Past efforts and future hopes for the African Great Lakes region |

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Past efforts and future hopes for the African Great Lakes region

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Growing a country's economy can help it become more stable and self-sufficient. We focus on this in the African Great Lakes region. Private Sector Development coach Robin Nieuwenkamp explains the Netherlands Enterprise Agency's past efforts and future hopes for the area. Robin has been working on Lake Tanganyika Trade Corridor projects. This transport system has the potential for regional economic integration. Robin has resigned from his post. Here, he shares what he has learnt and some interesting reports.

10 action points

"In 2014, the Zambian maritime sector needed an upgrade, both policy-wise and infrastructurally. We organised missions for Zambian officials to the Netherlands. The result? 10 action points and a maritime training school. Another result was the rehabilitation and upgrade of the Mpulungu harbour on Lake Tanganyika. Today, we apply a more regional approach as we see the lake's economic potential. We have joined forces with international and local donor communities. And we work from a regional perspective instead of a national one."

Stability through trade

"Lake Tanganyika provides a maritime connection between Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Burundi. Our priority is to contribute to stability in this region. We focus on the local inhabitants and entrepreneurs. To make markets in neighbouring countries more accessible to them, we have strengthened the local trade and infrastructure. We helped identify trade opportunities and offered entrepreneurs tools to develop their businesses. As the World Bank stated: Countries that trade fight less."

Lake Tanganyika Transport Corridor

"To get local traders and producers out of poverty, they need regional economic integration. The Lake Tanganyika Transport Corridor offers opportunities and export potential. Ecorys has conducted 2 market studies:

  1. Lake Tanganyika's market demands and production potential of Lake Tanganyika for Zambia and Burundi
  2. Market demands and export in the DRC.

The Erasmus UPT study on the corridor shows that using the lake as a prime transport hub will reduce transportation costs and time. The shift from truck to barge transport will increase the sustainability of transport. And the transport hub will improve the connectivity and stability between surrounding countries. So, the Lake Tanganyika area offers cross-border and intra-regional trade and investment opportunities. It will also improve regional economic integration. But, the LTTC assessment shows that identifying investment needs differs from the national approach of donors such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank. It takes time and effort to make changes. For example, we will have to adjust harbours in different countries to collaborate effectively. We play a role in facilitating discussions between the countries and spreading vital information for growth and development."

New data

"To reach the area's trade and crop-growing potential, we need information and data. Normally, you carry out market research based on trading data from a few years. But in the Congo, for example, there is a lack of recorded data. This makes it impossible to carry out analyses. Our consultants' market studies contribute to getting this field data. They also show what is happening in the region, such as private investment in Zambia and Burundi. The Ecorys study on maritime trade in the Lake Tanganyika area focused on how improved infrastructure could boost trade on the lake. One of the conclusions was that companies should invest in bulk transport and smaller loads in containers on ships. This gives smaller traders the chance to trade, too. This then diversifies trade and stimulates SMEs."

Development through training

"We also contribute to the regional maritime sector by investing in training and skills. The STC-Nesta study shows the benefits of maritime training capacity and facilities in Zambia. Also, the study shows that we can set up a commercial training school for Zambia's private sector. Growing a sector infrastructurally is not enough. You also have to focus on getting enough staff and controlling and maintaining the equipment. The maritime sector relies entirely on the local market for its merchandise."

Local market interaction

"The Dutch are experts on crops that grow well in certain areas and climates. So, we set up research and connected Dutch businesses with Zambian entrepreneurs. The Agro-hub feasibility study in Northern Zambia focused on the increased interaction between local markets at the company level. The study has helped identify high-potential value chains, chances for trading with neighbouring country markets, potential partners, and more."

Future hopes

Since 2014, these efforts have changed the Great Lakes region for the better. Robin Nieuwenkamp has been a part of this for 3 years. As a Private Sector Development coach, his work involved research. He also supported the Dutch embassies in the countries involved. He identified the future developments the area needed the most.

What does the area need now? Robin explains, "Traders in the area need to know how to increase interaction between local markets at the company level. A trader in Burundi knows his market and its needs. But he does not know the market and its needs in Zambia. Research says we should invest in B2B contacts and share market information with local entrepreneurs. We should not have endless discussions at the high donor or government level. Instead, we should focus on offering local entrepreneurs the support they need. I am convinced that we can do this with the help of local parties, such as chambers of commerce and industry associations."

From 2022, Geert Boode en Ariane van Beuzekom will be taking over Robin's Private Sector Development coaching for this region.

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