Five questions on the State of East Africa 2012

Five questions on the State of East Africa 2012

Click to download in another windowIn April 2012, the Society for International Development (SID) launched a report titled The State of East Africa: Deepening Integration, Intensifying Challenges. The report is a partnership initiative between SID and TradeMark East Africa.

We asked co-author Ahmed Salim five questions about the report. Ahmed is also a Vijana FM content author; see some of his blog posts in our Politics and Culture sections.

1. How did this report come together, and how is it related to SID’s work in East Africa?

My colleague, Aidan Eyakuze, and I started the research and data processing in September 2011 when I joined the Society for International Development. My primary task was to basically update an array of data points based on the State of East Africa Report 2006: Trends, Tensions and Contradictions ( The Leadership); so gather all the economic, demographic, political and human development statistics for all five of the East African Community countries and update/analyze all the data points since 2006.

Once all the data points were collected and updated we analyzed the data. What are the facts telling us? What are they not telling us? What surprises are we seeing, the a-ha moment. We also tried to look at the bigger picture. During the process we learned very quickly that there is a significant amount of information out there, collecting them and putting them into an excel sheet is the easy part. Making sense of the data and how it relates to all of us as East Africans is where things get difficult.

2. Of the insights across the six areas discussed in the report – People (p. 12), Natural resources (21), Human development (29), Infrastructure (46), Economy (64) and Politics (78) – what would you say are the three most urgent areas needing attention?

That’s a good question and I think if you look at each specific country you will find that some issues may be more urgent than others. For instance, in Tanzania the three issues that need urgent attention and action are education and unemployment, malnutrition and poverty. This is in no particular order, but malnutrition may not necessarily be a huge problem in Kenya than it is in Tanzania or Burundi. Healthcare spending may be an issue in Burundi but it is definitely not an issue in Rwanda.

However, generally speaking I would say three issues need attention: Stubbornly high levels of poverty mixed with a rapidly growing population, malnourished children and the expanding interest in the region from the rest of the world. That last issue may be both good and bad but I think its a challenge because I am not sure many East Africans realize they are sitting on a melting pot. Everyone wants a piece of East Africa, but are we aware of this? Are we capable of dealing with the ensuing interest from the rest of the world? Can we negotiate fair and sustainable contracts with the oil and gas companies?

Regarding the other two issues, we have come a long way in reducing child and infant mortality rates. Children are living much longer today than they were 6-7 years ago. However, they are not eating well and and are severely malnourished. The percentage range of children who are stunted in the region is from 35% (Kenya) to as high as 58% (Burundi). That is significant, especially if we try to see how these children perform in school and beyond.

3. The report documents some hesitance from Tanzania in previous EAC commitments (pp. 14-15). What are some of the concerns of the Tanzanian government? Do they share these concerns with any other member states?

The lukewarm relationship that Tanzania has with the EAC is a well documented one. Fairly or unfairly, Tanzania is seen as one of the major impediments in moving the regional integration train forward. We are seen as obstructionists and people who do not seem to take the entire EAC process seriously. To be fair, we have not done a great job in trying to defuse these perspectives and at times some of our actions have only exacerbated the negative sentiments people have against Tanzania. Mind you, Tanzania has some merited concerns with respect to the EAC and regional integration process in general. You have to remember that there was a time, when the first EAC treaty was signed and established, where Tanzania was one of the most aggressive supporters of regional integration. Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere was seen as an integrationist and strong proponent of the process but, I’m sure you’ve heard this story before, there is a great deal of mistrust between Tanzania and the new EAC process. This is because Tanzania felt like it was left in the dark after EAC I failed. Tanzania had a real hard time bouncing back after EAC I failed while Kenya did just fine. So this mistrust and feeling of not being fooled again is what makes Tanzania so hesitant into signing onto various commitments. I do feel, as Charles Obbo once argued, that Tanzania’s hesitancy has in some ways preserved this new EAC experiment. The last thing we want to do as a region is to rush into something we are not really clear on, so the ‘wait and see approach’ does have its benefits. I am not sure other member states share the same concerns as Tanzania. There is also the sensitive issues of land and the labor skills deficit that Tanzania currently possess, we fear about what would happen to our labor force if Kenyans enter the market.

However, as time goes on, this argument loses its merit because if there is a skills deficit or education deficit, we should reign in on it as a country so that we can bridge this gap and compete. We have the manpower and the will do accomplish anything, why not embrace the challenges? In my opinion Tanzania should relish such an opportunity, our involvement in the regional integration process is critical and we should not act too timid in asserting ourselves. Let’s also not forget with our significant coastline and sheer geographical size, we are important to the stability and sustainability of the EAC

4. One of the recommendations for citizens’ engagement that has been suggested is to choose self-interest over the common good (p. 11). We can read lots about why that’s a bad thing, but when can that be a good thing?

