Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye on Tuesday called on lawmakers at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) to find ways of engaging the youth more for regional integration. He spoke while addressing EALA in Bujumbura.
During the first meeting of the 5th assembly of the regional legislators, the Burundi president said that the community cannot develop without fronting the youth.
“We can’t develop as a community without fronting the youth. We need to empower and invest in the youth by creating more opportunities for them,” said President Ndayishimiye.
Ndayishimiye, who is the current EAC chairperson, said that there is need for more outreach programmes that should especially target the youth in the region.
In February, the Burundi president was appointed the African Union (AU) Champion for the Youth and Security Agenda.
Currently, the region has adopted mechanisms to empower the youth in the region including the election of youth ambassadors in every partner state and the introduction of the East African Youth Parliament.
“We need more commitment and action for better integration. We are confident that together, we shall bring the EAC closer to the people through direct benefits so that citizens rip the fruits of the integration,” Ndayishimiye said.
First plenary outside Arusha
The EALA is set to conduct its sittings in Bujumbura after almost seven years since the country last hosted the regional assembly’s activities.
During a press conference in Bujumbura, EALA Speaker Joseph Ntakirutimana said that the assembly intends to get closer to East Africans and raise awareness of its activities to the people.
“We are bringing the activities of the regional parliament to the people and through the rotational sittings, people at the grassroots level will be able to understand what we do and realise the significance of EALA,” Ntakirutimana said.
This will be the first plenary that Ntakirutimana will be conducting outside Tanzania’s Arusha where EALA and EAC headquarters is located.
He won the EALA speaker's elections in December running unopposed after South Sudan pulled out of the race at the last minute.
Rwanda, Burundi relations improve
The rotation of EALA assembly’s sitting is set to resume as per the rules of procedure allowing the sittings to be held in member states.
The 4th EALA session under the leadership of Rwanda’s Martin Ngoga rarely held sittings in member states due to budget constraints and the geopolitics that played between member states by then.
In 2017 when Ntakirutimana’s predecessor Martin Ngoga took charge, Rwanda and Burundi’s relations were at an all-time low after the latter closed its borders with Kigali.
Gitega accused Rwanda of participating in the 2015 failed coup to oust former Burundi president Pierre Nkurunziza and sheltering the coup plotters. In return, Rwanda accused Burundi of supporting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda(FDLR) accused by Kigali of committing the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
With the relation between the two countries deteriorating during that period, no MP from Burundi could visit Rwanda and the same applied to Rwandan MPs.
Currently the relations between the two East African countries have significantly improved.
“I would like to thank President Evariste Ndayishimiye and President Paul Kagame for the role they played in improving the relations between the two countries because now their borders are open,” said Rwandan EALA MP Fatuma Ndangiza while giving a vote of thanks after the special sitting in Bujumbura.
Lack of funds
Ndangiza said that one of the biggest challenges the assembly is currently facing is lack of funds. EALA members also called for the EAC Heads of State Summit to consider increasing the number of working days from 14 to 21.
With the community expanding, EAC’s budget continues to shrink. The regional budget is mainly funded through contributions from partner states and support from development partners.