Kenya's silver lining lies in the full integration of East Africa

Are we in a crisis? The intricate web of the socio-economic challenges that we are facing today leaves us no room to answer the question any other way but in the affirmative.

As such, it is safe to say that our defining challenge is the ability to create an economic momentum that can sustainably help us put a material dent on poverty.

Economic growth is the key through which a society unlocks opportunities, raises living standards and avails mass prosperity. It is more than abstract economic indices.

The fortunes of the citizens rise and fall on economic growth. When it falters, the sick have to put forward a visit to the doctor to the most dire of situations. The young miss out on education for their young minds and hearts. Inability to feed the hungry ultimately leads to malnutrition and a higher disease burden.

While it may be convenient to look back and point fingers, we must realise that the buck-passing will certainly not offer solutions to the people.

If anything, it does not set us apart from those who had the rare honour to preside over the benefit and costs of public policy but decided to increase their instead.

When public policy does not encourage productive capacity of citizens, then you know you are staring at a polity that is headed into an abyss.

That is why besides the President’s pet projects of avoiding default while raising production, he may also want to focus more seriously on regional integration.

With a population of 238.7 million people, the East African Community provides a market so big that if we are to get our acts right, then a healthy competition which includes, but is not limited to removal of non-tariff barriers, will not only see emergence of thriving industries, but also help us deal with the problem of sovereign debt.

This is how. Part of the reasons we are now drowning under the heavy weight of the sovereign debt is that our currency has weakened significantly against the dollar; the currency in which the debt was borrowed.

As at June 2024, we will spend 50 per cent more on debt repayment on account of the shilling’s depreciation alone.

If you compare Kenya’s debt situation and its advanced peers like Japan, which the previous administration liked to compare with whenever the debt to GDP ratio debate popped up, you realise that the comparison is of two very disparate scenarios.

Japan has a huge export portfolio that earns it immense revenue in foreign exchange thus strengthening the Yen against other currencies. Japan, just like America, also pays its debt in its own currency.

If push came to shove, they can print themselves out of debt. The combined EAC economy under a common currency would literally awaken the sleeping economic giant that it is.

Secondly, that currency would stand up to other foreign currencies like the dollar and the pound.

The EAC common currency can then now become the means through which we pay our debts and not the shillings.

Free flow of capital within the community would also incentivise competition as consumers would be looking for high quality goods at affordable prices.

The resultant economic growth would provide the foothold with which to fight some of the seemingly intractable challenges facing the region such as radicalisation, triple planetary crisis and, the mounting disease burden.

A genuinely unified EAC on the economic front would then have the fiscal muscles to undertake major infrastructural projects without draining the close to 20 per cent of the GDP of one particular country in one infrastructural project without the buy in of neighbouring countries, thus rendering the project a white elephant as we did with our SGR.

May the uncertainties of these present times remind us, as citizens of the East Africa region, that we are better together.

We have dragged our feet for too long on the issue of common currency as well as on common market.

May we bring down the walls separating the community and set our people on the path to prosperity.

Mr Kidi is Convener, Inter-parties Youth Forum. [email protected]

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