Saturday, March 31, 2012




“The future of Africa, the modernization of Africa that has a place in the 21st century is linked up with its decolonization and de-tribalisation. Tribal atavism would be giving up any hope for Africa. And of all the sins that Africa can commit, the sin of despair would be the most unforgivable... My generation led Africa to political freedom. The current generation of leaders and the peoples of Africa must pick up the flickering torch of freedom, refuel it with their enthusiasm and determination and carry it forward.” (Julius Nyerere, New African, January, 2000)

Distinguished guests, my fellow youth leaders, ladies and gentlemen, all protocols observed. I am Felix Kyalo, a Program Officer at Akiba Uhaki Foundation, a regional human rights and social justice Fund was founded in 2007 by human rights and social justice practioners and scholars working in East Africa who were persuaded that there was need for an independent and indigenous grantmaking organization, working through the provision of grants and other measures, to strengthen human rights and social justice institutions in East Africa, such that they may powerfully engage with active citizens across East Africa to successfully challenge injustice, transform lives and livelihoods, and secure rights. AUF was founded as a response to perceived failure of the human rights and social justice sector in East Africa to adequately challenge deeply embedded injustice and abuse of rights which was partially traced to the oppressive, predatory state and partly to weak institutions and movements that could not adequately challenge state repression and failure. The Fund is committed to promoting regional integration based on social justice concerns.

The Fund views development as a right and social injustice as an aberration while also seeing geographic and income inequalities as being products of failed/failing development models. We believe that the basis of sustainable development is social justice. In our work, we tackle root causes of poverty, social injustices and human rights violations as well as towards the realisation of the following preconditions (a) an empowered and assertive communities of people, (b) accountable governments and (c) effective monitoring and feedback mechanism by CSOs and other actors. Being an East African social justice grantmaker, we believe that the East African Community will be a pipe-dream unless it puts the concerns of the ordinary people at the centre of negotiations and unless it is owned by people and their communities. Hence, our route to transformation entails creating active and powerful communities of informed and engaged people; holding governments to account on the basis of evidence, creation of strong civil society institutions and movements to empower the people and hold duty-bearers accountable as well as having effective monitoring and reporting mechanisms.
 Allow me to share in brief, my thoughts and reflections around this issue that has brought us together in this convening; the issue of regional integration within the East African Community (EAC). Due to limited time allocated to me, I will only touch briefly on the key issues that I feel are critical for us as young leaders in Kenya to take cognizance of as we engage with the state in pushing forward the integration agenda forward.

