Africa CEO Forum: What is required to unlock EAC’s untapped potential?

RwandAir Chief Executive Officer Yvonne Makolo delivers her remarks during Africa CEO Forum in Kigali on March 25, 2019. Emmanuel Kwizera.

Despite considerable progress in the East African Community, the region’s private sector has challenged governments to do more to serve businesses in the region which would in turn facilitate integration.

Speaking at the ongoing Africa CEO Forum, business leaders said that often, the region has missed out on low hanging fruits that could have been achieved through cooperation.

Among the missed opportunities include the Single African Air Market policy which has potential to increase performance of regional airlines.

RwandAir Chief Executive Officer Yvonne Makolo said that the open skies policy, if implemented, would increase passenger numbers and drive down costs.

Makolo said that protectionist trends in some countries are only serving to limit growth of the regional airlines’ expansion.

“If countries properly implement open skies agreements, fares would fall, and flight frequencies go up,” she said.

A section of the business community said that they do not feel adequately involved in the integration agenda.

Tanzanian businessman Ali Mfuruki said that most of the drivers in EAC integration have been political and not business oriented.

This, he said, risked prioritising aspects that have little impact on the welfare of business integration.

For instance, he pointed out that there have been lots of efforts on initiatives such as political federation and monetary union at the expense of simpler but more impactful interventions such as movement of labour and skills.

“I cannot hire an accountant from another country right now and yet there is focus on a single currency? We are probably focusing on the wrong things,” he said.

“Time has come for business to drive this EAC cooperation in partnership with governments. I am not saying we should replace governments,” he added.

KCB Group Chief Executive Joshua Oigara said that, inclusion of the private sector would speed up economic integration not just for purpose of trade per  se but as a vehicle for bringing about faster economic development.

Oigara warned that the new surge of protectionist policies across the world require a coalition of powerful interest groups to organise a campaign aimed at changing the status quo in their own context.

Among the major opportunities going forward, he said, is e-commerce which would ease trade for small and medium businesses.

Over 1800 delegates from across Africa and beyond are in Kigali for  the Africa CEO Forum.

It is a platform where business leaders deliberate on issues affecting them, opportunities for growth, and key challenges, and pitch to international investors business opportunities on the continent.

Held annually, the Forum is organised by Jeune Afrique Media Group; Rainbow Unlimited, a Swiss company specialising in the organisation of economic promotion events; and International Finance Cooperation, the lending arm of Word Bank Group.