PUBLISHED ON June 22nd, 2023

Busia market uplifts cross-border traders

In Summary

  • New market offers a safe business environment for cross-border traders in Busia
  • The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 took a huge toll on women traders

A new market has been opened in Busia to facilitate business between traders in Kenya and Uganda.

The Sh40 million market comes as a relief to women traders who were hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Busia Governor Paul Otuoma on Tuesday said the investment will go a long way in ensuring a safe business environment for cross-border traders.

“What we want are innovative solutions to economic challenges facing our people,” he said.

The market is an initiative of the county government of Busia, the Ministry of East African Community Affairs, TradeMark Africa and development partners.

“We are grateful for the support because all this is geared towards providing safe spaces for our people especially in trade,” the county chief said.

The construction of the market started in July 2021 as part of the Safe Trade Emergency Facility.

TradeMark Africa implemented it together with the Busia government with funding from Canada, Ireland, the European Union and Denmark.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 took a huge toll on local and international trade.

Informal cross-border traders, particularly women, were hard hit.

The effects of the pandemic led to a drastic reduction in business operations on the border.

Traders recorded up to 90 per cent income losses that resulted from stringent government-enforced restrictions of social distancing to combat the spread of the virus.

The cutting of the tape to launch the market

The cutting of the tape to launch the market

TradeMark Africa deputy CEO Allen Asiimwe said the Covid-19 pandemic had taken a toll on cross-border business, a development she said scaled down incomes particularly among women traders.

“Due to the significant risk posed by the global pandemic, difficult decisions had to be taken,” Asiimwe said.

“Two options were considered: either shutting down non-compliant Covid-19 markets or implementing strict containment measures.

“Unfortunately, these measures resulted in the displacement of many women traders, leading to the loss of their livelihoods.”

The establishment of Safe Trade Zones as espoused in the STEF programme was a critical step in helping traders, their customers and local authorities to comply with Covid-19 protocols, such as social distancing, she said.

“Today, we are happy to witness that many of these women are slowly getting back into business,” she said.

A trader inside the new market

A trader inside the new market

“They can operate safely and earn incomes in this market, which is spacious, compliant with the essential Covid-19 health protocols and has other important amenities.”

She cited sanitation zones, clean running water and a nursing mothers’ space, which allows new mothers to tend to their young ones comfortably without contending with major interruptions in their day-to-day operations.

The Busia government offered the 1.5-acre piece of land on which the market stands.

Otuoma said even before its launch, the investment had already started improving the lot of traders.

He hailed the initiative as a game changer in their livelihoods.

“Without the support of our partners and the patience of the women traders, it would have been a huge challenge implementing such an important project,” the governor said.

“This provided the much-needed relief for women traders not only from the pandemic but also from the harsh vagaries of weather characterised by open markets, to continue trading safely to sustain their families.”

The county chief acknowledged the productive partnership with TradeMark Africa and development partners in supporting livelihood enhancement projects.

Susan Steffen, director general of the Pan-African Affairs Bureau, Global Affairs Canada,  said she was pleased to have supported the design and development of the project.

She said it consists not only of 160 stalls but also a facility to support women in their care responsibilities and the inclusion of women and Persons With Disabilities.

Fionnuala Quinlan shops inside the market after the launch

Fionnuala Quinlan shops inside the market after the launch

“Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy puts women and girls at the centre of its international assistance programmes,” Steffen said.

“That is why supporting women cross-border traders at this border and several others across the region comes as a natural fit for us.”

She said it aims to enhance inclusive trade and support the priorities of the East African Community and the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Irish Ambassador Fionnuala Quinlan said the investment was a great example of what public-private partnership, with development partners’ support, can do.

It enables marginalised groups, such as informal cross-border women traders, to safeguard their livelihoods in a modern, clean and hygienic market, she said.

“Together, we can do more to support these traders so that they can have consistent incomes and uplift their livelihoods and those of their families,” she said.

“Ireland is proud to support our collective work on gender equality, particularly in strengthening the role that women play in the Kenyan economy.”

Danish Embassy (Nairobi) trade counsellor Mogens Larsen said their support for trade facilitation work, not least in the empowerment of women cross-border traders, is one of the primary pillars in alleviating poverty and fostering sustainable development in Africa.

Larsen also chairs the TradeMark Africa Council of Donors.

“This safe space market in Busia is one of the many avenues through which we are proud to advance support for marginalised groups and help them trade in organised and hygienic markets,” Larsen said.

“In TradeMark Africa’s Strategy 3, we shall sustain work in this area of inclusive trade, while enhancing other areas of green growth and digitalisation.”

Busia acting county commissioner Kipchumba Ruto

Busia acting county commissioner Kipchumba Ruto

Busia acting county commissioner Kipchumba Ruto said Soko Posta Safe Market will go a long way in improving the livelihoods of traders, adding that there are still more opportunities in supporting more of such markets across the region.

EAC State Department director Juma Wakhungu said development partners have been key players in supporting government and private sectors’ efforts to ensure trade continues in a safe and health-conscious environment, more so during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This has helped traders, particularly the informal smallholder women engaged in cross-border trade, to continue operating resiliently in a tough environment and sustain their livelihoods,” he said.

The beneficiary women traders, through their chairperson Florence Atieno, expressed appreciation for the market, saying it will improve their well-being.

To entrench adherence to Covid-19 mitigation measures, TradeMark Africa jointly with Amref Health Africa trained the traders and equipped them with personal protective equipment.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TradeMark Africa.