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East Africa’s Prosperity Gap

NAIROBI – In recent years, the narrative of a “rising Africa” has been embraced by some and debunked by others. But all agree on what social engineers call “inclusiveness” – the degree to which members of a society share in its prosperity. With it, say the boosters, Africa will rise. Without it, say the skeptics, it cannot.

Africa’s future really is as simple as that. Without a sense of social contract – a faith in shared progress – economies tend to become unstable and fall apart. “No society that hopes to prosper,” writes the economist Jeffrey Sachs in his book The Price of Civilization, “can afford to leave large parts of its population stuck in the poverty trap.”

Against this background, a new report by the Society for International Development (SID) in Nairobi is a sobering read. Its conclusion: a rising Africa – and in particular a rising East Africa – will never become a reality without economic progress across all sectors of society.

Superficially, East Africa appears to be doing well. Annual economic growth rates are averaging around 6%, and trade and foreign investment are rising. Some countries, such as Uganda and Tanzania, have large energy-resource endowments. In Kenya, the region’s largest economy, finance and new consumer service industries are propelling growth – an important economic evolution.