Excellencies East African Heads of State;
Leaders of East African Institutions and those of Rwandan
Leaders from business and government;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is an honor to welcome you all to Rwanda, and in particular, to this East African Investment Conference that represents yet another building block for positioning our region to realize greater and shared prosperity.
A vote of thanks is due to the East African Community Secretariat, the East African Business Council, and the Association of East African Investment Agencies for organizing this important conference that brings together business and government leaders to forge a common purpose on promoting trade and investment in our region.
Let me contextualize my statement with an observation that our continent, and in particular East Africa, stands at a crossroads with clear navigational tools for arriving at our desired destination.
By this I mean that, first of all we have on hand the increasing sophistication of the East African business community illustrated by, for example, their ability to enter into world class innovative investment and trade ventures that lead to greater wealth, employment opportunities.
In this respect, a recent survey of Africa’s top two hundred firms confirmed what we already know – that companies in East Africa have entered the billion dollar range in terms of market capitalization, alongside their counterparts from South Africa and Egypt, the two countries that have traditionally been home to firms of that size.
We also know that besides the East African billion dollar businesses, there are quite literally thousands of large, medium and small companies in our region that create significant wealth and provide innumerable services.
These are to be found in banking and financing, hospitality, manufacturing, agro-industries, energy, transport, and ICT, among others.
In other words, we are not short of dynamic industry and commerce to drive the East African agenda of private sector-led socioeconomic transformation – a reality that is further confirmed by the impressive gathering here today of business leaders from this part of our continent.
The second important navigational tool we have to guide us toward our goals is the East African Community’s infrastructure development strategy.
If implemented, this strategy should allow East Africa to make a decisive break with our current situation of a region of congested and ineffective ports, dilapidated railway lines, broken highways, chaotic and snail-paced border crossings, and a multitude of weighbridges in a single state that encourage corruption – all obstacles that ruin rather than foster the prosperity that we all seek.
If we needed yet another signal that we have to urgently fix these infrastructures, the 2008 World Bank’s “Trade Indicators” Report is a sobering reminder.
Citing inadequacy and congestion in clearing regional cargo at the two principle East Africa ports of Mombasa and Dar Es Salaam, the report decries the fact that goods bound for inland countries take up to twenty five days – that is just five days shy of a whole month.
This is exacerbated by the poor conditions of both the Northern and Central Corridor highways – including the time it takes to cross borders which in some cases can take more than twenty four hours.
The report also tells us that seventeen percent of Kenyan export revenue in 2006 came from services it provided to inland countries of East Africa and Great Lakes Region – very clearly a substantial contribution.
The challenge here is to match what is earned with services provided, to create a regional win-win situation. The East African infrastructure development strategy could not have come at a better time – but we need to get it off the drawing board and make the plan work for us through speedy implementation.
The third and most powerful means we have for transforming our region are the East African people themselves. Let me briefly illustrate with two examples.
When one of the mobile telephone service providers entered the Rwandan market, they considered our country “too small” – which led them to under-invest in the required capacity.
To their surprise, the demand overwhelmed them – and they are still scrambling to fix this miscalculation. I was also told recently that in Kenya, the initial public offer of the leading mobile telephone company was supposed to raise almost a billion US dollars but ended up with five times that amount.
There are many such cases in other sister countries of East Africa. What these two cases confirm, however, is that the potential to drive East Africa’s socioeconomic development lies mainly with East Africans, if only we could readily realize the largely unexploited potential of local capital.
Our people are our strength – a fact that directly challenges the old aid-dependency syndrome that looks to development assistance as a means of defeating poverty.
When combined, the three aspects that I termed “navigational tools” for passing our crossroads, namely business capabilities, economic infrastructure, and belief in our people, confirm beyond doubt that our region has what it takes to become more prosperous.
We are here to remind ourselves of this fact – and renew our shared purpose to pursue this course with the sense of urgency and determination it deserves.
To do so, we government and business leaders need to take charge, and utilize our development consensus to urgently improve our productivity and competitiveness – beginning with reduction of costs of doing business upon which the prosperity of East Africa, and indeed our continent depends.
I conclude by once again welcoming you to Rwanda. I wish you a productive investment meeting that should be the first of many such platforms for fostering a deeper and stronger collective commitment to our East African development cause.
I THANK YOU FOR YOUR ATTENTION