Trader Jeremie Kayobera had his life changed by a radio broadcast. It wasn’t a religious broadcast, or a political one, but a nuts and bolts broadcast about how to take advantage of Burundi’s membership of the East African Community (EAC).
Until that December 2011 radio show, he had bought maize flour in Tanzania or Uganda, Burundi’s economically powerful neighbours, imported it, paid his border dues and sold the staple foodstuff in his home country.
Why not? It’s a pattern of business repeated across the whole spectrum of Burundi’s trade relationships with its EAC neigbours: buy across the frontier, import, and sell. Every market place in even the smallest community bears witness to this pattern of doing business.
That changed overnight. He heard a radio programme explain to him that he could take advantage of start-up help from the government’s API Investment agency; he heard how much or how little he would have to pay in tax to the state’s Office Burundais des Recettes (OBR), the revenue authority.
Today he has realized a dream and established his own maize mill in Kanyanza. Goodbye paying taxes on imported foodstuffs. Hello the opportunity to make bigger profits milling from local produce, and to export.
“It doesn’t matter where you go in the countryside, you find that people know almost nothing about the benefits of EAC membership or the steps the government is taking to help business compete in the EAC,” says Davy Rubangisha, Programme Manager at the RPA radio, Burundi’s private and biggest station.
“With the help of TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), we are broadcasting every week special programmes about what EAC membership really means. The reaction across the board is: We didn’t know much about this until your programme. Thanks so much.”
The TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) programme supports government and private media to help the community’s smallest and economically least developed state align its business thinking and practice with those of the other four members and to take advantage of some of the innovations at home aimed at making Burundi more EAC-competitive.
“The media has a key role to play in disseminating knowledge about our EAC membership,” said Burundi’s MEAC minister, Hafsa Mossi. “The private media is doing an excellent job in informing the people and we are grateful to TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) for backing it.”
The TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) programme is part of a broad engagement with civil society and the government to shine the light of EAC business opportunities in all four corners of Burundi through seminars and debates and, above all, the media.
One of these is the establishment of the OBR itself to sweep away a creaking, muddled and arbitrary tax system and to put real revenue in government coffers to fund schools, hospitals and dams and to create opportunities for start-up businesses.
OBR has doubled state revenues in two years and is part of a government drive to rationalize and standardize the whole business of taxation, which, until OBR’s creation, was a haphazard affair.
Another RPA broadcast highlighted the plight of traders at the distant lakeside port of Rumonge, a gateway to Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They complained that there was no OBR presence at the port to clear imports from their two neighbours, so traders had to come all the way to Bujumbura (65 Km) to get their paperwork cleared, then return to the port to unload and start selling their goods. The cost of the journey in time and money raised the price of every item.
The result? OBR opened an office in Rumonge so goods can be cleared when they land and people can buy them locally.
“We are tracking the results of the broadcasts and media interventions and can see that they are having concrete results everywhere they are followed, and followed up. People tell us we are changing their lives for the better, and that is what it is all about,” said Anthe Vrijlandt, TradeMark East Africa (TMEA)’s Burundi Country Director.