States, civil societies need each other in EAC integration agenda

Activists attribute snail pace of the process to inadequate teamwork.

WEDNESDAY May 3, 2023

Participants in the East African Civil Societies Organisations Forum Summit attentively follow proceedings of the maiden meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, on Wednesday May 3, 2023. PHOTO | FILBERT RWEYEMAMU, EAC SECRETARIAT.

By Patty Magubira

The Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania

The Tanzania government has dared civil society organisations (CSOs) to sensitise the citizenry on the East African Community integration and the African Continental Free Trade Area for them to grab opportunities that come with the initiatives.

The government said both initiatives were surest instruments for fast tracking Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) marred by several challenges compounded by COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

The Tanzania Minister for Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Ministry, Dr Dorothy Gwajima, admitted that governments alone could not succeed in sensitising the citizenry particularly in remote areas where the majority of East Africans lived.

“We must continue cooperating with civil society organisations to jointly push the peoples’ development agenda to the next level,” said Dr Gwajima, confessing:

“We (governments) can achieve the development agenda without CSOs, but at a snail pace, given lack of public systems in some of the remote areas.”

Dr Dorothy Gwajima, the Tanzania’s Minister for Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Ministry, addresses the maiden Summit of the East African Civil Society Organisations Forum in Arusha, Tanzania, on Wednesday May 3, 2023. PHOTO | FILBERT RWEYEMAMU, EAC SECRETARIAT.

Dr Gwajima, who was officiating at an opening ceremony of the 1st East African Civil Organisations Forum (EACSOF) Summit in Arusha, Tanzania, said policies governments devised would reach people at grassroots only if states closely worked with CSOs.

She said governments recognised the role CSOs played in research and public discourses on tangible issues to East Africans.

“It is my belief that this summit will prepare strategies for consultations to ensure CSOs effectively participate in the integration process to represent the voice of the peoples at regional level, given challenges facing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda 2030,” she said.

She cited the 2020 SDGs Report as showing that East Africa was encountering hitches in implementing the Agenda 2030 as a result of COVID-19 shaking up the economic infrastructure worldwide.

Food security status in the global report also indicated 29.8 per cent of the population suffered from hunger in 2021, costs of healthy nutrition had been rising, and incidents of drought, floods and bad weather compounded by the climate change were increasingly becoming a norm.

East African Civil Societies Organisations Forum President, Mr Daniel Lema (Left), in a tete-a-tete conversation with the East African Community Secretary General, Dr Peter Mathuki, at the seat of the bloc in Arusha, Tanzania, in a past event. PHOTO | TWITTER

The contribution of agriculture, forests and fisheries to the EAC GDP had also been declining. “Joint efforts are required to confront this situation, governments cannot succeed if CSOs are left behind,” Dr Gwajima stressed.

High on the EACSOF Summit agenda include discussions on the efficiency of the EAC partner states, organs and institutions in engaging the citizenry and CSOs in the integration process; implementation of the AfCFTA, the way agriculture is carried out in the region; good governance; democracy; peace and security; and civic space.

Country caucus meetings on the sidelines of the three-day summit will give participants from both public and private sectors an opportunity for discussing each EAC partner state’s specific goals towards the integration process.

“The caucus meetings will identify priorities of each partner state in the community,” the EACSOF President, Mr Daniel Lema, explained.

Mr Lema said an evaluation of the integration agenda by the EACSOF Leadership Council had revealed few East Africans were not aware of neither the presence, goals and activities of the integration process nor its relevance to their day-to-day lives.

The East African Community (EAC) Principal Political Affairs Officer, Mr David Onen, assues the East African Civil Society Organisations Forum 1st Summit that relevant organs, institutions and the Heads of State Summit of the EAC were willing to lend the forum an ear. PHOTO | LINKEDIN

“The council saw the need for CSOs to cooperate with the EAC Secretariat in strategising approaches of pushing for the integration agenda,” said Mr Lema, adding that the regional summit would be followed by similar fora focusing on various areas.

He enumerated some of the focus areas as administration and leadership, agriculture and trade, investment, health and education, citizenship, natural resources management, diplomacy for the international community, participation of youth and women in development activities, and application of technology.

Mr Lema pleaded with the Tanzania government to consider providing EACSOF with land for the forum to construct its office in Arusha, Tanzania, and the EAC Secretariat to provide the forum with an observer status for it to attend the Heads of State Summit.

He further asked the EAC Secretariat to consider cooperating with the forum in promoting the integration process through the pillars of the bloc, namely Customs Union, Common Market, Monetary Union, and Political Federation.

The EAC Principal Political Affairs Officer, Mr David Onen, commended EACSOF for coming up with its maiden summit whose theme of Harnessing EAC Citizens’ Potential for Regional Integration Process, he said, tallied with the people-centred principle of the bloc.

Mr Onen said the observer status the EACSOF was seeking was currently being reviewed, advising the forum to optimise other avenues, including its summit, assuring the forum that relevant EAC organs, institutions and the Heads of state Summit were willing to lend it an earΩ

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