Walking the talk: business representatives discuss regional integration

Arusha, Tanzania 27 November 2019 - A two-day High-Level East African Business and Investment Summit opened with a sense of enthusiasm and camaraderie in Arusha, as over 250 CEOs, investors and industry champions gathered with their government counterparts to celebrate the last 20 years of EAC achievements, and to firm-up a common understanding the role of the private sector in deeper regional integration.

On behalf of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Chairperson of EAC Heads of State Summit, the Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation – Minister Vincent Biruta – expressed why the summit comes at both a celebratory and timely moment in history: “This EABC Business Summit is unique, since it is a celebration of 20 years of the revival of the EAC… This is also an opportune time for the East African Business Council to support the process of integrating the region economically into the continent, through the AfCFTA, which will officially start on 1 July 2020.

For his part, the Tanzanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Palamagamba KabudiIn stressed that regional integration needed to be not only ‘private-sector driven’ but also ‘people-centred’. In his opening remarks, the EABC chairman Nick Nesbitt welcomed participants and urged them to speak openly and frankly about the challenges to regional business: “Let’s have hard talks, let’s have conversations about the future of East Africa business because if it’s not us, who will?” 

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was a hot topic of discussion. Acting Director of the Office for Eastern Africa of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Mr Andrew Mold gave a Keynote presentation in the dedicated AfCFTA session ‘Positioning EAC Private Sector to Take Advantage of the AfCFTA.’ He explained that, despite the region enjoying an impressive growth performance over the last decade, because of the fragmented nature of regional markets, growth was fragile. 

“Collectively, the regional market is large and expanding rapidly. If measured in purchasing power terms, it is more than 2 and half times larger than is commonly thought. And it is one of the fastest growing sub-regions in the world. Yet the regional private sector is not sufficiently taking advantage of the opportunities, and an excessively large share of the burgeoning domestic demand is being met through imports. That needs to change under the AfCFTA.”  

In the subsequent panel discussions, Prudence Sebahizi, Head of the AfCFTA Unit at the African Union shed some further light on some of the gains from the AfCFTA, and reported preliminary results from a study being carried out by the World Bank, noting that average real income gains across the continent would amount to 7 percent or nearly $450 billion. At the high end, Kenya and Tanzania would both enjoy real income gains of above 10 percent.

Other sessions included discussions on the Impact of SMEs towards Growth of EAC Economies and the Opportunities of Digitalization for Business in the EAC.


Note to Editors:

  • The event took place Thursday 28 November – Friday 29th November.
  • The High Level East African Business and Investment Summit is co-organized in close collaboration with the respective EAC Investment Promotion Agencies and EABC National Focal Points, namely the Federal Chamber of Commerce and Industries Burundi (CFCIB), Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), Rwanda Private Sector Federation (PSF), South Sudan Chambers of Commerce Industries and Agriculture (SSCCIA), Tanzania Private Sector Foundation (TPSF) and Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU).
  • Safal Group, Coca Cola, TCC, Motisun Group, Tanzania Chambers of Commerce Industries and Agriculture (TCCIA), BDI - Federation of German Industries, GIZ - German Development Cooperation, International Trade Centre (ITC), Msingi East Africa and TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) are among supporting partners.


Issued by:

The Sub-Regional Office for Eastern Africa

UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)