With DRC opening, EAC can slow-down at its own peril

Our businessmen and women are crying loud that they are yet to reap from the fruits of the EAC’s Customs Union. Going by what was published in this newspaper yesterday (see; Gov’t to address Traders’ grievances), our traders cite corruption and a host of Non-Trade Barriers (NTBs) that greatly impede their businesses and are calling on the Community to take serious action.
Arthur Asiimwe
Arthur Asiimwe

Our businessmen and women are crying loud that they are yet to reap from the fruits of the EAC’s Customs Union.

Going by what was published in this newspaper yesterday (see; Gov’t to address Traders’ grievances), our traders cite corruption and a host of Non-Trade Barriers (NTBs) that greatly impede their businesses and are calling on the Community to take serious action.

In their own words, regional integration seems not to be delivering the ‘Promised Land’ they had all along anticipated.
Sounding almost the same note, the Minister of EAC Affairs Monique Mukaruliza confirmed to this newspaper that corruption had frustrated their efforts in eliminating NTBs in other member states, which in
turn has greatly affected Rwanda mainly because of her status as a landlocked country. Now the importance of integration needs no emphasis since the global economic order dictates so.

However, for integration to be meaningful,  it must be accompanied by genuine commitment to reform and an open willingness to discard some of our treasured policies, programmes, values, customs and habits for the common good of the union. 

In a situation where some members are holding on to their domestic interests, then the essence of integrating loses meaning. The good news for Rwandan traders is that as they decry the unfairness in trading patterns within the bloc, DR Congo seems to be offering a viable and alternate destination for serious business. 

When I recently visited Rusizi District and witnessed the volume of commodities flowing between Kamembe and Bukavu, I was simply astonished.  They range from household items to electronics to agricultural products. One of the commodities that Rusizi is
cashing-on;  is pork, to the extent that the demand for this commodity far exceeds what Rusizi has to supply.

Indeed in a chat with some
individuals including grass-root leaders, they indicated that instead of the one-cow-per-family’ programme, they would rather opt for one pig per family member because the returns are quite impressive.

If you visited Rusizi and saw the kind of houses some ordinary folks live in, you will clearly understand the kind of contribution this trade is making. The Rusizi story is a small portion of the growing trade between DRC and Rwanda; steadily growing after both countries settled their political differences and restored diplomatic ties.

According to the figures contained in a story published in The East
African, Rwanda’s informal cross border trade hit $9.33 million in just two months between April and June, this year, dominated by DR Congo on the export side.Overall cross-border trade fetched a total of $67 million during this period with DR Congo emerging as Rwanda’s main partner, accounting for 63 percent of total transactions and 80 percent of total informal
exports.

Since the bigger portion of this trade is largely informal, the next
step for Rwanda is laying strategies for formalizing this flourishing trade. What better way of starting this normalization process than
discouraging illegal trade in Congo’s treasured resource; Minerals.

As we saw in the decision taken by Rwanda to hand over more than 80 metric tons of smuggled Coltan and Tin to the Congolese authorities,  Rwanda’s gesture only pointed to one thing; that good diplomatic relations go hand-in-hand with good trading norms.

As usual, some critics questioned the sincerity of Rwanda pointing to the decision as more of a ‘symbolic gesture for the outside world’s consumption.’

This is simply cheap talk. Had Rwanda wished, it would have tagged the minerals with Rwandan labels and simply exported them since these same minerals are mined here. Rwanda has already laid ingredients for this future engagement,
knowing well that geographically, this country is better placed to service eastern Congo than any other neighbor.

As such, it has constructed an efficient road network connecting to the common borders with hardly any non-tariff barriers along the way. The service sector is also positioning itself and Rwanda offers a set of trading
incentives with an enabling environment that simply makes it a destination of choice for Congolese traders.

To crown it all, guns have fallen silent and hostility that characterized both nations, including their citizens, is steadily
diminishing. Today, Rwandan businessmen walk freely in the towns of Bukavu and Goma, and so are Congolese businessmen visiting here.

With a sluggish integration process in the East not clearly moving at the pace any serious business would wish, Congo offers  the most important trading
need; the market. The onus lies upon our business community to seize the opportunities.

akaeus@yahoo.com
On twitter aasiimwe

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