New strategy required to drive EAC industrialisation agenda, experts say

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Kitabi Tea Factory workers weigh tea leaves at the plant. Manufacturers and other stakeholders want a harmonised industrial development policy for EAC. / Courtesy

The industrial sector should take advantage of the East African Community (EAC) 150 million people and opportunities created by the regional Common Market Protocol to stimulate demand and competitiveness.

Alphonse Kwizera, the Rwanda Association of Manufacturers (RAM) technical expert, said the success of the EAC industrialisation programme will depend on the manufacturing sector’s ability to leverage the opportunities the bloc and other markets on the continent present them to deepen their reach and become sustainable.

Kwizera added that a fully functioning common market and deepening of regional integration through a monetary union could provide the much-needed stimulus to drive industrial growth across the region.

The RAM official was speaking after the release of EAC Industrial Competitiveness Report 2017 on Friday by the East African Community secretariat, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and the Government of Korea.

The report with a theme, ‘Harnessing the EAC Market to Drive Industrial Competitiveness and Growth’ assesses the region’s industrial performance vis-à-vis other regions and role models in Asia and Africa, and sheds light on strategic short and long-term industrialisation paths that the EAC should pursue.

It also provides a compass to policy-makers, the private sector, particularly manufacturing firms and associations, and other stakeholders on the broader direction of the EAC industrial development trajectory and the internal competitiveness dynamics among partner states.

It also points out the need to embrace uniform and sustainable approaches that will help boost competitiveness of manufacturers in the region.

Uniform approach to industrial development

According to Kwizera, supporting regional industrialisation through collective strategies will also help address the unemployment challenge in the community, as well as enhance the manufacturing sector’s capacity and promoting the growth of micro, small and medium enterprises.

Alhaj Rashid Kibowa, the director of trade at the EAC secretariat, said it is important to have a uniform approach to industrial development across the region, noting that the sector contributes just 10 per cent to the bloc’s GDP.

“It is against this background and in recognition of the existing challenges that the region has embarked on a programme to support the strengthening of capacities of stakeholders in industrial policy formulation and implementation,” said Kibowa.

He added that the region has put in place initiatives to strengthen the institutional capacity in the drafting and implementation of industrial policies.

Dr Stephen Kargbo, the UNIDO representative in EAC, was hopeful that the region would use the report findings to revitalise the industrial sector in East Africa.

“We must work toward ensuring concrete industrial policy processes, instruments and action plans that will help create significant positive impact for the industrial development in the region,” said Dr Kargbo.

Meanwhile, the EAC deputy Secretary General for planning and infrastructure, Eng Steven Mlote, said the region is on the right track to becoming a manufacturing hub and a gateway for investment in Africa.

He however called for structural changes in the region’s industrial policies to achieve these goals.

He called for the establishment of a regional industrial intelligence and competitiveness frameworks, among others, to support the bloc’s industrialisation agenda.