He said politicians should facilitate building of bridges with neighbours rather than erecting blockades.
“The DRC joined the East African Community to connect with the region. Even before we joined the EAC, we used to get food from Uganda. We would like politicians to stop being prisoners of past ideals and embrace the spirit of cooperation to build the subregion before we go out to trade with Africa and the world,” the minister said.
He was making the keynote address at the East African Entrepreneurship Conference & Expo organised by the Nation Media Group in Kinshasa.
The DRC and Rwanda in June last year closed their common border in a diplomatic crisis between the two neighbours triggered by an escalation of the rebellion by the M23 armed group in Eastern Congo.
DRC accuses Kigali of fomenting the violence by supporting the M23 while Rwanda says Kinshasa supports FDLR, a hostile group that seeks regime change in Kigali.
Both deny the accusations, although UN experts have substantiated them.
The Congolese minister’s sentiments were echoed by the Kenyan ambassador to the DRC Dr George Masafu, Nation Media Group CEO Stephen Gitagama and Congolese Senator Nzazi Lelo.
Dr Masafu said the announcement by Kenya’s President William Ruto to waive visa requirements for Africans would be a game-changer in fostering intra-African trade.
“Visas have been barriers to markets, and now borders must become bridges,” the diplomat said. “We want the 300 million-plus EAC population to become a market, but we need political goodwill.”
Senator Lelo challenged the EAC to produce goods for sale outside the region but underscored the need for cooperation and peace.
“East Africans should stop being consumers only and produce their own goods. But we need to be comfortable everywhere in the region as we seek the raw materials for production. Africa is a gun and Congo is the trigger. The Congolese need support to trigger development,” the legislator said.
This is the second entrepreneurship conference organised by NMG to link businesses in the region and beyond. The first edition was held in March in Kinshasa. The theme of the second edition is “Positioning Africa’s Enterprises for Global Competitiveness.”
“One of the key highlights of the inaugural conference was the partnerships and investments that were born. Entrepreneurs and delegates from Kenya and the broader region got a chance to tour and connect with businesses from across the continent and, as a result, expanded their networks and found opportunities to scale their businesses,” Mr Gitagama said. “It presents an opportunity for us to come up with strategies and policies that can empower our African enterprises to gain competitive advantage in the global space.”
He said the Nation Media Group has taken lead in championing the African story.
“We are a voice of the people, by the people, and that is why we are here today. Central to the values and the purpose for our establishment is a mission to be a trusted partner of African democracies, a champion of the ordinary person, a voice for the rule of law and a strong advocate for human rights and free market economies.”
He pledged to lead the East and Central Africa’s largest media house to deliver products and content that feed the needs Africa’s varied audiences.
“Over the years, we have transformed into a digital-first media house, with our social and digital platforms reaching over 59 million users monthly across the continent and beyond. As we drive the African agenda, organising such conferences is a step in the right direction towards achieving our mission to be the Media of Africa for Africa.”
The conference focuses on connecting and positioning African entrepreneurs for growth. NMG is using its convening power as a media company to explore investment opportunities in the DRC and the greater East Africa as part of a broader effort to promote regional integration and trade.
“Our regional paper The EastAfrican was born out of the need to start in-depth conversations across borders. However, there is nothing quite like stepping on to the soil to find the unique, mysterious and out-of-the-box story angles. Where better to find these if not in a country of over 100 million people that borders nine countries?” Mr Gitagama said.
He used the forum to invite African entrepreneurs to this year’s edition of the Kusi Ideas Festival, a pan-African thought leadership event that facilitates conversations on solutions and innovations for the continent’s growth.
This year’s event will be held in Gaborone, Botswana and the theme is “Africa’s Agenda 2063: Making the Dream Come True”.
“I want to make a commitment to each of you: That NMG will continue to host these kinds of conferences across Africa in a bid to expand business opportunities for entrepreneurs,” Mr Gitagama said.