Kigali, 11 July 2015
Let me first congratulate the two business associations, from Kenya and Rwanda respectively, for making good on your pledge, to establish this forum.
As you work to make this encounter productive, I hope you will also find time to visit and enjoy our country. No brother or sister from Kenya is a foreigner in this country. I hope I am not the first to tell you that.
In the last two years, we have seen good progress as relates to the Northern Corridor Integration Projects. It has created unprecedented momentum in our region.
We have diversified markets, improved access to capital, and commissioned new infrastructure. Economic growth, as well as social development, have become stronger.
As a result, East Africa is more visible and relevant to the global economy than ever before. We are rightly seen as a new frontier. We must be ready to seize the new opportunities that are coming our way.
There are a few things we need to do to reach the next level.
First, the basis of everything we do is the right mindset. After all, businesses and government are run and made possible by people. Today it is the people in this room, but soon we will be replaced by young African women and men who form the majority of our continent.
Businesses in Africa, like everywhere else, are rightly interested in making profit. But many of you are also involved in other works: philanthropic or corporate social responsibility.
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 instil 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 much about 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.
Therefore, where these programmes exist, in East Africa and elsewhere, they deserve more attention and support and shouldn’t lack for funding.
Second, East African companies have to be more ambitious. By this I mean, that you should strive to be the first movers, in new sectors.
No one will ever know the tastes and preferences of East Africans, better than you do. They are becoming more sophisticated consumers, and they can increasingly afford new products and experiences.
Where are the global brands coming out of East Africa? They are there, a few but we could have more. We know of global businesses from other parts of the continent that people tend to be attracted to. Yet we seem to be lagging behind, even though we have what is needed to do what needs to be done.
Every global company started off as a local one. Without exception. Aggressively building East African brands won’t scare off investors, it will attract them to invest the capital you need to expand.
Through such partnerships, you can bring East Africa to the world and vice versa. This is how we build real wealth and keep it here in our region.
If we find that firms from elsewhere are the ones pioneering new sectors, then we have a problem we need to address. The business people in this room have a natural advantage, and you have the right risk perceptions. There is no excuse.
One of the things I expect this forum to do, is to signal challenges where they exist, to us in government, in a timely fashion, so that we can analyse the issues and find practical solutions together.
Don’t expect us to protect anyone from competition, that would only makes us weaker in the long term. But we will do everything we can to make you more effective competitors.
Finally, it is important that you understand how you fit into the wider global development agenda. Let’s be honest: you are the development agenda.
This is about what only the private sector can deliver, wealth. After all, markets are known to be neutral, they reveal what people really want. Not what you think they want, much less what you believe would be best for them.
When you conduct your business in a spirit of shared responsibility, it results in the prosperity and well-being of all our people.
This should be our East African mindset of success, freedom and dignity, all part of the prosperity we all seek.
I thank you and look forward discussing these issues with you in our next session.