Business leaders in the East Africa Community (EAC) say protectionism and differences between politicians are impeding efforts by companies to invest in the region.
Tanzanian business magnate Ali Mufuruki accused politicians of failing to push policies that promote investment in the region.
“We have never had the discussion on why there isn’t a single billion-dollar company in East Africa. If we have that conversation, people will start to ask whether it is going to be a Tanzanian or a Rwandan company. We need to be honest with each other and ask what we really want from this union,” Mr Mufuruki told the Africa CEO Forum in Kigali.
Saying he had found difficulty in hiring workers in the region, he urged the EAC partner states to relax labour laws and abolish work permits.
He asked politicians to let the business community—which is driven by profit and growth—to lead EAC integration.
“If business leaders are allowed in the rooms where policies are made, then business can be put at the forefront and we will make more progress,” he said.
His message was echoed by RwandAir chief executive officer Yvonne Makolo, who said that the lack of an open skies policy has continued to make air travel expensive for most people in the region and on the continent.
She told the delegates that whereas most countries had paid lip service to the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), the reality is that most countries continue to put limitations on airlines from other African countries.
“Protectionism is still big, with governments refusing to open up their skies. When that is resolved, then we shall see more frequencies of different airlines within the region and airfares will go down as demand goes up. This will drive tourism and trade, and so it is very frustrating to see resistance among some African countries,” she said.
The African Union in 2018 launched the SAATM to open up the continent’s skies, with 23 countries committing to the pact. But it still remains unimplemented.
Joshua Oigara, KCB Group CEO, said that the EAC is difficult market: “Sometimes we make steps forward as the business community, but sometimes you don’t know where the Community is going. Countries give out different messages,” he said.