A study released last week has catapulted East Africa to the top of foreign direct investment ladder and highest equity flow in the next three years compared to the rest of sub Saharan Africa regions. In a highly competitive global economy, various factors determine each country’s competitive edge starting with infrastructure, natural resources, quality of institutions and human resources. The last two years have seen a push across the East African Community to upgrade infrastructure and improve its public institutions. The latest discoveries of rich natural resources demand the regional member states of the economic bloc to improve the quality of human resources. Apart from the prestigious Makerere University in Uganda, the oldest university in East and Central Africa, the East African Community member states have no single university conveyor belt churns talent of international repute. If you disagree with me, just look at the international university ranking in Africa and globally, where performance is more dismal.
Unless governments work with the private sector to remedy this situation speedily, the region will fall behind its North African brothers and Southern Africa neighbors. There is need for better management of region’s human resources, to help East Africa to prepare for petro capitalism economies in 2017. East African secretariat based in beautiful town of Arusha, northern Tanzania must insist that member states match hard infrastructure with soft infrastructure for the region to be competitive. In Finland, productive and competent workers are the drivers of economic growth. Without highly skilled labor, Australia would not have had the capacity to rise up the economic ladder that saved it from economic recession that battered the west. In order to achieve a productive workforce, East African education system must be up to scratch and proposed harmonization of Swahili as standard language for the region must be encouraged in Uganda and Rwanda two countries whose citizens lack basic Swahili skills.
Burundians, Kenyans and Tanzanians have no such hurdles as Swahili is widely spoken by literates and illiterates alike. According to a recent report, about 80% of East African’s total workforce have no university degree, which is result of low productivity and competitiveness of the region’s workers. It’s time for economists in the region to wake up and smell the coffee by ceasing to measure economic development by gross domestic product or per capita income only which has not translated to poverty reduction as has happened in Brazil or China. Improving workers’ quality of life in East Africa will raise productivity and in turn boost economic growth. However, I strongly believe that to get to this level, the education system must be in sync with the needs of business across the region. It is important that East Africa countries boosts the quality of its human resources or risk being swamped by workers from Europe, Asia and Middle East who are flocking to Africa’s most promising region.