By Lukanga Samuel
Based on the latest United Nations estimates, East African population is equivalent to 5.71% of the total world population. The current population of East Africa as per the same source is 468,238,731 as of Saturday, July 9, 2022. East Africa remains a very youthful region!
The East African Community as a successive joint organizations of the said Countries to control and administer certain matters of common interest and to regulate the commercial and industrial relations and transactions between the said countries and by means of a central legislature to enact on behalf of the said countries laws relevant to the purposes of the said joint organizations, it developed the East African legislative assembly-EALA.
The East African Legislative assembly-EALA, which is the independent, legislative arm of the Community, was formally inaugurated by the Heads of State of the original three EAC Partners States at its first sitting in Arusha, Tanzania on the 30th day of November 2001, and Hon. Abdulrahman O. Kinana, an Elected Member from Tanzania, was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the First Assembly.
Having a young population in the region brings many opportunities for economic growth and innovation only if these opportunities can be recognised and utilised.
Formal economic and social integration in the East African region commenced with, among other things, the construction of the Kenya Uganda Railway 1897 – 1901, the establishment of the Customs Collection Centre 1900, the East African Currency Board 1905, the Postal union 1905, the Court of Appeal for Eastern Africa 1909, the Customs Union 1919, the East African Governors Conference 1926, the East African Income Tax Board 1940 and the Joint Economic Council 1940. The population size was then a minor component.
EALA is empowered to make its own Rules of Procedure and to constitute Committees. EALA maintains seven standing committees: Accounts; Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources; General Purpose ;Commission; Legal, Rules and Privileges; Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution; and Trade Communication and Investment. With all these, the East African youth council bill,2017 is still pending.
The Assembly has a cardinal function in the furtherance of Community objectives; this function encompasses the legislative, representative and oversight mandate. I’m much bothered with the unfairness in representation of the young population in the region.
As a 2021 online Vijana Assembly participant, I’m of the view that, what will make the young legislators such a remarkable experience will not only be the skills and experiences gained through participation, it will also be the many meaningful friendships being forged through collaboration and shared enthusiasm. While legislators only get 5 years in EALA, the memories made and the values learned will all contribute to a lifelong devotion to community and democracy.
The Vision of the East African Legislative Assembly is to be an effective and independent Regional Parliament with a mission to legislate, do oversight and represent the people of East Africa in a bid to foster economic, social, cultural and political integration. The region young population has a standing structural formula to enable it elect its own youth legislators to the Arusha Regional legislative House across the member states.
The Assembly is committed to fostering effectiveness, ethics and Integrity, transparency and accountability, objectivity and Impartiality, professionalism and team Work, unity in diversity and allegiance to EAC Ideals as the core values in its operations. Seeking for youth representation in the assembly does not in any case violate the seven assembly core values but rather a move to solidify unity in diversity in the young people of EAC.
The Treaty establishing the East African Community was signed on 30th November 1999 and entered into force on 7th July 2000 by the Partner States of The Republic of Uganda, The Republic of Kenya, and the United Republic of Tanzania. The Republic of Burundi and the Republic of Rwanda acceded to the Treaty on 18th June 2007 and became full members on 1st July 2007 while Republic of South Sudan joined on 16th April 2016 and became a full member on the 5th September 2016 thus expanding the number of the Community Partner States to six. As I write, Democratic Republic of Congo is also a full member of the community. It’s very healthy for every member state to atleast have one youth legislator representing the young people in the assembly.
It is especially important that young people are included in decision making and given appropriate opportunities for work and to innovate.
Involving young people in politics and society is not merely a question of inclusion, but one that is vital for economic growth, innovation, peace and security.
The EAC Budget presented to the House last month by the Chairperson of the Council of Ministers and Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for EAC and Regional Development, Hon. Betty C. Maina, amounts to USD 91,579,215. The Budget was anchored under the theme of “Accelerating Economic Recovery and Enhancing Productive Sectors for Improved Livelihoods” According to the Chair of the Council of Ministers, the priority interventions for FY 2022/2023, include Peace and Security; Private Sector Development and Participation; Economic Integration; Improvement of productivity, Value addition and promotion of regional supply chains; EAC Digitalization Agenda; Health; Implementation of the roadmap of the EAC Monetary Union, Infrastructure Development, and; Institutional strengthening and transformation. Surprisingly the question of youth inclusivity remains unanswered!
Article 50 of the Treaty requires that EALA’s Members “represent as much as it is feasible, the various political parties represented in the National Assembly, shades of opinion, gender and other special interest groups in that Partner State”. As such, EALA members come from diverse backgrounds such as business, NGOs, retired civil servants and Members of the National Assemblies. Aside from the latter, most have little or no parliamentary experience. The assembly has constantly remained shameful on stating special interest groups without gazetting their seats in the house.
Engage youth, create a space for them and give them a seat at the table. Don’t just offer this seat passively, but empower young people to actually use it. Young people have potential and young people have collective power, with the guidance of their respective governments they can use that power.
In many countries outside of Africa, countries with ageing populations are facing high healthcare costs and a shortage of skilled labour. In Africa, young people face underemployment and lack of opportunities and living without access to the internet, the lack of information about the many opportunities.
Young people are contributing daily to the benefit of their communities and nations across Africa. From providing support to the elderly, to advocating for justice and equality, young people have proven their centrality to building and sustaining healthy communities.
Nickson, who is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, notes that young people have the possibility to drive peace in areas that are already affected by conflict: “Young people are so strong and think, ‘if we decide to do something we will action immediately’”.
Youth participation refers to numerous ways of involving young people as an integral part in the process of planning, identifying needs, finding solutions, implementing programs and decision making within organisations and communities. From this, the East African legislative assembly must act accordingly.
The Assembly is mandated to appoint Select Committees as needed. The composition and leadership of each of these Committees is equally shared among the Partners States. On this, the house has always reoccupied the opportunities.
Article 50 of the Treaty requires that a legislator who is a citizen of a Partner State, who is qualified to be elected a member of the National Assembly of that Partner State under its Constitution, who is not holding office as a Minister in that Partner State, who is not an officer in the service of the Community and who has proven experience or interest in consolidating and furthering the aims and the objectives of the Community. From this treaty narration, the EALA if not the EAC has tactically delayed to gazette the seats of the young people across the region.
To enhance the civic experience, and providing an avenue for passionate young people from member states to bolster their leadership and public speaking skills, the East African Community should give us the youths, the power to be the change we want to see, and also emphasize the importance of youth inclusivity.
Similarly, lobbyists, pages, and press corps also work to make the legislature come to life by enabling the young people to explore alternative interests while still delving deeper into the world of government and politics.
Ushirikiano wa Afrika Mashariki
The writer is a social development enthusiast and a judicious youth leader from Nakaseke District, Uganda.