13 September 2016

Africa: Private Sector, Seize Intra-African Trade Opportunities

Photo: The New Times
Horticulture exports (file photo).

"The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon" once said Brandon Sanderson. In the next ligns, I am going to share with you three stories I hope can make you ask the right questions and advise on what needs to be done.

For reasons related to my job and my family, I have many connections in many parts of the world especially in Africa. I am often asked to link people up especially in business. Few months ago, I was asked to link people up with some entrepreneurs in the flower industry in Rwanda. Mind you that in some African countries, flowers and several other major commodities used by our populations, like fruits, vegetables among others come from France.

I will not go into why it is so but it is a sad fact the African spirit in me cannot comprehend.

Rwanda has beautiful fresh flowers and as export is on the agenda of the Ministry of Commerce, I hurriedly contacted one of the big entrepreneurs in that sector to prepare a quote, some samplings especially as packaging is a key element in that business. For the past eleven months, I have been waiting for that and have finally gotten people in Kenya to take up that business deal. End of story one.

A friend who saw my Facebook posts on Rwanda's beautiful art craft requested for some huge Imigongos from one of our talented local entrepreneurs. After making the order, I requested for the goods to be packaged for an easy air travel. As I went to pick them up, I realized they were just wrapped in newspapers and could not make the travel. That deal did not go through and was a lost business opportunity not only for that specific order but sadly for the many others that could have followed.

The third story is an order for meat for a businesswoman in Congo Brazzaville who owns a butchery. After placing the order a week before, I called two days before the D-Day to confirm if all was well. Yes I was told and assured the goods will be delivered directly at the airport. At the airport when I could not see them, I called and this is the simple answer I was given " We cannot deliver because today was Umuganda"... End of story number three on another lost business opportunity.

Let's admit that the Government of Rwanda has been trying very hard to offer numerous business opportunities to the private sector. Rwanda is an intriguing nation for many Africans and since, Africans do no more need to apply for visa before arriving, there have been several African business travelling down to Kigali to look for business opportunities.

Few weeks ago, the Benin President Patrice Talon visited Rwanda and bilateral cooperation agreements were signed between the two countries. Promotion of investments, tourism, exchange of knowledge, textiles and many more other sectors were discussed for mutual benefit to the two countries.

My one-dollar question therefore is " Is the private sector in Rwanda ready to embrace these opportunities?" It is painful to admit that the low levels of trade between Rwanda and other parts of Africa is probably due to the level of skills required to trade beyond Rwandan borders. When it comes to doing business with outside, it requires that our people become more dynamic, proactive and ready to adjust to other business environments.

We would all agree that there are many challenges linked to intra African trade; challenges on lack of infrastructure, trade and policy facilitation, connecting flights, language barrier, lack of uniformed policies, cumbersome procedures and many more

But talking about intra-African trade, it is high time the private sector embraces the opportunities and fully harnesses the synergies available in order to fully take advantage of the opportunities.

The objective of boosting intra-regional or African trade is to benefit our economies to grow by providing larger markets, greater economies of scale and increased competition for usually inefficient domestic firms.

In order to maximise the opportunities offered, it is time we think beyond our borders and consider greater markets. But this implies we wake up to competition, excellent customer service, professionalism, proactiveness, maintaining good standards and practices, and many more, in the way we exploit the gains of competitiveness.

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