20 January 2017

East Africa: What the World Economic Forum Holds for EAC's Future

The enlightening, information sharing and conglomeration of great minds in the continuing 47th World Economic Forum has continued to pay off as each day takes a step to achieving greater heights. The conference has, for now, been ongoing for three days and world leaders in business, governments, academia, civil society and international agencies have birthed ideas and thoughts on the way forward.

This year's event was organised and dabbed, "A Responsive and Responsible Leadership," with a focus on improving global cooperation and collaboration.

Experts said the theme and deliberations were relevant in addressing some of the main giants such as unemployment, education, and skills gap.

Elsie Kanza, the head of Africa at the World Economic Forum, stated that in an era of social media, more people can bring their views and opinions afore, hence the call for leaders to be responsive and responsible. The communication and interaction on this platform betters both parties in shedding light on the issues at hand.

For the East African Community (EAC), she said, the forum presented a chance to look at economic growth trends and compare with other parts of the world to improve for the better.

Despite the economic growth experience on the continent and region, in particular, in recent years, it has not had much effect on job creation and has further widened inequality gaps, a crucial "broken ligament" in the society that calls for urgent watch out.

This, Kanza said, opened up for conversation about measures and models of evaluating economic growth that measure growth beyond GDP.

Among the main focus of the deliberation is increased cooperation and partnerships to reinvigorate economic growth which has stagnated in the recent past due to the prevailing unfavourable circumstances in the world's economy.

For the EAC region, Kanza said, leveraging benefits of integration is important to maintain growth and spur more entrepreneurs.

She said by engaging investors and multinationals at the forum, the region was identifying models for a better improved business environment and ecosystem, which could see more firms enter the EAC market.

Although intra-regional trade is still significantly low compared to other parts across the world, Kanza said efforts across the bloc have significantly reduced non-tariff barriers.

"We can do better as a region to improve intra-regional trade by eliminating trade barriers and making cross-border trade more effective," she said.

Diversifying economy

Other conversations at the forum important to the region, Kanza said, were diversifying the economy beyond the current sectors to create more jobs, increase value of commodities, and reduce vulnerabilities of global economic shocks.

"There is also need to improve the agriculture sector to improve production and value. Being one of the highest employing sectors, we can do more to increase value of products and exports," she said.

After the forum, which wraps up today, she added, the EAC bloc should consider stepping up economic integration, especially in financial markets, to deepen access to finance and inclusion.

"The region can do better in infrastructure for integration, education to deliver better skills, technological readiness and digital literacy," Kanza said of areas the bloc should seek to learn from the forum.

Speaking at a session dubbed, "Leading in Divided Time," Imbuto Foundation's Michaella Rugwizangoga said, on regional level, efforts and campaigns such as a visa-free Africa were being advanced to enable free movement of goods and services across the continent.

Local economists say the forum presents an opportunity for the bloc to advance in its development objectives, especially if it promotes itself as a united region as opposed to individual countries.

Philos Elisaphan Mujyanama, a lecturer at the University of Kigali, reiterated that from the summit, EAC stood a chance to attract foreign direct investments as investors are attracted by large markets.

"Small and fragmented national markets are usually not sufficient to attract huge investments. Economic integration makes the region a huge market, which foreign investors find attractive," Mujyanama said.

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