Rwanda’s Denis Karera was over the weekend elected chairman of the East African Business Council (EABC), a body of 54 business associations and 102 corporate members of the private sector from across the five member states of the East African Community (EAC).
Karera says his team’s priorities will be to ensure they advocate for total elimination of trade barriers, foster self-reliance and sustainability of the council. Business Times’ Peterson Tumwebaze caught up with him on Saturday and talked about his other plans for the council and what the chairmanship means for Rwanda.
You have just assumed the chair of the EABC, what will be the top priority during your term in office?
We will continue advocating for the elimination of non-tariff barriers (NTBs), especially the harmonisation of internet roaming chargees. Though regional telecoms reduced and harmonized rates, roaming charges for data are still high, which increases the cost of doing business.
Secondly, we will continue lobbying governments to put in place mechanisms that will lead to reduction in air transport fares in the region to facilitate easy movement of people, goods and services.
I am pledging to further focus on the implementation of the EABC strategic plan and all the key issues that will promote the interests of the business community in the EAC bloc.
Harmonisation of taxes and the ratification of the EAC agreement on the avoidance of the double taxation and domestication of the EAC airspace will all be on top of our agenda.
We want to ensure EABC becomes a key driver for policy change to improve East Africa’s business climate.
Last year, Rwanda donated land for the establishment of EABC headquarters in Kigali, but Tanzania has also offered land to host your head offices. How will you handle the issue?
The council has already discussed with the board and decided to locate our headquarters in Rwanda. However, we will also keep Tanzanian offer to set up our regional offices.
It is important to keep the Tanzanian regional office because the nature of our work requires that we work closely with the EAC secretariat most of the time. That’s why we want to keep our regional office in Arusha for effective collaboration with the secretariat.
However, our long term plans is to establish an office in each of the partner states for effective management.
The council has already established focal points in each member state; my work now will be to expand our operations in the region.
The council depends on donor support, how do you plan to end this dependence?
We all agree that we must become self-reliant at one point. One of the reasons we want to establish offices in each of the partner states is also to try and establish assets. With such assets, we will be able to generate revenues that can help sustain our activities.
What does your election mean for Rwanda?
This is a big opportunity for Rwanda, especially the business community, it means a stronger voice for us. I call on the local private sector players to support me and the team fully so we drive the council to greater heights.
I will ensure that Rwanda participates more meaningfully and benefits from opportunities presented by the trade bloc that has over 143.5 million people. Of course, we will work together as a community with our counterparts in the region, speak with one voice, especially on the issues that are holding back business operations to grow intra-East Africa trade.
This way, Rwanda benefits and everyone else in the EAC bloc gains something and improves their businesses.