Asmara, Eritrea, 5 November 2019 (ECA) - East Africa remains the fastest growing region in Africa, but despite this impressive performance, the pace of economic transformation is too slow to ensure the region can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
The regional economic and social overview was presented by Andrew Mold, head of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in East Africa, at regional office’s annual meeting taking place in Asmara this week and attended by more than 200 economic experts and decision makers.
With an average growth rate of 6.6% between 2014 and 2018, East African economies grow twice faster than the African continent as a whole. This impressive performance shall be maintained in 2019, the GDP increase being forecasted at 6.4%, and through 2020 with a 6.5% growth rate estimate, thanks to the dynamism of a 420 million consumers market. Social improvements in health, education and gender equality have been impressive too, representing a major opportunity for continued growth. For example, life expectancy has increased by more than 5 years over the past decade. On the other hand, challenges remain in the implementation of the SDGs: the number of severely food insecure people has been increasing over the past five years, reaching a record high of 112 million in 2018.
Moreover, the rapidly growing population creates an increasing pressure on the job market, with more than 8 million new jobs needed every year. The demand is hardly satisfied by the current economic growth which is led by consumption rather than investment and mostly based on imports. “Take the example of the car industry, explains Andrew Mold. Currently, countries in East Africa import cars, mostly used one, for an annual average of 2.8 billion USD. This has a huge impact on trade deficits, but also on the environment. A regional car industry would not only help reduce carbon emissions and trade deificts but also create thousands of jobs!”
While regional trade and investment have declined over the recent years in East Africa, participants have agreed that boosting regional trade, especially through the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, the AfCFTA, could leverage new opportunities for job creation and poverty reduction.
A panel discussion followed Mr. Mold’s presentation with Kenneth Racombo, the Principal Secretary of the Blue Economy Department of Seychelles, sharing his country’s experiences and road to become a high income country by focusing on the blue economy.
“Being a very small country that is far away from mainland Africa, we are big advocates for regional integration. We need our partners to develop. There are also things that we need to change. For example we import mostly everything we consume from Europe rather than Africa. The government is dicussing how we can get our needs from mainland Africa because we are firm believers in regional integration,” said Mr. Racombo.
For his part, Godfrey Kabera, Director for National Planning in Rwanda’s Finance and Economic Ministry, said Africa should focus on joint regional projects in infrastructure under the AfCFTA to ensure nations fully tap into the benefits of the agreement.
“The importance of having regional competitiveness strategies can also not be overemphasized to ensure we make the AfCFTA a reality in our countries. We also need to work together on climate change, disease control and other issues. We have a lot to share with our neighbours and having joint strategies to address some of our challenges is crucial,” he said.
The 23rd Meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE) is being held under the theme; Leveraging New Opportunities for Regional Integration in Eastern Africa.
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* The subregional office for East Africa serves 14 countries: Burundi, Comores, RD Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
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