Make the most of regional opportunities

Earlier this month, I attended a half day meeting organised by the Ministry of East African Community to discuss the challenges thwarting the local professionals as well as their available opportunities on the regional market.
Eric Kabeera
Eric Kabeera

Earlier this month, I attended a half day meeting organised by the Ministry of East African Community to discuss the challenges thwarting the local professionals as well as their available opportunities on the regional market.

The enthralling debate had attracted specialists from various fields including medical doctors, engineers, accountants, media, architects and government officials.

Among the concerns raised was how experts from other member countries had flooded the Rwandan market in almost every sector. One bold participant was quoted saying, “There are many Ugandan professionals in Rwanda and there are in different sectors; But how many Rwandans are in Uganda?”

In introspection, I thought the question should probably have been what these specialists from other countries especially Uganda and Kenya bring to the local market. As a member of the East African Community, Rwanda signed the common market protocol that candidly allows the free movement of people, labour and goods within the five partner states.

Subsequently, why don’t we see a deluge of Rwandan experts in the regional market?

I believe the only setback is lack of aggressiveness that will continue to burden us unless we change the trend. During the debate, some participants asked the government to play an advocacy role and provide sufficient information on doing business and available opportunities within the region.

Hence, though the ministry of EAC is doing this by collaborating with all the country’s diplomatic missions in the region, I find it as spoon feeding. But don’t misquote me. I am not disparaging the government initiatives. What I mean is that our professionals should transform, become aggressive, penetrate and exploit the regional market. In any case, it is the economic aggressiveness of Ugandans and Kenyans in Rwanda that has rightfully earned them the benefits of integration.

I am yet to ever read or listen to media reports that there is a Rwandan architect or media practitioner who has been expelled or halted from operating in Nairobi or Kampala not because of his competence but due to his or her nationality.

Last year, a friend and a government official from Burundi informed me of how Chinese, Kenyans and Ugandans had permeated the Bujumbura small scale businesses taking over from the locals.

Whenever we discussed about integration, the official could put on a gloomy face imagining how his countrymen had lost lots of opportunities to foreigners. The jobs he referred to included operating restaurants, beauty salons, among others.

He went on to lament that Rwandans, too, had penetrated into his country’s public sector. Surprisingly, when I asked him why he thought Rwandans were flooding the sector, he boldly proclaimed that Burundians were ‘lazy’ while Rwandans were ‘hardworking’. Some people forget that the EAC integration is like a game of soccer where the winner is determined by a few but crucial details including exceptional skills and hard work.

What would be the essence of accepting poor and mediocre services from my compatriot when a Burundian, Tanzanian or Kenyan can absolutely offer what I need? It means that even the integration we are talking about will be of no use to us, East African citizens, if we do not look beyond nationality.

It is not too late though. Our professionals still have adequate time to strategise on possible ways of utilising the available opportunities in the region to boost their well being and that of our country. The ball is in their court.

We ought to appreciate that competition plays a large role in inspiring change and innovation in the world, and hence, anyone who fears to compete is his own and his country’s number one enemy.

As the 31st President of the United States Herbert Hoover once said, “Competition is not only the basic of protection to the consumer but is the incentive to the progress.”

On Twitter: @ KKabeera

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