Stephen Gelb (ODI) | Five priorities to tackle the 7,000 jobs a day challenge in East Africa

Stephen Gelb (Principal Research Fellow – Team Leader, private sector development, ODI)

6 April 2018

Seven thousand new jobs a day for fifteen years!!

This is the daunting challenge East Africa faces if it is to meet the need for work for its young, fast-growing population. In the six countries of the East African Community (EAC) – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda – an estimated 3.9 million people will be added to the working-age population between 2015 and 2030. This means that 2.6 million jobs must be created in that time. That’s 7000 per day across the region. That number of jobs can’t and won’t be created unless the goods these new workers produce can be sold. And this in turn needs dramatically expanded markets – especially through the creation of a single market across all of East Africa.

SET has assisted the East African Business Council (EABC) – the apex body of business associations in the region – to highlight five policy priorities for governments in the region to boost trade and investment within the EAC and so help meet this jobs challenge. We produced a joint brochure at the EABC’s High Level Conference held in Nairobi on 23 March 2018, to mark the organisation’s 20th anniversary.

The five priorities we identified are as follows:

  • Eliminate non-tariff barriers (NTBs) especially to reduce delays (e.g. at border posts and weighing stations) and to lower the costs of transporting goods within the region. ODI research shows transport and logistics barriers cost between 1.7% and 2.8% of gross domestic product in East Africa.
  • Reform the EAC’s common external tariff (CET) to support industrialisation, especially by ensuring tariffs are levied appropriately through correctly classifying intermediate inputs for production, rather than as final products.
  • Improve regional infrastructure in transport and energy to lower costs and improve quality, supporting profitability for goods producers. Improvements at Mombasa port show what is possible.
  • Liberalise services trade within the EAC to lower business services costs to business users, which has been shown to increase their efficiency.
  • Promote local (intra-EAC) sourcing of productive inputs, to expand markets and encourage investment.

Above: Lilian Awinja and Dr Stephen Gelb

In her report to the event, EABC Executive Director Lilian Awinja discussed progress on the five priorities. There has been improvement on removing NTBs, she said, through better harmonisation of standards, lowered border-crossing times and costs and cooperation by tax authorities. But on CET reform and services trade liberalisation, progress has been much slower. Ms Awinja called for stepped-up dialogue between the private sector and governments.

And on local sourcing, the one priority that businesses can actively implement in their own operations, she endorsed the ban on second-hand clothing imports agreed to (at least initially) by all six regional governments, and issued a call for Fridays to become ‘Wear East Africa’ day, to promote the region’s garment industry. She herself was resplendent in an outfit made from indigenous fabric, as were almost all the women present – a majority in the crowded room at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre.

She was speaking alongside the event’s opening panel: six men, all wearing Western suits and ties, whom she instructed to immediately purchase a locally made shirt from one of the many market stalls just outside. We weren’t able to discover how many of the men obeyed her call. But Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the Ugandan Prime Minister, who was on the panel, quickly endorsed the idea, saying that President Museveni wanted people to ‘wear East African’ every day, not only on Fridays. The idea of ‘indigenous Friday’ – a step beyond ‘casual Friday’ – felt like something that could just catch on. Of course, local sourcing needs to go beyond the clothing industry to support rapid industrialisation in the region, but ‘indigenous Friday’ may be a start.

Other speakers at the High Level Conference also underlined the five priorities, with addressing NTBs and improving infrastructure probably receiving the most mentions. In her remarks, Patricia Scotland, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, discussed trade facilitation, but underlined that, to put the ‘wealth’ back into ‘commonwealth’, developing ‘human capital’, particularly women, was critical. This linked in interesting ways to another speaker’s comment about the benefits of intra-African trade by means of informal cross-border exchange, much of it by women traders of course.

Above: Patricia Scotland presenting at EABC 23 March Anniversary 

The ground-breaking meeting in Rwanda just two days earlier, at which 47 African countries signed the Kigali Declaration launching the African Consolidated Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), loomed large over the EABC celebration. Most speakers underlined the opportunities the pan-African market of a billion people offers to accelerate economic integration and increase trade and investment flows within Africa. Prime Minister Rugunda suggested the AfCFTA could renew – in a modern way – an earlier tradition whereby Africans exchanged gifts as neighbours; now they would be helping each other compete with the world in African markets and beyond.

But, as so often in African integration matters, speakers also worried about the gap between ‘talking the talk’ and ‘walking the walk’, and Prime Minister Rugunda enjoined both political and business leaders to live up to commitments signed at multilateral meetings. Many speakers, including Adan Mohammed, Cabinet Secretary (Minister) of the Kenyan Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives, and Manu Chandaria, one of Kenya’s most prominent business figures, appealed to businesses to end the practice of privately lobbying their own governments for exemptions from policies that businesses had collectively agreed at regional or continental level. Suggesting this was a major reason for the persistence of NTBs, they both argued passionately for solidarity and for promoting the public interest over that of individual businesses. The same level of passion is needed if the region is to meet its 7,000 jobs a day challenge.