The regional integration drive is on high gear with the recent key development plans in the region: Joint infrastructure investments, including a standard gauge railway system running from Juba in South Sudan to Kigali in Rwanda via Uganda, an oil pipeline from Hoima to Lamu Port in Kenya, an oil refinery in Hoima, a modern airport at Lamu Port, a super highway running from Lamu Port all the way to Juba, a single tourism visa, and a single customs territory which is already operational.
Pushing through joint projects is to enhance regional integration on the economic front, which shall accelerate the movement of goods and capital across the borders under the current Common Market. Plans are ongoing to have a single currency in the next three years, and eventually a political fusion known as the East African Federation.
Notwithstanding the ambitiousness of our regional leaders to realise a one East Africa, there is debate on the level of engagement of the citizens to regional integration efforts. For instance, how much do the common people know about the East African Federation?
And, specifically, what is the role of the youth in the regional integration process? Youth constitute the greatest proportion of the East African population, which is estimated at 140 million. There should be strategic mechanisms by the member states aimed at bringing the youth at the forefront of regional integration as it’s evident that the future of East Africa lies in the hands of the youth.
As our leaders continue to meet at higher levels to sign protocols, treaties, memoranda, roadmaps, action plans, etc, detailing deeper engagement and development trajectories, they should impress it upon the youth that they have a greater role as far as fusing the East Africa is concerned.
The region’s youthful leaders like Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto should take the lead of involving the youth in opportunities and initiatives of regional integration. We need to see more interactive platforms where the youth discuss the kind of East Africa they want, and this could be by amending the EAC Treaty on representation to East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) to provide for more seats for youth as special interest groups.
The youth need to start seeing each other as citizens of East Africa; as brothers and sisters with common strategic interests and sharing a common future. Uganda, for example, hosts several students from Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi as well as other regional countries like DR Congo, Somalia, South Sudan- which are potential candidates to the East African Community- scattered across the various universities, institutions, secondary and primary schools and colleges.
Some of these students would remain in Uganda upon completion of their studies to seek employment opportunities or engage in private business. Indeed, various surveys have shown that key sectors such as the telecoms, banking, IT, hospitality and chain stores are majorly staffed with Kenyan nationals, and to a lesser degree, Tanzanians and Rwandans. Down south, Rwanda has opened her doors to young professionals like doctors, IT experts and English teachers.
Young people from across East Africa continue to interact at school, job market, business environment and at social level, which has resulted into stronger links and connections with intermarriages. This will fundamentally blur the border lines, including such categorisations as “that Kenyan” or “that Ugandan” or “that Rwandan”, etc.
The youth need to appreciate the history of regional integration right from pre-colonial times and before boundaries divided us, to the first East African Community which collapsed in 1977, and the revived initiatives by the current and past leaders. Knowing where we are coming from will enable us to create an East African identity; a fundamental aspect that clearly and proudly defines us as East Africans.
Mr Akampurira is the secretary for external affairs at National Youth Council. firstname.lastname@example.org