  • The EAC Treaty: envisages a people-centered integration but the people's participation and importance has largely been delegated to the periphery. The process has been more government and business interests driven with the people a few steps behind. Also, myths and stereotypes about what effect the integration process will have has also played a great role in reducing the citizenry interest in the process. So can we have the process reflect the people's concerns and wishes? This is the ideal that I dream of.
  • Majority of young people have great intellectual potential which can shape the growth of the region if properly tapped but the political establishment is slow to realise this potential-high technological know-how, wide academic exposure, innovations in different sectors led by young people. What the integration process is expected to benefit young people is by creating opportunities for them to exploit their potential for the benefit of our communities. The Ministry can help in this by creating mechanism for availing info on what opportunities exist for young people in different sectors in the five countries. I do happen to travel around the region on work and one of the striking things I do notice is the immense opportunities for business, employment, education etc that exist in the other countries particularly in Rwanda and Burundi but not many young people are aware of this.
  • Are we looking to create an integrated region where the livelihoods of the people and individual as well as collective freedom reins or are we integrating autocracy and collective marginalization of the poor in our societies? What would be meaningful-us remaining in the colonially created cocoons referred to as countries with each individual allowed liberty to fully exploit their potential or should we have a regional integration which then exacerbates the existing inequalities, deprivations including of fundamental liberties and lose that individual right to assert our rights? There is indeed need to re-interrogate the kind of regional integration we desire! The kind of integration that young people call for is where it enables creation of networks and partnership that can effectively a respond to challenges of sustainable environment, enjoyment of human rights, access to quality social services, response to humanitarian crisis and preservation and exchange of cultural value not one where once I criticise or expose governance malpractices in the state operations in Kenya, I cannot seek refuge with my brother in Uganda as the coalition-of-state-brothers-in vice will have closed this avenue! The process should create room for more open interactions between the peoples, more sharing of information and know-how, more inch-personal interactions and general openness in airing and dealing with our common problems.
  • East African Community to me implies a system of people-focused policy-making and implementation. On the policy-level, there are several ongoing initiatives that seek to push the integration process forward. Key to us as young people include the East African Bill of Rights, the East African Youth Policy, the EAC policy on good governance(relevant particularly on the promotion of equal opportunities) and many more others. But how well aware are young people of these initiatives and how many are actually consulted in their enactment. We must avoid the temptation to make this an elitist process where consultation means calling a few select people “usual suspects” together and purport to speak for the wider youth population-this will create serious legitimacy and ownership challenges which can be avoided. There is need to ensure all-inclusive youth consultation and participation in the enactment of these strategic instruments. The various initiatives working on the various regional instruments need to avoid duplication of efforts and resources.
  • The East Africa I look forward to is one where democracy flourishes and in which the people's will and voice is not just heard but is indeed respected, where young people are powerfully represented by youth leaders (not purported but actual youths) at all the key levels of governance. There is a growing worrying silence to the current trend of repression, electoral fraud camouflaged as free and fair elections across the region(all the 5 countries' leadership is attended by questions on its legitimacy) and an increasingly disregard of young people's role in creating positive change in society particularly in the political sphere. As young people, with our silence and acquiescence as the state and other non-state actors perpetrate repression and make a mockery of electoral democracy, we do become guilty by association. Its however heartening to see that not all hope is lost: young people under the “activists for change” banner are steadily making the youth voice heard with regard to the escalating costs of living, our very own Benji Ndolo stood up to question President Museveni's presence in Kenyan soil following the degrading treatment by his forces on Besigye and many other such stories. There is hope but the challenges are many. But the onus is also on our Government to act to ensure rights respect across the region-in my view our President attending the inauguration of Museveni was in bad taste!
  • In my view, the integration process should enable us to learn from best practices in each of our five countries. I happened to attend a friends of EAC meeting in which discussions revolved, inter-alia. on the strengthening of democracy and human rights across the region. This was at the period before the Constitutional referendum and I do recall leaders from outside Kenya asserting that a young person below the age of 35 years cannot lead a country and the same assertion was repeated recently by an MP in our parliament during debate on the qualifications of the Chair of the Elections and Boundaries Commission under the new Constitution. This is the kind of apathy that young leaders face across the region. So ideally to me the integration process should be one that allows for sharing of best practices e.g. that Kenya's removal of the minimum age limit on presidential candidates so as to offer opportunities for young people to play their rightful role in development of the region. We have shown in the past and presently that young people can provide quality and progressive leadership-Many such examples abound including around this meeting even myself where I had the opportunity to step in as an interim head of a regional grant-maker organisation at the age of 22! For those nay-sayers we say: We have passed the test of time and we can deliver so don't look at our age but look at our qualifications, our skills etc). The same story applies across the region.
What is needed:
  • Support for increased and meaningful networking and experience-sharing among young people-can be facilitated by both civil society and states.
  • Stronger, sustained and collaborative measures across the region to address youth unemployment. In this case, the harmonization of the employment/job-creation policies across the region should be made a priority with the aim of ensuring young people can access job opportunities across the regions without the prevalent barriers.
  • Increased partnership between the Ministry and youth stakeholders to avail info on available opportunities for young people across the region. If possible a database should be formed on this aspect.
  • Work together in harmonisation of the various youth-related initiatives across the region both by the state, business community and by civil society to ensure more effectiveness and avoid duplication of resources
  • The integrated states should act in peer accountability of each other to ensure that democracy prevails and rights violations are put to a stop

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