Private sector ready for Africa Union Summit, says PSF CEO

img296|left Stephen Ruzibiza is the local Private Sector Federation (PSF) chief executive officer. He shared with Business Times on the private sector’s preparedness to ensure the forthcoming Africa Union Summit in Kigali is a success, as well as what PSF is doing to address key challenges facing Rwandan businesses especially in cross-border trade, and why more women should join entrepreneurship.

Rwanda will host the Africa Union Summit in Kigali mid-next month, how is the local private sector prepared to make the conference a success? How is PSF facilitating the business community to benefit from this event?

The Africa Union Summit in Kigali will attract Africa’s top political and business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs from across the continent, and other areas of the world. This presents Rwandan business community a huge opportunity to network with the participants, particularly during the small conferences that will be on business-related matters and investment on the continent.

In fact, PSF has organised a social marketing side event that will be showcasing Rwanda’s diverse products and services for the delegates. We have also published a booklet that will help guide delegates to some of the popular dine out and entertainment spots, as well as hospitality, and merchandising points.

The 27th African Union Summit is scheduled to take place from July 10-18 at the Kigali Convention Centre.

What is PSF doing to ensure Rwanda’s businesses compete favourably in East African Community (EAC) and other regional markets?

The EAC integration is people-centered and private sector-driven; and this is the only way to deepen integration. EAC integration has helped expand our market from just over 11 million Rwandans to 145.5 million people in the regional bloc.

This has opened up the market for locally manufactured goods, as well as opportunities to learn from competitors in the region and the region to learn from us.

The role of PSF has also been critical, especially in pushing for the removal of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) that hamper free movement of goods, labour and services; and we have already registered a number of positive outcomes. For instance, the time it takes to transport a cargo container from Mombasa to Kigali has drastically reduced, from 21 days to seven days, while transporters now spend four days, down from 14 days to ferry goods from Dar es Salaam to Kigali.

We also organise various forums at the national and regional levels where the private sector and governments discuss ways on how to tap opportunities provided by the EAC market to spur exports.

There are still barriers affecting free movement of goods and services across the region. What has PSF done to help eliminate the remaining NTBs?

In a bid to fast-track the process of monitoring and eliminating NTBs, partner states established the NTB Monitoring Mechanism in 2007 as envisaged in both the Treaty and the EAC Customs Union Protocol. EAC further introduced the EAC time-bound programme to monitor the elimination of NTBs in the region, and adherence to set timelines. That’s where our advocacy department, in partnership with government agencies and other stakeholders come in to advocate for the removal of NTBs.

A recent report by the 20th EAC regional forum on NTBs indicates that 98 NTBs have been eliminated cumulatively under the EAC time-bound programme between 2009 to March 2016. This represents a cumulative rate of 79 per cent of NTBs resolved out of those that have been reported so far. About 20 NTBs were eliminated between December, 2014 and March this year. This was made possible due to the implementation of the single customs territory by the Northern Corridor states, which helped in fast identification and reporting of NTBs. Most of these barriers are related to customs, border posts, and port procedures.

Unfortunately, new NTBs come up while others have mutated, particularly those linked to the application of EAC rules of origin, inadequate or lack of information on export/import procedures, arbitrary charges, and administrative procedures, as well as stringent technical regulations or standards applied on exports from EAC partner states.

What mechanisms have you put in place to promote women in business?

Women are the primary contributors to the country’s economic growth. In line with government’s gender strategies and policies, the Women Chamber at PSF has worked to promote opportunities for women entrepreneurs by building their capacity to be able to operate businesses in a sustainable manner. This (training) has been mainly in areas of business management, financial literacy, bookkeeping, understanding tax regulations, computer literacy, and access to market information using the Internet.

We also lobby banks to develop tailored products that fit the needs of women entrepreneurs, including giving them preferential interest rates, loans, and a special advisory unit for women.

How would you assess women involvement in business in Rwanda today?

The Women Chamber recently conducted a mapping exercise for women entrepreneurs, which showed that of 154,236 enterprises surveyed, 112,700 are owned by males, while 41,417 businesses for females.

The share of female-owned firms represent about 27 per cent. More than 60 per cent of surveyed establishments operate in rural areas against 38 per cent that are located in urban areas. Of those located in rural areas, 83 per cent are male owned while only 17 per cent are for females.

The disparity between the business ownership among the two groups challenges us to focus on areas that will empower more women to start and run enterprises sustainably. However, it should be noted that there are more women in business, who have penetrated sectors where men typically dominate. That’s a big plus for them, and we should encourage other women to venture into business in all sectors of the economy.