask what lessons are being (or could be) taken from existing knowledge and experiences to support recovery and progress in youth employment and entrepreneurship. For example, many countries are reflecting on experiences from the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and from youth employment programs in post-conflict and fragile settings. In 2019, INCLUDE contracted a series of evidence synthesis papers on topics pertinent to youth employment challenges as part of the ‘Boosting decent employment for Africa’s youth’ research initiative [1]. These evidence synthesis papers provide valuable learning and recommendations which can be applied in the current crisis by helping to identify group- (e.g. young men versus young women) and context-specific (e.g. rural versus urban) barriers which prevent successful youth employment programs, and to understand how young people make decisions and how the quality of jobs and skills matter.

1. Pandemic responses related to youth employment

Due to COVID-19, nearly all African countries closed their schools, creating a significant obstacle for youth in terms of skill development, assessment and graduation. Moreover, many industries have suffered significant job and income losses due to restrictions in production and movement, particularly those in the informal sector, where the vast majority of African youth earn their living. Despite immediate and substantial responses to these challenges, some interventions could themselves widen inequalities between young people and depress opportunities for future development.

  • E-learning options are exacerbating existing inequalities in access to schooling, exposing the urgent need to close the digital divide and increase connectivity. Many countries are reflecting on experiences from the 2014 Ebola outbreak and using more widely-accessible technologies (for example, schools in Liberia are using radio for teaching).
  • Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) facilities play a potentially significant role in the COVID-19 response due to their shorter-term, modular and practical approach. Remote learning is often a weak substitute for learning more practical skills, which are important for driving employment and structural change. Sierra Leona is considering intensive clinical training modules for frontline healthcare workers to help control the outbreak, as they did with the National Ebola Training Academy.
  • Evidence from the 2014 Ebola outbreak also shows that combining cash injections and skills training can stimulate employment and entrepreneurship. This supports the use of basic safety nets during emergencies, which is promising given the increasing emphasis on social protection in African country COVID responses.
  • Measures taken so far to ease the burden of the pandemic are not enough to fully address the impact on youth in many African countries. Most interventions at this moment support businesses in the formal economy, with the majority of businesses in the informal sector being left out due to lack of registration or access to loans. Social protection for informal workers is being introduced in certain countries (such as Togo) and should be considered elsewhere to achieve equality in responses.
  • Youth have themselves been engaged in maintaining learning and creating opportunities. Young people in Kenya, Tanzania and Morocco have found innovative ways to help deliver high-quality lessons for both students and teachers. Also in Morocco, young entrepreneurs and innovators are making artificial ventilation machines, automatic thermometers, and automatic gates for sanitary disinfection and sterilization or protective masks for local hospital staff. A number of young entrepreneurs across Africa are creatively responding to COVID-19 by adapting their business models to keep them healthy, relevant and in service of their communities.
  • Despite their engagement at ground level, there is a great need to support young students and entrepreneurs more structurally, and to involve youth more broadly in decision-making processes so that their interests are met and they have more autonomy in shaping their own future. Youth must be a critical part of the active plan, not only to limit the virus’s impact on public health and society, but to support themselves and the wider economy in the short and long-term. Ultimately, as young leaders say: “Nothing for us, without us”.

2. Impacts on vulnerable youth groups

Young people are statistically less likely to suffer severe symptoms of coronavirus. Nonetheless, youth are highly affected by the pandemic, as their overrepresentation in low-paid, less secure and less protected jobs makes them highly susceptible to unemployment and labour market vulnerabilities. Particular groups of youth face extreme risk of losing opportunities for future livelihood development and socioeconomic mobility.

3. Impacts on inclusive regional development

The current situation presents a major opportunity not just to support the livelihoods of young Africans in the short-term, but for restructuring education systems and transforming labour markets to offer all young people a better future. Inclusive outcomes depend on the participation and collaboration of key actors, in particular the private sector and youth themselves, in addition to the usual modes of governance. We are already beginning to see the renewed engagement of youth in decision-making processes related to the pandemic.

[1] This initiative was carried out in partnership with Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), under the aegis of the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth.


Despite the unprecedented and uncertain global situation, INCLUDE acknowledges the need for strong and valid evidence to drive effective policy action. The news item therefore makes use of what we already know about governance, policy implementation and cooperation in African contexts, particularly during crises and emergencies. Where possible, we draw upon lessons learned in the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak and other relevant experiences of infectious diseases. In preparing the news item, we filter the information available from reliable sources in our network to provide up-to-date and factual insights on the effects of the current pandemic and subsequent policy interventions on inclusive development.

We are open to any input and suggestions that could contribute to this debate. We invite you to send us an email.

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