President Paul Kagame has encouraged the local business community from across different sectors of the economy to make the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) work for the people of Rwanda and Africa.
He said African governments will not be able to drive the AfCFTA alone without the role of the private sector, and that the trade deal will not reap the desired results without the role of the private sector.
"Governments are only part of the equation. We cannot do it without the private sector. The AfCFTA will only produce the results we expect, if you, the business community, make it work for us," the President said.
The Head of State was addressing members of the business community who were gathered in Kigali at the inaugural 'Golden Business Forum' organised by the Private Sector Federation (PSF).
The AfCFTA is a continental agreement that seeks to create a single market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments.
The agreement came into force in May this year, after the required threshold of ratifications was reached and the trading activities under the deal are expected to commence in July, 2020.
The AfCFTA brings together fifty-four African countries with a combined population of over one billion people and a combined gross domestic product of more than US $3.4 trillion.
According to the President, this indicates the pace of accelerated regional and continental integration.
Kagame told the business community that Africa's continued growth required global linkages, especially through business-to-business relationships, pointing to the importance of trading with each other.
"The more we trade with each other, within Africa, the more we will be able to export to the rest of the world, as well, but it increases the understanding of each other and creates a good relationship among our neighbours," he noted.
Kagame highlighted that for too long; development was seen as the task of governments and non-governmental organisations, despite the business people having always been a significant part of that development.
"That attitude held us back, both as Rwanda and as a continent. But a decisive shift is underway," he said.
The African Union has been putting in place different initiatives beyond CFTA, all of which are aimed at allowing people to do business freely across the continent.
This includes the Protocol on the Free Movement of People which has also been signed, and the ratification process is underway, which once in effect, Africans will no longer require visas to travel within Africa.
"We have to understand that even with most restrictions on movement of people and visas, people have been moving. They move across borders whether you give them visas or not," Kagame said.
Similarly, the adoption of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), another important continental initiative, is set to eliminate internal barriers for African airlines.
According to the President, these agreements are set to remake African economies for the better and generate new opportunities for the firms who are ready to take full advantage.
"Of course, we expect that African companies will be in the lead, showing the way," he said.
The progress at the continental level, he added, complements what is being built in the East African region.
"We are working to build shared railway, infrastructure and power transmission."
Private sector ready
With AfCFTA expected to become the world's largest free trade bloc since the World Trade Organisation, Robert Bafakulera, the Chairman of the Private Sector Federation, said the private sector was ready to tap into the agreement.
To achieve that, however, he called on business leaders to lobby policymakers to develop and harmonise laws and policies that can accelerate intra-African trade and boost Africa's position in the global market.
Bafakulera, an investor in logistics, hospitality and real estate, also stated that Rwanda was now in position to achieve results than it was 20 years ago, thanks to the role of the business community.
"There is no doubt we have made some significant strides forward as a country. We are now in position to achieve things we hadn't even thought about 20 years ago," he said.
The inaugural forum brings together local principal investors, business and public leaders shaping Africa's business development agenda as well as potential investors from Asia and elsewhere.
It is expected to take place every year.