East Africa Youth are a young, energetic and curious group of people. If we as East Africa invested in harnessing their potential, then the region would attain most, if not all, of its development goals. However, they are faced with numerous challenges. Is the East Africa Youth Parliament the savior?
Sitting with a President is not something that happens every so often, it’s a rare privilege. But, imagine that you are having a conversation with someone and at the end, they inform you that they are the President! In my quest to get to understand the East Africa Youth Parliament, I made several phone calls asking for references and luckily I got one. What followed was a phone call with the receiver reluctant to talk to me. Instead, he wanted to refer me to someone else. I stood my ground and insisted he was the right person and thankfully due to my persistence he agreed.
We love titles but for this man Kisangau, the President of East Africa Youth Parliament, he rarely mentions his title. “My name is Jeremiah Kisangau,” he starts off, without including his title. “I’m a Kenyan, born in 1981 and the current President of the East Africa Youth Parliament. Moreover, I’m a business man in the construction industry, a human resource consultant and a politician.”
About The East Africa Youth Parliament
“The East Africa Youth Parliament was founded in 2009 and comprises of six countries namely, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. South Sudan is the youngest having joined two years ago,” he said. “We also have D.R. Congo and Somali which are still under review. Our Parliament is rotational. For instance, at the moment, Kenya is the host country and this is for a duration of 5 years.”
“It has a leadership structure comprising of the president, secretary general, speaker, organizing secretary and treasurer. New officials are voted in during the general assembly that happens after every five years when vacancies are announced. When you are a member you can vie for any position. The positions must be distributed among all the countries with the host country having more elected officials. In one sitting we have 24 officials distributed among the member states with the host country having six seats. We normally have three sittings per year. During the general assembly we are usually over 2000 youths from across the member states.”
“Our operations are not different from the normal parliament. We have debates, we vote and come up with resolutions. Our main objective is to debate and advocate for East African youth related issues and to also groom young people into leadership. We have also been amplifying the voices of young people and promoting networking avenues. We are inter-governmental, in that it is not run fully by one government. Our funding is drawn from membership organization and governments through partnerships,” he remarked.
“The East Africa Youth Assembly is all inclusive and membership is solely dependent on the category you want to join. We have different requirements for the different categories. Case in point, when I joined I paid $20, which is for the ordinary members who are between the ages of 18-35 years. The associate membership for the ages of 18 to 40 pay $25. We have affiliate membership which is for organizations and they pay $50. We also have honorary members who pay $150. These are people who are passionate about young people and help to push their agenda and since they don’t follow under the ordinary or associate member category, we admit them as such. Lastly, we have the corporate members who are partners and supporters of East Africa Youth Parliament and they pay $5000. All members remit the same amount annually and this is the money that enables us to run our affairs. By the way are you a member of the East Africa Assembly? If not you must apply after this interview,” he asked me in a sober tone.
Motivation to Join the East Africa Parliament
“I thought I could lead and I also saw the challenge of young people in East Africa. I believed that if I became a leader and joined efforts with other East African Youth Leaders, then we would be able to solve a lot of problems,” he told me. “My dear sister, this was the only platform to unite the youth of East Africa and it is something I was longing for.”
“As a leader, I couldn’t voice my opinion from outside. 75% of the population of all member states comprises of young people. When the young people are not represented, our voice cannot be heard. The older generation cannot understand what we want. For instance, Rwanda and Burundi are French speaking countries and it was difficult for Kenyans to go and work there. But as of now they are teaching English in their schools and Kenyans are training them. Our neighbors Tanzania as well mostly speak Swahili and I saw the need to unite the curriculum. For instance, when you study law in Rwanda and Burundi you are able to practice it in Kenya. All these factors motivated me.”
Lessons Learnt and Achievements
“Learning the different cultures within East Africa, mentorship programs and exposure within the East Africa region. The East Africa Youth Assembly is admitted under the Inter Parliamentary Union, an association of all of the world’s parliaments with its headquarters in Geneva. Even Kenya is a member of that body and we have been attending their conferences since 2016. Being exposed to the world of leadership through sitting with people from different generations and tapping wisdom directly from them has been my greatest achievement. I have learnt the need to increase more engagement of young people in our countries. We also need to reach out to our young people at the grass root level by helping and supporting them with the issues affecting them.” As he winds up, he reminds me that learning is a process.
Issues Affecting Youth in East Africa
“Language barrier. Like I mentioned earlier, Rwanda and Burundi are primarily French speaking countries. Therefore, when they come to Kenya or vice versa there is a communication barrier and this makes it difficult for them to work in other countries and us as well. For now, we have young people teaching English in Rwanda but they still have a long way to go.”
“Unemployment is affecting a large number of youths in East Africa. Kenya is leading with around 80% of its youth with no jobs. Our innovation and industrialization field is very small. That’s why we have been engaging our governments and subsequently even parents to change their mind set. If their child is not admitted to the university, they shouldn’t regard them as failures. We have so many degree graduates in Kenya but no employment. The young also need to change their mind set. For instance getting a plumber here is difficult, even a welder. Another example I’ll give you is Nigeria. Lots of people there have degrees with nearly 50% of them having masters, but the issue of unemployment is also a menace over there. That’s why you find them all over looking for jobs. We must think innovation, we can’t all go for degrees. Where I come from we have huge tracts of land yet we all want to go to the cities for white collar jobs.
Another issue is insecurity. There is a feeling that young people are not secured enough in East Africa. There are movement restrictions which also affect trade, an issue that was witnessed last year between Kenya and Tanzania.” The president finished by saying they are hopeful things will get better.
Achievement at East Africa Youth Assembly
“We have been able to push for harmonization of the curriculum though the Inter-University council since we want to harmonize the degrees within the East Africa Universities. On employment, the youth of member states are now able to work anywhere within East Africa. We advocate for the issues affecting the youths in East Africa but there are still challenges where you find young people being harassed. When you have the East Africa card you stand a bigger chance of being accepted. The East Africa Youth Assembly was started by three countries but has now grown to six. That is an achievement and it shows we are headed in the right direction.”
The Role of the Elderly
“Old is Gold, and that’s why in every system there must be an elderly person to pass wisdom to younger generation. Intergeneration empowerment is very prudent in East Africa. The need to pass the leadership baton to the young generation and of course with guidance from the old generation. They should also recognize and acknowledge that the are important stake holders in the East Africa Community.”
“Young people need to understand that youthfulness is not permanent. They need to amplify their voices on issues related to them, on policy issues in the region and to be as one. They need to be innovative and to understand the job market. Instead of looking for jobs and knocking on office doors, they can start creating jobs.
East African Governments should work to match the skills of the young people with the opportunities available within the region, which we have plenty. From raw minerals, to wildlife and even the huge youthful population.
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