Written By: Ephraim Percy Kenyanito
Countries: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
Topics: Youth, Students, East African Community, Debate, Regional Integration, Political Integration
Is a truly united East African region possible? The youth believe it is.
In August in Arusha, Tanzania, a two-day East African Community University Students Debate sought to examine the role youth envisioned themselves playing in the rapidly changing region. The event was organised by the East African Community Secretariat in partnership with the Nyerere Peace Centre and the German Development Cooperation.
It was aimed at bringing 29 East African youth participants together with representatives from academia, private sector, civil society, media and technocrats from the East African region to discuss issues centred on understanding the benefits and challenges of regional political integration in East Africa.
This year’s 1st EAC University Students Debate placed great emphasis on the forthcoming East African Community (EAC) Political Federation. This ultimate goal was received with both positive and negative reactions.
The 29 East African youth participants, representatives from academia, private sector, civil society, media and technocrats from the East African region pose for a group photo session at the new EAC headquarters. Photo by Robert Malemo.
More Opportunities vs. Shared Responsibility
On one side of the debate there are the East African youth who believe that pushing for EAC Political Federation would enhance more economic, social and political opportunities for youth in the region. On the other side, East African youth are continually aware of the fact that some countries would have to help shoulder the burdens of other member states in the impending EAC Political Federation.
In his keynote, Mr Philip Wambugu, Director of Infrastructure, EAC Secretariat (who was Representing the Secretary General), said East African youth – leaders of tomorrow – ought to understand the East African Community integration process to ensure a more united East African Community.
The East African youth should be fully engaged when advancing any cause relating to the East African Community integration process.
“Lack of employment opportunities are just but some of the challenges that the East African youth need to be involved in addressing,” Wambugu said.
On his part, Magoma Anthony, a participant from Tanzania, said: “Without taking caution, the envisioned East African Community Political Federation could easily collapse especially since ordinary citizens have not been fully involved in the integration process and are thus not aware of the benefits that the Political Federation would bring.”
His sentiments are also echoed in the video below by Abraham Kibwana, a lecturer at the University of Arusha, and Stephen Onyango Odipo, a student at the university’s Faculty of Business:
One of the high points for the participants was the Peer Mentoring group discussions and the Q&A session session. This was the most exciting learning method used at the debating event. Imagine being in three discussion groups and competing to answer general knowledge questions about the EAC on limited time.
The second high point for most of the debaters was that they did not compete country against country. Instead, the EAC Secretariat divided them into two groups of proposition vs. opposition, each with three participants from each of the five countries.
Shaping a sustainable and more stable East African region
At the end of the forum, Isabelle Waffubwa, Principal Political Affairs Officer at the EAC Secretariat, expressed hopes that participants were able to exchange ideas on how East African Youth can be more involved in shaping a sustainable and a more stable East African Region.
In order to address some of these concerns highlighted during the debate, different ministries within the East African Community are currently involved in various campaigns in order to involve the citizens in the integration process.
One of these is the East Africa Community Inter-University Facebook Challenge. It is a simple challenge: you only need to “like” the page (Connect, Vuka Border), write your name, phone number, and university. You will be required to be posting, “liking” and commenting on other university members’ updates consistently. All posts should be about EAC integration: its four pillars of services, goods, capital and land; benefits of integration and how best citizens can take part. The theme is to: connect, interact and integrate. You also need to follow @cvukaborder on twitter.
The reward for winners includes a two-week fully sponsored tour of East African cities.
This campaign is one of the efforts of integration whereby countries are forming regional integrations in order to better provide services to their citizens. Though this process is not envisioned to be an easy pie, such events indicate that East Africans are working for a truly united East African Community Political Federation.
This article was originally published on Ephraim’s professional page on European Journalism Centre Online Magazine ThinkBrigade. Photo by Robert Malemo and video by the author.