From Looking Out
The strategy is simple – to export East Africa into shared prosperity. The early years see major investments in roads, railways and ports to reduce the cost of moving agricultural and mineral commodities from inland to the coast for onward shipping to the rest of the world. Having persuaded the governments of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya to sign attractive production sharing agreements, the oil and gas majors invest billions in processing for the Asian energy markets.
Continued slow growth in the rich and emerging countries, however, makes export markets extremely competitive and unpredictable. Everyone is trying to sell to them. Many small and medium exporters from East Africa burn their fingers and retreat. The region’s agricultural sector stagnates further, fuelling the ‘migration to urban misery’ and massive joblessness.
Frustrated by the complete mismatch between their skills and what employers want, angry secondary, college and university graduates initiate a ‘Choma Cheti’ Campaign. It is sparked by a group of recent Makerere graduates who uploaded a YouTube video of them burning their entire collection of books, school certificates and university degrees and chanting ‘Jobless! Useless!’ After being mentioned by a popular radio presenter the video goes viral on millions of phones, inspiring hundreds of simultaneous ‘Choma Cheti’ events across East Africa. A business graduate links her joblessness to imports, giving the protests a coherent idea to rally around – ‘Let us buy what we make! Let us eat what we grow!’
The protests spread as large groups of unemployed youth occupy the region’s new One-Stop Border Posts and blockade the Kigamboni and Likoni entrances to the ports of Dar es Salaam and Mombasa. Huge lines of trucks and ships develop. Within a week Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi run short of fuel and other essential products. Army officers sent in to break up the protests balk at the idea of harming their own children. A regional economic crisis deepens, putting at risk the very legitimacy of governments and leaders.
An emergency sitting of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) drafts, debates and passes an East African Equitable Procurement Act, binding all governments and publically-funded entities to reserve 15 per cent of their procurement for young people and women-owned firms. Verification is modelled on the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and sanctions are steep.Assured of a market, the youth end their protests peacefully.