Security Challenges in East Africa: Economic and Social Concerns - Part 1

By Nadav Morag, Ph.D.

CTU’s Global Security Series offers background on current national and homeland security topics. Dr. Morag recently participated in the Eastern Accord 2012 Counter Violent Extremism Exercise in Arusha, Tanzania. His second post in this series looked at primary security threats from the trans-national and global Jihadist groups operating in the region. Today’s post will focus on some of the economic and social challenges facing Djibouti, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia.

CTU Homeland Security Degree - East AfricaDuring the first half of September, I had the opportunity to speak at and participate in an exercise held by the U.S. Army’s component of USAFRICOM (one of the United States’ regional combatant commands).  This exercise brought the United States together with senior military officers and police officials from seven African countries: Djibouti, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, and the new country of South Sudan, as well as representatives of the East African Union (EAC), to share best practices and concerns regarding violent extremism in east Africa.  This was a unique opportunity to gain insight into the concerns and issues facing east African countries.

The East African countries represented in this exercise are facing significant economic and political challenges. Let’s take a closer look at the primary social divisions and economic challenges facing the region by addressing each country’s situation separately.

Djibouti is a small country, about the size of Massachusetts,  with a population of approximately 750,000, that almost entirely consists of desert (only 0.4% of its territory is arable) with few natural resources.  The country achieved its independence from France in 1977. Its single most important economic advantage is its strategic location at the southern mouth of the Red Sea which serves as an entry point to the Horn of Africa and larger East African region.  The country acts as a free trade zone, transshipment and refueling center. It also earns substantial income as a host to a large French military base and to the only American military base in sub-Saharan Africa.  In comparison to other countries in the region, Djibouti’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita – a measure of the average annual income of inhabitants of a country – is a bit on the higher end at $2,700.  For comparison purposes, the GDP per capita in the United States is over $48,000.  The literacy rate in Djibouti is 68%.

Djibouti’s population is primarily Muslim (94%) and is divided primarily between ethnic Somalis, also known as Issas, and Afars, a traditionally nomadic people living throughout the Horn of Africa.  The official languages in Djibouti are French and Arabic.  Three quarters of Djiboutians live in the capital city (also named Djibouti) and thus the country is heavily urbanized.  The Afars fought a civil war with the dominant Issa community during the 1990s but, since the signing of a peace accord in 2001, the country has been stable.

Uganda is roughly the size of Oregon with a population of over 33 million.  It is a fertile country with significant natural resources including some deposits of gold, copper and oil.  The agriculture sector employs over 80% of the population with coffee as its largest export.  Just over a fifth of Uganda’s land area is arable – with much of the rest being jungle – and Uganda enjoys plentiful water resources.  The literacy rate is about 67%.  Unlike Djibouti, most Ugandans do not live in the capital city, Kampala, which is also the country’s only major city. Most live in villages or towns.  GDP per capita is significantly lower than in Djibouti reaching only $1,300 and consequently Ugandans are, on average, much poorer. Service-based economies like Djibouti’s tend to do much better than agricultural based economies, especially if those are based around a few major crops – such as coffee, in Uganda’s case.

The majority of Ugandans are Christian. Approximately 44% are Catholic and an equal percentage are Protestant. About 12% of the population is Muslim.  The country is quite ethnically diverse. The primarily ethnic/tribal groups in Uganda are the Baganda (17%), Basoga (9%), Iteso (7%) and Langi (6%) but there are a wide range of other groups. English serves as the official language but the most widely spoken are Ganda or Luganda. Swahili is being increasingly taught as a medium of communication across east Africa.  Uganda saw brutal tribal conflict after independence from Britain in 1962 that was exploited and increased by the country’s brutal dictator Idi Amin who ruled from 1971-1979, who killed some 300,000 Ugandans and his successor Milton Obote, under who’s rule another 100,000 Ugandans lost their lives.  Today, Uganda enjoys far greater political stability and commensurate economic growth.

Tanzania is a fairly large country, about twice the size of California, with a population of about 47 million.  Like Uganda, Tanzania’s population is primarily employed in the agricultural sector (encompassing 80% of the workforce), but the country also has some natural resources – in the form of gold – and also has a strong tourism sector. Africa’s most celebrated natural park, the Serengeti, lies in Tanzania, and the country has a large number of other well-known national parks.  The GDP per capital in Tanzania is $1,500 and therefore Tanzanians, like Ugandans, are significantly poorer, on average, than Djiboutians.  The literacy rate in Tanzania is 70% and like Uganda, most Tanzanians live in towns or villages. Only 26% of the population live in cities, of which the former political capital and economic hub, Dar Es Salaam, is the largest.

Tanzanians are fairly evenly divided between Christians (30%), Muslims (35%) and followers of traditional African religions (35%) but the country generally has not been characterized by serious religious tensions.  Similarly, most Tanzanians are descended from the Bantu family of tribes and further broken down into over 130 tribes, many speaking their own languages. Though the island of Zanzibar is primarily Arab and, as elsewhere in east Africa, there are pockets of Europeans, Indians and Chinese that play a role in the economy disproportionate to their size in the population.   The official language in Tanzania is Swahili – particularly the Kiswahili variant of the language – and Arabic is widely spoken in Zanzibar.  The mainland part of the country achieved its independence from Britain in 1961 as Tanganyika and Zanzibar an island off the coast, achieved independence from Britain in 1963.  Tanganyika and Zanzibar were united as the United Republic of Tanzania in 1964.  Unlike Uganda, Tanzania’s history was not characterized by significant intra-tribal strife or mass bloodshed.

Zambia is a large country, slightly larger than Texas, that is largely sparsely inhabited and has a population of only 14 million.  It’s most important natural resource and export is Copper. The economy is divided between agriculture (22% of economic activity), industry (35% of economic activity) and services (44% of economic activity).  The greater diversification in the economy has not, however, lead to higher per capita income (GDP per capital in Zambia is $1,600) because the majority of Tanzanians (85%) are still employed in agricultural pursuits.  In keeping with this, most of the population is rural and only 36% live in cities, of which the largest is Lusaka, the country’s capital city. The literacy rate in Zambia is 81%.

Most Zambians are Christian (about three-quarters of the population) with most of the remainder being Muslim.  The population is very diverse and divided into a wide range of ethnic/tribal groups with the Bemba being the largest but barely constituting a third of the country’s overall population.  The country also has a whopping eight official languages (including English) – of which the most widely spoken is Bemba, spoken by about 30% of the population.  Politically, the country has been comparatively stable since it achieved independence from Britain in 1964 and it has not seen mass tribal conflict or extremely brutal dictatorships.

As can be seen from the data above, the East African countries in this survey still face significant challenges in developing economically and, at least in some of the cases, in achieving political stability.  Economic development and a solid political system will allow these countries to unlock their human potential and to better manage their natural and other economic resources.

Next week we will focus on some of the economic and social challenges facing Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan.

Source: Central Intelligence Agency – The World Factbook

Image credit: Instagram/bradpuet