- The East African economic growth is projected to recover this year despite COVID-19 setback thanks to sustained public spending on infrastructure and improved performance of the agricultural sector
- The bloc’s growth is likely to reach an average of 4.1 percent this year, up from 0.4 percent posted last year
The East African economic growth is projected to recover this year despite the COVID-19 setback thanks to sustained public spending on infrastructure and improved performance of the agricultural sector.
This is according to a new report by the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) which indicates that the bloc’s growth is likely to reach an average of 4.1 percent this year, up from 0.4 percent posted last year.
In its latest economic outlook report for the region, AfDB shows that next year average growth is projected to hit 4,9 percent.
Further, the report reveals that COVID-19 containment measures and global supply and demand disruptions hit businesses and livelihoods hard and increased poverty, while political fragility in some countries and limited economic diversification in others were significant impediments to growth.
Commenting on the report, the Somali Finance Minister Abdirahman Dualeh Beileh warned that the pandemic could continue to impede progress toward inclusive growth.
“The contraction of economic activities, increase in fiscal deficits due to high public spending to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic amidst reduced public revenues, and exchange rate depreciation following reduced income from commodity exports, created fiscal and debt distress risks in the region in 2020,” Minister Beileh said.
The flagship report reviews the socio-economic performance of 13 countries namely Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
The report, themed “Debt Dynamics in East Africa: The Path to Post-Covid Recovery”, notes that the rapid recovery of the region is being driven by sustained public spending on infrastructure, improved performance of the agricultural sector, and deepening regional economic integration.
According to the report, while East Africa is undergoing a shift toward a more service-oriented economy, some countries are experiencing deindustrialisation.
To accelerate recovery and build post-COVID-19 resilience, the report recommends that countries accelerate structural transformation through digitalisation, industrialisation, economic diversification and consolidation of peace, security, and stability.
The outlook report projects a full recovery from 2023, due to the increased roll-out of vaccines, recovery in the global economy, rising commodity prices, and growing economic diversification in the region.
“A mix of policy interventions is needed to accelerate East Africa’s economic recovery and build post-COVID-19 resilience. These include scaling up vaccinations, designing and implementing economic stimulus packages and stabilizing public debt by dealing with debt related to state enterprises, among others,” said Nnenna Nwabufo, the AfDB’s Director General for East Africa.
The region’s resilience last year was due to relatively higher economic diversification and governments’ swift policy responses to counter the pandemic’s impacts. Still, Marcellin Ndong Ntah, a lead economist at the AfDB, warned that the risks to the region’s positive outlook remain substantial due to the uncertainties surrounding the longevity and severity of the pandemic, the slow uptake of vaccines, rising global oil prices for the non-oil exporting countries in the region, the slow pace of structural transformation, conflicts and civil unrest, and weather-related shocks and locust invasions in the region.
Commenting on the same, Emmanuel Pinto Moreira, Director of the Bank’s Country Economics Department, said many East African economies continue to need short-term debt relief and emergency external financing from multilateral lenders.
He added that many had received budget support under the Bank’s COVID-19 Response Facility, and emergency financing from the International Monetary Fund.
Economic experts attending the launch called for better economic governance, notably clearing domestic arrears, improving debt management and transparency, and dealing with debt related to state-owned enterprises.
“For countries with substantial external financing risks, innovative financing instruments like non-debt equity, risk-sharing with the private sector, including through collateralization and increasing foreign investor participation in local-currency debt markets, should be explored to diversify the sources of development finance,” said Edward Sennoga, lead economist at the Bank.
This, he added, will insulate the region’s economies from global volatility shocks. Louis Kasekende, Executive Director of the Macroeconomic and Financial Management Institute of Eastern and Southern Africa, pointed out that policies to diversify public financing sources, improve public revenue mobilization and prioritize infrastructure investments will be critical to ensure debt sustainability.
“Public debt, if used correctly, can help boost essential services, leading to improved economic growth,” he said.
Though, the sub-region avoided recession last year but political fragility and limited economic diversification impacted growth in some countries Until last year when the Coronavirus pandemic invaded the region, East Africa was the fastest growing economy on the continent but it appears, the sub-region will cede its position to central and southern Africa in this year and to North Africa next year due to strong recoveries expected in those regions.