STATISTICS on growing inequality among East Africans on Tuesday worried leaders at the launch of the State of East Africa 2013 report in Dar es Salaam.
Analysis in the report titled: 'One People, One Destiny: The future of inequality in East Africa' compiled by the Society for International Development (SID), showed that the poor control about $12.7 billion of the region's combined gross domestic product (GDP), which is a small 15 per cent of the total $83 billion for the five countries.
It noted that the poor in the region largely live in rural areas or in the slums of major towns and cities. Others find work but only receive a wage that is below the poverty line.
It noted they have no health insurance and their children face a 40 to 80 per cent higher chance of dying before their fifth birthday compared to their richer countrymen and women.
The report states that only 10 per cent of the 140 million people that inhabit the bloc lead what can be described as a decent existence. This group controls about $29 billion, roughly 35 per cent of the region's combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $83 billion.
Making remarks on such growing development challenges, SID East Africa President, Amb. Juma Mwapachu, said there is need for leadership that is more connected to the realities of its people.
"The question of leadership is fundamental. Why is it that when we go into social or economic challenges, our society always evokes Mwalimu Julius Nyerere's ideas and what he stood for in his leadership? What we are seeing is a disconnect in leadership between the promise and reality. So leadership is crucial," he observed.
On education, he said that when literacy goes down, it means that people can not exploit existing local opportunities.Furthermore, he said that if there is corrupt leadership, it is difficult to fight corruption. "Today, corruption has become endemic and the key driver," he noted.
He said that EAC can become the agent of transformation, calling for regional infrastructure projects.He noted that the purpose of bigger infrastructure is to ensure populace open up to bigger economic space.
"No country develops internally. You develop by opening up space. Infrastructure is one area where we can see EAC being an agent of transformation," he remarked.
The Chairman of Tanzania Private Sector Foundation, Mr Reginald Mengi, said he still saw poverty largely due to leadership.
Deputy TRA Commissioner General, Rished Bade, said statistics that indicate steep population growth is dangerous, noting that the region could head to a situation where people see opportunity in a country, but would not invest because of worry about social implications.
On transformation, he urged the region against looking out to looking wit in to reduce the growing gap between the well off and the low end.
"Let's not make rhetorics about transformation. Let's do something about the gap. Otherwise, when we increase the level of inequality, we could lead to chaos," he said.
Principal author of the report and Associate Regional Director, SID EastAfrica, Mr Aidan Eyakuze, said it was evident that there is little East Africans know about each other, noting that it was important for local people to be as educated, insightful and analytical as their leaders in a way that they are not lied to or mismanaged.
A Communications Expert in the Ministry of East Africa Cooperation, Mr Faraja Mgwabati, commented that inequality is a global challenge, urging leaders that in coming up with solutions, there is no need to reinvent the wheel if there are areas which have narrowed the gap and can give the region lessons.
But Mr Eyakuze argued that there is not much to 'copy and paste' to the context as solutions should be eminently local."We have to decide here whether we want to close in on the inequality gap or not," he remarked.
Rwanda's Ambassador to Tanzania, Mr Ben Rugangazi, said the report is an important instrument that policy makers should utilise as the region struggles to address local development challenges.
"We should have more people and public and private sector listening to this story, "he advised, adding: "In the report on the issue of inequality, it is interesting that Rwanda is going up. We had an in country retreat recently and this is an issue we have noticed and working on."