ARUSHA (AA) – Tanzania’s resort city of Arusha is currently hosting a cultural festival that organizers hope will serve as a platform for East Africans to pursue the ultimate goal of full regional integration.
“The Zinduka festival aims at creating a chance for East African communities to meet, have dialogue and say exactly what they want for their integration,” Kepta Ombati, the head of the festival’s organizing committee, told Anadolu Agency.
Held in Arusha, the seat of the East African Community (EAC), the three-day festival that opened Thursday aims to promote the free movement of people and the establishment of a free trade zone within the region, Ombati said.
The EAC – a regional bloc grouping Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – seeks to widen economic, political and social integration in order to improve the quality of life of East Africans.
The region has an estimated population of 130 million – some 60 percent of which are young people, according to data issued by the Inter-University Council for East Africa, the EAC and the East Africa Business Council.
Mainly targeting local communities, then Zinduka festival provides free admission to all EAC citizens from the bloc’s five member states.
“Through Zinduka, which is mainly meant for the participation of common EAC citizens, we are advocating for free inter-marriage as one core platform to achieve true and concrete EAC integration,” Ombati said.
“The integration should be people-centered through culture, sports, business activities and, finally, politics,” he added.
Ombati said that the festival also targets common businesspeople in the EAC in a bid to increase the volume of business in the East African region.
“That is why you cannot see a politician or government leaders in the Zinduka Forum festival. We are aiming at the common people to give them a chance to speak out about the problems and challenges they are facing and how they think we can overcome these challenges together,” he added.
“Excluding politicians and government officials gives participants confidence to interact, share challenges and experiences from their respective countries and speak about how to overcome those challenges,” he went on to say.
He said that, apart from bringing East Africans together, the festival also aims at promoting the Swahili language as the region’s official language, debating ways to best handle youth unemployment and women empowerment, and how to utilize natural resources within the EAC.
Zinduka itself is a Swahili word that literally means “a reawakening of consciousness.” The festival was first inaugurated last year and also held in Arusha.
According to the organizing committee’s chairperson, the reason for choosing Arusha as the venue was because the city also hosts the EAC’s headquarters and is historically associated with the ideals of pan-Africanism.
“An integrated EAC means a wider region with a bigger market; more jobs for youth; one voice in business negotiations; and partnerships with other regional bodies, business communities and even developed countries,” Ombati said.
“Negotiating as a one bloc gives the region more power than standing alone as individual nations,” he added.
In terms of the political integration process, the chief organizer believes that “before rushing into that stage, we should first go for people’s integration – economically and socially.”
For his part, Amani Mustafa, executive director of Haki Madini, a local NGO that helped organize the event, said the Zinduka forum served as an opportunity for East Africans to show what they have in common “free of political agendas.”
“The first East African Community [which ran from 1967 to 1977] collapsed because it was brought together by political interests,” he said of the regional body, which was later reanimated in 2000.
“Formerly, the states were the key players and the people were not involved. Today, the new treaty of the current EAC focuses on improving social relations between peoples,” Mustafa added.
“If we want one East Africa, where everyone feels part of the bloc, then people should start interacting and understand what the other is going through, because it’s only through social integration that we can archive a true East African Community,” he asserted.
He said the Zinduka festival was an attempt by individuals and civil society within the EAC to bring people together in order to share their concerns, while also enjoying cultural diversity.
“The Zinduka festival will revive the feeling of togetherness between the EAC peoples. It will revive the importance of seeing people as key to development and the need for leaders to support their own peoples… at the political and economic levels,” he added.
Hamida Isaac, assistant project manager for the Coast Rights Forum, an NGO that advocates for land and human rights in Kenya’s Coast province, hailed the festival for not only giving participants a platform to interact, but also to learn from each other.
“We have met our fellow women from Tanzania who are engaging themselves in mining,” he said.
“We have realized that our problems and challenges are almost the same, and we can use the same means to deal with women issues in both business and the mining sector,” Isaac added.
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