The Africa Report food for thought on the “great game” in East Africa

“East Africa is the most promising regional bloc. [It] has registered between 5 and 6% growth annually for the past decade. We estimate that regional gross domestic product will expand 18-fold by the middle of the century, from $185bn in 2010 to $3.5trn by 2050. This era is comparable to the period immediately after independence.” This is an intriguing article just published by The Africa Report, quoting Gabriel Negatu, regional director of the African Development Bank.
The article, by Parselelo Kantai in Nairobi and Juba, additional reporting by Patrick Smith in Addis Ababa, talks of the four leaders that dominate the East African “chessboard”. Here are a few sample quotes: “At international gatherings such as the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, the four gravitate towards each other: Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.
“Differing in age and political experience, they argue about many details but there is a critical point of consensus. If East Africa is to grasp the economic opportunities now available, there must be a determined effort to integrate its markets and economies, even if that means making concessions and compromises in the short term.
“All four run interventionist foreign policies – Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda sent troops into Somalia, while Rwandan and Ugandan troops have been both invited to and expelled from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“They all favour a statist hand on the economic tiller, but they are all building up business classes on whose political loyalty they can rely. All have supported Kenyatta in his attempts to avoid prosecution at the International Criminal Court.
“Economic growth and breaking away from dependence on Western markets are common imperatives. None of them enthuse about democracy, particularly in its Western, liberal variants.”
The article also gives insights on Uganda’s $8bn oil infrastructure deal of 5 February that will help reshape the region and its economies and 2 giant railway projects due for completion by 2020. It highlights the need for jobs and services to keep up with growth, and China’s giant role in reshaping the region.
It highlights regional diplomatic tensions too. The writers also point to joint pressure on Tanzania, sometimes seen as the laggard in the regionalization project, and give insightful perspective on the lessons from the South Sudan crisis, as well as letting key South Sudanese voices be heard. They write:
“For governments tempted to ignore the new underclass, South Sudan serves as a cautionary tale. An abiding weakness of governments in East Africa is their ethnocentrism: their tendency to favour crassly their ethnic support bases in the allocation of public sector jobs, appointments, commercial opportunities and government tenders.
“South Sudan’s crisis may have been exacerbated by its weak institutions, but the best illustration of this was the government’s failure to rein in cronyism, corruption and ethnic rivalries in the state sector.
“In South Sudan, these weaknesses caused a war. In other countries in the region, they produce bad elections and policy-making, and hold back burgeoning economies.”
The article speaks of the determination not to be proxies for foreign powers in any conflict and says the South Sudan crisis could give an opportunity to rebuild a state more suited to local realities.
For more, we recommend that you read the article in full here.

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