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Youth and Digital Transition: 5 Insights from Cities in Africa

This article the first of a 2-part series drawing from ASToN’s public webinar on . During this conversation we explored the effects of the digital transitions accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic on young people in ASToN cities and how to better enable them to be citizens of tomorrow.

The subject of youth is such an important issue in Africa today, and for good reason! While there are varying definitions of “youth”, by whatever definition, young people make up the majority of Africa’s population and Africa has the youngest population globally.

Here are 5 insights from the event on youth and digital transition:

1. African cities are at different stages of their digital transformation journey.

is a network of 11 African cities on a journey of digital transformation. While Kigali’s (Rwanda) vision is to become a centre of urban excellence in the region and the national Government has already digitized 300 government services it offers via an online portal called (which means “gateway” in Kinyarwanda), it still needs to improve the level of digital skills among young people to improve adoption of digital services and improve employability. Benguerir (Morocco) on the other hand benefits from proximity to research and digital learning platforms offered by the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University but still struggles from socio-economic divides between its old town and the newer green city, an issue which particularly affects young people.

2. Despite its challenges, COVID-19 brought new opportunities to use digital tools.

The pandemic had a disproportionate impact on education and in some cases, schools were closed for six months. Cities were, however, able to transition to digital tools. For example, the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Benguerir offered free access to its which supported thousands of learners and teachers during suspension of in-person classes. The city also provides free wi-fi access in public spaces and on coaches for students to follow their classes while commuting. Besides education, the pandemic affected cities in other ways. Important services in Bamako (Mali), , were significantly impacted. The city was, however, able to launch a website to help young people with information on CVs and job opportunities.

3. Young people can partner with city leaders on the digital transition.

Niamey’s (Niger) urban renewal and cleanliness project, Niamey Nyala, which means “Niamey la Coquette” or “Pretty Niamey”, involves young people in the creation of dynamic maps of the city and applications for people to actively participate in the urban development process. Using these apps, citizens can share issues they observe, suggest solutions and track when the solutions have been implemented. Similarly, in Kigali, university students with a strong command of digital tools are involved in the creation of topographic maps and surveys for the city. Rwanda has also developed a which aims to recruit young people to directly train citizens in accessing e-Government and other digital services in their local communities. These partnerships are not just limited to long term projects alone. Even in the immediate response to COVID-19, these cities worked with youth volunteers and organizations to disseminate information to their peers and to provide essential services to their communities. In Benguerir, young people also participated in the information campaign by creating promotional videos on COVID-19 and in the deployment of a contact tracing app for the management of the crisis.

4. Regardless of their stage, cities can become a test bed for young innovators

Benguerir’s contact tracing app or its artificial respirators developed for COVID-19 cases are great examples of how cities can become a test bed for young innovators. These innovations were developed within the university located in the city while in other cities like Niamey, solutions for their Niamey Nyala project were built in partnership with start-ups and young entrepreneurs. Other cities with a nascent tech sector, like Bamako, are experimenting or planning to via hackathons. Regardless of their growth stage, cities can become test beds to catalyse innovation among young people.

5. Despite successes, cities still face tremendous challenges

Cities are putting in place policies specifically involving youth to tackle challenges including lack of access to devices, limited skills, cost of access to internet and other services, and cyber-crime. Cities also need to raise awareness about fake news and some cities, like Benguerir, are organising campaigns to share verified information from the city using Whatsapp. In cities like Bamako, the digital sector hasn’t been delegated to the city government, giving city leaders very limited decision making authority. They are, however, working to prominently feature digital transition in their socio-economic development plans for the next 5 years.

A recording of the event is available online . To learn more about each city within the ASToN network and discover their digital transformation projects, please visit our website ( ).

You can also read shortly the second part of this series on provocations and ways forward for ASToN Mayors to work with the youth of their cities.



ASToN network brings 11 African cities together to develop digital practices in order to create sustainable & inclusive cities.

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ASToN Network

ASToN network brings 11 African cities together to develop digital practices in order to create sustainable & inclusive cities.