East Africa: EAC Unity Top Agenda As Youth Summit Kicks Off in Arusha

Youth from the East African Community (EAC) should unite lest the region falls back to the dark days of 1977, when the region's economic bloc collapsed.

Tanzania's former President Jakaya Kikwete issued this warning Tuesday, during the launch of the YouLead Summit 2020 in Arusha.

"The demography of our region dictates that the fate and future of our integration process, which ultimately is destined to achieve a federation, rests largely with the East African young leaders and youth," he said.

To improve on the economy, Mr Kikwete urged governments to open their boundaries and promote participation in various initiatives as well as interaction.

"Integrating our countries economically and politically is the right thing to do and the smart way to give our countries and our relatively small economies the opportunity to survive and thrive in an ever globalising world," he said.

Investment in youth

Addressing the participants virtually from Nairobi, East Africa Community Principal Secretary Kevit Desai said the time is ripe to increase interaction among member states.

Mr Desai also said focus should be on creation of solutions to the youth's numerous challenges including limited access to ICT labour markets, language barriers and lack of funds.

This, he said, will promote positive competition in sectors including transport and education, and improve skills.

"It is time we moved from dialogue to engagement and joint responsibility. Let us seize the moment and not allow anything to deter the integration we have," he said.

PS Desai also commended the EAC on the scholarship programme started in 2018 for students to be trained in the region.

National Youth Council CEO Roy Sasaka faulted governments for side-lining the youth in the decision-making process, instead relegating them to "powerless" youth leagues.

"It is very easy for MPs to pass bills when it comes to things that benefit them, such as mortgages, but when it comes to things that matter such as youth inclusion, it takes forever. It is time we moved from participation to influence," Mr Sasaka said.

Political matters

According to "The East Africa Youth Survey Report" recently released by the Aga Khan University, 86 per cent of the region's population is under 35 years, making the youth the greatest contributors to economic growth.

More than 10,000 delegates from the EAC member states attended day one of the summit, whose theme was "Youth in politics".

Rose Wango, a delegate from Narc-Kenya, challenged the youth to register and join political parties, instead of merely being used as campaigners during elections.

The summit will end on Friday with an event dubbed Vijana Assembly, a mock parliamentary session in the Uganda Parliament that EAC MPs will attend.

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