L-R Kiprono Kittony, Chairman of Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), President Paul Kagame, Private Sector Federation Chairman Benjamin Gasamagera and Aly-Khan Satchu, founder of www.Rich.co.ke during the Kenya-Rwanda Business forum interactive session. (Village Urugwiro)

L-R Kiprono Kittony, Chairman of Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), President Paul Kagame, Private Sector Federation Chairman Benjamin Gasamagera and Aly-Khan Satchu, founder of www.Rich.co.ke during the Kenya-Rwanda Business forum interactive session. (Village Urugwiro)

The Head of State made the call yesterday while addressing about 200 business leaders from Rwanda and Kenya who gathered in Kigali for a one-day, inaugural Rwanda and Kenya business forum.

While emphasising that shared responsibility and prosperity for all ought to be the mind-set for residents of the East African Community, President Kagame urged business leaders from Rwanda and Kenya to seize the opportunities which are increasingly available in the region and beyond.

?East Africa is more visible and relevant to the global economy than ever before. East Africa is rightly seen as a new frontier. We must be ready to seize the new opportunities that are coming our way,? Kagame said.

In a key note address he delivered at the forum and during a subsequent dialogue he held with participants, President Kagame challenged the business leaders to think globally and focus their thoughts on what role Africans can play on the global stage.

?It is important that you understand how you fit into the wider global development agenda. Let?s be honest: you are the development agenda.?

He urged them to create companies to deliver services that people in Africa and the rest of the world need, saying that all it takes is getting up and put in practice what they already know can work.

?East African companies have to be more ambitious. You should strive to be the first movers in new sectors.

Where are the global brands coming out of East Africa? We seem to be lagging behind even though we have what is needed,? he said.

Then he added: ?Every global company started off as a local one; without exception. The business people in this room have a natural advantage and you have the right risk perceptions. There is no excuse?.

Kagame also called on the business leaders to invest in the African youth who form the majority of the African population.

?In the drive to integrate our region and create wealth, businesses can make another kind of smart investment.

That is, supporting African initiatives working to instill in young people, a more pan-African perspective, an attitude of closer collaboration within the continent, and pride in African heritage.?

?Becoming prosperous doesn?t mean changing who we are. These values, which speak to ideological independence and African dignity, are ultimately as important as the knowledge and skills young Africans have to acquire,? Kagame added.

Held under the theme ?expanding business opportunities beyond borders?, the Kenya and Rwanda business forum was jointly organised by Rwanda?s Private Sector Federation (PSF) and the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) with the support of the Government of Rwanda.

The forum was a follow-up of an earlier breakfast session President Kagame had with members of KNCCI in Nairobi in February where it was agreed that a forum bringing together Rwandan and Kenyan business leaders would be founded.

Over 200 participants who met at the forum that took place at Serena Hotel included a delegation of 34 business executives from Nairobi who were led by Kiprono Kittony, the chairperson of KNCCI.

Kittony?s delegation joined at the conference over 150 of their counterparts from PSF, whose membership comprises not only Rwandans but also Kenyans already operating in the country.

Kenya is East Africa?s largest economy and the leading source of foreign direct investment to Rwanda with an estimated $440 million in registered businesses in the past decade.

?Rwanda is home away from home for Kenyan businesses,? said Francis Gatare, chief executive of the Rwanda Development Board, the country?s business and investment promotion arm.

?I want to urge Kenyan business owners to invest in Rwanda. Rwanda genuinely wants to do business with you and I want to encourage local partnerships for the value it creates?.

The call for Kenyan business leaders to invest in Rwanda was also echoed by Amb. Valentine Rugwabiza, the minister for East African Community affairs, who also said that the forum was the right time to foster ?strong partnership between our two business communities?.

Apart from holding an interactive session with President Kagame, participants at the forum held discussions about investment opportunities in Rwanda as well as business to business engagements on investment opportunities in different clusters including tourism and real estate, energy and extractives, agriculture and manufacturing, as well as ICT and transport.

The Equity Bank Group Managing Director, Dr James Mwangi, lauded the level of facilitation that new businesses receive in Rwanda from the Rwandan Government, giving an example of how his group was able to secure a bank operation licence in Rwanda within only 21 days.

?In Rwanda policies are predictable and that is the most important thing,? he said.

Mwangi urged participants at the forum to promote the idea of working together among citizens of the East African Community, explaining that it was the secret to success.

?We need to see ourselves as one people, ignore the boundaries, and invest where opportunities are,? he said.

At the forum, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the ?Kenya and Rwanda Business Forum? was signed between the heads of PSF and KNCCI.

The MoU lays the principles that the two countries? business leaders will be meeting every year to agree on business to be implemented and meet the following year to assess how the business has been implemented.

President Kagame encouraged business leaders from Rwanda and Kenya to be involved in healthy and complementary competition and he promised them full government support.

?Don?t expect us to protect you from competition; that would only make us weaker in the long term. We will not protect you from competition but we will do everything we can to make you more effective competitors,? Kagame said.

Both Rwanda and Kenya are part of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects initiative, which also includes Uganda and South Sudan. The initiative aims at easing trade on the route that connects Kigali to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, where over 40 per cent of the country?s imports are received.

By Eugene Kwibuka, The New Times


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