The ministers from the five partner states, among other things, directed the EAC Secretariat to use the region’s talented youth in developing a new EAC Brand Architecture.
The Brand Architecture Concept Note proposes to develop a new EAC logo and flag. The brand will be a common unique identifier for all EAC Organs and Institutions. It will have a single primary EAC corporate colour and one secondary colour. It will also have a single visual identity emblem for the Community.
But logos and colours cannot be all that young people can do. Women and the youth have been relegated to the periphery of the integration agenda. Many rural folks, too, are in the dark on what the EAC is all about, turning the whole integration process into an exercise in futility.
This is why it is often said that the EAC integration agenda is president-led, a feeling that has been loud and clear right across the region. It is evident that a majority of EAC citizens do not have even the slightest clue what the Community is all about.
As a result, all the benefits that have been attained from the adopted and implemented protocols have not benefitted a majority of the citizens. Even the basic benefits like the single tourism visa, which allows tourists to move across the borders between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, is news to many people
In fact, a lot of the benefits of integration are only on paper. Traders moving across borders still meet numerous difficulties, with border and Customs officials seemingly ignorant about matters that have been agreed at the regional level. The trickling down and implementation of agreed protocols has therefore been wanting.
The EAC youth clubs, spearheaded by the EAC youth ambassadors, seem not to be having much of an impact, at least going by the ignorance on EAC issues among even university students.
The EAC university outreach programmes spearheaded by the Secretariat have not served the purpose for which they were set: To spread the regional integration gospel among students in our institutions of higher learning.
Failing to bring the youth on board is tantamount to failing in bringing the integration agenda to reality. Integration is not a matter for old men seated in posh hotels; women and the youth, who form the majority of the population, must be brought on board for integration to succeed.
The Gender, Youth, Children, Persons with Disabilities, Social Protection and Community Development is a department with a long title at the EAC Secretariat but little effectiveness in driving the integration agenda within these groups.
For the EAC integration agenda to be fruitful, partner states must involve all groups of people, right from the grassroots, at the highest levels of decision making.
Governments and regional organizations, including youth organizations, must implement civic education initiatives that sensitize citizens on available opportunities, rights and responsibilities in the region.
But for youth involvement to move beyond mere policy proclamations and token appointments of youth ambassadors with little influence in the region’s realpolitik, the EAC Secretariat needs to formulate innovative approaches for youth involvement. This will necessitate their deliberate integration in the affairs of EAC programmes, Organs and Institutions.
At the very least, the Secretariat should establish a fully-fledged Youth Department with young but experienced professional’s spearheading youth affairs at the regional level.
This level of inclusion will not only ensure a coordinated approach, it will also greatly boost the morale of the youth across the region, making them a part of the integration process.
But such efforts must not stop at the Secretariat; governments and other stakeholders should also consider integrating young people in their programmes, including persons living with disability.
In most instances, funding of women and youth programmes involved in EAC integration missions is done by donor organisations and development partners.
The youth, however, are too important to be left out of our core budgets; the Secretariat must allocate enough funds to drive the agenda of the youth, women and persons with disability.
The EAC Secretariat could also consider turning the East African Community Youth Organisation into one of its key collaborating institutions, perhaps even with observer status at the regional body.
This will greatly improve the perception of the region’s majority but marginalised groups towards regional integration.
East African News Agency