By Oyet Okwera
KAMPALA - Members from the East African Community (EAC) have agreed to strengthen local democracy through citizen participation in achieving democracy.
The members observed that citizen participation enables citizens to participate in key national issues like budgeting process, elections, among others.
According to Jeremie Ndayiziga, a Burundi national, governments in East Africa should often involve citizens in critical issues to raise the standard of living at the national levels.
“I call upon all leaders to roll out a collective strategy work plan that includes all stakeholders under local government to strengthen citizen participation,” he said.
He went on to advise regional leaders to respect the will of their people and ensure equitable distribution of goods and services across the countries.
Ndayiziga expressed his optimism by pointing out that strengthened citizen participation in governance issues in the countries will promote democratic values like transparency and accountability.
The Burundian was speaking at Grand Imperial Hotel during a regional consultative meeting organized by DENIVA on the right to citizen participation at the local level.
The meeting collected Civil Society Organizations (CSO), NGOs among other stakeholders.
Hamisi Omari Mboga, member from Kenya, advocated for a national charter for member states to provide opportunities and influence both public and democratic decisions. He noted that all people should be represented before any likely national law is passed.
“When you involve all citizens in decision making, it promotes and builds national trust which improves the image of the nation,” said Mboga.
According to a case study by Action Aid in two local authorities, Kenya reported effective citizen engagement in local budgeting process which portrayed citizens as empowered.
Mboga said governments should encourage existence of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) because they change lives of poor people who have the opportunity to improve their life.
Raphael Magyezi, a Ugandan, noted that having strong citizen participation strengthens local democracy and builds sense of national ownership.
He observed that strengthening citizen participation increases awareness of government programmes in any country. He called upon members of EAC to inform stakeholders about involving citizens in any national agenda.
“Through having strong citizen participation, countries will automatically adhere to the rules of democracy in governance,” said Magyezi.
Petro Ahham, a member from Tanzania, advised leaders to build capacity of every citizen to understand their rights.
Ahham said East Africans should ensure that their governments are accountable to any issue in the country through open participation in democracy, inaction of laws, among others.
“It is our duty to put in place genuine good governance system that promotes economic and social rights without undermining effective citizen participation,” he said.
Rwandan member Aimable Kabanda outlined the need for all stakeholders to sensitize citizens about the need for citizen participation.
Kabanda said through citizen participation, governments can address national issues with ease since citizens are directly involved.