ARUSHA - Delegates at the just concluded East African Community (EAC) symposium have demanded that members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) be elected by ordinary citizens and not by parliaments.
Until today, the legislators of the regional parliament are appointed by their respective national parliaments with a hand from the political organisations plus in Rwanda’s case, special interest groups.
In a meeting they held on Saturday in Arusha, Tanzania, participants called for increased involvement of non-state actors in the regional integration process.
The audience, which included renowned academics, argued that by citizens participating in electing their legislators, this would reflect a democratic process as well as represent the wishes of the people.
They agreed that there is a need to refine the election process of the members of the EALA through elections to make them more accountable to the people than the parties to which they are affiliated.
The symposium, the first of its kind, was organised as part of celebrations to mark EAC anniversary which will climax with the ratification of the Common Market Protocol by heads of state of the five partner states.
While reflecting on what caused the collapse of the first EAC in 1977, the participants took a general position that ordinary people should regularly get access to information with regard to the integration process.
Jelly Okungu, a media manager observed that the regional bloc still faces challenges of mistrust, a factor that led to its collapse in the past.
“People are still suspicious of one another. That mistrust which was there in the 1960’s is still there even today. We need leaders who will say with or without mistrust, let’s get on with what is good.”
“Our leaders should be brave enough and unite politically. We are wasting a lot of time in workshops and sensitisations,” he added.
Alute Mugawai a former Secretary General of the East African Law Society decried the low level of participation of the people in all partner states on issues of regional integration.
He said that even after ten years of existence, some partner states in the EAC are still “locked up in nationalistic narrow mindedness.”
Participants also noted that the integration process was suffering a setback because of lack of a spirit of Pan Africanism.
“We have to put aside time to revisit the issue of pan Africanism because the ultimate end of the EAC integration is political federation,” said Dora Byamukama, an EALA member said
She added that there is urgent need to revive the Pan Africanism idea especially among students, adding that unlike a few years ago, the spirit is unheard of today.
The symposium’s main objective was to examine to what extent EAC regional integration meets the expectations and aspirations of the East African people and how this impacts on their lives.