The East Africa region continues to register as one of the fastest growing economic regions globally. Since the formation of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in 1994 and East Africa Community (EAC) in 1999, great strides have been made by member states towards regional integration for increased economic and social benefits for East Africans, which are crucial in the face of increased population growth and urbanization trends.
To strengthen regional collaboration and coordination among different actors in the region, the US Government supports regional institutions to promote regional trade and enhance food security and resilience. Towards this end, the USAID/Kenya and East Africa mission held the annual Trade and Feed the Future Regional Conference on 15 – 17 May 2018 in Nairobi. Africa Lead facilitated the event which had more than 90 participants drawn from the USAID/KEA regional mission, bilateral missions in East Africa, development partners, Regional Intergovernmental Organizations (RIGOs) and the private sector.
Now in its fourth year, the annual event focuses on promoting harmonized solutions to regional issues such as agriculture trade, food safety, seed, regional standards and policies, trade facilitation and investment. The overall objective of the event is to increase coordination and collaboration between USAID regional and bilateral missions on Trade Africa and Feed the Future activities. The event also gives participants a platform to share experiences and lessons, identify issues that lend themselves to a regional approach and unified actions, and develop strategies for enhancing coordination of bilateral and regional efforts.
The event, whose theme was “Building on Progress”, employed a combination of presentations, plenary discussions, and thematic group breakout sessions. In his opening remarks, Patrick Wilson, USAID/KEA Deputy Mission Director, reflected on the collective successes of the individual organizations represented in the room, adding, “What we’re fundamentally here to do is change people’s lives…to make their lives better. For example, how can we help East African farmers get their produce to the people that need it so that they [the farmers] can provide for their own families and others as well?”
A key highlight during the event was a roundtable discussion on the role of the private sector in promoting regional integration, trade, and cross-border infrastructure in East Africa. During the roundtable discussion, participants highlighted constraints to the private sector including the lack of harmonized communication among regulators and border officials, as well as the various opportunities for collaboration in design and implementation of projects.
Daniel Ngugi of Twiga Foods Limited reiterated that the involvement of the private sector in promoting regional trade is crucial in the development of self-reliant East African communities. “Nothing integrates a region better than trade does. Since the private sector is directly involved in trade, the sector becomes pivotal in promoting regional integration. There’s a lot that’s been done to improve regional trade [but] there’s more to be done…as relevant stakeholders consult on ways of making it better,” he said.
During the final sessions of the event, partners identified areas for USAID focus and preliminary interventions that will inform USAID’s Office of Economic Growth and Integration (OEGI) strategic planning. As a follow up to the event, USAID/KEA and Africa Lead will develop and share a report with identified areas for collaboration between missions and partners, and actions and commitments in areas of improvement for partners and USAID with organizations represented at the conference.