Rwanda: Private Sector Upbeat About New EAC Secretary-General

The Rwandan Private Sector Federation (PSF) Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Ruzibiza, on Wednesday, March 3, told The New Times that the business community is expecting a lot from Peter Mathuki who was chosen by East African Community leaders last weekend as the bloc's new secretary-general.

Mathuki who has been instrumental in championing removal of non-tariff barriers (NTBs), implementing the turn-around strategy of the East African Business Council (EABC), and revitalizing donor support in the sector, among others, will on April 25 start work as the seventh EAC SG.

Ruzibiza said: "It's an appointment that business sectors are pleased with. A lot is expected of Peter, to achieve the EAC Treaty's spirit which emphasizes private sector development."

By and large, the region's business community is hailing Mathuki, who has been CEO of the EABC until his recent appointment, as a transformative leader who pushed the business agenda and championed free movement of goods and services in the dire pandemic times.

"His hands-on approach saw him visiting all EAC OSBPs, holding fora with small-scale cross-border traders and Trade Facilitation Agencies to assess trade barriers and in turn advocated for their elimination," reads part of an EABC statement.

Before joining the EABC, in October 2018, Mathuki was a lawmaker in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) - from 2012 to 2017 - where he served on two standing committees.

MP Aden Omar Abdikadir, a Kenyan member of EALA on Wednesday told The New Times that his compatriot is competent, and has good networking credentials much needed to get the bloc where it wants to be.

Expect community to see better days

Abdikadir said Mathuki is a competent person and qualified for the job.

"He has extensive contact across the EAC. As a former EALA member and head of the East African Business Council he is also well informed on matters of EAC," Abdikadir said.

"Under his leadership, I expect the community to see better days."

Besides allegations of corruption scandals, the tenure of Mathuki's predecessor - Libérat Mfumukeko - was characterised by friction with other organs of the regional bloc, something many expect the new SG to turn around.

Mathuki has held firm on the business community's appeal to EAC leaders to embrace a coordinated approach in handling Covid-19.

"At the onset of the pandemic, he successfully urged the EAC Council of Ministers to allow free movement of cargo and drivers, called for fiscal and monetary incentives to cushion East African businesses from the impact of Covid-19 and resumption of air transport services in the EAC region," reads the EABC statement.

Under Mathuki's leadership, the regional body fronted research policy papers and briefs on the impact of Covid-19 in various business sectors and proposed recovery strategies, the majority of which were adopted by the EAC Partner States. Mathuki successfully pushed for the formation of the African Business Council and has played a pivotal role in overseeing the coming into effect of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), in a bid to reposition the bloc to reap the benefits availed by the continental market.

Mathuki's "diplomatic leadership" is said to have improved recognition of the role of the private sector in the region from observer status "to a true partner of the EAC regional integration agenda."

Mathuki organized EABC high-level courtesy visits to the EAC leaders who committed to champion an inter-governmental trade dispute mechanism, to eliminate persistent NTBs in the region.

"In 2019, his appeal to have private businesses hold a session with the EAC Council of Ministers, to inform the EAC Heads of State Summit was accepted by H.E. Paul Kagame, the Chair of the Summit, 2019."

This high-level dialogue mechanism, as noted, enabled the EABC to put forward cross-border trade and investment bottlenecks affecting the business community, for deliberation and quick solutions by the Council of Ministers and Heads of State.

In his three-year tenure at EABC, Mathuki implemented a turn-around strategy for the organization positioning it as a strong voice of the private sector in the region.

"In his first year in office, he successfully set up sector-specific desks with experts to respond to the needs of Trade in Services, Manufacturing, Agriculture, Energy, Infrastructure and SMEs and also Women in Business."

He rolled out membership engagements by introducing elite membership categories and holding the EABC CEO round table meetings in all Partner States to understand issues affecting companies as they do business across regional borders.

"This has enabled EABC Secretariat policy advocacy to be informed by the needs of members and increased membership retention to 100%."

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