This is a good question but I just want to clarify a few things, the report does not recommend what people should do but rather outline possibilities on how they can move forward. The differences seem minute but it is important to understand that. The SoEAR2012 will not order people to make specific decisions but shed light on the challenges and opportunities that they face as stakeholders.

From this, the SoEAR speculates on the decisions they may take and the consequences that will occur after they make those decisions. Pursuing self-interest may be seen as a bad thing in a situation where the ultimate goal is having a regional political bloc like the EAC but I do not see why self-interest has to inherently mean disengagement, it can actually mean deeper engagement with the entire process. If you look at the landlocked countries of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda; I think we can all agree that it is in their self-interest to aggressively push for regional integration especially since their domestic economies depend on the ports and gateways provided by Tanzania and Kenya. For Tanzania, it should be in the country’s self-interst to aspire to be a major access point to middle Africa for the rest of the world. By doing this our national economies will flourish especially if we get our ports in order. Trade will increase exponentially and we would also be seen as an indispensable player in the region.

Not to bring in American foreign policy into the equation but I think you can see some real lessons concerning self-interst and how that can actually mean intense engagement with the world. The United States tried the isolationist path but that didn’t work so well because they inevitably got forced to engage with the world after World War II, and they never looked back since. So in essence, the best case scenario of a country seeking self-interst is when the endgame is political and economic stability. I think we saw such an example during the post-eleciton violence in Kenya, it was very clear that East Africa could no longer absorb the shocks from the political instability in Kenya. All stakeholders came together and were determined to solve the crisis because it was in their self-interest to do so…this may not be a great reason but at the end of the day if everyone is in agreement of the end result, should we really question their motives?

5. Based on the report, what kinds of activities could young people learn from or get involved with to better prepare for an integrated East African region?

One of the major aspects of this report is just to get the facts out and make it public. Information is crucial and what you tend to find is that most people are not truly aware of what the EAC is all about and how it will affect them so as a result they tend to be left in the dark or choose not to engage with it.

The first step is just learning more about the EAC and also about each other, once young people begin to understand the regional context in which they are living in they can then make educated decisions about what kind of East Africa they want. I think for young people, engaging with this report would go a long way in at least trying to understand what all the hoopla is all about. Once that is done, they can then pick or choose critical areas that they feel affect them the most, perhaps education, employment and political and social stability.

Once they identify these key areas that are important to them they can run with it, perhaps with our help (SID) in having confident engagements with their MPs or EALA representatives. I do believe that young people are a lot more integrated with the region than lets say 20 years ago. The internet and rise in mobile phone usage has really eliminated barriers between young entrepreneurs in Arusha and Kigali. This is significant.

You have to remember one of the main criticisms of the current EAC regional integration process is that it is heavy on economic integration and infrastructure, but light on what we can call ‘soft’ integration (music, culture, arts entertainment, etc.). In this field I think our youth are much more advanced than one would think and a lot more integrated than one could possibly imagine. This is great and something that should be embraced and promoted by local and regional authorities. Young folks wont really pay significant attention to infrastructure development unless it affects them directly, but they will listen to AY or watch Steve Kanumba movies, etc. I think this is something young people can get themselves involved with because at the end of the day we can sign all the treaties and build all the roads we want but bottom line it is the people that count the most. Connecting them on all facets of life should be a priority.

Thank you Ahmed! You can e-mail him on ahmed (at) vijana (dot) fm. Discussion also welcome below.

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Al-Amin founded Vijana FM in 2009. With over a decade of experience in communications, design and operations, he now runs a digital media consulting agency - Lateral Labs - in Dar-es-Salaam.


  1. Alphonse 7 years ago

    Brilliant and balanced analysis. The report promises to be a treasure trove for policy wonks and the inquisitive types. Glad to see some well researched data in one jackpot, it’s like an oasis in the middle of the Sahara.

    This type of stuff is why I come to VijanaFM

  2. Ahmed 7 years ago

    Many thanks Alphonse. We hope you continue to read posts and analysis on Vijana FM.

  3. Hyperkei 7 years ago

    Thanks guys…Hii ripoti kwangu imekuja kwa muda muafaka :]

  4. shurufu 7 years ago

    I thought the report failed to examine one of the most significant development in the region, which is the intersection between technology, media and journalism and how that is going to transform how we interact and come to define who we are as East Africans. A major oversight, methinks. But overall a decent effort at give us a sense of where we are as a region.

  5. Turi 7 years ago

    “South Sudan, which has increasingly tilted towards the region since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with Khartoum authorities in 2005, formally applied to join the bloc last year.” [more at The Citizen here:]

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