Without planning, East Africa will stick to a crisis mode

20Mar 2016
Isaac Mwangi
Guardian On Sunday
Ea Whispers
Without planning, East Africa will stick to a crisis mode

IF all works out according to nature’s cycle, the skies could open up in a matter of days and usher in a season of the long rains in East Africa.

Nature, however, has become quite unpredictable of late. The El Nino rains came and went last year, and people in the region are increasingly getting accustomed to the extremes of the weather. That means the heavy rains could actually come, and perhaps devastatingly so. Or they could simply disappear.

Either way, East Africa deserves to be prepared. All too often, millions of people are caught unawares even by a phenomenon such as the long rains that has come with certainty over the millennia. It all means our countries are extremely exposed to changes in climatic and weather patterns.

And even if the rains were to come and go in just the right measure, causing an abundant harvest, that still presents a problem. Many are the times when farmers decry losses due to lack of proper storage facilities as well as markets for their products. This leads to undesired losses.

It also leads to a situation where there is plenty today and nothing tomorrow, or
plenty in one place and scarcity elsewhere.

Perhaps the tragedy has to do with governance. There is an “eating” mentality that has laid siege to a significant portion of the elite in East Africa. This mentality assures them that every project, every budgetary allocation, and every need that arises must be fully exploited for the purpose of self-enrichment.

This is why funds geared towards helping the most vulnerable sections of our populations are regularly misappropriated – read “eaten” – by those charged with oversight responsibilities. Stories in the Kenyan media of bar soaps that cost up to $350 dollars apiece, and wheelbarrows that cost over $1,000 each, are simply nauseating. The construction of bridges and culverts, the distribution of seeds and fertilizers, and other measures that would be of benefit to the poor are forced to give way to elitist thievery.

Yet, the economy must work on all sides for progress to be made. Everybody pays taxes to meet the cost of infrastructure, for instance, yet in some cases this is infrastructure that is only fictitious. Yet we need those roads, bridges and other infrastructure to connect producers with markets and promote economic growth.

How then, can any progress take place in such circumstances? As farmers wait for the rains, have our countries invested enough in outreach activities to educate farmers? Are we prepared for floods in our cities? Do we have enough emergency provisions to be used in the event of massive flooding?

Given that rains, floods and droughts know no boundaries, do we have sufficient collaborative mechanisms in place for mutual benefit? This is especially important with the harmonization of other sectors, which makes the whole region inter-dependent.

There are significant numbers from the nationalities of all five EAC member states in each other’s countries. If we are to truly work toward the vision of one people with one destiny, then we need to have policies that address our common challenges as well.

One of East Africa’s major problems, then, centres on the lack of foresight and planning. We seem to simply glide along in life, not respecting the need to take control and put in place mitigating measures.

Unfortunately, this is a culture that has taken root in virtually all partner states. As if that were not enough, moreover, we keep adding our own man-made problems, such as the crises in Burundi and South Sudan.

Whether the rains fall in abundance or the sun shines down hard, these unfortunate segments of the regional population will have a serious problem.

Their problems, to be sure, will be made known at that time. Suddenly, there will be appeals for clothing and tents to shelter thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons, plus food, medical supplies and all sorts of other provisions. Why those appeals must wait until then defies reason.

That’s East Africa for now, and it is an image we would do well to discard.