Three challenges for east Africa in 2015
East Africa is a large and diverse region but its countries share common challenges, from Islamic radicalisation to economic inequality. With regional integration offering both opportunities and tests, here are the issues that will be at the region’s core in 2015.
Somalia hosts the region’s most notorious terrorist group, al-Shabaab, but neighbouring countries are also vulnerable. Domestic terrorist cells with links to al-Shabaab are being tracked in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. However, the Somali-based core group remains capable of repeating the bombings and assaults it has carried out in Kampala, Nairobi and Mogadishu in recent years.
A review of Kenya’s economy earlier this year made it 25 per cent bigger overnight but mathematical wizardry doesn’t make anyone richer. Growth rates in the region are between 4.5 and 7 per cent but it is wealth distribution that counts. Economies are growing but so is the gap between the have-everythings and the have-nothings. Meeting the challenge of maintaining growth while shrinking the inequality gap will be essential to stability.
The dream of a federation of East African states is edging closer to reality. The benefits of free movement, free trade, a large and growing population of potential consumers and a collective wealth of natural resources – including newly discovered oil fields – mean the potential is huge. But there are counter-currents, too. National leaders show little willingness to cede real power or jealously held sovereignty even if it is for the greater good, while entrenched networks of patronage and corruption would lose out in the drive towards openness.
Politician to watch
Being a Libyan prime minister has become a dangerous business: since the 2011 revolution, kidnappings, assassination attempts and threats to one’s family have all become part of the job and six different men have come and gone. So far Abdullah al-Thinni has decided to stay on despite coming under fire and the kidnap of his son, who was held for four months.
Al-Thinni’s cabinet and the Libyan parliament may be officially recognised by the US, EU member states and Egypt but it has lost control of most of the country – including its three biggest cities – and is now holed up in Tobruk in the East. The challenge for Al-Thinni will be to reassert control over government institutions in order to bring back some economic and political stability to a country that has descended into a state of quasi civil war.
City to watch
While there has been little political change in Jordan in recent years, the tumult on its doorstep has had an impact, particularly on the capital. Jordan has historically been a haven for refugees fleeing conflicts in neighbouring countries with tens of thousands ending up in Amman. Despite facing numerous problems, the city’s growing start-up scene and a Columbia University-led ideas laboratory is focusing on turning it into a regional hub of urban thinking.