With slightly over two months before the African edition of the World Economic Forum, slated for May in Kigali, the East African region as a trading bloc is gearing up to capitalise on the forum as an opportunity to showcase the economic potential of the region.
This year’s forum’s focus and deliberations will be about connecting Africa’s resources through innovation, including analysing the impact of technology through Africa’s economic strength at the moment.
The East African region, which has in recent months attracted business interest of world leading corporations and trading partners, has an opportunity to showcase economic openings, seek out investors, business partnerships and new markets for produces, experts say.
The experts note that the forum also presents an opportunity to provide insights to the East African market which is yet to get the visibility of markets such as southern Africa and western Africa globally.
Oliver Cann, the director of media relations, who was part of a team of the organisers who were in the country to establish the level of Rwanda’s preparedness, said the forum will be a good avenue to showcase the favourable business environment brought about as a result of integration.
“A lot of good work has been done as a large section of people are aware that East Africa represents the most exciting prospects in the African region at the moment,” Cann told The New Times in a recent interview.
Noting that there were still a large number of international corporations yet to establish presence in the region, he said it would be a good opportunity to ensure investors understand the dynamics of the region and that the underlying fundamentals were strong and set to grow stronger owing to the policies in place.
To further improve the economic outlook, Cann urged the regional stakeholders to use the forum to deliberate and look into ways of moving from the reliance on trade in traditional commodities and opt for innovation to maintain the economic growth registered.
Private sector prepping up
Private sector operators in the region say that the forum will be used to explore possibilities of new markets, new partnerships and more financing.
Denis Karera, the chairperson of the East African Business Council, told The New Times that in the build up to the forum, the body would be working to capitalise on the opportunity to link regional operators to the world.
He said as opposed to other forums where the council has had to pursue delegates in conferences in Europe and Asia, having the forum in the region was an added advantage in promoting East African enterprises.
Karera said the council would mobilise private sector communities in the various countries in the region to take part in the business to business interaction session at the forum.
The council will seek partnerships with firms from all across the world, new markets for their members, financing agreements and new clients.
“This is an opportunity not only for the large enterprises but also for small and medium enterprises in the region to expand beyond normal operations and markets,” Karera said.
He tipped the operators to attend the forum ready to discuss and close deals, saying from experience, such gatherings are attended by delegates with decision making powers in their respective firms.
The East African region also has multiple integration projects seeking financing most of them under the Northern Corridor Integration Initiative.
The initiative, which currently has four member countries; Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan, has high cost infrastructure projects in search of financing.
Among the projects is the standard gauge railway, which aims at developing a modern high capacity railway system that is efficient, reliable, safe and affordable for both freight and passengers in order to reduce the cost of doing business and to improve regional trade competitiveness.
The line running from the port of Mombasa to Kigali is jointly expected to cost over $13 billion.
The four countries have already agreed on harmonisation of technical standards, policies, capacity building and financing mechanisms.
Another regional project seeking financing is the Eldoret-Kampala-Kigali petroleum products pipeline project.
The pipeline project that is expected to run from Kenya to Rwanda via Uganda has an estimated total cost of about $13.8 billion and aims at eliminating the need for current road tanker transportation methods.
Monique Mukaruliza, the national coordinator of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects, told The New Times that although the member countries were yet to deliberate on what projects will be presented in search of finance and partnership at the forum, there was a summit scheduled in March where preparation for the forum was likely to be on the agenda.
She said in the March summit, member countries would consider what to be showcased at the forum as well as the success stories to be shared.
Innocent Safari, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of East African Community Affairs, said the African edition of the World Economic Forum should serve to showcase the potential of the East African players beyond the common markets to see regional products and services impact a wider market.
Connecting Africa’s resources through digital transformation
Africa’s economic outlook is expected to bounce back to 5 per cent in 2016. As many countries in the region continue to improve their investment climate and undertake macroeconomic policy reforms, foreign direct investment flows are expected to grow.
However, price volatility for globally traded commodities, job creation—especially for youth—and vulnerability to climate change continue to pose challenges. Thus, Africa’s leaders need to pursue new approaches to ignite structural transformation.
Under the theme, “Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation,” the 26th World Economic Forum on Africa will convene regional and global leaders from business, government and civil society to discuss catalysts that can drive radical structural transformation, strengthen public-private collaboration on key global challenges and explore big ideas that can deliver shared prosperity in the region.