A survey conducted by the East African Institute revealed that less than 5 percent of youth between 18 and 35 years identify as belonging to the polity that is the East African Community (EAC). The youth believe that the EAC is a political construct of the elite. They believe the EAC is some regional trade deal to open up markets for free movement of goods, labor and capital.
The community of the people of East Africa is not just a figment that dwells in the minds of the political and business elite. It is more than an expansionist or federal obsession of the Arusha bureaucrats. The Community is more than the lofty dreams of common currency or common trade tariffs.
There is something more wholesome – we the people. We are the Community. The community, joined by bonds of kinship and exchange as are ancient as the hills. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere or Jomo Kenyatta or Milton Obote did not bequeath the Community to us. When they created the first EAC, they were merely repairing the division that was wrought upon the people of East African by the British and the Germans.
Across the borders, we share languages, traditions and beliefs. We share the picturesque beauty and splendor of Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, the Indian Ocean, Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Elgon, the Great Rift Valley, the Mara, the Indian Ocean, and yes the iconic statuesque men and women of the savannas. More importantly, our destiny is shared through the fears, hopes and aspirations of our youth.
When asked what the future will look like the youth from Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania were was consensus about the expansion of material wealth among the few. The youth also believed there would be better access to quality health, education and that there would be more jobs for the youth. In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the youth believed there would be more corruption and substance abuse and that their societies would be poorer in ethics and values.
The youth were unequivocal about what they want government to do tackle urgently. Nearly 70 percent of the youth want government to address unemployment and expand access to capital for investment. Youth were confident about their skills for entrepreneurship and possessed strong entrepreneurial aspirations, with over 60 percent of youth saying they would like to start a business.
While the youth are suffer the highest rates of unemployment, they are willing to be part of the solution if only the government could provide access to investment capital, business opportunities, skills, and advisory services.
But more importantly, high unemployment among the youth in East Africa should invite us to examine the structural flaws that have caused just so few to reap the benefits of the last two decades of economic prosperity.