Burundi reaping the benefits of regional integration

A recent article in the Africa Review reports that Burundi, a newcomer to the East African Community (EAC), has increased its exports within the East African region by about 15% since joining the bloc in 2007. The country’s share of EAC trade also rose to 4.2% last year having grown from the share of 2.6% recorded in 2010, according to EAC officials.

“This shows that due to the improved peace and security in the country, Burundi was enjoying peace dividends through reconstruction of the local production base,” said the EAC director general for Customs and Trade, Peter Kiguta. He made the remarks when he opened the 13th edition of the EAC ‘Jua Kali/Nguvu Kazi’ exhibition in Burundi’s capital city, Bujumbura.

Kiguta said that Burundi and Rwanda commenced implementation of the EAC Customs Union in July 2000 and that in 2011, the total intra-EAC trade increased by 20.5% reaching the highest value of US$4.4bn. Burundi’s exports within the East African region have increased by more than 15% since joining the bloc while imports have been declining, he explained.

“Holding of the exhibition in Bujumbura is timely in enabling the sector and the entrepreneurs to recognise and deepen their role within the broader perspective of the Burundi economy and development,” pointed out Kiguta.

At the same function, the second deputy speaker of Burundi’s National Assembly, Francois Kabura, stressed the role of the informal sector. He noted that the presence of the huge number of exhibitors and show-goers at the occasion was a testimony of their support of the economic development of Burundi. He said now that peace, security and stability were prevailing in the country, enormous infrastructure facilities were being built in Bujumbura and across the country.

Kabura reiterated that the Jua Kali exhibition was a very good event and an occasion for artists and artisans to enhance competitiveness and increase employment, and thereby accelerate the region’s sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction initiatives. He also applauded the EAC Secretariat for giving an opportunity to the Burundian small and micro enterprises and industries to share their experiences with the informal sector from the other EAC Partner States. He later inaugurated the Confederation of the Informal Sector Organisation (CISO) Burundi Chapter with Juma Pili as the chair.

Burundi’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism, Victoire Ndikumana, commended CISO and the EAC Secretariat for organising the event in Burundi for the first time since it joined the EAC. She pledged her government’s total support to the informal sector and private sector as a whole. The chairman of the East African CISO, James Bwatuti, affirmed that the Jua Kali/Nguvu Kazi exhibition was the biggest single initiative in the EAC that brings many small business people together in the region to, among others, promote and expand market opportunities; and encourage competitiveness and innovation in the sector.

Bwatuti commended the government of Burundi for registering the CISO Burundi Chapter, making it the officially recognised umbrella representative of the informal sector in the country. He disclosed that Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) in Burundi had agreed to provide the necessary training, exchange programmes, and capacity building to the small and medium enterprises in the country through the CISO Burundi Chapter.

We once again laud the EAC’s efforts to promote regional integration and it is encouraging to see that its benefits are accruing to even the relatively ‘smaller’ economies. We hope that other economic blocs in sub-Saharan Africa will seek to emulate such positive developments.

Imara is an investment banking and asset management group renowned for its knowledge of African markets.