East Africa: EAC Business Leaders Call for SME-Friendly Policies

Regional governments have been urged to make policies that support small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) in the East African community (EAC) to spur the bloc’s growth, as well as bridge skills gap through knowledge transfer.

Nathan Irumba, the Southern and Eastern African Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) regional executive director, said this is important for EAC to promote such regulations, arguing that some EAC countries are pursuing policies that hinder business growth, especially for SMEs.

Irumba was speaking during a regional meeting to discuss ways on how EAC can attract more investments that was held in Kampala last week. The two-day forum, held under the theme’ “Making investment work for the people of East African Community”, attracted regional business leaders, government officials, SME sector players, and other stakeholders from across the region.

It called for investment friendly policies, and urged EAC governments to only sign trade deals that support sustainable development and improve lives of East Africans.

Addressing participants, Irumba said EAC private sector and citizens have not benefitted much from foreign direct investments (FDIs) into the region, arguing that “we don’t understand the models that shape them”. He said it is important to understand what drives FDIs, especially where trade deals are involved if the EAC bloc is to benefit from investments that come into the region.

His remarks were echoed by Uganda’s representative at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Fred Mukasa Mbidde, who argued that most FDIs come with ‘strings attached’.

“Foreign firms sometimes invest in our countries when they have certain interests that do not benefit our people. This why it’s critical to have people who are qualified to negotiate on our behalf,” he added.