The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) is setting up an East Africa branch office in Kampala, Uganda – its first in the region – which will be open for business in October and formally launched in November.

A spokesperson for Afreximbank tells GTR that the new branch office will be headed up by Kudakwashe Matereke, the bank’s East Africa chief operating officer, who will be “joined by other staff members”.

Afreximbank, which is headquartered in Cairo, currently has branch offices in Abidjan, Abuja and Harare.

Speaking last week at the signing of principal documents to instigate the new office, Afreximbank president Benedict Oramah said that the move represents a significant milestone in the annals of the bank as the absence of a physical presence in the East Africa region had been a “yawning gap” in its vision for effectively deliver its mandate in Africa.

He said the new branch office will set the stage for deepening the bank’s operation across the 11 East African countries under its jurisdiction, and expressed gratitude to the government of Uganda for agreeing to host it.

Also speaking at the signing ceremony, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said that Afreximbank’s physical presence in East Africa represented a significant advance in ensuring the provision and availability of trade finance in the East Africa region and Uganda specifically. He also noted that the new branch would boost the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), signed into life in Kigali in early 2018.

AfCFTA comes with big ambitions: if fully implemented, it will create a single African market for goods and services, covering 1.2 billion people and a GDP of US$2.5tn across 55 member states of the African Union.

According to the African Union, the agreement has the potential to boost intra-African trade by 53% by eliminating import duties, and to double trade on the continent if non-tariff barriers are also reduced.

Speaking at a GTR roundtable discussion in Nairobi earlier this year, Matereke said that the AfCFTA was “overdue” but that it held many opportunities for intra-African trade. “When you look at how difficult trade in Africa is, it calls for the approach that the African Union and other African institutions have taken to unify the continent. Some of our markets are as small as 2 million people. The markets are fragmented, reflecting the historical trade patterns of the colonial era, so it’s easier for somebody in Burundi to think of selling his goods to Belgium than to Kenya, for instance. It is easier for a South African buyer of leather to import from Italy, even though there is leather in Ethiopia or neighbouring Botswana,” he said.

“AfCFTA calls for pushing towards harmonisation of terms so that we can create a local market amongst ourselves, without which our economies will not be successful. At Afreximbank we are optimistic that the creation of a larger market through AfCFTA will bring more long-term benefits.”