From 26th to 28th April, youth from across the East African region came together in Kigali, Rwanda in the fifth East Africa Regional Youth Summit. Organised by the East African Regional Youth Organization, the summit brought together over a hundred youth representatives to deliberate on how youth can play a role at the heart of East Africa Community integration.

The meeting looked at four core concepts namely the missing link in youth leadership from the grassroots to the regional level; how youth economic inclusion ought to be fostered especially in employment and entrepreneurship; gender equity and inclusion in the youth development space and how the youth across borders can continue to work together beyond the summit.

Deliberations emphasized that before the missing link in youth leadership can be addressed, there is need for youth to understand the meaning of leadership, and the kind of leadership they need. What could not be overemphasized was the importance of being leaders of integrity and unshakable values, carrying a passion for positive change and a clear vision and dream for where youth need to go and how to get there.

The youth in this year’s summit agreed that the greatest challenge to youth leadership was social discrimination. In a society that greatly believes wisdom only comes with age, the voice and opinion of the youth -even in decisions whose main impact is on the youth- is often superseded by that of the elderly and middle aged.  Take for example, in a meeting discussing the plight of youth unemployment and the potential innovative technological remedies to this plight, a young woman or man who arrives on time and takes a seat at the front row for active participation is very likely to be moved to the back of the room two hours into the session to allow for an ‘elder’ arriving at that time to take up the front seat.  As such, in many engagements where fundamental youth impacting decisions are made, although present, youth do not have opportunity to participate but rather, are participated.

Another example given was that of the discriminative opportunity availed to youth to participate in political leadership. For Uganda where the age limit for presidency is 18yrs, there is a measure that still keeps youth at a disadvantage of the shs20Million nomination fee. It is quite a well-placed youth that would afford to take on this endeavour.

Youth noted that youth leadership should not only be restricted to the political context but also the social and economic spheres. Youth- who make up the majority of East Africa’s population- if provided with the right opportunities and support can and ought to lead in these spheres too.

At the end of the summit, the youth made a pledge to set a pace for transformation starting with a small change in their respective countries because if change is to happen, it has to start with us.  The youth took the decision to commence the East African Youth Charter with the two countries of Uganda and Kenya that are already on board with the conviction that once the leadership of the other member countries witness its value, they too shall join in. The summit also committed to build awareness of the East African Youth Policy and to support the growth of the national youth councils picking a leaf from Uganda which happens to have the most independent and functional youth council.

“The lion is the king of the jungle neither because of its size nor its speed, but because of its mentality. When it sees a hippopotamus, it does not see how big it is, it sees its lunch”. It is not so much about how much financial resources are available (or not available) to youth, but more about their mentality on how to use their abilities and their numbers to make the change they long to see in their community.

By Matilda Nakawungu
Food Rights Alliance

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