Regional integration, migration law changes, youth participation in decision-making and a rethink in education are essential to increasing youth opportunities in East Africa, says Gloria Nassary.
YouLead has been a one of a kind experience that surpassed the definition of a summit. Beneath the African touch that enveloped the entire summit venue, laid layers of thoughtful conversations, strategy formulation, cross-cultural bonding and discourse. The summit covered all manner of issues facing the East African Community such as cross-border business and trade, youth in politics and leadership, gender equality and the youth skill gap, with us as young leaders being placed at the epicentre of it all.
For the past three years, the YouLead summit has been mapping and connecting young leaders from East African countries, allowing them to discuss the state of current affairs in East Africa, and the role of young people in shaping the future of regional integration.
On November 11th – 15th 2019, the YouLead secretariat in partnership with other stakeholders hosted its third YouLead summit under the theme “Youth at the Crossroads: Migration, Participation and Access to Opportunities.” Restless Development Uganda was an organising partner of the summit and I participated in the summit along with two fellow researchers, from Kenya and Tanzania, on behalf of the hub’s Youth Think Tank programme.
We facilitated a working group where we used our research report on “Harnessing the Potential of Hospitality and Tourism for Young People’s Employment” to lead a discussion about “Bridging the Youth Skills Gap: Recognition of Prior Skills and Youth Labor Mobility”.
During discussions of the working group, some of the key things that young people emphasised were that:
- It is important for young people to assess the future of jobs so as to prepare themselves based on the requirements of the jobs.
- As institutions work towards re-imagining and re-structuring the education systems to make graduates more employable, it is also important to ask ourselves whether tutors are suitably prepared to train based on what the future of work wants.
- It is key to mentor young people to effectively brand themselves and build credibility in their work.
- We must strengthen young people’s ability to conduct need assessments in the fields they want to enter, allowing them to position themselves when seeking a role in the field.
- It is essential to provide training programs that are designed to sharpen young people’s soft skills such as advanced communication, negotiation and interpersonal skills so as to meet the market demand for these skills.
In his opening remarks at the Summit, the Former President of Burundi H.E Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, urged young people to take up leadership roles in their areas of influence and always have confidence in their abilities, because it is the young generation that shall make change in this historic period. He told us how he started his political journey in his early 20s, became President at the age of 37, and retired when he was 40. For me, it was a great experience to share a table with President Ntibantunganya during lunch and dinner, and learn from his wisdom. It reminded me of the old times where a grandfather would tell tales to children. The former President was always surrounded by young people wanting to listen to him.
The Right Honorable Speaker Martin Ngoga, who officiated the opening of the summit, emphasised that as we interacted with fellow young leaders from the East African Community, we needed to think of how we were going to protect our integration from another collapse through the decisions we make as leaders, as it is the duty of young people to build strong institutions that protect integration.
Young small and medium business (SME) owners at the Summit also emphasised improving regional trade facilitation. They aspired to bring about various changes in spite of the struggles they faced. They recommended tax holidays for SMEs across the region, harmonising policies on businesses and entrepreneurship to support the growth of SMEs. They also called upon fellow young people to utilise and leverage the presence of social media platforms in the region to increase access to opportunity.
Regarding youth taking positions in politics, there are varying opinions and questions requiring answers from young people in the East African Community (EAC). We need to redefine ourselves and look deeply into what we really need. Too often we are simply waiting for people in positions of power to hand us the roles we aspire to occupy. Young people need to be deliberate, and to be mentored.
The East African Youth Parliament marked the end of the Summit; we engaged in two days of vibrant debates around issues like implementing one regional currency, harmonisation of youth programs through the East Africa Legislative Assembly to amplify youth voice and facilitate youth participation in all sectors. Young people also petitioned that all member states should prioritise the elimination of work permits for citizens of the member states in the EAC.
The panel discussions, expert presentations, Ubuntu talks, entertainment and diversity inspired our spirit of togetherness, triggering a call to action for everyone in the Summit to lead change in their respective governments, institutions, work places, and communities to make the East Africa Community a haven for its current and future generations. We are so grateful to have been part of the YouLead Summit. Asante Sana!
Gloria Nassary is a young researcher with Restless Development’s Youth Think Tank programme in Tanzania.