Daily Nation (Kenya)
By Dave Opiyo and Joseph Bonyop
July 29, 2009
www.nation.co.ke

Leaders single out infrastructure development, agriculture, communications and energy as among the several sectors that have largely remained untapped.

A regional investment conference started in Nairobi Wednesday with pledges among countries to create a more enabling environment for trade.

The leaders, led by Kenya President Kibaki, singled out infrastructure development, agriculture, communications and energy as among the several sectors that have largely remained untapped.

President Kibaki said that even though the region was faced with various challenges, many of them could be turned into lucrative investment opportunities.

He expressed disappointment that despite this, Africa was still not attracting its ‘fair share of the global capital inflows,’ with the continent only attracting a paltry three percent.

“I would wish to assure investors and the international community that Africa’s image that focuses of strife, war and starvation is no longer tenable,” he said.

“The implementation of a wide range of reform measures has not only improved trade and investment environment in Africa but has also resulted in improved economic performance,” he said.

His sentiments were shared by Rwanda President Paul Kagame, President Pierre Nkurunzinza (Burundi), President Amani Abeid Karume (Zanzibar) and Mr Eriya Kategaya Uganda’s Deputy Prime Minister.

President Kibaki said the availability of financial resources to develop the region’s infrastructure still remained a big challenge with donor funding of projects on the decline.

While echoing President Kibaki’s sentiments, his Rwandan counterpart Mr Kagame stressed the need to intensify a joint promotion investment and trade in order to attract many investors into East Africa.

“The East African region has immense potential that has largely remained untapped,” said President Kagame.

“In order to attract more investment opportunities and accelerate regional integration, we need to fast reduce all the trade barriers, address the question of infrastructure and terms of doing trade in the region,” he added.

President Kagame, who is also the chairman of the Heads of States summit of EAC also called for the developing of Small and Medium Enterprises as a way of building economic potentials of the region.

President Nkurunzinza said his government had opened its doors to investors as Burundi was in dire need of ‘partners’ to improve their economy.

‘Those willing to invest will not be disappointed. We shall provide a wide range of incentives to them,” he said.

“For instance, we have already cancelled visa fees for Tanzania visitors travelling to Burundi from July this year. We are also implementing reforms in line with the needs of the region,” he said.

President Karume of Zanzibar said proper development of the region’s infrastructure was key as it would facilitate the ease in the flow of goods and services.

He further called on the five partner states to consider irrigating their farms, saying this will ensure that the region, which has been hit hard by drought, was food sufficient.

“If we do this and others, we shall surely succeed in unlocking the region’s immense potential,” he said.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Uganda’s Deputy Prime Minister Mr Kategaya said the region would be more competitive with a common market in place.

“It will be more attractive to market the region collectively as than individual countries,” said Mr Odinga.

Mr Kategaya on his part called on businessmen in the region to ensure that their products were competitive by adding value to them.

“Tax relief should be encouraged in certain areas to attract investors even as we eliminate corruption. This will greatly improve the region’s economies,” he said.

President Karume and Mr Kategaya represented Presidents Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Yoweri Museveni respectively.

The three day investment conference, which is being held at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi, is expected to showcase the potential and project the region’s image as one market that is ideal for investment. The theme of the forum is Invest in EAC; where challenges are opportunities.

It is also expected to provide a forum for potential investors to network with other participants as they build business links and use the conference as a launch pad in the region.

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