“Almost 75% of the population in East Africa is made up of young people"
Regional integration under the budding East African Community (EAC) bloc will definitely bring an array of economic opportunities to the almost 200 million citizens of the six partner states.
However, if the youth in the six partner states are to fully tap into the opportunities, being innovative, selfdriven and getting out of their comfort zones, will be prerequisites.
During the opening of the first High Level EAC Youth Ambassadors Dialogue on regional integration in Arusha on Monday, Dr Kirsten Focken, the programme manager of GIZ and Dan Kazungu, the Kenyan high commissioner to Tanzania, challenged the youth to position themselves to exploit opportunities that regional integration will bring.
EAC Youth Ambassadors Dialogue, which is set to be concluded tomorrow, drew participants from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi. The dialogue is themed: “Harnessing young people’s participation in the political process.”
The EAC youth ambassadors’ platform has its embryonic days in the 2012 inter-universities debate in Dar es Salaam.
It is aimed at making young people become an integral component of preaching the gospel of regional integration.
Focken, a German diplomat, said as a youth she had to learn different languages, such as French, in order to be in position to study and work in countries of the European Union.
“Almost 75% of the population in East Africa is made up of young people. This obviously brings opportunities, but challenges too. Jobs will have to be created, but young people need to be creative and to get out of their comfort zones,” Focken said.
She lauded the EAC secretariat for the initiative to make the youth an integral component of regional integration on account of their numerical strength.
Kazungu, a former minister of mines in Kenya, decried the low levels of integration more than a decade after the revival of the defunct EAC.
“We cannot be proud of being East Africans when the level of integration is at 20%, yet in Europe, it is at 60%,” Kazungu said.
Among the milestones that have been achieved in the EAC is effecting the protocol that sanctioned free movement of labour in the budding regional bloc and the common market protocol.
This means that a Ugandan in Yumbe is at liberty to board a bus to Kigali and start a business without much ado or even get employed in a local company.
However, this opportunity, save for Kenyans, is yet to be fully exploited by East Africans as opposed to citizens of European countries in the European Union.
The ensuing panel discussions revolved around issues of tackling corruption and its attendant effects, fostering similar policies on education in EAC partner states and the narrow space available to youth in the political arena despite their numerical strength.
Nerima Wako, the founder of Siasa Place, a non-governmental organisation in Kenya that teaches youth about electoral processes and political participation, rooted for a stringent legal regime to punish the corrupt.
However, although concede that deterrent punishments are key to fighting graft, Kazungu avers that cultivating strong moral values is more efficacious.
“Many people in influential offices wake up in the morning, hatching plots of how to steal public funds. But before you decide to steal, ask whether it is right or if it brings honour to your family,” Kazungu said.
The original EAC collapsed in the early 1970s as the differences between Idi Amin and then Tanzanian president, Julius Nyerere, became irreconcilable.
Efforts to revive the EAC have since taken on a multi-pronged approach, going beyond the signing of protocols aimed at realising the integration to include fostering policies aimed at making citizens in partner states enjoy the benefits of the bloc in their daily lives.
This has of late taken on the form of partner states jointly undertaking ambitious infrastructure projects, such as the Standard Gauge Railway.