Business between Rwanda and Uganda is somewhat below what is expected – at least for countries that enjoy the kind of bilateral ties, which exist between the two. There are no clear-cut joint ventures or cross-border businesses that stand out.
That’s why the Rwanda-Uganda Business Forum was initiated to seek solutions to this challenge, according to organisers.
Last year’s inaugural forum attracted a handful of participants in Kampala. This year’s event, to be held in Kigali today, has been eagerly anticipated, with optimism that it will help address the most persistent challenges to trade in both countries.
Over 300 participants, including at least 40 Ugandan business moguls in the fields of manufacturing, education and finance, are expected to attend the event, with a view of expanding their enterprises to Rwanda.
According to Richard Kabonero, the Ugandan High Commissioner to Rwanda, there has never been “a better time than now” for local investors to cross between the two countries.
“Uganda and Rwanda share a rich history, politically and socially. Our people are practically the same, yet this opportunity has not been fully utilised by private sector investors from both countries,” Kabonero said.
The envoy said that companies from either country rarely establish themselves outside their borders, despite the numerous opportunities available in either country.
“For example, why aren’t Rwandan banks opening up branches in Uganda, or why don’t Ugandan construction companies bid for tenders in Rwanda?” Kabonero asked. “A lot has changed in terms of infrastructure development and trade facilitation. These are the opportunities we need to showcase.”
Rwandan business mogul and Kigali Heights general manager, Dennis Karera, hopes that on top of promoting cross-border investments, the forum should also open a window for joint business partnerships between investors from both countries.
“Other than expanding business enterprises, Rwandan and Ugandan investors should move towards creating joint ventures that can serve beyond the region,” Karera said.
“Both countries are enjoying good relations, which is conducive for cross-border investments.”
The event co-organiser Rwanda Development Board (RDB) said the forum will aim at finding solutions to boost bilateral trade and investment flows.
Held under the theme “Linking Opportunities and Investors”, the forum will among other things present opportunities to entrepreneurs to market their businesses and projects to potential investors in either country.
“This will be an annual event to promote bilateral trade as a gateway to investment, by raising the awareness about Rwandan and Ugandan products, imports and exports, as well as trade procedures in East African Community and Africa in general,” Vivian Kayitesi, the head of investment promotion at RDB, said.
“We have some local companies breaking through the Ugandan market such as Inyange Industries, which exports packed juice, and Urwibutso Factory, with products like Akabanga and Agashya. There is steady progress and we want to improve further.”
Formal and informal trade between Rwanda and Uganda accounts for $200m and $80m, respectively, according to the central bank half-year monetary policy and financial stability statement released in August.
Rwanda’s informal imports are mainly from Uganda, accounting for about 56 per cent of all informal imports, while informal exports mainly go to DRC, accounting for 82 per cent.
In the first forum in Kampala last year, it was highlighted that several trade barriers still exist between Rwanda and Uganda, including an information gap that gave rise to misconceptions about taxation policies and trade procedures.
Francois Kanimba, the Minister for Trade and Industry, and his Ugandan counterpart, Amelia Kyambadde, are some of the key speakers at the forum. The two ministers will be expected to provide answers to the current challenges.
Some initiatives developed to improve trade between Rwanda and Uganda include the establishment of the one-stop border post at Gatuna/Katuna, as well as a joint surveillance team to crackdown on smuggling and tax evasion practices.