Re-established in July 2000, the East African Community (EAC) is a regional intergovernmental organisation of six partner states with a focus on four pillars of integration: customs union, common market, monetary union and political federation.
With a vision to form a common federation for greater and sustainable economic and political prosperity, the community’s integration encompasses all the major sectoral spheres of the partner states economy.
Sitting on 2.5 million square metres of landmass, the community commands a population estimated at 172 million with a corresponding urban proportion of 22 percent.
With a declining-average growth rate of 2.1 percent, it is estimated that by 2050, EAC member countries would account for a total, joint population of about 380 million people.
As the world ramps up efforts to implement Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), EAC shouldn’t be left behind in as far as building inclusivity, resilience and safety into our urban fabric is concerned.
As defined by the United Nations (UN), firming on the strategic mission of improving health and education, reducing inequality, and spurring economic growth, proactively, we must ensure the stated initiatives are built into the cities at the formative years of planning. EAC member countries thus have, from the outset, to adopt the integral concepts of development sustainability in their planning frameworks.
In the larger context of sustainability, however, spatial planning and related disciplines can be considered as a subset of a larger comprehensive plan of action to build a global partnership for sustainable development with an aim of improving human lives and protecting the environment.
It is important however to note that, preceding any nations effort to have a mutually beneficial multilateral partnership, is the inherent urge to spur its economic growth and alleviate its political standing.
According to statistics, there is a great disconnect between demographic growth and opportunities available in the continent: For instance,
“Africa’s population is growing at 30 million people per year. The local economy is creating 70 thousand jobs when three million jobs are required,” KPMG East Africa quoting the late Bob Collymore in their 2019 East Africa CEO Outlook Report.
Economic growth will be inclusive and sustainable if it applies to all Nations, is Cross-Gender, covers all applicable Economic Sectors, and is Multi-scaled.
The result is an empowered, productive populace with an improved ability for wealth creation and preservation.
Notably, emerging economies are claiming an increasing share of the global economy, but structural impediments - mean that the ‘middle-income trap’ is already a distinct risk.
Strictly from the context of Inclusive, Sustainable Economic Growth, some of the initiatives that could be championed by EAC member states are inclusive of:
- Diversity and Inclusivity
The vision of integration is at the heart of sustainable development. EAC member states must therefore facilitate free movement of capital and trade, lay of participatory infrastructure in underserved regions, escalate development finance from public agencies and cast the shadow of distrust between member countries.
Developing countries draw a lot of benefits from foreign investments ranging from jobs creation to technological advancement.
A major challenge to this is the limited human or financial resources to participate effectively in investment-related negotiations, and to secure the most favourable outcomes. This divide is further exasperated by gender inequality which effectively poses a threat to economic progress.
EAC needs to champion integrated planning while supporting employment creation, decent work and redistributive programmes to address poverty, inequality and exclusion.
Key to this will be prioritisation of technical skills development, facilitation of access to global market, training on stronger domestic policies, regulations to control urbanisation and its impacts on labour balance; and strengthening the capacity of member countries to prepare for, and conduct, competitive negotiations globally.
- Multi-sectoral Focus
This is key as it recognises the varying potential within different regions and economies. Unbalanced growth accelerates over-reliance in certain sectors leading to developmental and economic risk in-case of a crunch or underperformance within the said sectors.
On a similar front, raising additional domestic revenues remains a challenge for EAC countries. This in effect is a big hindrance to implementing sustainable, inclusive growth across cross-level initiatives thus impeding scalability.
Through policy formulation, training and assistance in resource built-up, member countries need to ensure mobilization and scaling up of financing to enable transition to inclusive and sustainable growth.
This would call for a focus on critical activities including promotion of fiscal policy consistent with inclusive and sustainable growth objectives, domestic resource mobilisation and adoption of innovative financing mechanisms.
From mining and processing to healthcare and education, this could be enabled through: promotion of partnerships with line-private companies to mobilise new sources of finance; providing investments and advisory services to relevant initiatives; investing in research and extension services aimed at re-alignment of optimal sectoral output for example those aligned to alleviation of climate change.
- Innovation and Research
Key to economic growth, innovation results in increased productivity, wealth creation and economic well-being, promotes structural transformation of economies and enhances competitiveness. EAC has a key role of incentivizing research and innovation and promoting greater access to technology through domestic policy and international cooperation.
According to UNESCO, humanity is on the threshold of a new era - rapid technological advancements are changing the way we learn, work and live together.
Intuitively, EAC needs to prepare for this transformation. Such feet can be achieved by harnessing the power of emerging technological advances like. For example, blockchain, if applied by EAC would allow the building of an ecosystem of transaction and operation solutions with the potential to disrupt existing economic power structures and build a more inclusive knowledge society.
- Capacity Building
To sustain growth, governments and organisations should not focus merely on boosting skills through training and experience but also on building strong institutions - this is the foundation for sustainable, reliable and sound development.
In that effect, EAC member nations must advance their focus to promoting investments in critical socio-economic infrastructure that include among others: health-care systems to deliver basic health services to all; effective administration of tax revenue; biological diversity; and developmental risk identification, analysis and mitigation for optimised resource utilisation.
- Accountability and Reporting
Public institutions are key engines for realization of the war against challenges impeding sustainable development in the African continent. They thus need to integrate follow-up and review structures within their mechanisms.
Through partnership with National and International institutions, EAC could leverage global expertise towards the facilitation of focus on people inclusion in development agenda, investing in ensuring transparency and access to information, promoting independent review mechanisms through judicial remedies, building clear targets, benchmarks, and indicators, building capacity for efficient inspection and process monitoring, and actioning incentives for good performance and mechanisms to sanction underperformance.
Contextually, the role of urbanisation, cities and human settlements is amplified in the SDGs by inclusion of a standalone goal – Goal 11 “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.
UN-Habitat understands urban resilience as the measurable ability of any urban system, with its inhabitants, to maintain continuity through all shocks and stresses. Practically and critically so, is the ability of the urban system, to continuously maintain its fabric in a sustainable manner.
As a norm, EAC members countries thus must adopt environmentally sensitive land use practices, take a move towards a carbon-neutral economy and plan for transit-oriented transportation options and innovative sustainable buildings and landscapes.
As a first-hand initiative, how do we execute this?
By Benard Ojwaya, Project Management Development Planning, Centum Real Estate