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Young people can only dream of being key decision makers in EAC

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By JAMES KAHONGEH
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The push for the integration of young people in the affairs of the East African Community remains a dream as many challenges stand in their way.

Experts say the exclusion of young people in decision-making in governance and business could derail the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This emerged last month when young political and economic leaders from the bloc converged on Arusha, Tanzania for a forum under the banner “YouLead”.

The workshop was organised by the East African Legislative Assembly and the German Agency for International Development (GIZ) under the theme of “Youth Political and Economic Inclusion: Scenario for Sustainable Regional Integration”.

It was the second edition of the annual forum.

Ineffectiveness and lack of proper organisation in youth movements are cited as some of the main impediments of a more robust youth demographic in the EAC. Locally, a peek at the National Youth Council paints a rather grim picture.

Worryingly, few young Kenyans know anything about the council. Council CEO Raymond Ochieng keeps a low profile and attempts to reach him were futile.

Apart from the April intergenerational dialogue that sought to bring development stakeholders and business leaders together, the council has not held any other consultative national youth forum this year.

Additionally, few young people only have a sketchy understanding of SDGs and their role in it. Even more astonishing is that political leaders tasked to oversee its implementation have very little or no grasp of the framework, three years after it was passed at the UN General Assembly.

“There is no capacity to translate knowledge, skills and abilities into action aimed at attaining specific outcomes. Our education system does not emphasise development of practical skills,” Mr Steve Muriithi, a youth leader, said.

UN resident coordinator and UNDP representative in Tanzania Natalie Boucly acknowledged the discrepancy, saying the wording of the SDGs is technical.

“There is, however, enough time to create awareness and to promote participation of all parties in the SDGs,” Boucly said during the weeklong workshop.

Participants also decried the sluggish enactment of the law that provides for the establishment of an EAC Youth Council, arguing that the agency would help articulate their concerns. The EALA promised to speed up the process.

According to EALA lawmaker Kennedy Musyoka, once enacted, the law will take precedence over national legislations on the subject and advance mainstreaming of youth issues in development policies and programmes in member states.

“Ending extreme poverty by 2030 and raising the standards of living in East Africa requires a stronger youth voice and participation in processes,” Dr Kirsten Focken, the GIZ programme manager, told the summit.

Kenya may have set up schemes such as Uwezo and Youth Enterprise Development Funds but their distribution and ease of access remain a challenge.

“Corruption and red tape scare young people from State plans. There is also a misplaced notion that every woman and young person has an entrepreneurial spirit,” Mr Samuel Tiras Wainaina of Capital Markets Authority said.

Tensions between member states of the bloc have also dimmed the hopes of achieving integration.

Burundi and Rwanda are involved in a diplomatic row. President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi accuses Rwanda of aiding rebels, claims the latter denies.

Relations between Rwanda and Uganda have not been good either.

Rwanda accuses Uganda of arbitrarily arresting its citizens.

Regional peace remains the key determinant of whether a more integrated EAC would be realised in the foreseeable future.

Experts say for as long as young people continue to grapple with fundamental and diverse challenges, the debate and push for youth integration will not make logical sense.

A young woman in Narok, for instance, decries the persistence of cultural practices like Female Genital Mutilation and early marriages.

Her Ugandan counterpart laments suppression by the government. Their peers in South Sudan live in fear of war, rape and destruction.

The troubles for Mr Robert Kyangulayi — popularly known as Bobbie Wine — seen as the representative of youth interests and alternative views in Uganda, point out to a fundamental problem and lack of space for young people to articulate their concerns.

While Kenya enjoys more developed structures for youth participation, it is its large youth representation in Parliament that is blamed for not aggressively pushing the youth agenda.

“Parliament has young MPs who should make our voices heard. There is hardly anything to talk about a year after they were elected,” Mr Mohamed Mohamed, a youth leader, said.

The conveners of the forum, however, argue that youth should not entirely rely on political representation to advocate their integration in governance.

They say young people should form well-structured groups.

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