Biggest threats to East Africa

March 17, 2017

Poverty, regional economic instability, terrorism, climate change, economic slowdown, unemployment, fighting in South Sudan and Somalia, tension between Ethiopia and Egypt are the biggest threats facing East African region. Unfortunately for the region, poverty and insecurity go hand-in-hand. The region seems full of insecurity right now, no better represented than by the looming hunger that has seen millions face death due to lack of food and water.Despite countless East African politicians telling their population everything will be fine, a seemingly endless developed-region property boom and, of course, expensive money from ultra-high interest rates, the region economy continues to sputter along.In my view, i think the economic instability is one of the two biggest threats to the region as well as terrorism.Narcotics is also one of the biggest threats facing the East African people, claiming about 90 lives every day in the region as per 2016 official data.Besides drugs, radicalism and terrorism, corruption and social inequality were the other threats. These are the things that East African countries have to fight against.Your blogger hope that the court would give the maximum punishment to those convicted of any of these categories of crimes because like corruption is said to wipe out more than 40% of the regional GDP annual growth potential.Me thinks that judges should not be afraid of allegations of human rights violations in this regard. The argument of human right violation cannot invoked when it comes to punishing criminals like it happens in Kenya. Countries with better record of fighting graft like Tanzania, courts have been very helpful to the state and there was no problem with meting out punishment because various crimes are one of the biggest threats faced by the East Africa’s largest country.

I am personally of the view that there is no need to be afraid of allegations of human rights violation when it comes to arresting, prosecuting and jailing drug mules. East African countries security agencies have the right to make arrests, and they should also be entitled to sacking their own cadre if found involved in drug abuse or corruption. Arrest of such personnel or discharging them from service would help in fight against drug abuse.There’s need for the regional countries to step up cooperation in combating drug trafficking.Formally, cooperation between Uganda and Kenya and, Tanzania and Kenya in combating drug trafficking has been on but need to be extended to other countries. Through such cooperation, the countries will be able to exchange information regarding drug crimes and assist each other in fighting against trafficking of such contraband.The cooperation focus to check drug smuggling involving drug syndicates in the the region will be productive in both short and long term.In order to achieve this, East African countries need to engage countries like Thailand, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and India to prevent any attempt to smuggle raw material meant for the production of narcotics and narcotics to the region.Asia is one of the regions from where drugs are supplied in East Africa. Narcotic crime is a transnational crime and such international cooperation is badly needed.East African countries should send their delegation to such Asian countries to ensure that cooperation in sharing intelligence also runs optimally.According to some unofficial data, there are nearly 40 Kenyans dying every day due to drug consumption.

Another threat facing the region is environmental conservation, as a region surrounded bordering the ocean, the East African countries must fulfil all the requirements to be a dignified maritime region. Despite the growing regional attention, environmental activists and wildlife experts are still fighting to protect threatened marine life across the Indian Ocean coast.Illegal wildlife trading and habitat destruction are the biggest threats.The region’s major marine ecosystems have been degraded due to unsustainable methods, such as tourism.Countries like Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia are facing a major threat of deterioration in the quality of marine and coastal habitats, which is mainly due to human activity, including littering the waters.When it comes to terrorism, the region is in a crisis and securitisation is the name of the game. Securitisation is a disruptive process that takes politics beyond the established rules of the governing game and argues that emergency measures are needed like it happened with region’s fastest growing economy Ethiopia declaring state of emergency last year.In East African region, securitisation is normally implemented by actors with authority mostly governments by using different media outlets to gradually transform environmental, economic, religious social, cultural and health issues into security threats. And once this transformative process has been successfully completed, for example when the population accepts the government’s arguments, those in authority can legitimately implement exceptional measures to deal with such threats as it happened with the issue of Ethiopia.Similarly, Kenya has successfully used the securitisation strategy to gradually convince most Kenyans that, a predominately Muslim ethnic group in the country, represent a domestic and regional security threats. This has allowed the Kenyan government to legitimately restrict numerous of the constitutionally protected religious and cultural rights of the said group. While such restrictions undeniably go against the Kenyan constitution and laws, which robustly protect ethnic minorities’ cultural and religious rights, the Kenyan population considers these harsh restrictions legitimate because they help protect the homeland from an alleged national security threat.

