Samia is telling EA’s kings that they are naked

Saturday March 11 2023
Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu who shared with a public gathering how a neighbouring country that barely had enough forex to last a week was seeking her help. PHOTO | HABIMANA THIERRY | ANADOLU AGENCY VIA AFP

By The EastAfrican

Until savvy communication strategists came onto the scene, the chatter on social media was, until recently, a fairly reliable bellwether of what public opinion considered to be the important issues of the day. Today, you can no longer be too sure.

If social media were to be a windvane, the important issue in Kampala this past week would be LBGTQ+; in Juba the sacking of ministers, and in Nairobi the crusade against tax avoidance by the so-called political dynasties.

Only Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu’s chest-thumping on International Women’s Day about the robust state of her country’s economy and the dire financial affairs in an unnamed neighbouring jurisdiction contradicted that narrative, awakening the average citizen in Eastpolitan to the economic squeeze that governments in the region are grappling with.

In remarks that ruffled a few feathers, President Samia shared with a public gathering how a neighbouring country that barely had enough forex to last a week was seeking her help. That narrative was in sharp contrast to what appeared to be the pressing issues of the day elsewhere.

Uganda NSSF scandal

For several weeks, Kampala had been grappling with a scandal at the country’s provident fund NSSF, which threatened some prominent scalps in President Yoweri Museveni’s Cabinet. As he maintained a studious silence, insult was added to injury with fresh revelations of how roofing sheets meant for a social programme in the impoverished Karamoja region, had been “diverted” for the befit of prominent Cabinet ministers hailing far from Karamoja.


Fiery public debate on those twin scandals appears to have only been doused by the LGFTQ+ issue, now the subject of a private member’s bill on the floor of parliament. That turn of events is emblematic of a tried and tested method of sweeping important national issues under the carpet.

From Juba to Dodoma, East Africa is reeling from the aftershocks of misaligned domestic policy, runaway corruption, armed conflict, drought and hunger. Although treasury managers might be telling the truth when they say that international reserves are still within the four months band of imports cover, a spiralling exchange rate suggests an imbalance between supply of hard currency and short-term demand for it.

Debt maturities

And the problem is not necessarily a dip in export earnings but rather debt maturities that are sucking up a lot of the revenue from exports. Retreating development partners have also punched a hole into inflows. With Kenya’s debt now proportional to 62 percent of GDP and more than 30 percent of the annual budget going to debt service, soon, the choice might boil down to default or starvation.

Uganda, which for now basks in a lower debt-to-GDP ratio, is also projected to cross into the 60 percent territory.

South Sudan has long resigned to its fate.

Either way, the architects of this mess will be the least impacted by its consequences. As the fallout rains down on the poor, they will likely be lured into national prayers. Burying heads in the sand is unlikely to change much.

To save economies, bureaucrats need to reverse course, tame graft and finance development from national savings, instead of foreign loans.