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East Africa on crossroads, to be or not to be

In its report released on Wednesday in Nairobi, Kenya, the Society for International Development in East Africa says the population grew by 24 million between 2005 and 2010 and it is estimated to reach 237 million by 2030. That is a massive proposed increase and justifies my cry for the conversation on population control, family planning and capping of the numbers of children couples can have to be brought the table.

With an increased population and higher population density, the pressures on the region’s natural resources will intensify further. The SID 2012 Report aptly titled, State of East Africa Report 2012: Deepening Integration, Intensifying Challenges,makes for interesting reading and was produced with support from TradeMark East Africa.

In its own words, the report’s other highlights include: Investments in maternal and child health are yielding strong returns as fewer mothers are dying in childbirth and more children are surviving beyond infancy. However, malnutrition remains one of the difficult challenges facing the region as evidenced by that fact that one-third of Kenyan children are stunted as are over half of the children in Burundi.

Poverty is still a chronic challenge in the region but there are positive signs demonstrated by Uganda, which, over an 18-year period, lifted 2.3 million of its citizens above the poverty line. Although the member states of the EAC have achieved Millennium Development Goal 3 - Universal access to primary education, the majority of East Africa’s students do not go on to secondary school.

Additionally, many children are barely learning given alarmingly low results in reading English and Kiswahili and simple arithmetic. The telecoms revolution is leading to an emerging mobile economy. Mobile phone subscriptions across the EAC grew from 3 million in 2002 to 64 million in 2010, catalyzing innovations such as M-Pesa that have helped deepen financial inclusion. East Africans are now more wired than ever before with the majority connecting to the Internet through their mobile phones.

East Africa’s infrastructure deficit is a well document challenge and infrastructure investment is critical if the region wants to receive the full benefits of regional integration. An estimated 95% of East Africa’s cargo is carried by road, this presents significant difficulties since 91% of East Africa’s road network is unpaved. This can be alleviated if investment is made in the region’s underperforming rail section.

Recent attempts to revive the sector, including a $40 million loan from China for the Tanzania Zambia Railway and the $40 million African Development Bank loan for the Rift Valley Railways, are positive steps. Intra-EAC trade expanded from $2.2 billion in 2005 to $4.1 billion in 2010. The region is also globalizing rapidly. The value of its total trade with the world doubled from $17.5 billion in 2005 to $37 billion in 2010, expanding the share of its economy that is traded from 28 per cent to 47 per cent.

The world is paying close attention to East Africa and engaging with it with increasing intensity and broadening scope. It is enjoying growth in foreign direct investment attracted by its natural resource endowment, growing economies and integrating markets. Recent discoveries of oil and gas in the region, the deployment of Ugandan, Burundian and Kenyan troops to Somalia, the fourfold increase from $15 million to $60 million in counter terrorism funding to the EAC, the arrival of 100 US military advisers to Uganda and AFRICOM’s continued presence in the region, demonstrate that East Africa is a critical region from a global geopolitical standpoint.

‘SID’s hope is that the Report will drive vibrant conversations amongst government officials as well as citizens on how to keep the integration engine moving in light of the challenges and opportunities the report highlights’, Ambassador Juma Mwapachu, SID East Africa President and immediate past Secretary General of the East African Community, said. The issues of instability between South Sudan and Sudan as well as Somalia, form part of the vortex of conversation that East Africa must confront now if the huge potential of economic power house is to be realized.

Utafitinews@yahoo.com

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