Numerous Muslim communities around the country feel deeply angered by these restrictions that result in the said community being unable to fulfil basic Islamic duties.Most of Kenya’s over 10 million Muslims are very sensitive about their brethren having their religious rights harshly repressed by the Kenyan security agencies and some are unwilling to fully cooperate with Nairobi when it comes to the rights and safety of such groups accused of terrorism.This framing of muslim groups as a whole as a terrorist threat for Kenya is based on questionable and little evidence, and, most importantly, done without discerning between a handful of alleged muslim extremists and the over 10 million muslims that make up Kenyan Muslim ethnic groups. Nairobi’s discourse does not provide any neutral or positive statements about the muslim groups, giving the impression to the non Kenyan people that all the muslims represent a regional security threat that needs to be fought as part of the war on Islamic terrorism.Ultimately, Nairobi is using securitisation as a smearing strategy to frame the muslims in general as dangerous extremists in the hope that their brethren will be desensitised about the harsh and illegal cultural and religious repression that they are suffering in Kenya. This deceptive strategy might have been successful in partially muting the complaints from the muslims in the short term. Nevertheless, it would be a much more sustainable and constructive strategy for Kenya to defuse their tensions with the muslims especially at the coastal region by granting them the religious and cultural rights enshrined in the Kenyan Constitution.Although I cannot exhaust all threats facing East African region, i would want to share some of the economic challenges facing it.Despite the occasional hiccup, East Africa’€™s economy has performed well in recent years. Economic growth, at around 5 percent in the past decade, has made the region one of the fastest growing regional economies.Their macro-economic management has been commendable, with fiscal deficits down to less than 3 percent of gross domestic product, and external debt at just 30 percent on average. Foreign investment has been rising, reflecting growing confidence in the regional economy among big corporations mainly from Asia, US and Europe. This has helped fund the relatively small current-account deficit while helping the region build manufacturing competence in the longer term.

Nevertheless, the region can do better, can and should grow by 8- 10 percent a year, a pace of growth that would deliver good jobs and rising incomes to common folk. The external environment is improving and is offering East Africa a once in a generation chance to really make it. Moreover, foreign companies are showing a renewed interest in East African economies. East Africa’€™s demographics are also excellent, with a youthful working population unlike other regions in the continent with an increasingly aging one. It is well endowed with energy and natural resources and has fewer challenges with resources availability. Some of East African countries are also fortunate in being part of East African Community, which is increasingly integrated and is growing rapidly, potentially providing member countries with a bigger market and the scale economies to compete. Given the right environment, East Africa’€™s businessmen, women and workers have what it takes to bring the region to a higher level. So, the trick is to provide them with that environment. To do so, countries need to go beyond well-known problems such as infrastructure, an uncertain regulatory environment and a lack of skilled labor. They need to get back to basics and ask themselves why, in the first place, do they have such problems. The reason why there has been so little movement in tackling infrastructure despite the best intentions is that East African countries do not yet have the appropriate bureaucratic and regulatory framework in place. The actual disbursement of public sector spending on infrastructure in areas such as energy, irrigation and transport has fallen well short of the budget for many years until recently when Ethiopia and Kenya began to invest heavily in railway, energy and road sectors.Multiple layers of red tape and officials’€™ unfamiliarity with new regulations quite often slow the process.

The responsibility for infrastructure tends to be split among too many agencies, with coordinating bodies lacking the power to break deadlocks among these agencies. Another challenge is that price regulation has undermined incentives for private sector companies to participate in infrastructure development in East African countries.The region need to improve pay and perquisites for state officials so they are properly incentivised and so government service is able to attract talented and dynamic individuals. Efficiency will improve and corruption will be reduced as a result. Labor laws in all countries in the region hinder employment by imposing onerous obligations on employers. The result is that much foreign investment that could have created high-quality jobs and built a strong industrial base is bypassing East African region and helping to develop the likes of Nigeria and South Africa instead. As a result, too few jobs are being created in the formal sector while millions of East Africans languish in informal sector jobs that pay too little, with little protection. Too often, well intentioned policies end up hurting the very people they are meant to help. East African countries need to subject such policies to rigorous examination so that the true intent of these measures is realised. Whether it is in energy generation, ports, airports or roads, East African countries will be well served by allowing more room for their private companies to build infrastructure. In other areas such as plantations, privatisation could well result in higher yields. Such privatisation can be structured so as to benefit small holders, giving more individual farmers the opportunity to enrich themselves, who actually form the majority of the region’s population. The African economy is giving East African region a huge set of opportunities to accelerate its growth. If it can focus on the basics and improve the business environment by reforming individual country role in the economy, East Africa will deliver transformational improvements in living standards to its people.

Contador Harrison