Earlier this month, former Chief Executive of the Private Sector Federation (PSF) Hannington Namara moved on to become Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA) country director. In an interview with The New Time’s Kenneth Agutamba, Namara said his new responsibility will be to connect Rwanda to the East African region as well as continuing to work closely with the private sector in order to enhance its role in Rwanda’s economic development. Excerpts;-
What does your new job at TMEA mean to the private sector where you have been since 2012?
I have transferred to an important organisation and my new office, specifically, will help me to consolidate the role I have been playing at PSF. My focus will mainly be on connecting Rwanda to the other countries of East Africa in order to boost regional integration.
Incidentally, PSF has been working closely with TMEA and we have a project with them that supports regional integration mainly in the advocacy areas.
Secondly, trademark is also supporting PSF in terms of communicating regional integration to enable business entrepreneurs in Rwanda understand the common market. A large percentage of Trademark’s efforts go to sensitise the private sector operators about the common market.
As Trademark, we are encouraging mergers and linkages in this open market to boost competiveness since companies from the EAC region will be getting national treatment after the integration.
What was the state of the Private sector at the time of your appointment as chief executive? And what kind of institution have you left behind?
Firstly, I found PSF as an institution and then the members. For the institution, it was mainly faced with capacity issues that we had to address before anything else.
The secretariat which is the coordinating engine was equipped with structures during which we crafted a three year strategy ending 2015 that looks at four pillars, including research based advocacy, capacity building, and building decentralised structures.
We started off from that point, trying to build capacity and put the institution in the right position to serve its huge network, countrywide.
We put in place consultative mechanisms such as the Public-Private Dialogue (PPD) that is now an institution in itself which we launched in partnership with Rwanda Development Board. This was aimed at streamlining reforms through direct dialogue with the Private sector.
At PSF, member associations are sectoral ranging from mining, hotel, manufacturers, tours and travel and most of them were weak, suffering from capacity problems like the institution. We had to work with association leaders to reenergise and legalise their operations.
This in one way facilitated business work and we began with reinstituting our operations making sure they are legal operations. Out of the 72 associations, at least a good number of them, more than half have managed to achieve formal legalisation.
As an institution, PSF equipped the association leadership with managerial and advocacy capacity in order to take an active role in the PPD structure that we had formed. I am glad that at least today, when you call on manufacturers, there is an effective recipient body.
The PSF I am leaving behind now has a leadership and technical office at every district in Rwanda. Although it’s a long process, I believe during my stay at PSF, we created a strong foundation that will help the private sector to give Rwanda the results we want.
Under EDPRS2, we want the private sector to be the engine of growth; is the sector up to the task?
More effort is still required but we have laid the foundation upon which we can build. PSF is a result of dynamic economic growth and EDPRS II places PSF at the centre of development, which requires organisation.
The confidence the government has in private sector is commendable and I believe the sector can indeed provide the economic leadership required through deepening the cordial relationship with the policy makers, to understand private sector constraints and craft out solutions.
At TMEA, you say you will be concentrating on taking Rwanda deeper into the integration. This requires a strong private sector, what are the standout challenges to be addressed, speaking from your experience at PSF?
A couple of challenges are involved, ranging from the cost of doing business to continuous capacity building and getting the required labour force.
On the supply side, the cost of production is still high because energy costs are high, but now government is working on getting the right amount of energy which will help reduce the cost of doing business.
If, for instance, a firm in Uganda is incurring less costs to produce the same product that a Rwandan firm is producing expensively, that would hurt their competitiveness and those are the factors we need to look at as we target the regional market.
The other issue is access to affordable finance. This too affects many of our entrepreneurs but people need to take the risks amidst several challenges.
Creating entrepreneurs that can sniff opportunities is vital in promoting export services to the region. We need the young vibrant individuals to create applications that we can export to partner states.
An open EA market is going to increase competition and that requires us to maximise our edge in spite of the challenges. Challenges present opportunities.
What are Rwanda’s strong points in a competitive common market?
Rwanda is at the centre of the hinterland, and it will be used as a logistics hub. The government is also trying to work on the airport to ensure that it can service transportation.
Committed leadership, infrastructure and ease of doing business are vital in any developing economy and Rwanda scores high on those points.
For instance, Rwanda is the only place an investor can walk and own a business alone. We are also supported by macroeconomic stability which gives investors more confidence.
What will your leadership focus on as TMEA Country Director?
My role will be connecting Rwanda to the rest of the region infrastructure-wise and ensure that Rwandans find a supportive framework in all the markets.
This requires ensuring that the businesses are competitive while we capitalise on markets where we have a competitive advantage.
We shall help Rwanda maximise export volumes through identifying businesses that are export ready or those with potential and give them the necessary support.
Once you increase export volumes, you eliminate situations where trucks bringing imports will go back empty. We will also be working closely with the National Agricultural Exports Board to improve competiveness.
But more critically, after reducing the costs related to transport, production and supply, we want to see those advantages spread to consumers through reduced prices and the like.
Regional integration will only make sense when it starts to benefit the East Africans, directly, our efforts should be geared towards that.