KIGALI - The East African region has the requisite tools for development which investors and other players should take advantage of to achieve prosperity.
This was said by President Paul Kagame while addressing the first ever East African Investment conference (EAIC) that opened yesterday at Kigali Serena Hotel.
All presidents of the member states of the East African Community; Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, and Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza attended the conference.
“Our continent, and in particular East Africa, stands at crossroads with clear navigational tools for arriving at our desired destination…these are business capabilities, economic infrastructure, and belief in our people,” said Kagame.
The conference attracted over 1,000 investors and businessmen from allover the world.
Kagame suggested that EAC governments invest more resources to upgrade the road and railway network, expand the infrastructure and air transport.
He said that the EAC’s infrastructure development strategy would be a decisive breakthrough in solving the current congested and ineffective ports, dilapidated railway lines and run-down highways.
“All those obstacles 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 ‘trade indicators’ report is a sobering reminder,” he said.
Quoting the report, Kagame said that the inadequacy and congestion in clearing regional cargo at the two principal East African ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam makes goods bound for the inland take up to 25 days to reach their destinations.
The two ports serve the hinterland of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya said the East African Community (EAC) was continually improving the policy and trading environment to ease doing business.
He announced that the recent election-related violence was a thing of the past and that his country had formed a grand coalition government that has united his countrymen. The coalition, he also said, will address the development challenges facing his people.
“I therefore assure investors and other visitors that Kenya is safe and your investments are secure,” he said in his speech while addressing the EAIC.
Kibaki told participants that intra-EAC volume of trade had increased from $1.3 billion in 2003 to $2.2 billion in 2006, which is viable enough for investment.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni told the delegates that the EAC has unlimited access to several world markets, and that it was up to its people to take advantage of the limitations of tariff barriers.
He continued pointing out that some of the poor infrastructure in the region has been caused by partly relying on donor funds. He described the road network in the region as having a short lifespan.
“My people did not advise me that ‘third world’ roads last for only 15 years…, ‘European type’ roads last for 50 years,” Museveni said.
He advised the EAC partner states to always fund their own infrastructure projects rather than waiting for external assistance that comes with financial interests.
Citing Uganda, Museveni said the current load shedding was caused when World Bank stopped him from developing the Bujagali hydro power project.
The tax payers are now funding some of the infrastructure development. His government allocated Shs1.1 trillion ($666 million) for infrastructure development.
“I am confident that by working together as partners, we shall succeed in cultivating new interests in investing in requisite infrastructure,” said Museveni.
In Kenya, for instance, there are enormous opportunities for investment in development of new roads through public-private partnership.
Kibaki said the region needs to expedite the completion of fibre-optic linkages as well as broad-band network in the region in order to reduce the cost of IT-related facilities.
“These actions will substantially reduce telecommunications and data transmission costs. We also recognise the lT sector has the potential to contribute enormously to the growth of the region and will create thousands of jobs with minimal investment,” he said.