Is it too soon to be optimistic about an economic revival in East Africa following the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the global economy? The latest data – and the region’s continued focus on transforming its key industries, sectors and infrastructure through technology – is giving me hope that the economic outlook is brightening. Trade in East Africa has already picked up: according to the Brookings Institute, after an initial drop in trade in Kenya during the early months of the pandemic, by July domestic exports were already 12.7% higher compared to the year before. That is not to say the pandemic did not have a significant impact on regional trade. For example, Kenya’s highly lucrative cut flower industry was brought to its knees earlier this year. When Europe locked down, it forced the closure of hotels and severely restricted public gatherings including weddings and funerals. Broader initiatives are likely to further support growth in trade in the region. The African Continental Free Trade Area, the world’s largest free trade area by number of countries involved, will eventually connect 1.3 billion people commanding $3.4-trillion in GDP. Automation is also key. Africa’s long-term reliance on slow, manual processes has stunted the growth of trade at its ports. The turnaround time for vessels at African ports – the time it takes to port, offload cargo, reload and depart – averages five days.
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