Agenda for Active Policy Engagement

Introduction

watotoInformation, Insight, Imagination. What next? The ultimate objective of the State of East Africa Report
is to create spaces for dialogue and engagement that are solidly grounded on these three elements. Earlier sections of this report reveal a more nuanced picture of East Africa than the conventional narrative portrays. Not only are historical and contemporary inequalities being addressed very slowly – if at all – but also current drivers of economic growth are generating increased disparities between those that managed to catch the train and those left standing on the platform.
The same conventional narrative often claims that this is the inevitable sequence of events. Allow a few people to climb up the ladder and they will pull those left behind. It can be argued that the linearity of the trickle-down approach does not work in a context where growth is generated by the exploitation of rents and the production of primary commodities with diminishing returns. The transition from a rent-seeking economy to one that is wage-driven is complex and open to arriving at multiple equilibria, some of which may be sub-optimal.
The outlooks on the future of inequality in East Africa offer a glimpse of what some of these might look like. The region’s current reality could be viewed as an archipelago of islands. Some islands feature “Winner Takes All” approaches. Witnesses the many attempts by elements of the wealthy classes to use public resources and political influence to acquire assets and to extort rents fromthe poor. Other islands are inhabited by “Social Bribery”: marginal increases in the quality of life for the poor (obviously positive) while masking how the rich are becoming exponentially better off. The inherent social conflict that emerges with rising inequality is temporarily ‘bought off’ by marginal social progress for the poor. However, the positive side of the Social Bribery outlook is that it reaches out to everyone and this inclusiveness may produce the seeds for a transformation that deliberately combines growth with equity. The policy imperative is one of building on the islands of transformation in East Africa. This does not mean alienating the drivers of current growth but it uses the available resources, energy and talent to remake the society and the economy with greater inclusiveness and equity.
This section does not offer any silver bullets for action. However, it does employ the information, insight and imagination presented earlier to catalyze an ongoing process of multi-stakeholder dialogues on possible policy options. To that end, it offers an outline agenda for active policy engagement with the challenge of inequality within the context of East Africa’s regional integration process.

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