The Voice of the Private Sector in East Africa
The East African Business Council (EABC), the Regional Apex Private Sector Body, was established in 1997 to foster the interests of the private sector in the East African Community. The EABC provides a regional platform to the private sector to engage the region’s policy makers. It ensures that a conducive business operating environment is availed in order to achieve business growth and competitiveness in the EAC region.
“EABC is the link between the private sector and the region’s policy makers,” says Andrew Luzze, Executive Director, East African Business Council. “For instance (we) consult the private sector on critical developments in order to attain consensus within the private sector. In addition, the Council provides feedback and updates to the business sector on developments within the EAC context.”
Linking the Community
As executive director of the EABC, Luzze provides leadership in the implementation of the EABC Strategic Plan. He develops and implements policy advocacy strategies on key issues which affect the EA business community and he ensures the effective involvement in the EAC integration process by members and the wider business community.
“We provide well researched and up to date business intelligence and investment information to our members,” says Luzze. “We also facilitate B2B and B2G linkages through trade fairs, networking events and Public – Private Dialogues. Participating firms…are drawn from the region and around the globe. We are also planning to establish an E-portal for businesses to network through.”
The Council’s Membership is drawn from the five East African Partner States and is open to all companies and business associations with interest and operations in the region.
In 2005, the EABC had only 54 members and in 2012, its membership had jumped to 170. The organization aspires to be representative of the region and the increase in members has afforded it more financial resources to cover its core activities.
“Strategies for the Council are to strengthen EABC as an institution,” explains Luzze, “drive the policy change in the EAC region, and to strengthen partnership with key partners such as the organs and institutions of the Community as well as the development Partners.”
Strengthening the Region
Agribusiness, mining, construction and businesses that offer services are the types of enterprise that is flourishing in the East African market. Luzze says that generally any business venture has the potential to flourish given the big market of more than 140 million people in the region.
There are even more opportunities for a higher return in EA since the EAC agreed in 2008 to expand its free trade area to include the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). It is envisaged that the Tripartite Free Trade Area will combine the markets of 26 countries with a combined population of nearly 600 million people and a combined GDP of one trillion US dollars.
In addition, the EA Common Market Protocol provides the free movement of goods, services, capital, labour, as well as the freedom to reside and to establish in any partner state. The protocol enables a boost in trade and investments and makes the region more productive and competitive.
“The challenges of Africa such as infrastructural constraints are becoming investment opportunities,” Luzze says. “Africa has vast resources such as oil and gas. Africa has the biggest portion of its population as young people. These are providing market opportunities, very innovative as well as providing labour which is affordable. Africa is undertaking policy reforms in order to facilitate investment in the region.”
There to Help
Over the years, the EABC has evolved from a body which brought manufacturers together to one that’s become more inclusive in working in various sectors. The organisation is mindfully that women owned businesses operating in the region are faced with unique challenges and the EABC provides resources to help these ventures to flourish.
“There are many (challenges women led businesses face) but the main ones include inadequate access to financing and technical assistance to grow their businesses,” he says. “And weak trade facilitation models that are blind to the needs of these entrepreneurs…and limited participation at trade negotiations.”
There are currently four platforms under EABC; Women in Business, Regional Standards, Labour and Employers and Professional Services. Luzze says that as a result of the success of these platforms, three sectors have since approached EABC to host their associations; these are Health, Pharmaceuticals and Farmers.
“Moving forward we (want to) focus on institutional strengthening of the EABC Secretariat, evidence-based policy advocacy and strengthening (our) national focal points,” says Luzze. “As well as enhancing service to our membership, other allies such as TMEA (Trade Mark East Africa), African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), GIZ… who will be crucial allies towards achieving these goals.”
EABC wants to ensure its financial stability and institutional growth in order to conduct its mandate more effectively.
“We want to acquire permanent physical space as well as to establish a training institute and regional business incubator,” Luzze says. “We also plan on expanding our advocacy agenda…and focusing on policy advocacy on current and new issue issues facing the private sector in the region.”