Cross-border trade in Sub-Saharan Africa is dominated by women traders who engage in informal trade because they lack market information but their economic potential can be elevated through skills training and education.
Cross-border trade is the exportation of goods through country borders.
“A lot of people go informal because they have the wrong idea about what they will be charged in the tariffs, there’s corruption at the borders and we need to have more accountability at the borders,” said Lisa Karanja, Senior Director of Business Competitiveness at Trade Mark East Africa.
They try to facilitate trade and ensure that the benefits are reaching everybody and contribute to economic growth.
“Women dominate trade in East Africa, particularly informal trade ranges from large SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) exporting goods to smaller women who are taking vegetables across,” she said.
Karanja says how often people say “just increase trade and it will be good for everyone” while trying to address poverty, but that is not the case for women she said as they struggle through areas that men might not.
Women suffer from “time poverty” issues because they have to look after children and are expected to work on the farms as well as a lack of access to transportation forcing them to trade smaller goods.
“It’s really an economic issue, with so many women in poverty; so many women engaged in small scale border trade, how do we ensure that the benefits of the reforms are actually reaching these women?” Karanja said.
This is one of the reason they have started a programme with millions of dollars where they will mitigate the issues these women face, she says.
“Very often women are using what they call “panya” routes because they think they are going to be subjected to tax, they don’t know that there are certain levels below which they are not taxed,” said Karanja.
Karanja says they have had some excellent results in Rwanda, Uganda and at the regional level in three borders where they have educated the women by having them talk to customs officials about some of the issues they face.
“Exporting goods requires understanding about the quality of products, the kind of standards that you have to adhere to and so on, so we are trying to do all of that work with the women so that they are better prepared to export their goods and find other markets.”