As the East African Community (EAC) is preparing to mark 20 years of regional integration during the high-level business and investment summit, the private sector is reeling in losses especially those that used to trade between Rwanda and Uganda.
According to Gideon Badagawa the Private Sector Foundation Uganda Executive Director, traders and business people who used to export goods and merchandise to Rwanda have lost so far an estimate of close to $200 million of lack of market and border closure by the Rwandan government almost a year ago.
“In a month, business worth $16 million is not executed due to lack of market. Multiply that by 12 months in the year. That is the business worth we have lost. We ask governments to keep markets open, borders open and leave them open,” said Badagawa during a press conference that was hosted by the East African Business Council in Kampala to give an update on some of their ongoing advocacy work that is aimed at making East Africa a leading trade and investment destination within the East African Community.
This was also in line with the organized high level business and investment summit that is expected to take place in Arusha from 28th to 29th this month to take stock of the achievements for the last 20 years as a result of EAC integration, look at the challenges of doing business regionally and come up with prospects for the region.
Badagawa added that many industries currently are working at less than 50% capacity due to a reduction in regional markets.
“Many of our members have reduced their production capacity and a result of a reduced market. Those who used to operate three or four production lines have reduced to two. This means they produce less, consume less power/electricity and needless workers.
“The multiplier effect is some people lose jobs and revenue is also lost as a result of reduced power consumption and less production,” said Badagawa.
He said that apart from the Rwanda market, exporters cannot export to South Sudan due to the ongoing Civil war/conflict, can’t go to the Democratic Republic of Congo because of Ebola and requirements for Visa and, because of other protectionist policies like a ban on Ugandan sugar to enter Tanzania and overcharging of tour operators taking tourists to Serengeti National Park.
Stuart Mwesigwa, a Director at the East African Business Council said that while there have been milestones achieved in the EAC like the establishment of the Single Customs Territory and One-Stop Border Posts that have eased the free movement of persons and goods as well as trade facilitation, there are still several challenges that have to be addressed including Non-tariff barriers, protectionist tendencies by nations and delay in harmonization and domestication of EAC agreed decisions and directives.
“But has the Private Sector remained in the driving seat during the last 20 years of integration?. As the voice of the Private Sector in East Africa, we are committed to driving the EAC integration process through their high-level public-private dialogue engagement and platforms,” said Mwesigwa.
The high-level business summit will bring together top Chief Executive Officers, Industry players, investors from the region and beyond to dialogue etc. The theme for the business summit will rotate around [email protected]: Private Sector Driven Regional Integration for increased intra-EAC trade investments.
Badagawa also trashed the possibility of realizing the East African Monetary Union in the near future, saying that those currently advocating for it are daydreaming.
“You can’t talk of a monetary union when the common market is staggering. Investors have invested heavily but cannot trade freely. Countries are operating at different inflation levels. I cant see a monetary union happening soon,” said Badagawa.
Emmanuel Lubega the EABC National Liason Officer said, as EABC, they have met and talked to both the Ugandan President and the President of Rwanda over the border issue and lack of cross border trade.
“As EABC, we met President Museveni and travelled to Rwanda and met President Kagame. Both of them promised us that the borders will be opened soon and the issues resolved,” said Lubega.
BY PAUL TENTENA