Automation, dialogue key in enhancing Africa trade - TradeMark country boss

Burundi Country Representative TradeMark Africa says recurrent non-tariff barriers, graft and racketing at some borders, slow decision making remain a challenge

In Summary

• Burundi Country Representative TradeMark Africa talks on the continental expansion, regional and continental trade, EAC leadership under President Evariste Ndayishimiye

• TMA is now present in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Djibouti, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Ghana.

Burundi Country Representative TradeMark Africa Christian Nibasumba
Burundi Country Representative TradeMark Africa Christian Nibasumba

TradeMark East Africa in February 2023 rebranded to TradeMark Africa and expanded to cover West  and southern Africa.

The aid for trade organisation is funded by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, the UK, and the US. 

It works closely with East African Community, the national governments, the private sector and civil society organisations. It is now present in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Djibouti, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Ghana.


At the same time, Burundi President Evariste Nayishimiye is the sitting EAC chairman, and he promised to improve the community's common market.

In this interview, Burundi Country Representative TradeMark Africa Christian Nibasumba talks to the Star's Eliud Kibii on the continental expansion, regional and continental trade (ACFTA), EAC leadership under President Ndayishimiye and opportunities for Kenyans in Burundi.

TradeMark East Africa has recently expanded to Trademark Africa. How has the growth been, and what do you seek to achieve in the next phase?

Yes indeed, from January 2023, our organisation launched operations in West Africa, starting with operations in Accra, Ghana, following a decade of high impact trade facilitation in East, Horn and Southern  Africa.

With guidance from our senior leadership team, this move is aimed at deploying our tested trade facilitation models to more areas across Africa continent.

Through our operation in Ghana, the organisation further aims to support the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, in line with its Build Intra-Africa Trade initiative, to help traders exploit the $3.4 trillion African market this trade deal has created.  

Since 2010, there have been substantial gains in regional trade, especially within the EAC. However, challenges such as border tiffs during Covid-19 still hinder regional trade. What and how do you think TradeMark Africa can/will assist in ensuring smooth movement of goods and persons to enhance trade?

Correct. Our TMA programmes have, for instance, contributed to a 16.5 per cent reduction in the total time it takes to transport a container on the Northern Corridor from Kenya’s Mombasa Port to Bujumbura, Burundi. The 15 OSBPs [One-Stop Border Posts] spread across the region have also helped reduce the time for traders to cross borders by 70 per cent on average.

However, as you rightly put, challenges do remain such as the border closure during Covid19, and the recurrent non-tariff barriers (corruption and racketing at some borders, slow decision making, etc).

TMA employs various interventions to address these, including, automating border and trade services (revenue authorities, standards bureaus, investment agencies) and facilitating dialogue between public and private entities for quicker resolution of identified trade bottlenecks. These have contributed to significant reduction of trade times and costs in the regions where we operate and contributed to growth of exports.

TradeMark Africa works with regional intergovernmental organisations and comes in the ACFTA. What should be expected in terms of TradeMark Africa working with ACFTA to overcome trade barriers and facilitate continental trade?

For the past decade, our organisation has combined both national and regional approaches, by deploying both country programmes such as in Burundi and regional initiatives, for instance at the EAC level, aiming to benefit all member states.

With our new strategy anchored in AfCFTA, we are now embracing a more ambitious approach, aiming at growing exports to the wider continent - starting with the Lagos-Abidjan corridor - incorporating the successes and lessons learned over the past 12 years in East Africa.

In terms of new things to expect, as officially unveiled by our senior leadership in Accra in January this year, TradeMark Africa new strategy will in addition to supporting CFTA, be anchored in Green Corridors Approach in our trade facilitation work.

We know trade can be a force for good for climate or in reverse be part of the problem and our role as TMA will, therefore, be to push for Africa to remain a partner of choice for global off takers, and to ensure trade-related infrastructure (border posts, cross border markets, operations at ports) is not only aligned with the recent CoP27 resolutions but also help our respective economies to transition to adaptation.

Additionally, our organisation will aim to upscale the digital space in African trade. TradeMark Africa has so far supported the implementation of 60 Single Window Information for Trade (SWIFT) Systems in multiple government agencies, thus reducing the time and cost of acquiring trade documents.

Burundi has opened up to the world since President Evariste Ndayishimiye came to power. How is/has TradeMark is helping/ helped Burundi to open up in terms of foreign direct investment in high potential areas?

