Social Cohesion in Eastern Africa

Poverty, inequality, migration and political unrest have all threatened social cohesion in Eastern Africa, as well as many other threats. Yet the region has proved remarkably resilient to these challenges, finds a new report launched the Economic Commission for Africa.

The report examines social cohesion using data from a wide variety of sources, including national statistics institutes and international organisations. But it also investigates qualitative data, including opinion surveys and questionnaires to gain a deeper appreciation of the perspectives of citizens in the region. This results in some surprising findings. For example, the official estimate of how many people are living in poverty is different in many countries from the number of people who view themselves to be living in poverty. Understanding perceptions, the report argues, is essential for understanding the state of social cohesion.

The enormous economic and social progress made in Eastern Africa over the last 10 to 15 years is discussed in the report, as well as a number of rising challenges. These include some of the fastest rates of urbanisation in the world, high levels of gender-based violence in some countries and alcohol abuse in certain regions.

A regional approach needs to be taken to many of these issues, argues an author of the report, Ms Emelang Leteane, ECA Social Affairs Officer, speaking at the 20th Intergovernmental Committee of Experts meeting in Nairobi. "Some threats to social cohesion do not respect national borders.  These threats demand a regional response," said Ms Leteane. The report makes other recommendations as well, including the creation of a fund managed by the East African Community that would be used to reduce spatial inequalities and strengthen social cohesion in the region.