The 56 million who live, die poor in EAC

As East African leaders struggle with issues of isolation, integration, political federation, and numerous protocols, the majority of their people are languishing in abject poverty with 40 to 80 per cent of children from poverty stricken households dying before their fifth birthday.

This category has a combined population of 56 million people with an average income of a mere $226 (Sh372,900) a year – clearly not even sufficient enough to feed a family for one calendar month.

The poor, according to the ‘State of the East African Community’ report released last weekend, control about $12.7 billion of the East African region’s combined gross domestic product (GDP), which is a tiny 15 per cent of the total $83 billion for the five countries.

The poverty-stricken East Africans mostly live in rural areas or in the slums of major towns and cities. The lucky find work but only receive a wage that is below the poverty line.

They have no health insurance and their children face a 40 to 80 per cent higher chance of dying before their fifth birthday compared to their richer compatriots. Those who survive are likely to be stunted. They attend schools lacking basic utilities such as power, water and sanitation and they are taught for only a quarter of the recommended time.

This combination of poor nutrition and negligible schooling leaves them unable to operate in East Africa’s modernising, service-oriented economy and guarantee that they will bequeath their poverty to their children and grandchildren. The ‘East Africa’ they live in cannot even be compared to the war-torn states of Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

This is the grim picture painted by the State of East African report titled, ‘One People, One Destiny: the future of inequality in East Africa’ compiled by Society for International Development (SID). The reports says about 71 million or 50 per cent of the EAC region’s population earned $586 (Sh966,900), which in terms of money value could feed this group for hardly four months.

The group termed by the report has middle majority controls of about 50 per cent of the combined region’s GDP. According to the 120-page report made available to The Citizen, there is a pervasive feeling that the economic conditions have worsened in the past five years in the region despite major discoveries of natural resources, especially natural gas, oil and minerals.

For instance, the report says, in the 2012 Tanzania Afrobarometer Survey, 40 per cent of adults felt that current economic conditions in Tanzania were very bad, compared to 25 per cent in 2008. In 2012, 62 per cent of Ugandans felt that their living conditions were at least fairly bad compared to 42 per cent just two years earlier.

In Kenya, 84 per cent of adults described the current economic conditions as either ‘very bad’ or ‘fairly bad’ in 2011; a 30-point jump from 54 per cent in 2005 region could soon be a strong feature of its economic relationship with donor countries.

Burundi, according to the report is the least unequal country in East Africa, followed, in order of rising inequality, by Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. 

The trends in the last two decades point to Rwanda and Burundi as reducing inequality more, albeit from a very high level in Rwanda.  

Kenya and Tanzania seem to be expanding the gap between the rich and the poor, while Uganda has kept its status mostly stable for two decades, the report says.

The report points out further that a formal, wage-paying job is a privilege reserved for a tiny minority of East Africa’s working population. Just 1.6 per cent of Uganda’s, 4 per cent of Burundi’s, 5 per cent of Tanzania’s and 6 per cent of Kenya’s working populations are formally employed. 

For those fortunate enough to find a paying job, the wage data highlights further the disparity in earnings.

The lowest official monthly minimum wages across East Africa varies from $81 in Uganda to just $3.10 in Burundi -- which is four times lower than its official poverty line of $12. The median monthly wage ranges from $176 in Rwanda to $84 in Tanzania. 

However, at $176, Rwanda’s median wage is lower than its own official poverty line ($192) and furthermore, less than half of working Rwandans were paid a wage that was higher than the country’s poverty line.
Source: The Citizen, reported from Arusha and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Share on Google Plus

About Abduel Elinaza

This is a short description in the author block about the author. You edit it by entering text in the "Biographical Info" field in the user admin panel.