Burundi President graces the launch of TMA-funded Regional Manufacturer's Fair in Burundi
Burundi President graces the launch of TMA-funded Regional Manufacturer's Fair in Burundi

Our programmes in Burundi started in 2010. In fact, out of the 13 country programmes we currently have, Burundi was the third country of operation. During our Strategy 1 (2010-17), TMA funded a total of 33 projects in Burundi valued at $54.5 million.

Back then, the major investment consisted of a deep reorganisation of the Office Burundais des Recettes (Burundi Revenue Authority) to adopt best practices at the EAC level and as a result, the institution doubled government tax revenues between  2011-15, and investing in the Kobero-Kabanga One Stop Border Post that handles more than 80 per cent of trade entering Burundi by road through the Central Corridor (Dar-es Salaam). A recent time-release study shows it now takes on average 3hrs 25mins to cross at Kobero-Kabanga, down from 8 hrs 4 mins in 2011.

More recently, with the introduction of an Electronic Single Windows System, we have seen time of acquisition of import permits and/or tax exemption certificates decrease from weeks to just a few days, a great plus for private sector players and foreign direct investors wishing to tap into these sectors.

Indeed, the successful operationalisation of the Burundi Electronic Single Window, with our technical collaboration from UNCTAD, allows traders to access standardised information and documents from a single-entry point, thus reducing the time and costs involved.

Already integrated in the system are Burundi Revenue Authority, Burundi Investment Promotion Authority (for tax exemption certificates), the Health ministry (for importation of medicine) and most recent , the Agriculture Ministry (for permits of agricultural products).

Additionally, as of this year, our programme in Burundi is focused on, among others, working with the national revenue authority to extend the EAC-led regional electronic cargo tracking system to Burundi, setting up decent and gender-sensitive sanitation facilities at one of our border posts to promote an inclusive and non-discriminatory cross border movement, especially for small-scale women traders.

President Ndayishimiye is the current chair of the EAC and on taking over, he promised to improve the EAC common market. How do you assess this so far? Are you working with him in this regard?

As you may already know, what we define as a common market in any regional bloc is usually built on four to five freedoms of movement for all factors of production. These include free movement of goods and services, free movement of people, free movement of capital and free movement of labour.

The current chair of the EAC, His Excellency Ndayishimiye, has in my view, been supportive of the spirit of the EAC common market. A key example being the recent reopening of the border between Rwanda and Burundi, which has consolidated the free movement of goods/persons within the community, as we are seeing some substantial impact on the volumes of cargo and the number of people crossing between the two partner states.

Other aspects to his Excellency Ndayishimiye’s credit, include: the ratification- months into his tenure as Head of State- by Burundi (just as other EAC member states) of the ACFTA and opting for Burundi to adopt a Visa on arrival policy (a key contributor to free movement of people) and the removal of Covid-19 testing fees in all member states, a decision deemed business and tourism friendly.

TMA, on top of digitizing the National Customs Services for transparency, we continue to support stakeholders in ensuring the business environment is conducive. For instance, last year, we submitted four proposals for  amendments on the current Burundi Investment Code to  harmonise it with EAC protocols.  We will soon be reviewing the current Burundi Trade Law/Code de Commerce, which most actors deem out of date, and we continue to support the National Committee on Non-Tariff Barriers.

The advocacy for trade programme, has supported the development of a fresh Strategic Plan for the Federal Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Burundi. We want the Burundi’s apex body to better align their advocacy needs and to fully embrace the AFCTA. More reforms to further improve the trade environment are still needed. We still note some member states being overly protectionist and still imposing restrictions on aspects such as right of residence, or free movement of labour (work permits).

Lastly, in terms of opportunities in Burundi, Kenyans have, for example, been present in the hotel industry in Bujumbura and other areas. In your other capacity that you mentioned as Non-Executive Director/Board member (Vice Chairman) of the KCB-Burundi subsidiary, is there a framework that encourages such regional interconnectivity through the presence of KCB in Burundi?

Yes indeed, we are seeing the number of Kenyan citizens taking up positions in restaurants, hotels, and entertainment businesses in Burundi, growing crescendo, and not just in Bujumbura, but also in Rumonge, southwestern town by the Lake Tanganyika and in Gitega, the political capital.

We must appreciate that the presence of a large regional bank such as KCB further consolidates the spirit of the EAC. Frameworks like KCB banking system are unparalleled because Kenyans and in fact all EAC citizens working and living in Burundi can not only easily access their accounts on real time basis, but the bank has also started supporting business expansion in Burundi, even if collateral is offered is any other EAC country.

Lastly, the KCB Group is always open and ready to consider large investment opportunities.

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