Prior to its collapse in 1977, the East African Community (EAC) was one of the oldest and most prosperous regional economic communities on the continent. Founded in 1967 by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, it was an achievement of what had earlier failed in the run up to independence.
In the theory of regional integration, the EAC of 1967-77 was already a Monetary Union, with a Currency Board, and a parity currency. Each country had its own currency, but converting at par: One Uganda Shillings equaled One Kenya Shilling also equalled One Tanzanian Shilling. Other areas of commonality included education. Are we likely to see another collapse?
A 2014 report on Youth Engagement in the East African Community Integration Process showed that the state of youth involvement was low. East Africa is one of the sub-regions in Africa in which an estimated 60 per cent of the population are youth, described in the EAC Youth Policy as those aged between 15 and 35 years old. This implies that 60 per cent of the population does not actively and effectively participate in shaping the EAC they want.
This means that the theory of EAC integration process of being people-centred is null and void without youth involvement and participation at the centre. And, we are more likely to see another growing monster collapse as happened in 1977.
To avoid a similar scenario, there is need to engage young people as equal partners to reach out to their peers on issues of EAC integration and processes, which would empower high level skills needed to drive national and regional development. We need an integration that will guide youth energies and enthusiasm towards peace, equity, and prosperity within and across communities.
In this Millennium of Science and Technology, young men and women are the greatest asset for the present and future. They represent the driving force behind social, economic and political reforms in the sphere of rapid global changes.
Our society’s progress is determined, among other things, by how much we involve the youth in building the future. It is, therefore, important to prepare the youth as leaders, decision makers, good citizens, entrepreneurs, parents and guardians because they have vital roles to play in the socio-economic development of the EAC.
The EAC youth policy envisions an integrated East African Community where its youth are empowered to fully participate and benefit in all facets of the region’s development.
The mission of this policy is “to create an enabling environment for effective youth participation and empowerment in developing and sustaining the East African Community”.
Its fourth and fifth objectives call for meaningful youth participation in political processes and peace-building for political, social and economic stability of EAC; and participation in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of national and regional development plans, policies and strategies.
But this vision, mission and objectives are not talked about, walked and breathed in the sense of a prosperous, inclusive and effective EAC.
We should make young people actors and not mere observers in EAC integration.