Youth want more representation in East African Community affairs

Participants at the YOULEAD summit in Arusha on Monday. Eugène Kwibuka.

Youth leaders from member states of the East African Community (EAC) have called for more representation within the governing bodies of the bloc in order to better communicate their needs within the region’s integration efforts and benefit more from the integration agenda.

They made the call yesterday in Arusha, Tanzania where they are attending the 2nd East Africa Youth Leadership Summit (YOULEAD), which is taking place from Monday to Friday.

It brought more than 150 participants, including youth political leaders and supporters within government entities, NGOs and business organisations from the East African region.

The conference’s director, Ivan Atuyambe, said that the youth in EAC need a platform where they can express their ideas and challenges and urged them to use summits as their platforms while they wait for EAC leaders to allow them more representation within the EAC organs.

Atuyambe said that the youth in EAC need to have representatives at every bloc’s level, including at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).

“At the regional level we don’t have a regional council where the youth have political legitimacy to push for action on issues that concern them,” he said in an interview with The New Times, urging for the creation of an EAC youth council and having youth representatives to the EALA.

Abella Bateyunga, the CEO and Founder of Tanzania Bora Initiative, a youth-led NGO in Tanzania that promotes good governance, gender empowerment, innovation and ICT, as well as the use of media, arts and data as tools and platforms for youth constructive engagement, argued that what EAC youth need is support in leadership, livelihood and life skills in order to drive integration efforts within the EAC and benefit from them.

“We need to create a friendly environment both through government policies and strategies that empower the youth to be able to participate with desired capacity, avail space and funds to establish business and run for office, global exposure for innovative solutions that answer the ever increasing youth demands and needs as explained by youth agenda, both globally and locally,” she said.

YouLead, which is one of the platforms initiated in 2017, is now part of the structured youth engagement in policy and leadership processes of the EAC as provided by the EAC Consultative Dialogue Framework (CDF).

The forum implements provisions of the 2016 EAC Youth Policy, priority 14, which mandates the EAC Secretariat to build networks and partnerships to institute an annual Youth Leaders’ Forum with the EAC Secretary General.

The on-going summit in Arusha has called for continuous processes within the bloc to open up space for young people to take advantage of free movement of goods and services and start relating with those policies in their daily lives.

Ernest Kamanzi, an MP representing the youth in Rwanda’s Parliament, said that the youth in EAC need to expand their horizons and cross borders so they can better exploit different opportunities in the region.

“Our youth need to shift their attention on politics and start thinking about doing business. That’s the only way they can overcome the problem of unemployment. They need to stand up and take advantage of opportunities available in the entire EAC bloc,” he said.

David Michael Onen, principle political affairs officer with the EAC Secretariat in Arusha, advised that the youth need to take charge of the governance reforms and leadership in EAC and Africa in general.

“As young leaders, the youth need to be focused and enhance their leadership capacities so they can occupy all the available spaces for them whether it’s in business, politics, entrepreneurship, and in their daily lives,” he said on the sidelines of the meeting.

Among the topics to be discussed at the five-day meeting include the status of national youth trends in political and economic inclusion, what the youth can expect from EALA’s business, how to economically include the EAC youth beyond borders, and how the youth can use technology for their development and empowerment.