Combating COVID-19 and Supporting Recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the globe and disrupted the lives of billions of people in every corner of the world. Eastern Africa has not been left unscathed. The pandemic has affected trade and economic activity in a fundamental way. Whereas many have weighed the impact of COVID-19 on health terms, we in trade facilitation have seen firsthand how debilitating its impact has been to global trade, disrupting supply chains across the globe. This knowledge informed our quick adaptation, and helped to offset major trade disruptions experienced in the Eastern, Southern and Horn of Africa Region.

The impact of COVID-19 hit TMA closer home. Cuts to donor funding caused by COVID-19 inflicted economic recession in donor countries necessitated a human resource restructuring process, and scaling down of programming. Nevertheless, TMA was resilient and delivered strong impact. I am honoured to mention a few of the interventions and associated impacts achieved in the last year, as I welcome you to read about many more in this annual report.


Amongst the quick counter and cushioning measures we implemented were the Safe Trade Emergency Facility Programme (Safe Trade), a multi-donor funded and multi- stakeholder programme that enabled governments and communities to adopt short- to medium-term measures for safe continuity of trade. The innovation driving Safe Trade won an award during the Paris Peace Forum due to its focus on the immediate threat posed by the pandemic, and post- COVID-19 recovery that empowered communities to bounce back better. Recovery efforts have also been complemented by broader policies that support equitable outcomes. We have learned that it is critical to include measures that counter health shocks in trade facilitation initiatives, as they otherwise become non-tariff barriers to trade.

Within Safe Trade Programme, the East African Community’s (EAC’s) Regional Electronic Cargo and Driver Tracking System (RECDTS) mobile application provided a platform for issuance of mutually recognised COVID-19 health certificates. This enabled faster clearance of cargo truck drivers at borders. RECDTS ensures that transit drivers are not inadvertent carriers of COVID-19. Over 150,000 drivers had been registered into the platform by December 2021. We joined government efforts in Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia to create awareness of COVID-19 mitigation measures and vaccine uptake.

We also supported the procurement and supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to 30 border crossings in Eastern, Horn and Southern Africa, and at the Ports of Mombasa and Djibouti. These protected and benefited frontline border workers and traders. 90 percent of the PPEs were procured in the region for the region. Working with the Financial Sector Deepening Programme (FSD) in Kenya, we transferred patient capital to over 900 women traders in the Kenya-Uganda border town of Busia, many of whom had lost over 90 percent of their business capital. To further support women cross-border traders, we supported the construction of Safe Trade Zones (STZ) in select border markets in Somaliland, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda. This we believe revived the hopes and incomes of traders whose businesses were adversely affected by the pandemic.

The effectiveness of Safe Trade was anchored on strategic partnerships. For example, with the EAC Secretariat, we developed guidelines for the manufacture, use, handling and disposal of PPE and hygiene products. Similarly, with apex bodies like the East Africa Business Council, the Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Associations, and the Kenya Private Sector Alliance we successfully advocated governments to review taxes and encourage banks and mobile lenders to reduce interest rates on loans.


We supported Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda to develop national African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) strategies that provide implementation roadmaps. Great progress was also made on the infrastructure front, particularly the construction of Kipevu, Magongo and Mbaraki Roads in Mombasa, Kenya, and Hargeisa Bypass in Somaliland, promising to help exploit trade and economic potential of the Northern Bypass and Berbera Corridor, respectively. Kipevu road was completed and handed over to Kenya Ports Authority. It is expected to significantly reduce the time taken by tracks to exit the port through the main gates.

As a key link on the Berbera Corridor, the Hargeisa Bypass will provide urgent and strategic alternative route for increasing trade efficiency in the Horn of Africa. Trade volumes are expected to rapidly accelerate due to an investment by DP World in additional capacity at Berbera Port. In Uganda, construction of Gulu Logistics Hub (GLH), which H.E. President Yoweri Museveni launched, is nearing completion. It will be operational by the close of the next financial year.

Ongoing Information Communication for Trade work contributes to borderless trade. Notably last year, we facilitated single windows and customs systems such as Kenya Revenue Authority’s new customs system, iCMS, which doubled customs clearance efficiency for East Africa’s leading economy, and is projected to substantially increase revenue. The Rwanda Electronic Single Window saw implementation of the International Air Transport Association manifest going live during the year, with airlines successfully forwarding electronic manifests to the ReSW. We completed Tanzania’s e-learning and integrated Standardisation, Quality Assurance, Metrology and Testing Platforms for Tanzania Bureau of Standards. This has increased the efficiency of processing certificates, and increased access by small and medium enterprises and other stakeholders.

We continue paying special attention to the needs of women traders and medium, small, and micro enterprises (MSMEs). It is noteworthy that women traders account for the bulk of informal trade in the region. Through our women and trade programme, we have since 2012, cumulatively reached over 89,000 beneficiaries, 23,954 of them this year. We’ve also reached 3,500 MSMEs. In the last year, tens of thousands of women cross-border and other traders were able to sustain their trade after benefitting from TMA’s capacity building, advocacy, and digital access to information. We are keen to expand new interventions to advance and broaden access to the benefits of trade because experience show us that businesses still faces significant trade and investment uncertainty. We have brokered new partnerships to enable this happen.

Expansion plans to the rest of Africa continued. Significantly, we secured funding from Agence Francaise de Development (AFD) to develop the Djibouti Corridor under the Horn of Africa Initiative. Our support will include facilitating the implementation of a cargo tracking system that will improve real time tracking of cargo, thereby eliminating the need for numerous check points, and reducing the dwell-time to transport cargo along the corridor. We have also started examining the viability of extending our support to help implementation of the AfCFTA, with new operations likely to start in West Africa next year. In addition, we scoped new programming in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, and Southern Africa. This will move us towards our long-term goal of becoming a Pan-African institute.

The urgency of the climate crisis demands that greater attention be given to the role of trade in accelerating emissions, mitigating the effects of climate change while pursuing sustainable growth. TMA’s Strategy on Green Transport and Logistics Corridors in Eastern Africa promises to do just that. TMA’s eco-system takes a multi stakeholder approach to diagnosing problems, designing solutions, and implementing transformative trade facilitation projects. This has delivered a strong performance over the last 12 years, and we can plan for bigger impact in the coming years. I remain grateful to all our donors, the European Union, the Governments of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States of America


It has been my honour leading TradeMark Africa since its conceptualisation and establishment; for 12 years as the CEO and the four years of pre-establishment, design and fundraising. We have achieved much over the decade and a half, for which I sincerely thank all our dedicated staff, partners, Board, Council, and development partners for your unwavering support and partnership. It has been quite a journey; both exciting and fulfilling in terms of the large-scale impact TMA and its partners have generated together. I decided to hand over the baton of leadership to a new Chief Executive Officer at the end of my contract in June 2022. At the time of writing, this process is advancing well. I will work hard with my team to ensure that the transition is smooth. My sincere thanks to everyone, and I hope to provide my inputs into next year’s report.

Frank Matsaert
Chief Executive Officer